Open Studio with Jared Bowen

S10 E5 | FULL EPISODE

Artist Ekua Holmes, Actor and Author Gabriel Byrne, and more

Discover the studio of Ekua Holmes, a lifelong Boston resident and artist whose new exhibition “Paper Stories, Layered Dreams” is on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Then, actor, director and author Gabriel Byrne joins Jared to discuss his new memoir “Walking with Ghosts.” Plus, the Hemingway Home and Museum and a profile of artist-chemist Paola Gracey.

AIRED: July 30, 2021 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

>> Art was my companion; I'm an only child,

and it was my imaginative world where I could always enter

and always find space for myself.

>> BOWEN: I'm Jared Bowen, coming up onOpen Studio,

the storybook career of artist and activist Ekua Holmes.

Then Gabriel Byrne on the actor's life.

>> Let's get back to that truck.

>> BOWEN: As detailed in his new memoir.

>> Any kind of focus by a group of people on me I find,

I find uncomfortable, and yet I'm compelled to do.

I don't understand why.

>> BOWEN: Plus, at home with Hemingway.

>> Our visitors are from every end of the spectrum.

They're history buffs,

love Hemingway,

read many of his books,

or they've heard about all our cats.

>> BOWEN: And the science in art.

>> It's like an experiment for me.

I started working with this technique of painting

back in 2004.

I've noticed over the years, it's gotten better

and a lot of it has to do with my documentation.

>> BOWEN: It's all now onOpen Studio.

♪ ♪

First up, artist, illustrator, and activist Ekua Holmes

is a lifelong resident of Roxbury, Massachusetts.

Her bold, colorful work

reflects the vibrancy of the African American experience.

And now a new exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts

places her award-winning

and boundary-pushing illustrations on view.

These are depictions of joy,

of history,

of family.

It's the work of artist Ekua Holmes,

whose children's book illustrations

are the focus of the new exhibition

Paper Stories, Layered Dreams

at the Museum of Fine Arts.

>> Children's books-- that's where I saw my first art.

That was my first gallery, going through those books

and looking at the different styles of illustrators.

>> BOWEN: We met with Holmes at her studio in Roxbury,

where she works in a space filled floor to ceiling

with paper, sculpture, and paintbrushes--

stitching together collages from a lifetime

of collected material.

>> When I started out,

I was using a lot of found material, ephemera, magazines,

newspapers, and things like that.

As I've moved on,

I'm doing more of making my own papers

and building collages from that.

>> BOWEN: Holmes has built her life and career in Boston--

finding inspiration in childhood from educators like Elma Lewis

and local artists of color, including

Gary Rickson and Dana Chandler.

Their large-scale murals throughout her neighborhood

spurred a young, impressionable Holmes

to delve into art as a teenager.

>> They have inspired generations of artists

through their work, people who maybe

if they hadn't seen those murals, maybe they would have

done something different, but when they saw

that imagery, so large and so colorful

and so proud, they said, "I want to do that.

I want to speak to my community in this way."

>> BOWEN: Her collages often begin with a photograph,

one she's taken herself

or found, and they are often deeply personal.

Two of the works on view at the MFA

depict members of her own family-- an aunt

and her grandfather, inspired by a box of old photographs

he handed down to her.

>> Those altarpieces were from photographs in that box.

If you'd given me a million dollars,

it wouldn't have meant as much to me

as that box of photographs.

>> Her works are very rich and layered.

And the more you look, the more you see.

Each one tells a story of its own.

>> BOWEN: MFA curator Meghan Melvin

says through Holmes' illustrations

in award-winning children's books,

the artist paints a vibrant portrait of Black history,

with scenes of familial love, joy, and resilience.

InSaving American Beach, published this year,

she depicts the history and restoration of a beach

designed in Jacksonville, Florida,

for Black Americans during the Jim Crow era.

>> So here it's depicted in its heyday.

And what's wonderful for

this exhibition is to see these illustrations

and to see how large some of them are,

because when you're looking at a book, and you see the scale,

but here you see it's almost twice the size,

and that's a way that you can

get all that wonderful detail.

>> BOWEN: Even though these are ostensibly children's books,

Holmes doesn't pull punches in pictures.

As in this work depicting an enslaved family

working in a field.

>> We want to be truthful, but we don't want to traumatize.

Truth is always the right way to go.

Now, how you express that,

how you talk to children about that, I think,

is the, um, the secret sauce.

>> BOWEN: The art can shed light on painful histories.

Some elements are ripped right from the headlines of the day,

as in this illustration for the book

Black Is a Rainbow Color.

>> So you see this image of people walking,

and you see also that there are children walking with them,

but in the collage are embedded snippets

of contemporary journalism, and so it takes you deeper

and makes you realize

that this is not just an interesting picture,

there is real history behind this.

As an artist inspired

by children's literature at a young age,

Holmes says she's cognizant of the impact she's having

on the next generation.

>> For me,

thinking of today's children,

maybe looking at a book that I've illustrated

and engaging with art that way,

it seems really important now, you know,

that I understand that that's, that was my gateway.

That I'm part of creating a gateway for the next generation.

>> BOWEN: And it's that sense of responsibility

that informs everything Ekua Holmes does

for her Boston community.

Just outside the MFA,

Holmes has planted a garden of sunflowers

as part of her Roxbury Sunflower Project,

in which she has called on people

to plant sunflowers all over Boston--

another effort to bring joy to the city she calls home.

>> I would like for you

to know that you are a sunflower,

and that what you do,

how you live your life, is planting seeds.

Your life itself is a seed

that's going to feed the next generation.

♪ ♪

>> What do you think was the point of this argument

that you may have initiated?

>> I didn't initiate anything.

>> You may not have meant to, but you did.

>> BOWEN: That was actor Gabriel Byrne

in his Golden Globe-winning role as a psychotherapist

on the HBO seriesIn Treatment.

He's pretty introspective off-screen, as well.

The actor, who is also renowned for his stage work,

has written a new memoir titled Walking with Ghosts.

And we recently spoke about his childhood in Ireland

and the trials of stardom in Hollywood.

Gabriel Byrne, thank you so much for joining us today.

>> Thank you.

>> BOWEN: I want to ask,

you have had so much acclaim with this book...

I'd add my own sentiments to that chorus about the writing.

It's so lyrical.

It made me wonder how you write, whether these are all,

everything you discussed in the book, if there,

it's all conjured from memory,

if you've gone back to your own journals or writing.

>> The day job that I do, one of the, uh...

One of the disciplines is memory and recall.

I've always tended to think in terms of

images, and I think that's why

I gravitate towards poetry and the cinema.

But I'm also very interested

in the power of the image to evoke emotion.

I mean, I had been asked a couple of times to do,

for want of a better word, a celebrity kind of bio,

or autobiography.

I really didn't have any interest in doing that.

What I wanted to do,

which was far more interesting to me, was look at memory.

We all have a story, every one of us has a story,

in which we become

what we become through a series of sometimes

imperceptible influences big and small--

societal, religious, um,

educational, familial, and so forth.

And I wanted to look at those areas

and see how they had influenced me to become, you know,

who I am today.

>> BOWEN: Well, it's interesting that you say that.

I was struck by one phrase you use very early on

in your writing, that you're an intruder in your own past.

So how do you see yourself

in regard to entering your memories?

>> What belongs to us,

really, besides our memories and our story?

It was about looking at what home means.

And every one of us has a relationship to home.

And home is such a primitive

and such a profound instinct in all of us,

to get home, to go back, to revisit.

Um, but what that taught me was, that journey taught me,

was, we don't belong in the past.

>> BOWEN: This might not be the best segue, but...

Just, somebody who has followed your career might think that

home for you, to some degree, would be the stage.

But you write about the agony

that you have often felt about being on the stage.

What is that born of?

>> Well, they say that acting is the shy man's revenge.

I don't know who thought that one up,

but there's a certain amount of truth in it.

Any kind of focus, by a group of people, on me,

I find, I find uncomfortable,

and yet I'm compelled to do-- I don't understand why.

I think most performers,

whether they're actors or singers

or artists of any hue, they...

They do suffer incredible anxiety for the most part,

and doubt and fear-- those things are your bedfellows.

You have to make peace with them,

and walking out on stage to do a play,

say, like a Eugene O'Neill play,

Long Day's Journey Into Night,

or the other plays that I've done on Broadway...

The first night that I played Othello, he said to our manager,

"That young man is playing Othello

better than I ever could."

I can't describe to you how

you would wake up in the morning of the first night and think,

"There is no escaping this, I have to do it."

Those things never go away,

and in order to push through them...

I don't even know if it's courage.

I don't think it is courage.

It's some kind of a compulsion to try to defeat yourself

and say, "I'm not going to let this beat me."

Laurence Olivier didn't appear on the stage

for ten years after he was stricken down

with a bout of stage fright

where he couldn't look at the other actors.

They-- he had to tell them, "Don't look at me in the eyes

when you say, 'You're lying,' because I'll just disintegrate."

I think John Lahr talks about this

in an article he did for The New Yorker,

where they strapped a stress bracelet

onto an actor's wrist on a first night,

and it registered the same amount of trauma

as a person in a car crash.

>> BOWEN: I've often wondered about this,

and you address this in the book.

As somebody who is in this for the craft,

once you transitioned onto film and you found

this amazing success with The Usual Suspects...

>> Now you charge me with this (muted),

and I'll beat it.

Okay?

>> BOWEN: What does the fame then do to that craft?

Can you, can you separate them out?

>> Fame affects the people around you

and that affects your reality.

I obviously haven't experienced the kind of

insane fame that, you know,

extremely well-known people have.

I don't envy them at all.

There are days when

you just don't want to go out of the house

or you don't want to go down the street or you don't want...

You don't want to spend your life imprisoned by,

by something that is not in your control anymore.

It forces you to think about yourself

in a totally different way.

Am I who I think I am or am I think...

Or am I what, who these people think I am?

Um, and so,

it sets up, for me, anyway,

it set up a kind of, um,

fear of inauthenticity.

This relentless focus

makes you doubt who you are.

>> BOWEN: The book is titled Walking with Ghosts.

What is it to bring those, those ghosts back

and make them public?

How is that for you?

>> Well, I think all of us walk with ghosts.

Giving life to my parents again, and to my sister,

and to friends who I've lost

is a way of remembering them and making them real

to people who would never have known them,

but may have known people very like them.

>> BOWEN: Hm, well, Gabriel Byrne,

it's been such a pleasure to speak with you.

The book is absolutely beautiful.

We appreciate it.

>> Oh, thank you so much.

♪ ♪

>> BOWEN: Retirement is looking pretty good,

at least in Arts This Week.

♪ ♪

>> ♪ I heard you on the wireless back in '52 ♪

>> BOWEN: Sunday marks 40 years since MTV's launch.

The channel's debut feature: "Video Killed the Radio Star."

Although the network would go on to have a profound impact

on the music industry, it struggled to gain traction

in its first years.

Head to Barrington Stage Company Monday

for the premiere ofBoca,

a new comedy about a group of Florida-based seniors

reveling in their golden years as they golf, gossip,

and soak up the sun.

♪ ♪

Dallas Black Dance Theatre takes up residency

at Jacob's Pillow Wednesday.

The modern dance group will perform a new piece

titledLike Water, composed by renowned choreographer

Darrell Grand Moultrie,

known for his collaborations

with Dance Theatre of Harlem and Alvin Ailey.

The funny is heating up this Friday

at Gloucester Stage Company.

Head to the comedySeared to see what's cooking

with a chef who refuses to make his masterpiece meal mainstream.

♪ ♪

The Viano String Quartet performs works by Dvorák

and under-represented female composers when they take

the stage at Rockport Music Festival Saturday.

♪ ♪

The Hemingway Home and Museum invites visitors to step back

in time to see how the Nobel Prize-winning author

spent his days living and writing in Key West.

It's now also a haven for writers-- and cats--

of all stripes.

♪ ♪

>> My name is Alexa Morgan, and I am the director

of public relations here at the

Hemingway Home and Museum.

So when visitors come and enjoy the property,

they're already taking a step in time because we've tried

our best to preserve when he was here in the 1930s.

So they still get a sense of Hemingway

when they're visiting with us.

♪ ♪

Our visitors are from every end of the spectrum.

They're history buffs, love Hemingway,

read many of his books,

or they've heard about all our cats.

♪ ♪

Hemingway and Pauline, which was his second wife,

traveled to Key West to pick up a Ford Roadster

that her uncle Gus purchased for them.

During that time, they stayed on the island,

and after a few weeks,

fell in love and decided to purchase a home of their own.

In that time, he had finished A Farewell to Arms,

and with that inspiration, wanted to continue

writing and being here.

So they found this property here.

It was not in the best shape,

so they had to renovate.

Pauline, being a employee ofVogue,

was very into fashion and high-end details.

And when they were working on the renovation,

she kind of took the lead

on that and imported many glass

chandeliers that she installed in the home,

along with retiling the bathrooms and things like that,

all those extra details.

This originally was the hayloft of the property,

and he had a catwalk from his bedroom

that extended right here to this floor.

He turned this into his writing studio

and would every morning come, write, work.

And then, in the afternoon, enjoy the island life.

Even in this writing studio, we have one of his typewriters.

He had multiple typewriters.

This is just one of many of his.

While here in the writing studio,

he completed The Snows of Kilimanjaro,

To Have and Have Not,

The Green Hills of Africa, and many other of his

short stories and other works.

With his writings, I know, like, To Have and To Have Not

was more heavy of, like, Key West characters,

more inspired of what he would see

and who he would interact

with while here on the island.

When he wrote Old Man and the Sea,

he was no longer living here,

but it was a lot of, like, the deep-sea fishing

that he was introduced to while living here.

So I think as

throughout his travels, and the people he meets,

and where he has lived has all been an inspiration

for his works.

♪ ♪

So right now we are offering a writing experience where guests

can come on property and enjoy

the writing studio, the home, and the gardens privately,

and maybe get sparked with some kind of inspiration to write

their future novel

or any kind of writing piece.

Well, it's something we've never offered before

and going to other museums and visiting,

there's always some kind of behind the scenes

or some kind of experience you can enjoy.

And everyone is always drawn to our writing studio.

So, we thought, why not open it up for other writers?

We are opening the experience throughout the weekdays,

so they just have to inquire and make sure the date is available,

and we can book that for them.

♪ ♪

Our first booking, it was actually a husband booking it

for his wife as a birthday gift.

She is a up-and-coming author.

So he wanted to give her a spark of inspiration

while they visit in the Keys.

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

>> BOWEN: Now we meet a Florida artist and practicing chemist

who brings to life art and science.

Each of her paintings become an experiment,

rich with texture, color, and energy.

(saw buzzing)

>> So I think as an artist, it's nice to have the artist's touch

from the beginning to end.

(objects rattling)

Instead of using a canvas to wrap it,

I use a wooden panel.

Just because of the resin, I have to keep it

nice and level so that it doesn't pool towards the center.

This one is for a 36-by-36 piece.

Got my four sides.

Now I'm going to go frame it.

♪ ♪

I'm Paola Gracey, I'm an artist and chemist,

practicing chemist during the day.

And then at night is when I start to paint

and become alive.

The thicker the border,

I love the way that the paint looks when it's dripped over it.

♪ ♪

And so I place these to make sure I have

a nice 45-degree angle

before I add the nails to it to reinforce it.

♪ ♪

So now I'm gonna add the plywood to the top.

And this, of course, will be my background.

And let me switch out to the staple gun.

(gun punching)

So I'll paint the background

and then I'll apply the glitter.

And then I'll do several layers of resin.

And then this is what the pieces actually look like

before I apply the acrylics.

♪ ♪

I don't use the typical easel. My easel's the ground.

>> Are you mixing chemicals into some of the paints?

>> Yeah, so I'll add, like, a pouring medium to it.

It's like an experiment for me.

I started working with this technique of painting

back in 2004.

I've noticed over the years it's gotten better,

and a lot of it has to do with my documentation.

So I... Just like I would in the laboratory,

I document in my lab notebook

all my materials, you know, all my observations,

and then I use that information to work on the next piece.

The colors I use mostly

are, like, jewel tones and blues.

And then I guess a lot of it,

the colors that I use are influenced by science

and, and growing up in South Florida,

the colorful atmosphere.

And, and so I like to throw in a shrill orange

or a yellow, a neon yellow, into the piece.

♪ ♪

They just speak to me in different ways.

And I don't know that people understand it.

It's just, you know, how they speak to me is how I

choose what color will go next to the other.

I don't ever let the canvas kind of stop.

♪ ♪

This is where I lift it up and let gravity do its thing.

♪ ♪

There we go.

♪ ♪

What do you think? (laughing)

You see how some start to really take off and then others are...

It's kind of like the race of the drips.

So I try to control it, but at the same time,

it's more of an organic flow to it.

Ad so I'll just assist them and kind of give them momentum.

♪ ♪

All right, Gino.

We can bring it down now.

All right, and that's the end.

If I like the way it is, I bring it back down.

I have to leave it to dry for a couple of days, and that's it.

♪ ♪

Both of my grandmothers

were artists, and so I was always exposed to that.

When I was studying, doing my undergraduate in chemistry,

I always took a painting class to help de-stress.

And there is when I started to merge the science and the art.

When I was taking a biochemistry class, whatever I was studying

I would incorporate into the paintings.

The piece that I just did live today was

theKinetic Energy series.

I love looking at images from the Hubble telescope.

You know, the amount of kinetic energy out there in outer space.

We don't know, you know, much.

But the way that I like to

exhibit it is where it looks like it's going against gravity.

So it kind of confuses people.

They think I throw it.

And so I kind of like that, you know, unknown

and, and that mystical aspect of,

"How did she get the paint to do what it did?"

So this piece is from theSpectra series.

When you look at certain chemicals under the microscope,

a lot of them have that holographic effect,

and it's just beautiful.

I wanted to try to find a glitter

that would represent that.

When I'm in the laboratory analyzing different substances,

we use, you know, liquid chromatography.

And so these are what my results look like at the end of the day.

♪ ♪

I've had several people ask me,

"Well, why don't you cover

the acrylic on the top with the resin?"

And my answer to them is, "Well, I like the texture."

Because if I were to cover it with, you know, the resin,

you lose that effect of the matte against the high sheen.

It just adds, like, this, you know, depth to it.

And then just the glitter, when you walk past it,

the piece becomes alive.

Especially when you have the right lighting,

it really demands your attention.

It's so much fun to work with.

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

>> BOWEN: Before we leave you, we'd like to take a moment

to bring you some of the many murals of Worcester.

Curated annually by

POW! WOW! Worcester, the city boasts the largest collection

of murals in New England.

♪ ♪

And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.

Next week, it's a turn-of-the- century tour as we look back

at the artists who defined the early 20th century,

like the writer Henry James.

>> He and others in that orbit understood

artistic expression could come out in music,

it could come out in dance,

it could come out on the page.

And, in fact, he ends up really painting with words.

>> BOWEN: Then James McNeill Whistler and his mother.

>> Because of her very conservative

religious appearance,

she was able to act as an anchor for him in this very sort of

eccentric way that he led his life.

>> BOWEN: Until then, I'm Jared Bowen.

Thanks for joining us.

As always, you can visit us online at GBH.org/OpenStudio.

And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,

@OpenStudioGBH.

♪ ♪

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