Recently, I had the opportunity to spend the evening at MorYork. It’s tempting to call it an art gallery (which it is) or a studio (true also) but a better description might be what Los Angeles magazine describes as a “modern day cabinet of curiosities” in this article from March, 2015.
Located at 4959 York Blvd in Highland Park, in a building that formerly housed a Safeway and a roller rink before falling into dereliction in the mid-80’s when it was purchased by artist Clare Graham, it serves as gallery, studio, incubation, and event space.
The building, with high ceilings and wonderfully creaky original wood floors, is packed to the rafters with Clare’s work and collections of ephemera.
Furniture made from soda can pop-tops sits next to a display case filled with primitive carved sex toys. A whole series of art features stuffed animals sealed in plastic and bound together with twine.
Still other corners reveal furniture inlaid with human teeth, woodblock art, armoires covered in scrabble tiles, and display cases filled with animal skeletons and doll heads.
One enormous section of shelves near the entrance is filled with vintage carnival knock-down dolls while the opposite end of the space is dominated by a stunningly gorgeous lighthouse mirror.
It’s a mind-boggling, fascinating, and intoxicating environment. Added to the mix is Clare’s recent decision to invite music artists in to perform at MorYork. Alma Sangre (a trio with flamenco) and Edith Crash (LA-based French singer-songwriter) provided a lively evening during our visit, interspersed with drinks and munchies, all surrounded by this incredible collection.
The mix of art and music works, especially because neither is held up as being particularly “precious”. Clare’s work (which has often used recycled materials) is as much about craftsmanship as it is about anything. He’s an approachable artist who has a tremendous respect for, and love of, craft. That’s evident by his work on display at MorYork, and in the musicians that are selected to perform there.
If you’re looking for a deliciously surreal place to spend some time, I’d suggest taking a trip down the rabbit hole that is MorYork.
For those who have read his book, “Cabinet of Curiosities“, this exhibit is especially thrilling. In the book, readers get a view inside Del Toro’s suburban Los Angeles home (named “Bleak House”). The home is packed with all manner of unusual oddities, props, artwork, and collections.
In this exhibit, those collections have been placed on view for the public; and it is horribly magnificent. The show is not a retrospective of Del Toro’s work; but a look at his influences and inspirations. In keeping with that idea, the exhibit is laid out thematically. Paintings, drawings, maquettes, full size sculptures, and more bring Del Toro’s unique visions into full relief in this exhibit that surrounds and immerses you into one mans fever dream.
The work of many artists is on display, and its easy to see where Del Toro derives his inspiration.
Taking its inspiration from the tone and architecture of Bleak House, the exhibit is housed in an architectural shell, with long hallways that twist and turn, opening into room after room. The walls and other elements are in muted tones of black, gray, and blood red. The use of rafters overhead is enhanced by lighting that casts shadows onto the ceiling and surrounding walls.
One room in particular is modeled after Del Toro’s writing room, in which a perpetual rainstorm falls outside the “windows” of the room.
The exhibit is truly wondrous. It’s a through and detailed examination of artistic inspiration and process. A good example is that there are several of his notebooks on display. Since they could easily be damaged by the public, all the pages have been scanned and patrons can flip through them virtually on a touch-screen adjacent to the actual notebook. It’s a great way of revealing the artist while preserving the work.
I have only two small quibbles with the overall exhibit. The first is that it appears to have been put together quickly. The finishes on the display vitrines are somewhat slap-dash, with visible paint brush marks and drips. One would think that an exhibit with this sort of “draw” in the marketplace would have warranted a greater attention to detail. My other minor negative comment is that I would have loved to seen LACMA embrace a greater degree of theatricality through lighting and video. The black costume from “Crimson Peak” is especially poorly lit, diminishing its detail and beauty.
With the roar of last nights crowd still ringing in my ears, I thought I’d share some observations about U2’s current tour. This was my first time seeing the band, though I do own most of their tours on DVD, as well as several of the books that have been published about their shows and production. I hold their show designer, Willie Williams, in very high esteem; as a pioneering creative artist in the concert touring industry.
This tour returns U2 to arenas after the overwhelming scale of the U2360º Tour, which toured the world’s stadiums for about 2 years. The smaller environs of an arena suit the band, allowing them to connect with fans in a more accessible way. But just because the scale is smaller, it doesn’t mean the show is less high-tech. U2 have always been at the forefront of concert and entertainment technology; and i+e is no exception.
The first thing I noticed upon walking into the Los Angeles Forum was just how clean everything appeared. Most rock tours are a cluster of cables and gack. I could see clearly into the backstage area where it appeared someone had taken great care to make sure everything the audience could see was meticulous.
The tour is wrapped around songs of innocence and songs of experience. The set up reflects that idea, and consists of the “i” stage and the “e”stage. The two stages are connected by a catwalk. Suspended above the catwalk, bisecting the arena, is an enormous double-sided low-resolution LED display surface which raises and lowers throughout the show. Set into the floor of the stage is a ribbon of light that glows, reinforcing the “i-e” shape.
Sandwiched between the LED wall is a catwalk bridge. Contained within the LED wall is additional lighting, strobes, and cameras. When lit from within, the LED wall becomes semi-transparent (similar to a theatrical scrim) allowing the band to be seen playing inside the bridge as images cascade over them. This was especially effective in “Cedarwood Road” (with Bono walking through the streets of Dublin) and “Until The End of the World” (with Bono superimposed over The Edge – perfectly fitting, given the Judas/Jesus nature of the song).
During one sequence, the LED wall rises and four mirror balls lower from beneath it to form a different look for “Mysterious Ways”. Show designer Willie Williams always finds a way to use mirror balls and seeing them show up in such an unexpected way was delightful.
There were also a number of lights used as architectural interest, lying horizontal on the stage and catwalk floor. These units rose during “City of Blinding Lights” to form brilliant pillars of light. They were joined by similar fixtures which flew in from above. These units combined creatively with the video content on the LED wall, rendering an incredibly beautiful scene.
Surrounding the upstage side of the “i” stage were lighting fixtures and strobes, all placed very low to backlight the band. These were especially effective in “Vertigo”. Perhaps what struck me most about the show was how “minimal” it was. I know – how can a show with this much tech be considered minimal?
I suppose it’s in the approach. The lines of the stages are super clean. There is no color on the set, only black.The use of color in the lighting is minimal, with very little saturation (a touch of blue here, a light addition of amber there). The only songs with any real “color” were “Mysterious Ways” and “Where The Streets Have No Name”. Even the cues were minimal. I remember seeing Willie Williams at a conference a few years ago and he mentioned then that he didn’t really do lots of cues. He said something along the lines of, ” I just set a look I like and then live in that for a while”.
One would think that approach would result in cueing and stage “looks” that are boring. But it doesn’t. It works in a magnificent way; allowing the band to inhabit the space and the audience to not be distracted by the constant changing of lights. The creative blend of music, lighting, and video is elevated by using a light hand. Practicing such restraint and putting in only what needs to be there is one of the hallmarks of a true artist.
This year, we had the opportunity for an incredible evening. On Halloween night, we attended the Nokia Theater to see Danny Elfman’s “Music from the Films of Tim Burton”.I have long been a fan of both artists. I never got to see Danny Elfman perform with Oingo Boingo during their legendary annual L.A. Halloween shows. It was only fitting that this show was on Halloween night in a city that dearly loves him.
Danny has said in interviews that looking back does not excite him; that he prefers to stay focused on the future. But on this, the 20th anniversary of “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, it felt like an assessment of accomplishments was in order. Danny worked with his arrangers to craft an evening’s worth of music, pulled from his 28 years of film scores; and asked Tim Burton to provide his character sketches as well as film footage of their work together. They performed several dates in London earlier this month and came to L.A. to play the Halloween show. The Oct. 31st date sold out quickly so Oct. 29 and 30 were added. The show was played by the 94-piece Hollywood Symphony Orchestra (many members of which have performed on Elfman’s score recordings) and the 49-voice Page L.A. Choir
Act 1 included Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Sleepy Hollow, Mars Attacks, Big Fish, and Batman/Batman Returns. Of these, Sleepy Hollow and the Batman suite were incredible standouts. The arrangement for Sleepy Hollow wove the different themes together in a brilliant tapestry of dark, majestic music; and soaring above it all, a young boy (couldn’t have been more than 12 years old) with an angelic, crystalline voice. Batman took me back to my first time seeing the film in 1989. Full of gothic mystery and thrilling bombast, the score felt new to me. While I am a huge fan of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, I had forgotten just how much I loved Burton’s take on the dark knight.
Act 2 included Planet of the Apes, Corpse Bride, Dark Shadows, Frankenweenie, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Alice in Wonderland.
The arrangements for Corpse Bride and Edward Scissorhands were exquisite, showcasing the surprising variety of music found in each. The music from Edward Scissorhands is achingly beautiful, full of melancholy and a bittersweet longing for something simpler, something real.
And then, the opening notes of The Nightmare Before Christmas began. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get emotional. I have loved this film for twenty years; and out of the Tim Burton canon, the character I identify the most with is Jack Skellington. Jack is a creator; he is enthralled with doing something “new”. He longs to do something different. He is a child of wonder – and I’ve always been inspired by the sheer innocence and purity of his intentions. As the overture came to it’s conclusion, the man who gave voice to Jack Skellington strode across the stage, stepped up to the mic, and began singing “Jack’s Lament”.
“Oh, somewhere deep inside of these bones
An emptiness began to grow
There’s something out there, far from my home
A longing that I’ve never known…”
Acting the part, grabbing the mic, shaking his fists, stalking the stage, Danny Elfman became Jack – pouring his soul into the songs. It’s SO rare to see someone nakedly giving a performance of PASSION these days. No auto-tune, no back-up dancers, no exploding set pieces, no fancy lights; just pure, raw emotion. The next song, “Jack’s Obsession” was wonderful, sung with the confusion and curiosity it deserves. Danny followed that by introducing Catherine O’Hara (the original voice of Sally). Her thin, ghost-like voice beautifully captured all of the wistful vulnerability in “Sally’s Song”. The orchestra then launched into “What’s This?” as footage from that scene in the film unspooled on a giant screen with Danny playfully singing along, evoking the wonder and joy of seeing Christmas for the first time. He closed the set with “Poor Jack” (probably my favorite song from the film). As he traced Jack’s confusion, regret, and despair, his voice caught with emotion. As Jack’s regret turns to resolve and acceptance of who he truly is, Danny reached down deep and bellowed, “That’s right, I AM THE PUMPKIN KING!”.
It was like he had waited his entire life to sing that live; and the roof nearly lifted off the theater from the audience reaction. This is a man who clearly misses being on stage; and whose audience clearly adores him.
Finally, after the orchestra played the music from Alice in Wonderland, Danny came back out onstage for a rousing finale with “Oogie Boogie”. Catherine O’Hara joined him for bows. Just when it seemed like bows were over, out walked Tim Burton. I nearly died. The three stood and bowed, along with conductor John Mauceri, soaking up the adulation.
Since the show, I’ve thought a lot about long working relationships; how one person can enhance another person’s art; how artists can inspire each other; how one person looks at a blank page and sees images, whereas another person looks at a blank page and sees music. Danny has said in interviews that his working relationship with Tim is not easy; that each film is a little bit of a struggle. I understand that – sometimes you have to work through challenges to get to the core, to what’s good. Regardless of the difficulty it’s very obvious they inspire each other in a myriad of ways.
I came away from the show uplifted, enthralled, inspired, and determined to embrace a higher level of passion.