AHA! A House for Arts


AHA! | 613

Get caught up in the abstract artwork of artist Julie Evans. What exactly is folklore? Check out Lara Ayad's interview with Ellen McHale to learn more. Listen to a stunning homage to the tragic love songs of Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton by the incredibly talented Belle-Skinner.

AIRED: September 16, 2020 | 0:26:46

(soft music)

(upbeat music)

- [Lara] Visit the studio of abstract artists,

Julie Evans.

Learn about New York folklore with Ellen McHale,

and catch a stunning performance from Bell-Skinner.

It's all ahead on this episode of AHA! A House for Arts

- [Man] Funding for AHA! has been provided by

your contribution and by contributions

to the WMHT Venture Fund.

Contributors include Chet and Karen Opalka,

Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

the Alexander and Marjorie Hover Foundation

and the Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank, we understand that the vitality of

our communities is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts and we invite you to do the same.

(upbeat music)

- Hi, I'm Lara Ayad, and this is AHA! A House for Arts,

a place for all things creative.

Matt Rogowicz is on the road again.

Let's toss it over to Matt

to see what he has in store for us today.

(upbeat music)

- It's a beautiful day here in Hudson, New York.

I'm on South 3rd Street at the studio of Julie Evans,

who creates these amazing,

little miniature abstract works of art.

Let's take a look.

(upbeat music)

Hi? - Hello?

Come in. - [Matt] Thank you.

(upbeat music continues)

- [Julie] You know when you're in a train,

stopped and you look out the window

and the train right next to you is moving or you're moving

and for that instant, you don't know what's going on

'cause your brain hasn't caught up to your eye?

And I'm really interested in that gap.

So I feel like there's something illusionistic

about the work that makes you feel you know this somehow,

but what is it?

So, you know what you don't know,

and as you wait for your brain to catch up,

your perception is sort of heightened.

(upbeat music continues)

I started out ...

As most people do, I started out as a figurative painter.

Because if you go to school,

they usually throw a model in front of you

and they're teaching you, you know,

a lot of the formal elements of art.

So you're learning about color

and you're learning about composition.

And so everything I did was based on, or off of, the figure.

And then I realized that

that wasn't quite getting to the core of whatever it was

I wanted to put out in the world.

So I threw out the figure and the work was very minimal.

But I think my sensibility is more maximal.

So more and more stuff started coming in.

At one point, I went to India, and that ...

I have serious ADD.

So you always feel like your head ...

My head used to feel like a pinball machine,

And the minute I landed in India ...

for the first time it was 1997.

I've made nine trips since then.

First time I landed there, it was full on color, pattern,

people, dogs, animals, cows, like just nonstop.

And it was the first time I remember feeling like my insides

matched my outsides which made me very sort of composed

and level-headed and calm.

So all of that ...

It's like giving Adderall to someone with ADD,

calms them down versus giving Adderall to someone

who doesn't have ADD, and it's speed.

So I felt very at home in India

and I discovered Indian miniature paintings.

And they blew my mind. Blew my mind.

My work from then on was related to Indian miniatures.

You know, the structure, the composition, the palette.

One day as I was working, it was very compositionally

stacked and full of really intense bright color,

all the things that I loved about Indian art.

And then one day when I was stuck, a little voice said,

"Well, just do one of your, you know, our best things."

I'm like, "One of your our best things?

You mean your stereotyping your own work?

You're repeating yourself?"

And that's when I said I'm never gonna work with

composition again off the edges.

I'm never gonna work with bright color anymore.

I threw out the baby with the bath water

and I started working with central images,

no foreign composition.

I started pouring paint on my lawn,

cutting them into millions of little pieces

and then started piecing the pieces together

to come up with a whole that I would never, ever

been able to get to if I started from scratch.

- But that does seem like a very tedious, you know

process of collaging all that together and--

- [Julie] Oh my God. All this each ...

They're trimmed with no overlap and then taped with

this archival mending tissue. Slight busy work.

And after two or three years of cutting and taping,

and cutting taping and cutting and taping,

I was like, "I miss painting. I really miss painting."

So then I moved on and started painting again.

Something that I'm really interested in

is having imagery that is ...

There's something very familiar in there,

but you still don't know what you're looking at.

So there's this tension

between the familiar and the unfamiliar.

Color just makes me crazy in the best of ways.

The collision of, let's say, complimentary pairs,

that is so exciting to me or an odd turn of a color.

This is an example of one that's the way it starts out

with just total chaos.

I just start with no plan, making a mess,

pouring paint on there, dragging it,

making squiggles, making pours and puddles of paint.

- That sounds like fun.

- It's really fun, because it doesn't matter what it is.

And then I step back and I try to make some sense of it.

And I, you know, try to hone in, slowly hone in on an image.

- [Matt] And how do you know when you've found it?

How do you know when you're done?

- It just feels like there's not anything there

that's bothering me.

Like something ...

It feels resolved if I can live with every part of it.

- Ellen McHale is Executive Director of New York Folklore

on Jay Street in Schenectady.

But what is folklore?

Let's chat with Ellen to find out more.

Well, Ellen, welcome to AHA! A House for Arts.

It's a pleasure to have you on the show.

- [Ellen] Thank you. Thank you very much.

- [Lara] So why don't you tell me a bit about

New York Folklore and its mission?

- Well, New York Folklore was founded in 1944.

We started with a cultural equity mission statement,

which we continue today.

So we are ...

Our goal is to support and encourage just traditional arts

and culture wherever it's found in New York State.

So we work with ...

We work with artists, we work with community scholars

and community experts who are representative

of specific communities.

And we also work with what are known as professional

or public sector folklorists, who are trained Ethnographers.

Often they come from anthropology

or similar on fields and so we also ...

That group is also part of our advocates for ...

It's also part of our mission to assist those individuals.

- Is folklore something that you've already,

or always been interested in, Ellen?

Where did that inspiration come from?

- I've always been interested in local history.

I think maybe that came ...

Folklore study for me came out of local history.

I've also ...

I studied music as a child and as a college student.

I was a music major,

and I happened to go to Wesleyan University

that had a wonderful world music department.

And so I began to understand that there's a whole

number of different musical traditions

that do not follow that Western art music track,

which is what I'd always learned.

So that also influenced me

because I was really interested in world music

and the different musical traditions

that people are following.

- This is interesting, Ellen,

'cause you talked about folklore being ...

You know, you started off in music and kind of talking about

how folklore runs in the face of many people's conceptions

of what Western culture is more largely.

I'm kind of curious because

I think when most people think of folklore,

they think of things like folk music,

or crafts made by hand, or like, you know,

storytellers in the olden days.

Do you agree with that kind of popular conception

or picture of folklore?

- I think that's a good place to start.

I think that is where people base their understanding.

I think for folklore, what we push against all the time

is that that's not where we end.

So certainly, sometimes people enter into the understanding

and the interest in folklore from those things.

But folklorists look at a wider variety

of cultural information, belief systems.

We look at how people ...

For example, right now folklorists are studying COVID-19

and how we're memorializing.

This is a week of memorials for COVID-19 nationwide.

So there's people look at how people create memorials.

There is a folklorist who look at the built environment,

architecture and even home layouts.

And so it's a really broad field,

and sometimes I think people think,

"Oh man, everything is folklore."

Well, it depends on how you perceive it

and how you enter into the study of something.

But if it's (mumbles)

if it's an aesthetic experience

that's shared by a group of people

who have some common understanding of that

colorful information, whether it's passed down in families,

or whether communities, or a special interest group,

then folklorist say that's folklore.

- So would you say, Ellen, that is the difference

then between folklore, like this idea of passing information

or practices down through families

or through community groups versus say

something professionalized, like say ...

I don't know, museum curators passing down information

through like the professionalization of the field,

for instance, or a certain types of musicians will kind of

pick up and learn from other musicians by watching them,

but they don't have that kinship tie.

Does that kind of set them apart from

what you tend to call folklore?

- [Ellen] I think so. Yes.

And it doesn't have to be passing down through history,

you know, generations.

It can be a horizontal move, you can say that.

It can be contemporary,

people talking to contemporary people.

When you look at occupational folklore,

that is certainly something that people learn on the job.

And so even though you may go to school to be a teacher,

for example, in that work environment,

there is a set of knowledge that's passed down

or passed from person to person

that you could say is the folklore of teachers.

Understandings that people then share with each other.

So there are people ...

And I'm interested in occupational folklore, specifically.

So people do look at that work environment also.

So it doesn't have to be ...

There has to be a time element,

but it can be a very short period of time.

- So Ellen, it sounds like you're saying the folklore

is not just something from the past

and it stops there in the past.

It's something of today.

And I'm kinda curious though,

do you think that some people, and especially young people,

have lost interest in folklore?

- I think they've lost interest in what

they perceive is that old fashioned thing

that people say folklore is of the past.

But if you're interested, for example, in hip hop

and how style is within your community,

that is another subject that folklore study.

So young people can really be drawn into folklore

through those contemporary expressions,

such as hip hop or things I probably don't even know about

that youth are sharing.

So they could be, but I think again,

we get caught up in that idea of what we think folklore is.

- [Lara] All right. - And that is a barrier.

And that's something that New York folklore

tries really hard to push against if we can.

- Well, Ellen, it is such a pleasure to have you

on AHA! A House for Arts.

Fantastic discussions about the folk arts

and I can't wait to see what New York folklore has up next.

- [Ellen] Great. Well, thank you very much.

Come by when you have a chance when COVID is over.

We are open now, but we ask people to wear a mask,

and we're at 129 Jay Street in Schenectady.

- Please, welcome Belle-Skinner.

- Hi, I'm Belle-Skinner,

and the first song that I'm gonna sing for you is called

(speaking in French)

It's a French love song that I wrote

using my high school French and Google Translate.

It's basically me confessing my love to somebody

and realizing by the smile on their face

that they love me back.

(guitar plays)

(singing in French)

(continues singing in French)

(continues singing in French)

(continues singing in French)

(continues singing in French)

(continues singing in French)

(guitar tune continues)

The next song I'm gonna sing is called

"Fall Into The Earth."

It's a song from my new record,

as well as the French song that I just sang.

It's loosely inspired by Annie Dillard

called "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek."

And the book and the song deal with themes

of cycles of life and death,

and the beauty and violence of nature.

(guitar plays)

♪ I wish I were the earth ♪

♪ And all that's in between ♪

♪ The falling of the stars ♪

♪ And the turning of the leaves ♪

♪ And when the stars awake ♪

♪ We can go right back to sleep ♪

♪ As we fall into the earth ♪

♪ And all the worms ♪

♪ And you and I were made ♪

♪ From salt from clay ♪

♪ From fire from the sea ♪

♪ And night from day ♪

♪ And all we ever were ♪

♪ And all we'll ever be ♪

♪ Is fodder from the earth ♪

♪ And all the worms ♪

♪ And there is nothing more that we can wait for ♪

♪ For we don't have a choice as long as we all turn to dust ♪

(guitar tune continues)

♪ And you and I will wake ♪

♪ To sweet decay ♪

♪ At the bottom of the sea ♪

♪ Silky soft and gray ♪

♪ And if we could only learn ♪

♪ How to say these magic words ♪

♪ We could all live like a bird ♪

♪ Like a bird ♪

(guitar plays)

This song is called "Violets,"

and it's the title track of my latest album

which came out in May.

And I'd like to think of it

as an homage to the tragic love songs of Patsy Cline

and Dolly Parton.

(guitar play)

♪ Ooh ahh ahh ahhh ♪

♪ When I was just a little girl I thought I knew love ♪

♪ Was waiting for the one to show my one and true love ♪

♪ And then I met a man that I am with today ♪

♪ It's only now I see we made a big mistake ♪

♪ Ooh ah he used to give me violets ♪

♪ But now he turns away and all I hear is silence ♪

♪ Don't know what it means ♪

♪ Oh why's he gotten so cold to me ♪

(guitar tune continues)

♪ I think back at the time when I was his one and the only ♪

♪ But lately now I find with him I get so lonely ♪

♪ He'll never tell me what goes roaring through his mind ♪

♪ And so I lie awake an wait for him at night ♪

♪ Ooh ah he'll promise me it's over ♪

♪ Ooh and I go on pretending I don't know her ♪

♪ What else can I do ♪

♪ I'll die before I'd find somebody new ♪

(guitar tune continues)

♪ And all my friends they tell me I should pack it up ♪

♪ And run away ♪

♪ But I don't think that they can ever really understand ♪

♪ That he can be so kind so sweet sometimes ♪

♪ Oh the words that he can say ♪

♪ Besides I know one day he'll come back to me again ♪

♪ And so I will believe him ♪

♪ Because I know I'll never leave him ♪

♪ And I know I can't win ♪

♪ Oh why do I do what I do for him ♪

(guitar tune continues)

(upbeat music)

- Thanks for joining us.

For more arts visit wmht.org/aha,

and be sure to connect with WMHT on social.

I'm Lara Ayad. Thanks for watching.

(upbeat music continues)

- [Man] Funding for AHA!

has been provided by your contribution

and by contributions to the WMHT Venture Fund.

Contributors include Chet and Karen Opalka,

Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

the Alexander and Marjorie Hover Foundation

and the Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank, we understand that the vitality

of our communities is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts and we invite you to do the same.


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