Open Studio with Jared Bowen

S9 E38 | FULL EPISODE

Costume Designer Ruth Carter, Shelter Music Boston, and more

Springfield native and Academy Award winning costume designer Ruth Carter career retrospective at the New Bedford Art Museum/ArtWorks! Shelter Music Boston and bringing classical music performances into homeless shelters that includes the work of young indigenous composers. “Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation, “ exhibit at the MFA. Nevada artist Ben Rodgers.

AIRED: May 07, 2021 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

>> BOWEN: How overtly political was your work

inDo The Right Thing?

>> We all knew that we were doing a protest film.

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

she's got the look-- Academy Award winning costume designer

Ruth Carter walks us through

her most memorable designs on film.

Then Shelter Music Boston brings us the sounds

of young Native American composers.

(string quartet performing)

Plus artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

and the hip-hop generation that grabbed hold of the art world.

>> This is a youth movement and in America, youth is everything.

So whoever's leading that charge is going to win.

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

First up, if clothes make the man,

costumes define the character.

That's been the mantra of Ruth Carter,

the Academy Award winning costume designer

whose work can be traced from Spike Lee's earliest films

to the wonderland of Wakanda inBlack Panther.

We recently toured a retrospective of her work

at the New Bedford Art Museum.

This is one of Oprah Winfrey's ensembles from the filmSelma

by director Ava Duvernay,

one of countless costumes Ruth Carter has designed

over her 30-plus-year career.

>> We had Oprah's character, who was Annie Lee Cooper,

who had a scene where she was going

to attempt to register to vote.

>> You work for Mr. Dunn down at the rest home, ain't that right?

>> Annie Lee Cooper was a domestic.

So I at first gave Oprah kind of her uniform.

And then Ava said, you know, "No, I feel like

"this is a special occasion for her.

Let's have her dress up in her Sunday best for this."

>> BOWEN: And why would she have had a brooch?

>> Well, you know, I remember brooches and earrings

when I was a little girl in church.

So that's a little bit of, you know, my heart on--

in the costume design.

>> BOWEN: At the New Bedford Art Museum, this is a collection

of costumes Carter has personally kept over the years,

from her work on the Roots reboot,

to a polyester panoply

from the comedy Dolemite Is My Name,

to Spike Lee's groundbreaking Do the Right Thing.

>> Always do the right thing.

>> BOWEN: How overtly political

was your work in Do The Right Thing?

>> We all knew that we were doing a protest film--

this was about one hot day in New York City.

The colors andDo The Right Thing are very saturated

almost in a surrealistic form,

that at night you could see these colors almost ignite.

>> BOWEN: Carter's career began in Springfield, Massachusetts,

where she interned in a college costume shop

after a brief spell as an actress.

I actually could feel how important my wardrobe

was to my, my performance.

>> BOWEN: Her job, she says, is literally in the details--

the little things she does in color,

fabric, and accessories

to manifest a mood.

>> The aging of the jacket,

the billowing of the pockets,

shoes that are run over.

All silently tell the story.

>> She's like unmatched in the field,

and just a really, really special, thoughtful person.

>> BOWEN: Jamie Uretsky

is the museum's curator, who spent two years

sifting through Carter's costumes,

sketches, and mood boards.

But her chief inspiration was the designer's

Oscar acceptance speech in 2019

for her work onBlack Panther, making her the first

Black person to win an Academy Award for costume design.

>>Black Panther, Ruth Carter!

(cheers and applause)

>> Thank you for honoring African royalty,

and the empowered way woman can look and lead on-screen.

I think that her as, like, a powerful Black woman,

who has just, like, had her hand in, you know,

like over 40 films that are imperative

to understanding American history

and the Black experience.

She makes the experiences of these people feel real.

>> BOWEN: When she first started out in Hollywood,

Carter says there was a limit to how Black people

were portrayed on camera.

>> Every time a Black person was cast, they were a gang banger,

or they had their hat turned backwards,

or they had big gold chain.

And there were so many more stories

in the community that weren't being seen.

>> BOWEN: Carter is now a world away from that time,

in the world of Wakanda--

the fictional setting of Black Panther.

Her looks came from deep research

into African tribes and influences, and after the film's

blockbuster success, Carter's designs

on Wakandan culture melded into our own.

>> I hate to tell you, but you can't get to Wakanda.

It's totally made up.

(laugh) But it's kind of an aspirational place.

We want to create that place that you want to go to because

it looks like, you know, the perfect place

to experience culture that has not been appropriated,

or has not been spoiled by, you know, colonization.

>> BOWEN: Spend some time with Carter and you quickly realize

she may be most proud of how much research she's done,

tracing the path of indigo from Sierra Leone

through generations of Africans

as she illustrated inRoots.

Noting how tight Martin Luther King, Jr. kept his collar

or sitting down at the Massachusetts Department

of Correction to read the letters of Malcolm X.

>> Learning was very important to him

and growth was very important to him.

When I look at Malcolm X, I can see my intent.

The color palette is very vibrant

when he's a young dancer in the dance halls.

It kind of washes itself away

the denim, in the prison.

And then when he comes out,

it's almost like a black and white film.

>> BOWEN: A fitting if not poetic description

from a woman who has always been able to dress the part.

Next, Shelter Music Boston was founded to bring

classical music performances into homeless shelters.

Shut down, but not shut out during the pandemic,

the organization has developed a program to present the work

of young Indigenous composers.

And they're inspired by everything

from reggae to heavy metal.

Here's a listen.

(string quartet performing)

Julie Leven of Shelter Music, thank you so much

for being with us. >> Thank you.

I'm thrilled to be here. >> BOWEN: And Sage Bond,

we're pushing forward with our technical prowess here.

You're joining us from Arizona, virtually, of course.

Thank you so much for being here.

>> Thank you.

>> BOWEN: Of course, Shelter Music Boston is known

for bringing classical music into homeless shelters

throughout the city and just completely changing

the dynamic once we hear classical music.

But what is this program? >> Well, this program

is bringing together the remarkable talent

of Native American composers, a population--

not the current population of composers we're working with,

but of course, historically, the Indigenous populations of

our United States have been made homeless at times.

And so I saw some connections there between

the population Shelter Music Boston serves

and some of the challenges that Indigenous populations

have faced over centuries.

>> BOWEN: Well, I want to ask you about your music,

I find this so fascinating

that you love heavy metal... but this is

a classical music piece

performed with a chamber orchestra,

but I think we can hear-- we do hear

right, your heavy metal interests in this piece?

>> Yes, I love thrash metal, I grew up listening to it,

my parents both listen to metal,

and I wanted to be a heavy metal guitarist

when I was, like, nine-years-old.

>> BOWEN: Sage, who are some of your heavy metal groups

and the songs that you listened to that inspired you?

>> Well,

my top, my top artist right now is Judas Priest.

And my favorite song by them is "Painkiller" because

you have all these different aspects of metal--

it takes you through a whole journey.

(Judas Priest performing "Painkiller")

>> ♪ Faster than a bullet ♪ Terrifying scream

>> When I get the chance to write for other instruments,

I do bring up

the heavy metal aspects of, like, dueling guitar solos

and the fast triplet chugging.

(string quartet performing)

>> BOWEN: As these composers continue to present music,

what are you starting to hear, what is being expressed?

>> Yeah, well, the composers that Shelter Music Boston

is working with for this project are all young people

and faculty members in the Native American Composers

Apprentice Program that

has-- is training people to write for classical instruments

but not to write classical music per se.

And what seems to be happening is the students

and the faculty are putting the sounds that are their sounds,

images of their land into this music.

There's been a lot of loss this year

and some of the newer pieces that we've featured,

the students have talked about the loss of a family member

and you hear poignance.

>> My inspiration for writing my piece

is a remembrance of my late uncle, Stanley Brown.

(performing "Farewell")

>> BOWEN: Well, Sage, as Julie said,

what you've been contending with...

and you're pretty forthright in what you talk about,

so how are your-- what are your feelings,

what are your experiences that have come into your piece?

>> Well, when I was writing Illusion,

I always write from experience, I've struggled with anxiety

and depression and music has been this healthy outlet

that has helped me through so many down times

and whenever I get to write, this is just... all these

raw emotions, all these real feelings

that I want to express are on the score,

I share it with other people and hopefully

when other people hear that they'll also find the bravery

to tell their story themselves.

And, yeah, just, I want to inspire people to be able to...

like, these things are okay to talk about,

these things are okay to share with other people and it's safe.

>> BOWEN: We do find some silver linings in the pandemic,

like opportunities like this, expanding our horizons

and our networks and finding young talents

where we may not have looked before, so,

how do you use this now? >> We have expanded

our partners by our virtual delivery, so when we're able

to give live concerts,

we will hopefully be able to give more live concerts,

which means employing more musicians.

Music changes things, can be uplifting,

that's the whole mission of Shelter Music Boston,

to bring creativity, dignity, and passion into environments

that are struggling for humanizing interaction.

>> BOWEN: How do you see that happen,

when you go into a shelter? >> Oh, it's remarkable.

We come into a place that's volatile, people don't often

even share the same verbal language,

can't talk to each other, very stressful time in their lives,

the energy is chaotic, we start to play,

and within five minutes, you can feel the room change.

And the audience members and staff members also.

Staff say we love it the nights the concerts are here because

people go to sleep earlier, everyone's more calm,

the whole environment calms down-- it's magic,

and that's what music can do. >> BOWEN: Well Sage,

what is it like for you, I mean, here you are--

first of all you're buried in your studies.

You're out in Arizona and then

you get to log on and see your music being performed here

by musicians in Boston-- what is that like?

>> I always love

sharing my music with people,

so being able to work with Shelter Music Boston,

it's so refreshing to hear

another interpretation of my piece.

>> BOWEN: Has this changed what you want to do

or think you can do going forward?

>> I was so intimidated by this fancy music,

I was this metalhead and I didn't know,

like, what, of course, what went into it.

Now, I'm still a little, like, of course,

not as confident in myself,

but it's growing every day-- I'm so grateful that

people want to hear from me or I feel like they're

taking a chance on me, even though I'm not a graduate yet.

But I'm working towards that goal and it feels great

>> BOWEN: Well, Sage, to keep people acquainted

with your work, we're going to use your music

to play us out of this segment, thank you so much for joining us

from Arizona-- good luck

with your finals this week, we appreciate having you here.

And you Julie Leven, too, thank you so much.

>> Thanks for having us, it's been a pleasure.

>> Thank you so much.

>> BOWEN: Moms without filters.

That's one of the shows you'll find in Arts This Week.

On Sunday, celebrate Mother's Day by streaming

Greater Boston Stage Company's The Best of the MOMologues,

featuring selections from the original comedy

about the ups and downs of motherhood.

>> ♪ I'm stepping out with my baby ♪

♪ Can't go wrong 'cause I'm in right ♪

>> BOWEN: Monday marks Fred Astaire's birthday in 1899.

The tap dancer and actor is best known for his appearances

inEaster Parade and Holiday Inn.

Generally not one to overpraise, George Balanchine called Astaire

"the greatest dancer in the world."

Visit the Concord Museum Thursday to see

Every Path Laid Open:

Women of Concord and the Quest for Equality.

It commemorates the role of Concord women in the fight

for the right to vote.

Friday, head to the Currier Museum of Art

to see Robert Lugo's new exhibition of ceramics

inspired by his Puerto Rican roots

and childhood in Philadelphia.

It's a new body of work debuting a design aesthetic

he calls "ghetto rustic."

Starting on Saturday, watch the New England premiere

ofA Woman of the World on demand.

The one-person show recounts the life of Mabel Loomis Todd,

who spent 13 years with poet Emily Dickinson and her family.

Next, in the late 1970s and early '80s,

a group of artists moved from the streets of New York,

where their canvases were subway cars and brick walls,

to the tony confines of exclusive art galleries.

The Museum of Fine Arts charts the course

of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and the hip-hop generation

in an exhibition that's just been extended.

So we're taking another look at a story

we first brought you last fall.

Blazing off the walls of the Museum of Fine Arts,

the massive paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

He was a New York street artist of the 1970s and '80s

who became a darling of the art world.

Three years ago, one of his paintings sold

for more than $100 million at auction.

Legend, icon, maverick:

he wore all the crowns so frequently depicted in his work

before his young, untimely death.

>> He often gets described as the kind of

sole Black genius, artistically, of the time,

and what we're trying to show

is that he absolutely was an incredibly genius artist,

but he was surrounded by his peers

who were on a similar journey with him.

>> BOWEN: This new exhibition at the MFA

is the first to examine Basquiat

and his fellow artists in the hip-hop generation

who changed the chemistry and sound of New York.

(old-school hip-hop playing)

Rammellzee, Fab 5 Freddy, Basquiat:

they were among a crop

of fresh-faced art world outsiders

from marginalized communities.

But they made New York theirs,

says co-curator Liz Munsell.

>> They came from many different boroughs--

Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx--

and then they began to converge downtown.

They were getting a little bit older

and they saw this incredible scene of 1980s creatives,

people like Madonna around.

And they became part of this club scene.

>> BOWEN: But before that, they were labeled graffiti artists,

pursued by police for tagging buildings

and a most prized canvas,

the New York City subway.

Painting subway cars guaranteed

their work would be seen by thousands of people

as trains raced throughout the city.

>> There's a lot of chaos for the eye to see every day.

>> BOWEN: Writer and musician Greg Tate

is the show's co-curator.

He knew most of the artists featured here

when they all began to mix with performers,

filmmakers, and musicians in New York's downtown scene.

(club music playing)

>> This is a youth movement.

And in America, youth is everything.

So whoever is leading that charge is going to win.

>> BOWEN: What the outsiders called graffiti,

the artists simply called writing--

a form Basquiat noted had dated to ancient times,

and what artist Lady Pink said was like calligraphy.

But it was all a language the artists shared.

>> Abstracting it, coding it, crossing it out.

They really, um, in the vein of hip-hop music,

are incorporating really whatever they can

get their hands on and very freely, in an unfiltered way,

getting all of that into their canvases.

>> BOWEN: But these artists wanted off the streets

and into the galleries.

They demanded they be heard and seen.

The art world took notice, and in the U.S., two of them,

Keith Haring and Basquiat, rocketed into the stratosphere.

>> I could see the handwriting on the wall.

It was mine.

I've made my mark in the world,

and it's made its mark on me.

>> BOWEN: Basquiat's work was fueled

by his interest in history,

not to mention the years of museum visits

he'd made with his mother while growing up.

He charted his thoughts in notebooks.

>> I went to a party, went to one party at his house once,

and, um, you know, walked to, um,

walked past his, you know, bedroom

on the way to the, to the loo.

I saw there was,

like, a video ofSuper Fly that was on,

and then, um, you know, and then all these art books stacked up.

So when he wasn't painting, you know,

he was in there just, you know, studying the artists he liked.

>> BOWEN: Basquiat's work is also often populated

by random bits of anatomy.

When he was seven,

he was hospitalized after a car accident

and developed a fascination with the bookGray's Anatomy.

But it's this crown that is most ubiquitous in his work.

>> He said, "My, my work is about three things:

royalty, heroism, and the streets," right?

So he was also,

as someone who had gone to all the major galleries and museums

and didn't see any Black people represented there,

he's letting you know that, um,

you know, his royalty is the street royalty.

>> BOWEN: That reign would extend into the art world,

where Basquiat achieved superstardom.

But in 1988, he died of a drug overdose.

He was only 27, but he'd managed

to see his community of artists get their due.

And beyond that, says Liz Munsell,

they began to influence the A-list artists

they worked to be alongside.

>> Frank Stella, you can, you can see his referencing.

And he also, he also notes that he was looking at graffiti

and trying to find a different surface for his painting

in his late '80s works.

>> BOWEN: It was a hard-fought acceptance.

And for it, this singular group of artists hang together still.

Nevada-based artist Ben Rodgers has developed

what he calls burned wood prints.

Wood is the canvas and his tools are fire, electricity, and ink.

>> I would describe my work as taking a piece of wood

with the natural wood grain,

the natural feel, the smell of the wood,

and burning it with fire.

Then taking imagery and applying it right over the top

of the wood, like painting onto a wooden canvas.

My name is Ben Rodgers and I create burned wood prints.

I'll choose maple plywood because it's very strong

and it's very flat and take that piece,

cut it down in my workshop.

And then I'll router the edges.

And then I'll flame the edges.

So I take a torch and actually burn around the piece.

And then I'll take a bit of water and baking soda solution

and spread that over the top to help the electricity conduct.

And it also helps it stay on the surface of the wood

rather than going through the middle.

The next stage is to burn it with electricity.

The process of electrocuting the wood is pretty amazing.

So I have a machine that I created in my workshop

and I'll take that and run an electric current

through the wood, which travels along the surface of the wood,

burning natural shapes into it.

People call it fractals or tree limbs or lightning,

all reminiscent of what these burn marks

in the wood look like.

No two are alike on those fractal shapes.

They're totally unique, just like nature,

just like a tree branch or lightning.

They can never be reproduced.

Sand everything down so it's nice and smooth

and looks really crisp

and then run it through a big flatbed printer.

And that puts ink directly onto the wood,

creating the imagery that is the final piece.

During the printing process, I'll take an image

into Photoshop and I'll take a photograph of the wood

and overlay it in Photoshop so that I can see that tan canvas,

because basically I'm starting with wood instead of white,

like you would on paper.

In recent years, what's also helped is a printer

that has the capability to lay down white ink.

And so as the prints move through, a layer of white

goes down first before the color is applied over the top.

And this allows the colors to really explode

on the wood canvas.

Growing up in Lake Tahoe, I've got a ton of Tahoe imagery,

and I use combination of my own imagery,

but a lot of stock imagery, a lot of trees, bears,

Tahoe mountains, and chairlifts, ski resorts, stuff like that.

I love creating custom ones.

People love to have their own unique picture, you know,

that family photo and have it in

a unique canvas that I can create.

One thing that stands out that surprises people

is when they pick up a piece of my art,

oftentimes they'll smell it.

And it smells like burned wood.

It smells like if they've ever been in Tahoe

in the winter time, and they've had a fire in the fireplace,

it smells like home, or it smells like a campfire

from their childhood or something.

And so that's kind of a unique side effect.

My favorite part of the whole process is giving pieces

to people and watching their eyes light up.

When you show them, you hold it up and they go, "Wow."

The uniqueness of the art drives me and I get positive reactions

wherever I go, and it really fuels my desire

to keep going, all the positivity that surrounds it.

Before we leave you, the great Academy Award winning actress

and Massachusetts native Olympia Dukakis died last week.

I had a few occasions to meet her, and in one interview

she left me with words by the Spanish poet

Federico García Lorca.

They are a sentiment about art that she lived and worked by.

>> There's a wonderful poem by Lorca.

It goes, "The poem, the song, the picture is water drawn

from the well of the peoples and should be given back to them

in a cup of beauty, so that in drinking,

they will know themselves."

And that says it.

>> BOWEN: Olympia Dukakis was 89 and just a wonderful human.

I'm Jared Bowen.

Thanks for joining us, we'll be back again next week.

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