Open Studio with Jared Bowen

S10 E14 | FULL EPISODE

Alight on MARS, Actor Alan Cumming and NPR Host Ari Shapiro

An night exhibition, “Alight on MARS” in Gloucester, an interview with actor Alan Cumming and NPR host Ari Shapiro on their collaboration, "Och & Oy! A Considered Cabaret," “Autumn Rhythm,” by artist Jackson Pollack, and the textured artwork of fabric artist DonCee Coulter from Ohio.

AIRED: October 22, 2021 | 0:26:46
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

>> Our idea was to create a kind of journey

through the site with surprises around every corner.

>> BOWEN: I'm Jared Bowen.

Coming up onOpen Studio--

the sculptures lighting up the night sky in Gloucester.

Then, actor Alan Cumming and NPR's Ari Shapiro

with a cabaret collaboration.

>> There are surprises of seeing each of us

slightly out of our element.

And you get the kinds of conversations

that you might hope to hear

from a deep, thoughtful public radio program

and the kinds of song and dance numbers

that you might expect from an Alan Cumming show.

>> BOWEN: Plus, a close look at

Jackson Pollock's "Autumn Rhythm."

>> One wonderful thing about Pollock's technique

is this embrace of accident

and embrace of the effects of chance.

>> BOWEN: And the fabric artist who's a cut above.

>> Portraits, landscapes,

anything-- sports pieces.

I, I do it all.

If I feel it, I'm gonna do it.

>> BOWEN: It's all now on Open Studio.

♪ ♪

First up, there's a glow in Gloucester right now

thanks to a nocturnal exhibition of light sculptures.

It's all inspired by one of the great 20th century artists

and his love of fireflies.

This fall, as the days grow shorter

and night becomes heavier,

a Gloucester estate is lighting the way.

>> I just love being here at this moment

when it is all about to change.

>> BOWEN: Belinda Rathbone is a guest curator

of this nocturnal exhibition,

featuring 16 members of the Boston Sculptors Gallery

crafting work that floats,

flickers,

and tantalizes.

>> Our idea was to create a kind of journey,

shall we say, through the site

with surprises around every corner.

>> BOWEN: Rathbone is also the author of

a new first-ever biography on kinetic sculptor George Rickey

and says these artists have risen to similar challenges.

>> He was very challenged

about working with outdoor installations,

which is what he's best known for.

And these sculptures here today

are also making work that is alive

in the landscape, as light turns to dark.

>> BOWEN: The exhibition populates

the onetime estate of Paul Manship--

perhaps best known for his 1934 sculpture of Prometheus

in New York City's Rockefeller Center.

Today, his home, studio, and grounds

comprise the Manship Artists Residency,

a place for artists to gather, find inspiration,

and break out of their routines.

Rebecca Reynolds is the executive director.

>> People who come here,

they refer to it as a magical place.

And to me, that's just what we'd love to hear,

because to me that suggests, you know,

otherworldly or transformation,

taking you out of your everyday.

(crickets chirping)

>> BOWEN: The sculptures here are inspired by

Manship's unyielding fondness for fireflies.

So profound that he named his home Starfield

for the twinkling, mesmerizing insects

that dance around the property still.

>> Paul Manship didn't mow his meadow

until the end of July

because he knew if he did it any sooner,

he wouldn't give the fireflies

a chance to go through their life cycle.

>> BOWEN: Now that life cycle has evolved--

both in actual, literal fireflies and in their essence.

Here, light captivates because it places

the Big Dipper beneath the sky

as in Jessica Straus's Drinking Gourd.

Christopher Abrams' piece, Developing Weather,

assumes the form of a portable storm

while Marilu Swett's sculptureGLOW floats.

Now I know this is meant to be seen in the dark,

which we will see in about an hour,

but what are we seeing here?

>> You're seeing a,

a collection of multiple figures

that connect with the ocean.

They're in the spiral formation

because that's one of the flight patterns for fireflies.

>> BOWEN: This has been a show years in the making--

giving artists time craft work both site-specific

and leveraging light at its best.

>> People started working and doing their research on light,

how to incorporate light into their work.

Really only a few of our members

had worked with light in their pieces before,

so it took some digging.

>> BOWEN: But this had already been an area of exploration

for Swett, whose work glows

with phosphorescent pigment.

>> I've come to be interested in, through,

through the research of deep sea creatures

being more and more interested in bioluminescence

and finding that it's not just in the ocean,

it's many, many even fireflies, of course,

and other insects, but mammals as well fluoresce.

>> BOWEN: Other artists have taken their cues

from the property-- from sun-dappled leaves,

a lamp that brightens the home's staircase,

and glass fishing floats tucked into a living room basket.

>> Many of these artists have studios,

and they're working every day in their studios.

But it's different if you can get out of your everyday

and go into a place where there are no expectations.

>> BOWEN: Not to mention, where you can see the light.

(insects chirping)

Next, there have been the great musical match-ups:

Gilbert and Sullivan, Fred and Ginger,

Sonny and Cher.

And now, coming to town this weekend

for their own cabaret is a rather unlikely duo.

Tony-winning actor Alan Cumming is teaming with

NPR'sAll Things Considered host Ari Shapiro.

>> BOWEN: Alan Cumming, Ari Shapiro,

thank you so much for being with us.

>> It's a pleasure to be here.

Thanks for having us. >> Yeah, nice to see you.

>> BOWEN: Nice to see you, too.

Although, is it because I-- how many times

have I interviewed you and you've never asked me

to perform with you?

Not that I have any artistic talent whatsoever,

but I understand that's how this started.

>> Yes, that's exactly why I've not asked you.

>> BOWEN: (laughs)

>> And that's exactly why I asked Ari Shapiro.

(laughter)

>> Because he sings like... a canary.

>> BOWEN: Oh.

>> Aw, I thought you were going to say

sings like a butterfly or something.

(laughter)

I've actually never interviewed Alan for NPR.

I've interviewed you a number of times,

but it was always live events on stage.

I interviewed you for your book,

and I interviewed you for... >> Yeah.

>> ...the 50th anniversary of Stonewall.

>> Yeah. >> You have yet to be on

All Things Considered with me.

>> I know, what's wrong with that,

what's happened to that?

But also that's why, I mean,

that's doing those live things.

There were sort of like almost, you know,

evening events that are, sort of, you know,

kind of cabaret-ish because it's two people chatting

and, and I liked-- what I really loved about

doing those things with Ari, we were friends before that,

but I loved the fact that he didn't, you know,

it wasn't, there weren't sort of fluff pieces.

You sort of challenge me on things, and...

and I felt that I could disagree with him,

or we had a laugh, like a real laugh.

so, it was... >> It was fun,

because you never knew what was going to happen.

>> Yes.

>> And I think our show has that quality too.

>> Yeah, we should stop talking and let Jared ask a question.

>> BOWEN: Well, no, now I'm understanding

how this all came to fruition.

The chemistry is clear.

So let's ask, how did it come together,

and what's the show that you're presenting

as you realize that you have this chemistry?

>> Well, it was after the...

this thing at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.,

that we did together, and I said to Ari,

"You know, we should do a show.

We've got a really good chemistry and a good banter."

And I'd sung with Ari already at Joe's Pub,

when he did a show at Joe's Pub in New York City.

And I said that to him and he was like,

"Oh, you know, don't,

don't, um..." What did you say?

"Don't tease me."

>> I said "Don't joke about that

because I will absolutely take you up on it."

>> BOWEN: (laughs) >> And you said,

"I don't joke about those sorts of things.

I'm serious."

And then we went out bar-hopping

and started brainstorming songs that we might do in our show.

It was show tunes night

at a D.C. gay bar called JR's... >> That's right.

>> And Alan stood on the interior balcony

and flung napkins down on the crowd

during "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina,

my extraordinary Evita." >> It was such fun.

(Cumming laughs)

And then the next day

I sort of called Ari up, like sort of,

"I still respect you in the morning,

like I still mean it."

>> BOWEN: (laughs)

>> And then we started planning it.

>> But I think part of the fun of it

is that we are such an odd couple

and that we're a pair that you wouldn't expect

to see together.

And yet, as the evening unfolds, it starts to make sense.

And there are surprises of seeing each of us

slightly out of our element.

And you get the kinds of conversations

that you might hope to hear

from a deep, thoughtful public radio program

and the kinds of song and dance numbers

that you might expect from an Alan Cumming show.

And somehow, in spite of the differences,

it all comes together

in a new and surprising way. >> Yes.

>> BOWEN: For people who are surprised,

what is the role that, that song has had in your life,

that this is what you go to do when

you're not doing the day job?

>> Well, for many years, I have performed with

a band called Pink Martini.

and that has sort of organically evolved into

doing these cabaret-style shows,

which are a lot more loose, a little more theatrical.

And now with Alan,

this incredibly collaborative experience

that just exercises a very different set of muscles

from the daily news agenda.

>> BOWEN: What's kept you from,

from leaping out of your journalism role

and NPR and just doing this full-time?

>> Well, if I can do both, why wouldn't I?

I mean, it's kind of wonderful

to be able to have one kind of connection

through the stories that I tell on the radio

and the connections that I make with listeners through this

very intimate medium where I'm, by the way,

right now speaking to you from the room where

I've been hosting All Things Considered

for the last 18 months.

>> BOWEN: Well, how is it to perform

now in the pandemic

and this strange world where you obviously know

that people are desperate to be in the theater space?

What kind of energy are you finding?

>> People are very eager and excited to...

to see people perform.

I think it's-- it's lovely.

I mean, we've done a few shows and now this,

we're going back out on the road again

and I'm really looking forward to that.

It is a renewed vigor

and I think also people are, this is sort of a...

I don't know, I think people are

more kind, just in general.

>> Yeah, I think those of us

who love the performing arts

appreciate how special and rare it is

to be in a room with people experiencing something

that will only ever happen in quite that way once.

>> Yeah, yeah. >> BOWEN: In that vein,

I wonder where cabaret comes into this,

because we've all had the,

the existential exploration, right?

And I think there are a lot of our formal lives

that we've kind of let go.

We're working from home,

we realize the things that are important,

which are... are more connections

and relationships.

Have you thought about this show

in that regard, too?

That this is just... there is that connection.

There's a more-- there's the intimacy.

>> Yeah, I think it's too--

I think the form of cabaret itself

has always, to me, seemed really vital.

And really, you know, one of those things,

you can do it relatively easily.

And it also serves a really great purpose

in being able-- you can, you can talk about anything.

You can do anything.

That's what's so-- I love about it.

You can, you know, like in this show,

we're laughing like drains one minute,

then we're being very tender and emotional the next,

and talking about really important personal things.

And I think that sort of, you know,

vulnerability and intimacy that cabaret has.

And then this show has,

I think people are much more ready for it.

>> Did you say laughing like drains?

Is that an expression? >> Do you...

Don't you say laughing like a drain?

>> No, I've never heard that.

Is that Scottish? >> Oh, there's another...

there's another American thing

that I just learned. (laughter)

>> This is what Alan means about

my being unafraid to call him out.

>> BOWEN: Yeah, well, what does that mean?

Let's continue to call you out.

>> Laugh like a drain,

I always imagine,

'cause a drain goes "rah-rah-rah-rah."

>> BOWEN: (laughs) >> That's a first for me.

>> I think it's a great saying.

>> BOWEN: Well, and Alan,

let me ask you-- to depart for just a moment,

you have a book coming out calledBaggage,

and to go back to perceptions that people might have.

They think, "Well, he's talked about issues.

"He is very successful.

"He's won all the trophies.

He's got it down."

But your book is called Baggage.

What are you addressing here this time?

>> In one way, it's a reaction to

the reaction of my last memoir, Not My Father's Son,

which is very much, I felt that people were saying,

"Oh, isn't it great?

"Alan has overcome his past, past trauma and childhood abuse

and he's, you know, he's triumphed and conquered."

And I really wanted to say in this book, "No, nobody"...

well, first of all, everyone has trauma,

everyone has baggage, you know?

So... in various degrees.

But you never triumph over it.

You never win, you never, you just manage it

and you learn to live with it,

and you, and you-- denying its existence

is the way to madness, I think.

So, in a way, I wanted to address that

and also show in this memoir that goes from between--

it's been between two marriages,

my first marriage ending

and my second marriage beginning.

But, you know, I have,

I've made a lot of mistakes in my life.

I have tumbled through, but I, you know,

I've learned a lot of lessons.

And so it's about me trying to say

it's okay to make mistakes.

>> BOWEN: Well, finally, let me just ask Ari,

as you continue on this path with this show,

how much how much has your friendship expanded

in terms of how much you might learn about one another?

>> Oh, Alan and I had a road trip in July

from Maine to Chicago to North Carolina,

and that was a bonding experience I will never forget,

which ended with all of us getting

breakthrough COVID cases, even though we were

fully vaccinated.

>> Yes, it was an incredible trip.

And it was also incredible to be in North Carolina,

and to be told all four of us in the van had COVID

and we were in a mansion.

They put us in a mansion

with all this booze and all this food

with COVID, laughing,

laughing like drains-- like drains.

>> BOWEN: (laughs) >> Laughing like drains.

It was one of the best nights of the pandemic.

>> BOWEN: Well, Alan Cumming, Ari Shapiro, thank you so much.

Can't wait to see the show.

>> Thank you. >> Bye.

♪ ♪

>> BOWEN: The devil is in the details

when it comes to Arts This Week.

♪ ♪

The M.I.T. List Visual Arts Center reopens Sunday

with three all-new exhibitions

from artists working in film, installation, and plant life.

Tuesday, the Huntington Theatre Company presentsWitch,

a dark comedy following an unmarried woman

who's an outcast in a small 17th century village.

But when the devil arrives, he meets his match in her.

Head to the Institute of Contemporary Art Wednesday

to experience the work of photographer Deana Lawson.

Her first-ever museum survey features

her work interrogating family photo albums,

studio portraiture, and staged tableaux.

>> A weekend of deep sea fishing!

>> Well, now we know what our husbands were fishing for!

>> BOWEN: Friday marks 80 years since the premiere

of the Cole Porter musical Let's Face It,

about wives getting even with their husbands.

A later work in Porter's career,

the show first played in Boston's Colonial Theatre

before a successful Broadway run.

Visit the Boch Center Saturday forMillion Dollar Quartet,

the Tony-award winning musical

that tells the story of rock-n-roll greats

Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash,

Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins

and the legendary 1956 recording session

that united all four musicians.

Jackson Pollock's drip painting Autumn Rhythm

is one of the artist's most well-known works,

and is a key example of abstract expressionism.

Here we head to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

for a deep dive into the painting

which was featured in the exhibitionEpic Abstraction.

♪ ♪

>> We're looking at Jackson Pollock'sAutumn Rhythm

from 1950.

The painting came into the collection in 1957,

and it's one of the treasures of the Met's modern collection.

Pollock is most remembered

as a key figure in American art of the 20th century

for these large-scale, so-called drip paintings,

which he started to do in the late 1940s

and into the early 1950s.

These works have a great sense of immediacy

for a range of reasons.

One is that they're large,

which relative to your own scale

makes you feel a little bit small by comparison.

One of the ways in which Pollock played a key role

in changing the very concept of painting

is that he moved the canvas from the easel to the floor,

and he also began working with common household enamel paint.

He liked this paint because it was very viscous.

And so it's the kind of paint that you can throw,

and it creates these dynamic drips and dribbles,

and these whips of paint that seem to be captured

in space on the picture plane.

In the case ofAutumn Rhythm, some of the paint is thin

and elegant, and quite graceful,

whereas other passages are dense and more aggressive and thicker.

There are passages also of the impasto where he's used

parts of the enamel paint that have dried

and created a kind of skin,

a three-dimensionality on the surface of the picture

even as the paint registers as flat.

When people first encounter Pollock's work,

they perceive it as fully intuitive, improvisational,

without any kind of plan or guiding principle.

But, in fact, as you look at multiple works by Pollock,

you can see that each canvas is distinct

and different from another.

If you look closely at Autumn Rhythm,

to the right of center, and toward the bottom,

as we see it on the wall,

there's a little flick of red paint.

It's a little drop of red paint,

once you see it, you can't unsee it

because it seems so anomalous.

One wonderful thing about Pollock's technique

is this embrace of accident,

and embrace of the effects of chance.

The titleAutumn Rhythm, the word "rhythm"

really wonderfully ties

to the sense of rhythm and cadence

that's part and parcel of his gestural painting style.

And what I love about this work

is that this great sense of growth and evolution,

in a way, ties to the change of seasons

and the ebbs and flows of nature in the course of a year.

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

>> BOWEN: We move to Ohio now

for a visit with fabric artist DonCee Coulter.

With his X-ACTO knife,

he works with leathers, suedes, and denims

to render one-of-a-kind, textured artworks.

- I grew up in Columbus, Ohio.

I went to Columbus South High School.

After I graduated high school,

I went to CCAD,

took up ad design and illustration.

Somehow I ended up doing fabric artwork.

So that's a totally different story.

It started with just growing up

in the hip-hop era.

We used to love to just create and I would...

we would go to Schottenstein's and we would buy

these partly torn jean jackets,

and then we would even tear 'em up even some more.

And then what I would do, would paint on either, like,

denim, sometimes even just canvas.

And we'd get a seamstress and she would sew in

some of the scenes into the jacket.

So that kind of really got me into studying fabric.

After a while, I would start going to the fabric stores

and just start buying fabric,

and just creating clothes just freehand.

Didn't know anything about patterns,

I was just basically just,

just being, basically, my creative self.

Well, the technique, I guess, it's a collage style.

So it's a process of where I'm taking something

and I'm just putting layers on top of layers.

♪ ♪

Obviously, I'll start from the background

and move it up to the foreground.

When I initially started working,

they were more or less, like, two-tone pieces.

And I would go into art galleries

and I would look at my work,

compare it to other paintings, and I said, "Okay, I've...

I've got to do better, I've got to step up what I'm doing."

I was like, "I want to take this to a level

of where it looks like a painting."

So there was a lot of trial and errors

and a lot of experimenting.

In the beginning, my pieces were really bulky,

'cause I would use the more heavier fabrics.

When I learned a technique for cutting the thinner fabrics,

that was, it was, like, almost like game over for me.

Because at that point,

I was able to put shadows

and highlights,

and bring more different elements into my artwork

without it looking bulky-- that was the key.

And that's why today people look at it

and they could say this looks like a painting,

until you walk up on it and it's like, "Oh, this is all fabric."

♪ ♪

Oh, number one, leather and suede.

Number two would be denim.

And everything else after that. (chuckles)

♪ ♪

I think that when I work with

leather and suede, it just really translates

really well with my pieces.

And I just love the texture of it.

And I think that it really comes out.

Denim is another totally different look.

I really like that as well.

I love blending the different types of denim together,

as the same way with the leather and suedes.

My only tool is the X-ACTO knife.

And the technique is just learning how to cut

those thin fabrics with accuracy.

There are a lot of little different techniques that I use,

I don't want to just, kind of, like, disclose 'em all.

I'll go on and I'll say one technique I'll use.

If you've got a real thin fabric,

there's a certain glue that you can use,

you can apply to the back of the fabric,

which at that point kind of gives it more of a solid feel,

and it's easier to cut.

Typically, I would say about 95% of what I do,

it basically comes from out of my head.

Typically, I really don't use references a lot.

It's just things that I just think about.

I just love to create.

♪ ♪

So when I'm creating a piece,

I really get into it.

So if I'm creating, let's say, a city scene,

and I'm creating buildings,

I'm not just an artist, I'm an architect.

If I'm doing a portrait and I'm creating a person,

I am also, I'm designing their outfit,

designing their look, so yeah.

That's the thing, when I do a piece, I am all in.

I think the funnest part

is when you're right in the middle,

and when you can see that vision come together,

'cause initially when you're creating a piece, you're like,

"Oh, is this gonna work?"

And then as you're working, you're like,

"Oh, I'm starting to see it now, it's coming together."

On the flip side,

the worst part, I think, is coming towards the end,

trying to finish that piece, 'cause at that point,

you're ready to move on to the next piece,

and that's when you really have to be careful,

'cause you're like, no, stop, take your time.

Make sure you complete this correctly.

♪ ♪

One of the reasons why I use the bird, it represents freedom.

And when I first started doing artwork,

I kind of felt like that actor that gets typecast.

People were expecting me to do a certain type of artwork.

And one of the reasons why I adapted that bird,

'cause that bird allows me to do anything I want to do.

You know, if I want to do an abstract piece,

it's gonna be, I'll do that tomorrow.

Portraits, landscapes, anything--

sports pieces, I do it all.

If I feel it, I'm gonna do it.

♪ ♪

Art is my therapy.

I really hope that, for the viewer,

that it affects them the way that it affects me.

So a lot of times,

if I'm dealing with something, I go into my studio.

The art is... that's my release.

And I'm able to just basically deal with stress in that way.

So I want that to be conveyed with my artwork,

also with the viewer.

So that's one of the things

I wanted to also accomplish with some of these,

my new pieces as well.

So I really hope that resonates with the viewer.

♪ ♪

>> BOWEN: Before we leave you now,

we have a look at Eva LeWitt's massive handmade sculpture

hanging inside the I.C.A.'s entryway.

TitledUntitled (Mesh Circles),

it features bands of mesh fabric

that, from a distance, create circular forms.

And with a bit of air and light in the room, they shimmer.

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.

Next week, we head to one of the only streets in America

where you'll find two Frank Lloyd Wright homes,

and open to the public.

>> We were convinced that having two Frank Lloyd Wright houses

that people could compare and contrast

was an ideal educational opportunity.

We maintain them for the public for the future.

(ensemble singing)

>> BOWEN: Plus theater artist Whitney White

explores what it means to be an ambitious Black woman,

by way ofMacbeth.

>> My question is, if this narrative

surrounding this woman is so prominent in our society,

what is it doing to us, you know?

And that's the kickoff for the show.

>> 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.

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

STREAM OPEN STUDIO WITH JARED BOWEN ON

  • ios
  • apple_tv
  • android
  • roku
  • firetv

FEATURED PROGRAMS