Open Studio with Jared Bowen

S9 E39 | FULL EPISODE

MassArt x SoWa, Jazz Pianist Witness Matlou, and more

New emerging artists at MassArt x SoWa, music and conversation with Jazz musician Witness Matlou, Boston Lyric Opera’s traveling opera performances, and the Museum of Graffiti in Florida.

AIRED: May 13, 2021 | 0:26:46
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

>> If just one person connects with my work

or sees something they haven't seen before,

then I feel like something good has happened.

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

it's the art of the new

as we see where graduating MassArt students

are taking the art world.

Then jazz musician Witness Matlou at the piano.

(playing jazz tune)

Plus, opera's back, and coming soon to a trailer near you.

>> ♪ Si tu ne m'aimes pas

♪ Si tu ne m'aimes pas, je t'aime ♪

>> BOWEN: And a visit to the Museum of Graffiti.

>> This art form that has not been celebrated

by museums in the past, we had to make our own museum.

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

First up, if you want to see the future of art,

head to Boston's newest art gallery.

The Massachusetts College of Art and Design

has just opened MassArt SoWa--

a space in Boston's hot gallery district

featuring work by artists about to graduate

from the school's fine arts program.

SoWa is a hive for Boston's art scene--

a neighborhood where galleries, studios,

and design firms merge.

Their newest neighbor?

MassArt SoWa, a white-walled gallery space

introducing us to the freshest voices

launching into the art world.

>> Knowing that people are actually going to see the work

is inspiring.

I feel like it opens doors for us.

>> BOWEN: Jesus Pizarro is one of eight artists featured here.

All are graduating from the Massachusetts College

of Art and Design's Graduate Program.

And the art on view

represents their thesis projects--

work largely conceived, developed,

and refined over the last year.

>> This work is definitely about the pandemic,

definitely dealing with the mental health

and the strains of the pandemic.

>> BOWEN: In his piece Pandepression,

Pizarro contends with a year that left him waylaid

after he contracted the coronavirus.

>> There's, like, sand, there's Kool-Aid,

and then there's the cast of my face,

and I wanted all those things

to feel almost heavy in the work.

In the same way I felt heavy during this pandemic.

>> BOWEN: In other work he traces family lineage,

portrays his own avatar as viewed

amid on-screen glitches,

and renders his deep affection for his grandmother,

actually a series of paintings that can be reconfigured.

>> The original image is grandma cooking the pastelitos.

And when you move it around,

it becomes the Puerto Rican flag.

>> BOWEN: And does it change for you that she's rearranged?

>> Actually, yeah, it's interesting,

it's like my cultural identity is being Puerto Rican.

Yet I was born and raised here

in Boston, Massachusetts, grew up here.

So it's about the navigating of culture and identity.

>> For students to think about

what they want their work to do in the world,

what they want to articulate, how they want to communicate it,

this, like, gives us an opportunity for that that's new.

>> BOWEN: Lucinda Bliss is the college's

dean of Graduate Studies.

The gallery is her brainchild.

It's a showcase for varied voices and forms--

video that frees us into fantasy,

photography that explores America the beautiful

but not always seen.

And an installation that bares its teeth.

>> It really is highly individualized.

The best graduate programs

are meeting each student where he or she is, so,

you know, if I'm thinking about Sarah's work,

she's in conversation with the history of painting

and contemporary painting.

>> BOWEN: Sarah is Sarah Hull,

a painter forever captivated by aerial perspectives.

>> This was going back to the same rooftop

over about 15 days in Ybor City in Tampa,

and noticing different things each day

and then adding them to the composition.

>> BOWEN: A former nurse-midwife who's turned

to painting full-time,

Hull says that she's always been distracted--

in every way an artist should be.

>> From as long as I can remember,

I've been in trouble for not paying attention.

But I've always been interested in how things look

from unique points of view,

and that sense of wonder has stayed with me.

>> BOWEN: So I wonder what it's like

to walk down the street with you?

>> (laughs) I have no sense of direction,

which is actually really funny.

But I, I remember,

based on the purple shadow underneath the tree

or the green sign

that had a little bit of red from the leaf.

>> BOWEN: As disparate as the art here might be,

the artists themselves have remained tightly knit--

especially during the pandemic--

prodding and pushing each other forward online

to arrive at this moment with their best work,

now ready for the outside world and public consumption.

>> If just one person connects with my work

or sees something they haven't seen before,

if they, when they take a walk, they notice a shadow

or a perspective that they haven't thought about before,

then I feel like something good has happened.

>> BOWEN: And that change can happen.

Which is what Jesus Pizarro hopes

when visitors see this family self-portrait titled

Queen and Her Knights.

It's his view of his mother and siblings who,

in a crown and shining armor,

rise above a history of hardship

in a piece that pushes into the visitor's space.

>> Thinking about BLM and all these different movements.

Art has definitely been a powerful tool

in helping social causes.

People oftentimes can hear a story.

But it's different when you can see the story.

And I think that's what art can do for you.

It allows you to be a part of the story

and see it firsthand.

>> BOWEN: Pianist and composer Witness Matlou

recently performed as part of the Jazz World Trio

right here at GBH to celebrate International Jazz Day,

with a performance called JazzNOW: No Borders.

(playing jazz tune)

I sat down with Matlou before the concert

to talk about the influence of jazz

in his native South Africa.

Witness Matlou, thank you so much for being with us.

>> Thank you, Jared. Thanks for having me.

>> BOWEN: Well, we're speaking to you

on International Jazz Day, April 30.

What's the significance of that for you?

>> Especially, I think the word jazz itself,

you know, being music that's being celebrated

all around the world,

it's, you know, has created a platform

for, for musicians in particular to really,

you know, be there, out there, you know,

through their music on works of sorts of social change.

>> BOWEN: It must carry extraordinary weight

for you this year.

>> Yes, and especially, yes, during this times,

you know, with the global pandemic,

but jazz is also music that still connects us.

You know, even during this, this struggle,

we can still, you know, celebrate creativity.

(playing jazz tune)

BOWEN: Well, you grew up in South Africa.

Jazz is considered a very American art form.

So how did it germinate for you?

How were you attracted to it there?

>> There seemed to be a highlight really

towards the release of Nelson Mandela.

There was a big, you know, vibrancy that was going on

and there was people, like, Miriam Makeba

who had recorded music.

People like Abdullah Ibrahim, who recorded the music,

music that kind of captured the spirit

of what was going on in the country,

and that anticipation of Nelson Mandela being released.

And that sense of celebration and towards the,

you know, Black people being able to vote

for the first time.

So there's that level of excitement

and jazz kind of represented that.

>> BOWEN: Tell me what you've done

in regard to Nelson Mandela

and using his words in the piece that you've created.

>> This is within the context of the composition piece

that I that I'm working on

that highlights important aspects

of South African history.

And this one with Nelson Mandela is the...

his trial called the, the Rivonia Trial.

So he was in trial and he...

the speech that he made with... during that trial,

which, you know, he was expected to be sentenced to,

you know, to get a death sentence.

And, you know, I think he was advised

to basically confess to all what he's charged for,

to say he's guilty,

hopefully, you know, for a better deal.

But he, he kind of knew that was kind of the end for him.

And he, he was really, you know, his speech was very touching.

And, you know, I wrote a piece that kind of

tries to highlight a little bit of that.

And let me just play a little bit of that,

if you would allow me...

See if we can get it there.

So in this speech, he says,

"I have fought against white domination.

"And I have fought against

"Black domination.

"I've cherished the idea

"of a free and democratic society.

Where all people can live together in peace."

(plays flourish)

And at the end of the speech, it ends with,

"For that ideal, if need be, I'm prepared to die."

(laughs) So.

So that really, you know,

there's something there to be said

about the musicality of the speech itself.

Once you can really find the emotion through sound,

that's the key point for, you know,

that, that's the first step, really.

As, as he was reciting the speech,

I, I felt it, you know, resonating with this sound.

(playing pensive chords)

At the beginning, that sense of suspense,

a little bit of suspense, there.

It's not, it's not this.... (plays heavy chord)

And it's not that. (plays heavy chord)

Which, it's on its own, has a, has a,

has a unique, you know, identity, emotional state.

The word democratic itself, too, has a...

(bright, rising chord)

a very present sound, right?

>> BOWEN: Well, I wonder, too, when you're thinking

of the words of somebody like Nelson Mandela,

is there an incredible weight?

Does... is that an added challenge for you?

>> There's something about the way he talks that, you know,

he, you know, punctuates the words...

>> We are deeply concerned,

both in our country

and here,

of the very large number

of dropouts by school children.

>> There's that sense of pause in between words,

which really does, you know,

let the word ring by itself, you know.

It's like a, one note on the piano.

(plays single note)

If you let the note ring.

Or a chord by itself, if you let it...

(plays single chord) ...ring.

There's many ways it can ring.

>> BOWEN: I want to ask about another piece

that you've written about the confluence of oceans...

>> Yes. >> BOWEN: ...as you see

at the tip of South Africa.

But for you, it's a metaphor of how we can,

very optimistic, how we can come together.

>> Yes, so, with the confluence of the two oceans,

that's really more about the Atlantic Ocean

and the Indian Ocean.

So where they meet at the southern point in the cape,

that area itself, you know,

it can be very violent, sometimes.

And it can be calm.

If we had all cold oceans throughout,

things may not be good,

if we had warm oceans throughout.

So there's the cold and the warm,

of which those differences...

we do see those differences in society and, and people.

And if oceans can coexist (laughs)

like that, then you know with the, with the...

my message with that piece to humanity is to that,

you know, we can learn from nature.

We can learn from, you know, those two oceans

that, that still exist.

There's the violent side of the ugly and the bad,

but there's still a way of existing, you know,

which we kind of need today, you know.

>> BOWEN: Well,what does that harmony sound like to you?

>> You know, we with, with, with that sound, I, I ended up,

you know, I came up with like some

fourth intervals, the intervals are fourths.

So that sounds...

So right there, so I was, kind of, looking for.

Like, how do you express water?

(laughter)

That's another thing on, on, on,

on the piano, like, sound of water.

For me, kind of, a crystal, kind of a glass or so...

that could...

>> BOWEN: Well, you have given us a soundtrack

for the future,

I hope, as we figure out as a people,

how to come together.

Witness Matlou,

thank you so much for being with us.

>> Thank you, Jared. Thank you for having me.

(playing upbeat, lively jazz tune)

>> BOWEN: Some world premiere performances await us in

Arts This Week.

Sunday, Berkshire Theatre Group presents a virtual screening

ofNicholas, Anna & Sergei Live from Florence.

Billed as a memory play,

the performance stars pianist and performer Hershey Felder

as Russian composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The Huntington Theatre Company presents

the world premiere of Black Beans Project

by artist-in-residence Melinda Lopez, Monday.

It's about two siblings who connect virtually

to share a secret family recipe

and some secrets of their own.

>> It's going to be a scorcher today.

>> BOWEN: 32 years ago Wednesday,

Spike Lee's groundbreaking film Do The Right Thing

premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.

Although it didn't win the top prize,

the movie now has a place in the Library of Congress

National Film Registry.

>> (operatic singing)

Witness the world premiere of White Snake Projects'

Death by Life Thursday.

The opera addresses racism and mass incarceration,

and features texts from imprisoned writers

and their families.

It's Shakespeare Saturday with Love's Labor's Lost,

presented by Hub Theatre Company.

The Bard's playful romantic comedy

is presented via a pay-what-you-can virtual stream.

Next, Boston Lyric Opera is back with some moving performances--

literally.

It's hitting the road with the simple formula

have pianist, have singer, will travel.

The company has announced spring dates for its Street Stage,

but it all kicked off last fall with a visit to our studios.

>> (singing in Italian)

>> BOWEN: This dress rehearsal

for the operaNorma back in March

was the last time the Boston Lyric Opera was on stage.

>> (singing)

>> BOWEN: What a difference a pandemic makes.

With no sense of when indoor performances can resume,

the B.L.O. has decided to take the show on the road

in this tricked-out trailer.

Esther Nelson leads the company.

>> But you can't just give up on life singing,

because we need it-- we're social animals.

We need that interaction.

>> BOWEN: Where do you hope to take this?

>> Everywhere.

>> BOWEN: The opera company is calling this 26-foot-long,

eight-and-a-half-foot-wide custom-built trailer

its "Street Stage."

It was painted-- where else

but at the Museum of Fine Arts--

by a group of teenagers from Artists for Humanity.

And recently, it rolled up

to our GBH studios for a dry run.

With its doors parted, the trailer is open for opera.

>> (playing "Habañera" fromCarmen on piano)

>> ♪ Si tu ne m'aimes pas

♪ Si tu ne m'aimes pas, je t'aime ♪

>> BOWEN: Is it opera if it's in a trailer?

>> Opera is singing

and telling you a story that moves you.

>> BOWEN: The B.L.O. is planning

on a string of pop-up performances,

where the Street Stage will pull up to communities

all around Greater Boston

for some surprise, socially distanced concerts.

(thermometer beeps) >> All right, there's your temp.

>> BOWEN: And here, a medic always has a starring role.

>> I'm going to have you fill out this form right here.

It's just a self-assessment form,

and it basically asks if you're having any,

experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19.

>> As artists, we, we go to where the art is

and where the art can be done.

>> BOWEN: For the moment, Street Stage is traveling

only with a pianist and singer, although other musicians

and performers can be added-- even to the roof--

as safety guidelines allow.

>> ♪ Autour de toi, vite, vite ♪

♪ Il vient, s'en va

>> BOWEN: This is the first time mezzo-soprano Zaray Rodriguez,

a B.L.O. Emerging Artist, has performed in seven months.

Until the coronavirus set in,

she had a packed calendar of upcoming concerts and operas.

Now, nothing.

>> There are so many musicians and, and singers

just trying to make it work, in that sense,

and I think we are, we, we are a very resilient kind.

>> BOWEN: So this opportunity before a small audience,

even if it's onstage in a parking lot

sandwiched between traffic and tow trucks,

is hugely meaningful to her, if not downright emotional.

>> BOWEN: What will it mean to you

to have people in front of you again?

>> (sighs): Well, I honestly think

I would probably cry a little bit, yeah.

(laughs): Probably, you know, get a little teary and,

and if it happens while I'm singing, then, you know,

the singer in me will control it.

♪ Time to gather and time to spare ♪

>> BOWEN: On the Street Stage playlist is the song "Somewhere"

fromWest Side Story.

It's more than 60 years old,

but it's an especially apt anthem for today.

>> ♪ Somewhere

♪ We'll find a new way of living ♪

♪ We'll find a way of forgiving ♪

♪ Somewhere

There is things that we can't control

that are happening around us.

But for the human spirit, it's so important for us

to be hopeful, and to stay hopeful.

>> The hope that, that our audiences will still need music,

will still need the message of hope.

>> You have to have some sense of hope.

And when you look through history,

uh, wars, um, disasters, it's music, very often,

that is the first sign of hope.

>> ♪ And I'll take you there

♪ Somehow

♪ Someday

♪ Somewhere

(song concludes)

>> BOWEN: In Miami, graffiti abounds

with entire neighborhoods bathed in murals.

No surprise, then, that there you'll also find

the Museum of Graffiti, a first-of-its-kind space

celebrating the storied history of graffiti

and the evolution of the art

from a vandal's form of expression

to an international art movement.

>> My name is Alan Ket

and I'm the co-founder of the Museum of Graffiti.

>> Allison Freidin.

I'm the co-founder of the Museum of Graffiti in Miami, Florida.

>> The Museum of Graffiti is the only museum

of its kind in the world.

We give context to the walls that you might see

when you walk around this neighborhood.

One of the most important exhibitions

that we currently have on display is calledStyle Masters:

the Birth of the Graffiti Art Movement.

And that exhibition takes you from 1970,

when this was an art form

started by kids tagging their names

on the streets of New York City

and Philadelphia and Los Angeles,

and shows how it evolved from simple print writing

on walls and on trains

to an art form that started to have style.

And then we go into the emergence of these artists

into the art galleries.

How did that happen? Why did that happen?

You get to see original works of art created in the 1980s.

And we continue along this timeline to show the emergence

of this art form in Miami.

And we go through the '90s, 2000s.

Now, as it moves out of New York City,

travels across the world,

here in America, goes onto freight trains

and crisscrosses all over the country and introduces

this youthful art form to audiences everywhere.

What separates graffiti from any other art form

is the desire for the mastery of letters, how to bend them

and tweak them and enlarge them and make them your own.

And so when some people talk about street art

and they ask, "Well, what's the difference

between street art and graffiti?"

Well, street art has to do more with imagery.

Graffiti is about lettering.

>> So what we're looking at here is a site-specific mural

by DEFER from Los Angeles.

What we teach about every single day at the Museum of Graffiti

is how looking at each one of these walls can give you

context clues to where these artists are from.

For instance, in this wall,

you can see how DEFER incorporates inspiration

of Los Angeles gang graffiti

by taking something that society typically looks at

as, as bitter or as violent, he makes it beautiful.

And we like to compare this or contrast it

to this wall by JonOne.

And JonOne was a train painter.

He did huge pieces on the subways in New York City.

And it's so important to see how two graffiti writers

who are doing the same genre of art

can have such a different take.

>> This is the world's largest art form.

It has practitioners all over the world.

That fact, that it's sort of expanding

and going around the world and very open to anybody

picking it up and adding something to it

has started to change the perception of this

being purely a vandal's movement

to an art form that is celebrated and accepted

globally and desired globally.

>> Communities have woken up.

And that's where we are today,

which is that social norms and cultural norms have shifted

just the way that they've done

in other areas of low-level crimes.

People are opening up and seeing the benefit

to including this type of art form within our community.

>> My personal history, I'm from New York City.

I started painting in Brooklyn, New York,

as a teenager in the 1980s.

I painted exclusively... illegally painted the trains.

I painted the walls and I've gotten arrested.

It didn't dissuade me

from being a participant in this art movement.

As a matter of fact, it made me sort of more entrenched.

And the Museum of Graffiti today

is sort of the project that I dreamed of.

And I was able to convince artists that normally

would not give their artwork to anybody

to allow me to have it because they trusted me.

They know me as a member of the community.

This art form that has not been celebrated

by museums in the past, we had to make our own museum.

>> BOWEN: And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.

Next week, a journey to the Arab world

for the art that took shape in the 20th century.

Plus, the group of women who, for more than 20 years,

spend one week together every year painting.

They are the 21 in Truro.

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