Open Studio with Jared Bowen


“In American Waters,” Mary Gauthier, and more

“In American Waters” exhibit at PEM. An interview with singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier on creating music and her new memoir, “Saved by a Song.” Contemporary art at El Espacio 23 in Miami, and interpreting art using images of the COVID-19 virus in Ohio.

AIRED: August 13, 2021 | 0:26:46

>> What she saw at night is the beach before her,

the far distant horizon with the lighthouse,

the wave rolling at her, and the vacant space

that is everything where the narrative should be.

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

we dive intoAmerican Waters

with artists you might not expect, like Georgia O'Keeffe.

>> ♪ Mirrors frighten me ♪

>> BOWEN: Then singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier

on being saved by a song.

>> Songs connect us,

they're golden nuggets of empathy,

and this is how songs change the world.

>> BOWEN: Plus confessions of an art collector.

>> How do I feel about it, you know, what does my gut tell me?

Art is, in many ways, like that for me.

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

♪ ♪

First up, as we know well in New England,

summer is a time for the sea--

for vacations and beachcombing and serenity.

The sea has also always had a special place

in the American art world.

And as the Peabody Essex Museum documents in a new exhibition,

there is plenty to explore on the horizon.

Painters throughout American history have always been drawn

to the glittering, sun-dappled sea.

They've been seduced by sumptuous sunsets,

majestic masts, and still waters.

Not to mention the spitting, tempestuous opposite

that also attracts artists.

>> They wander the beach and they look out to sea

and it's an imaginative place, and so they think about

how they can generate that kind of feeling in their paintings.

>> BOWEN: Like the valor of an unyielding naval commander,

the solitude of abandonment,

or the feeling of just traveling by ferry on a gray day.

>> It's a very mundane scene.

But it is steeped in, sort of, the maritime environment,

with the mist, with the thick air.

But it isn't a grand story of a fabulous voyage

that was world-changing in any respect.

>> BOWEN: That's the point of In American Waters,

a show that longtime Maritime Art curator Dan Finamore

has been wanting to do for years,

featuring work that, well, rocks the boat

when it comes to perspectives in marine painting.

>> Kay WalkingStick is an artist who

has always visited the New England coast in her summers

and only recently began to paint it.

And it shows the breakwater,

but then it's overlain by her design

of a Native American basket motif.

So she is simultaneously sort of looking at

her own experience of the sea

while also declaring this coastline as indigenous land.

>> BOWEN: Here you'll also find a seascape abstracted,

immigrants anticipating hope on the horizon,

and a departure from that denizen of the desert,

Georgia O'Keeffe.

>> What she saw at night, in particular,

is the beach before her,

the far distant horizon with a lighthouse,

the wave rolling at her, and the vacant space

that is everything where the narrative should be.

>> BOWEN: It's a fitting show for the Peabody Essex.

The nation's oldest continuously operating museum,

it was founded in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1799--

just blocks away from what was then

one of the world's most thriving ports.

Today, in this exhibition,

the romance of the sea often washes away--

in Norman Lewis's roiling sense of the ocean's fury

and in this rare depiction of a slave ship.

>> The shipWanderer was chased by an anti-slaving squadron

off the coast of Africa,

but it arrived safely in South Carolina

and all of the survivors were dispersed

throughout the landscape,

the crew was brought up on charges,

and they were all acquitted by a Charleston jury.

>> I think it's this wonderful exploration of American identity

through the lens of the sea.

>> BOWEN: Sarah Chasse is one of the show's co-curators.

Her specialty-- portraits,

where the sea floods the background as it does

in this Gilbert Stuart image of George Washington,

painted as a gift for Alexander Hamilton.

Or in this painting of the Roman goddess Diana

by way of... Maine.

I'm just mesmerized by this portrait

>> It is definitely a mesmerizing portrait.

It's also very mysterious.

This is by the artist Marguerite Zorach.

The rowboat is full of crustaceans, starfish, crabs,

lobsters-- sort of her bounty as Diana the huntress.

It's really interesting to see the woman artists

whose works we've included,

the ways that they are expanding the boundaries

of what a maritime painting is

and can be.

>> BOWEN: This painting by Amy Sherald,

who created First Lady Michelle Obama's official portrait,

is about the everyday American-ness

of a sunny day at the beach.

>> I think there's so many layers of complexity

in terms of America's Black experiences with the beach,

and segregated beaches in the past.

So it's just really, really, poignant.

>> BOWEN: And pointed, as we also find

in the show's final work.

It's by early 20th century artist Marsden Hartley--

a Maine native who frequented the Peabody Essex Museum

and here renders the Maine coast at night.

>> It is simultaneously calming and threatening.

We wanted to end the show with that kind of a message,

that the sea is many things-- something to be wary of,

to take note of, and has an impact on everybody's life.

♪ ♪

>> ♪ Rifles and rosary beads ♪

♪ You hold on to what you need ♪

♪ Vicodin, morphine dreams ♪

>> BOWEN: That's singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier

with a song from her Grammy-nominated album

Rifles and Rosary Beads,

a project where she co-wrote songs with veterans

to help them process the trauma of war.

Now, in her new book Saved by a Song,

she explains how song-writing became her own salvation.

Mary Gauthier, it's great to see you again.

>> Oh, it's so good to be back.

>> BOWEN: You are a woman of words.

And from any other person, I might think

that this sounds like a cliché, but not coming from you.

You say that songs can change the world.

What do you mean by that?

>> Well, I have a theory,

having worked with...

my own, my own struggle,

worked through many struggles as a songwriter using songs,

and then worked with veterans for the last eight years

through the Songwriting with Soldiers program.

And seeing the power of song on a soldier's soul

whose dealing with trauma,

songs connect us.

They're, in their highest form, I believe, empathy.

They don't generate empathy-- they are empathy.

They're, they're golden nuggets of empathy.

And this is how songs change the world.

♪ I was an army mechanic, I worked with the men ♪

♪ ♪

>> BOWEN: Well, let's talk about how it changed you.

Right at the beginning of your book,

you take us into a jail cell here in Boston.

This is where you were for a long time.

You had a restaurant.

This is before your songwriting days.

But this is what led

to your songwriting days, you've just opened your restaurant,

you get pulled over for drunk driving

and we find you in a jail cell.

Your description of yourself feeling tired, old, bloated,

based on this alcoholism

is really, really searing.

How did that lead you to songwriting?

>> Yeah, I start the book with the scene

of me being pulled over on Dorchester Avenue,

drunk opening night of my second restaurant

and being brought to jail for drunk driving.

And in that jail cell,

deep in the heart of Dorchester on the floor of that jail cell,

because I was too drunk to stabilize myself on the bench,

I saw myself.

And what I saw was, was someone who desperately needed help.

I was 27 years old.

I was such a young person, but I was in so much trouble.

And for just a millisecond, I saw it.

And this is the moment that is, I think,

grace in the life of an addict or an alcoholic,

when the fog clears for just a millisecond,

usually because of something

extremely humiliating and painful,

and you see the truth.

I grabbed on to the help that was offered.

I threw myself into recovery

and recovery led me to songwriting

when I was brought to Club Passim

with a waitress at my restaurant.

And I saw her get on stage

and perform an original song at the open mic.

I just knew that I wanted to do that.

>> BOWEN: This is-- this is the one of the questions I had,

because you're 20, you're in your 20s,

presumably you heard a lot of music

growing up-- why did it not enter until that moment?

>> You know, the truth is, I don't have the answer.

I think it takes a certain amount

of self-esteem to get on stage,

a certain amount of audacity.

I... you know, I could run a restaurant,

I could talk investors into investing in my ideas

around the restaurant business,

I did that with gusto and successfully,

but putting myself on stage singing

just didn't seem like a possibility.

I didn't pursue a musical career at all.

And it never occurred to me that, that I was gonna.

But then when I saw my waitress

become so... articulate

and astonishing in her ability

to connect with the audience and play the piano

and sing beautifully, a song she wrote,

it was like blinders fell off

and I saw the light, it's like, I want to do that.

It didn't manifest as "I want a music career,"

but it manifested as "I want to get on that stage

and sing a song."

>> BOWEN: Well, how much I mean you talk in the book

about going through therapy, too, you know, for,

for the alcohol, the drug use, codependency, and relationships,

not to mention a really horrific childhood that you had.

Did songwriting allow you to access and process

those parts of your life as therapy might also aim to do?

>> Absolutely-- beautiful question, my friend.

Yes, yes.

It was a part of recovery for me-- and it still is.

You know, the root word of integrity,

which most addicts and alcoholics lack,

is integration, integrate.

I needed to integrate fragmented parts of myself

and become whole, and bring the same Mary Gauthier

into every situation I walked into.

Integration is the goal, I think, of therapy.

It's certainly the goal of recovery.

And it turns out

music and song-- I think the arts in general can assist.

And it's a really beautiful and mysterious alchemy

that happens when joy comes from singing the blues.

>> BOWEN: I'm interested where you go in song.

You talk in the book about when you sing, your eyes are closed.

A lot of people do that,

but you keep them closed for songs

that you've been singing for years.

What's happening there?

>> Oh, it's so intimate.

And so I feel vulnerable when I sing.

♪ Don't recognize what I see ♪

I know that if I close my eyes,

it kind of gets me deeper into the song

and out of the room scanning to see if people

are paying attention.

I mean, Townes Van Zandt, the great songwriter from Texas,

said if the audience closed their eyes, he wouldn't have to.

I relate to that.


>> BOWEN: Well, speaking of the vulnerability,

did it, did it help?

Did it bolster your confidence at all

when Bob Dylan grabbed hold of your lyrics

and started talking about them?

>> It was a big day in Mary Land.

>> This girl's got an interesting story,

at 15 she stole her parent's car and ran away from home.

And this one's become kind of her signature song.

It's called, "I Drink."

This is Mary Gauthier.

>> When Bob Dylan discussed my life and played one of my songs

on his Theme Time Radio Hour,

I certainly am a mega fan

and for him to honor me in such a way did give me confidence.

>> BOWEN: I'll ask you a question

about something you don't do--

what's a polite song as you describe it?

>> I don't spend a lot of time writing polite songs that I call

cocktail party conversation that skim the surface.

And the reason is because I haven't had the luxury of that.

I have had to fight demons

and I've had to use music and song as a survival skill

and that's why the book is calledSaved by a Song.

I'm not using it metaphorically--

it's literal for me

and for so many of the songwriters I've worked with

and the veterans and the frontline workers.

>> BOWEN: Do you still feel like you're the same person?

How much do you feel like you're the same person

who was sitting in that jail cell?

>> I am and I'm not.

The, the core essence of who we are,

I think, it comes, comes in at birth

and it just-- we just ride it through life.

But I've also grown quite a bit as a human being.

I'm 31 years sober now.

Celebrated that July 13.

So I didn't drink again after that awful night,

which turns it into a wonderful night!

Because in retrospect it gave me what I needed,

which was sobriety.

I've found through music and song, recovery, and therapy,

all the work that I've done,

I've found integration and I'm at peace.

>> BOWEN: Well, Mary Gauthier, you've become one of

my favorite people to talk to.

You talk about art so well.

I really... and the book is such an amazing read.

Thank you so much for being with us today.

>> The pleasure's mine, thanks.

♪ ♪

>> BOWEN: It's a summer for outdoor concerts

and the Boston Landmarks Orchestra presents a big one

in Arts This Week.

♪ ♪

Sunday, visit the Whitney Center for the Arts in Pittsfield

to experienceRites of Passage: 20/20 Vision,

a performance project about the lives of Black, Indigenous,

and immigrant women in America.

Discover large-scale pastels celebrating the female form

at Endicott College.

The Spencer Presentation Gallery hostsLady of the Lights:

The Figurative Art of Maria Cusumano Monday.

Boston Landmarks Orchestra is presenting

a free outdoor program of Bach, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky.

Head to the DCR's Hatch Memorial Shell Thursday evening.

Speaking of Tchaikovsky, Friday marks the anniversary

of the premiere of his 1812 Overture.

The work debuted in 1882,

commemorating an 1812 Russian battle,

and it's been a staple of the Boston Pops

4th of July spectacular.

Saturday, Greater Boston Stage Company presents

Scarborough Fair: A Simon & Garfunkel Experience.

Join the Guthrie Brothers for a musical meandering

through the highlights of one of America's

most beloved folk duos.

Next, in Miami, Jorge Pérez is one of that city's

most generous art patrons and the force behind

The Pérez Art Museum Miami,

renowned for its Latin American art collection.

In this piece produced by our PBS colleagues there,

we meet the collector at El Espacio 23,

a new contemporary art space he's founded.

>> Wow.

You know, I think my mother's influential when I started

looking at things.

You know, she was very much into literature, movies,

theater, and going to museums to look at art.

So, I think that was ingrained, at an early age

by probably making all those visits.

When I was in high school, I had no interest in collecting,

but when I came to the United States,

I started going on my own to museums

and I wanted to have art.

I wanted to be surrounded by

these beautiful things.

And, I remember being 19 years old,

probably when I won some money in a poker game.

And the first thing I did was buy my first lithographs,

you know, and I have three in my room, which I still have now.

Marini, Miro, and Man Ray.

And you say, "Wow," for, you know, he knew from the beginning

who was going to be good or not.

And the fact is that I bought a lot of pieces through time

that I look at now and I say,

"Why did I buythat?"

You know, but that's part of the process.

How do I feel about it?

You know, what does my gut tell me?

Art is, in many ways, like that for me.

I follow my senses a lot, but that does not mean

that I don't do huge amounts of research on art.

I probably devote four hours a day just studying

and looking at art every day.

So there's a lot of work that goes into...

into making that gut feeling better.

♪ ♪

>> Well, you know, when growing this collection,

we realized that we just had no storage space.

So we bought this as a warehouse and as we cleaned the space up,

we said, "This is a fabulous space to show art,

particularly art not being shown at PAMM the museum."

Not to be competitive with PAMM at all,

but to be complementary to PAMM,

and maybe show more of what is deeply interesting to me

and also artists that are not getting their due

because of the countries that they're in.

We take great pains in getting, you know,

the most important curators

to not only curate the shows, but to write the books

so there's an understanding

of why each piece is done.

And that to me is... it's a great personal accomplishment.

It really makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

>> I think it is because

art has taken, I think in the last decade,

an even greater part of my life.

And I devote probably half my time now

between business and art/philanthropy.

60% of my emails today are from art fairs, galleries, artists,

you know, telling them what they're producing.

Bodo from Africa.


You know, the Campana brothers.

You know, this is... this is the master, Chéri Cherin.

This is Bodo the, the new master from Africa

in African Realism.

♪ ♪

You're seeing now a change of exhibitions

and now the new exhibit is going to be

contemporary African art

that follows social change.

What is happening in Africa today?

And you can't talk about what is happening in Africa today

without talking about the issues

of colonialism, capitalism, poverty, inequality, sickness,

and a lot of that is captured in the art.

Plus just the plain beauty of the art.

So we're looking at this as a way of promoting these countries

that have not been promoted in the past,

the art of those countries,

still with a huge focus on Latin America,

which is where I'm originally from.

I found a lot of the same things that I saw

in Latin America in Africa,

the diaspora from Africa

became very important to me, understanding it.

And it led me to start collecting African art.

♪ ♪

I think art...

makes you go outside your box.

And if I can expand that,

not just from me,

but by showing it to as many people as I can show it,

and then when I'm gone to leave it to a museum

that will continue to show it to as many people,

then I'm doing something that is good.

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

>> BOWEN: Talle Bamazi, a West African artist

living in Columbus, Ohio, uses images of the COVID-19 virus

as a reminder and expression that every moment of life

is truly sacred.

Here we meet the artist, also a curator and mentor

for young African American artists, before a recent show

at the Otterbein University Museum and Gallery.

♪ ♪

>> My name is Talle

and I'm from Togo, West Africa.

I got here in 1995

from West Africa.

I was invited to have a show in Philadelphia.

And so I decided to go to school

and then later on went to New York Academy, graduate.

And then, later on I decided to come to Ohio, my ex-wife and I.

So we decided to search.

And so when I search I find out that Ohio, especially Columbus,

they have major world-renowned collectors.

And I was like, "Wow, sweetheart,

that's where we're going." (laughs)

♪ ♪

I was very surrealist also at that time.

You know, I kind of changed it as I came over there,

kind of find my way.

I kind of master all styles now.

So going to abstract, surrealism, realism.

And so I can understand all cultures.

You know, I can answer any questions in any style.

♪ ♪

My role is document the moment.

And that's what I'm doing.

♪ ♪

You've seen the symbol for the coronavirus.

I began to introduce them.

The first one was the other one there, which is death.

There is no one that will not die.

If you're born, you're going to die.

Anything that's being created will inspire.

If you understand that rule, you will live longer and peaceful.

♪ ♪

When you look at them,

as dark they are, they're beautiful.

As dark they are, you see the beauty in.

So, in this moment right now, I appreciate it.

Every second,

every spot or every second that I live,

for me is a grateful time.

So I use that wisely.

♪ ♪

I present life with eggs.

Anytime you see eggs

in my paintings, it means life.

♪ ♪

And a calabash, I always put a calabash inside my work

because this is the symbol of life.

Because that thing for me, that's the beginning

of conscience of a human being.

♪ ♪

Anywhere you go you will see the calabash.

It just is my effect... is Africa.

So we use that daily just to drink our wine.

Daily we have that.

The queen used to put her jewels inside.

You know, it's a different way that this is served in Africa.

♪ ♪

So it's beautiful.

It's kind of... it's earthy.

You know, it's beautiful when you look at it.

♪ ♪

I'm a human.

And, as long as I live, I will be human.

I don't care who you are.

When I met you, when I met anyone,

I want us to have an experience of human beings.

We don't have that no more.

We let that go.

I want everybody to know that I love everyone.

I don't care where you're from,

what you do, bad, good, I love you.

♪ ♪

If we can love each other,

what else can you give someone besides love?

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

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

We are off for the next couple of weeks.

But, as always, you can catch my latest art news

and reviews on the radio--

every Thursday onMorning Edition

and regularly with Jim Braude and Margery Egan

on Boston Public Radio.

That's all on 89.7, Boston's local NPR.

Until then, I'm Jared Bowen.

Thanks for joining us.

And remember, you can visit us online too


And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter


♪ ♪

♪ ♪


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