Arts in review: a few memories from 2018
Throughout the year I see a fair amount of art and theater, watch films, read books, listen to music, and interview the people behind them. If you’re an artist, much depends on your curator and if you’re an actor much depends on your director or producer. If they don’t reach out, we may not know about your upcoming show or performance. Be that as it may, I’ve selected a personal 10 highlights from the past 12 months in local arts and entertainment. My initial list had well over 50, but in the interest of space even a few of the gems had to be dropped. So don’t look at this as a “best of” but rather as a serendipitous stroll through a year of creative events and activities. Sort of a window-shopping tour of 2018, in roughly chronological order. Sudrak Khongpuang. This painter from Thailand did a one-month residency at the home of Ben and Peggy Zask in Portuguese Bend before the opening reception of her art show at South Bay Contemporary/SoLA Gallery in Los Angeles. Khongpuang is kind of a gentle Surrealist, and her canvases are color-saturated and yet have earthy tones. She paints rice fields, rivers, lakes, distant hills, and warm skies with a puffy cloud or two, all of it quite Edenic. Her stay in California galvanized her, and she began branching out… painting on an old washboard or the back of a guitar or attaching physical objects to her work. Her exuberance was contagious. Georges Tomb. A protege, friend, and also colleague of sorts with Joanna Medawar Nachef, Tomb was in the South Bay last spring from his native Lebanon to perform two original compositions (“Promise” and “Emotions”) with Nachef’s choral group at the Norris Theatre in Rolling Hills Estates. A few days later Tomb was off to Paris where he gave another successful concert. He’s proud of having been dubbed “the young Ennio Morricone,” and hopes to score films one of these days. Tomb is modest and self-confident at the same time, and I look forward to the day when I can watch a film and listen to one of his soundtracks. John Van Hamersveld. An old rusted water tank at the Scattergood Power Plant on Grand in El Segundo got a to-die-for makeover in April with John Van Hamersveld’s 510-foot wraparound mural in his signature style, which is basically colorful pop art in a sea of shapes and designs, all pushed along in this case by towering waves that seem to be chasing one another around and around. For all that, it’s only one of several monumental murals and public artworks that Van Hamersveld has created in recent years, including ones in Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach. His recent murals for the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro should also be seen. Never one to rest on his laurels (which include the “Endless Summer” poster and the “Magical Mystery Tour” album cover), Van Hamersveld has many more projects on the drawing board. The Manhattan Beach Community Church Theater’s production of “Gypsy.” It’s not often that you can walk into your local place of worship and see a striptease on stage, but that’s what we got, well, sort of, last April. Directed by Lawrence A. Moreno and with a cast of area performers that included Jeannine Barba, Rose Kreider, Paula Kelley, Anna Dippery, Michael Thorpe, Bob Manning, Victoria Alfvin and others, it also turned a spotlight on Chowsie the Chihuahua. We tend not to give much credence to church theater groups, but this one’s been around for 60 years and many of their productions are astonishingly enjoyable. CA 101 2018. Seven years in, the annual “CA 101” has established itself as the preeminent art show in all of the South Bay, if not beyond. Led by Nina Zak Laddon, Sandra Liljenwall, and a few exuberant others, this is an event that now solicits art and artists from regions well beyond California. Not only that, they actively promote themselves and their featured artists (a courtesy largely neglected by the Torrance Art Museum and the PV Art Center). The exhibitions span two weekends and take place in different venues, often abandoned storefronts in such diverse locations as the South Bay Galleria, Riviera Village, and this past April on Harbor Drive across from King Harbor in Redondo Beach. Poet Raindog. While former bookseller JB Kennedy may reign as our local iconic poet (and friendly curmudgeon), RD Armstrong has not only amassed a strong body of work, he’s tirelessly published books of poetry, his and many others, plus a yearly Lummox anthology. His parents, so to speak, were Tom Waits and Charles Bukowski, but in recent years Raindog has emerged as a strong entity in his own right. In July, he read from his latest collection, “Orphaned Words: Forgotten Poems from a Haphazard Life” at the Redondo Beach Main Library. A Facebook comment by John LaChance had this to say about him: “Los Angeles breeds some marvelous intellects and great, if unassuming, artists of every stripe. One of them is Raindog, a giant of a man and a gentle giant. I don’t know his real name, but everyone in the coffeehouse circuit in Long Beach knows this great poet, who will long be remembered many generations from now. He’s tough and gruff, but he’ll listen to you. He’s hard to talk to, but he’ll listen to you. He tells it like it is, but he’ll listen to you. This is one of LA’s great poets, hardly known in our time but the voice of our generation.” How’s that for appreciation, huh? Robert Glenn Ketchum. “Terra Firma: A Commentary on Land” featured several artists, including Fatemeh Burnes and Anita Bunn (both of whom I’ve written about), but towards the end of its weeks-long, midsummer run at the Manhattan Beach Art Center I met up with Robert Glenn Ketchum, who pointed out the several directions his nature photography had taken him over the past few years. This includes embroidered screens and circular mandalas printed on aluminum. Based in Manhattan Beach, Ketchum studied with Robert Heinecken and Edmund Teske at UCLA, and then sat at the feet (figuratively speaking) of Eliot Porter. What distinguishes Ketchum from most outdoor photographers is his rerspect for nature: he truly believes that we have a moral obligation to protect and defend our environment, and his work is often at the service of this ideal. In particular, he has been actively concerned about the proposed Pebble Mine project in southwestern Alaska. If it would go ahead as planned, and if there were to be a serious mishap, the world’s most valuable Sockeye Salmon fishery would be endangered, if not kaput. Surf City Theatre’s production of Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap.” Surf City Theatre often falls back on the tried and true rather than attempting the offbeat or adventurous, and Agatha Christie’s “Mousetrap” is a case in point. Nonetheless, this is the only theater company in the City of Hermosa Beach, with four productions each year staged at the Second Story Theater in the Community Center. Under the artistic direction of Lisa Leonard there have been commendable shows, such as “A Few Good Men.” “The Mousetrap” belongs on that list as well. Jason Cook and Jessica Gable were the proprietors of Monkwell Manor, which becomes the site of a mind-stumping whodunit, with the character we’d least suspect as the murderer. Directed by Daniel Tennant, the play was well received and one hopes the company will garner yet more acclaim in the year ahead. Mike Bouchard, Dave Tardif, and Lobster Rock. The annual lobster festival held at Seaside Lagoon in Redondo Beach nearly failed to materialize this year, until Mike Bouchard and Dave Tardif stepped in and offered to revitalize it. They didn’t have much time, but rebranded the event by calling it Lobster Rock and giving it a more lively vibe. They also brought in an assortment of fine music (Tomorrows Bad Seeds, Save Ferris, Kaleo Wassman of Pepper, etc.) as well as an array of breweries and other quality food choices apart from lobsters, the latter reasonably priced and beyond delicious. Not sure what the future holds for Bouchard, Tardif, and Lobster Rock, but their event was chief among September’s highlights. Carla Viparelli. Sometimes I think, why doesn’t the City of Manhattan Beach simply hand over the keys of the Manhattan Beach Art Center to Homeira Goldstein? This year she brought in Carla Viparelli from Naples, Italy, whose installation, entitled “Mimesis,” featured large-scale animated videos, videos with gravitas that moved slowly with kaleidoscopic effects. The exhibition opened in October, but the closing reception, for which Viparelli will be present, takes place on Dec. 30.
That’s it, that’s 10 highlights from this past year, but we’re not finished until we mention what might be the best of all because it takes place about 35 times annually, and that’s the South Bay Film Society screenings at the AMC 20 Rolling Hills, which is in Torrance. It’s all due to the hardworking Randy Berler of Redondo Beach who’s often able to screen award-winning films for his audience in advance of their opening in Los Angeles. Culturally, on the local level, there’s nothing else I would more highly recommend. ER