State of the Arts

S37 E3 | FULL EPISODE

State of the Arts December 2018

Artist Tyler Ballon interprets Biblical themes with images grounded in African American life today. Folk duo Jackson Pines at home in the Jersey Pine Barrens and in performance at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park. Nutley painter Gary Erbe works in the ancient tradition of “tricking the eye.” And photographer Erik James Montgomery instructs youth in Camden in the craft of professional photography.

AIRED: December 12, 2018 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

Montgomery: Okay, here we go.

Narrator: In Camden, a photographer says his life

was saved by the work he does with kids.

Montgomery: I was on a path leading to destruction.

And when I started working with children,

it made me look at myself in the mirror.

Narrator: A painter in Nutley uses the ancient tradition

of Trompe-l'oeil, which means "tricking the eye."

Erbe: I was so fascinated by how they could squeeze paint

from a tube and create such illusion.

Narrator: In Jersey City,

a young artist follows his passion,

painting scenes based on his life and his faith.

Ballon: I try to find beauty even in the toughest situations.

Like, for instance, someone to lose their child

but still having faith.

I feel like it's something beautiful.

Montgomery: Okay, here we go.

Makoviecki: ♪ I feel so down

♪ And I know why

Narrator: And two friends from the Pine Barrens write

and perform their own music

as the stripped-down duo Jackson Pines.

Makoviecki: ♪ Let sweetwater take him down ♪

Black: Joe's songwriting is very present-day,

but with an old-timey feel.

♪♪

Narrator: "State of the Arts" on location

with the most creative people in New Jersey.

Makoviecki: ♪ Let the well run dry

Montgomery: Okay, here we go.

Montgomery: Okay, here we go.

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

encouraging excellence and public engagement in the arts

since 1966,

is proud to co-produce "State of the Arts"

with Stockton University,

New Jersey's distinctive university.

Additional support is provided by

the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation

and Bramnick Law, a personal injury law firm.

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

♪♪

Ballon: I didn't have friends growing up.

I didn't talk to a lot of people.

A lot of people didn't talk to me.

So just being able to escape and just create something

that people admire me for and gave me credit

for was something I just fell in love with, you know?

Art has always been, like, a part of my life,

and it helped me cope with a lot of things.

Like, growing up, I was, like, a really depressed kid,

and art was, like, my only outlet.

♪♪

Narrator: Tyler Ballon has become an artist with a vision.

A recent graduate of Maryland Institute College of Art

in Baltimore, known as MICA,

he's now back where he grew up -- in Jersey City.

His studio is at Mana Contemporary,

but he lives on the Hill in his old neighborhood.

Ballon: Growing up in Jersey City,

you see a lot of violence and, like, things happening.

It's a bad environment.

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

I try to find beauty even in the toughest situations.

Like, for instance, someone to lose their child

but still having faith.

I feel like it's something beautiful.

I was inspired by painters like Caravaggio for this painting.

It's the "Deposition from the Cross."

The cross symbolizes, like, the struggle.

It's like a struggle, a sacrifice.

And I felt like there's no actual cross.

Like, people aren't getting crucified on crosses nowadays,

but the struggle is out in the street.

They're picking them up off the street.

That symbolizes, like, the struggle

that the African-American is going through.

In "The Militant," like, I have, like, camouflage cargo pants

to show, like, a militant African-American man

being killed, or just, like, a leader --

somebody who's a leader being killed in a community.

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

I wanted to create something that, you know,

lets people know that it's the same thing --

the same thing here and now today.

It's about everyday life.

Narrator: Tyler finds the classic stories from the Bible

in his own world --

the same stories painted by the masters he's always loved.

Ballon: Those were, like, the paintings and stuff

I was interested in as a child.

It, like, helped me cope with things.

But I felt kind of distant

because none of them looked like me.

Sherald: I mean, I feel like we're both in the place

of making up for lost time.

I was in the sixth grade before I saw a painting

that had a black male in it.

And that triggered something in me,

and I don't think I knew what I was missing

until I saw that painting.

Narrator: Amy Sherald is best known for her official portrait

of Michelle Obama now at the National Portrait Gallery.

♪♪

She, too, grew up in a world

where paintings didn't look like her.

Sherald: For me, figurative painting sits in our history

differently than abstraction.

It's not less than,

but it carries a different kind of message,

and so to see people that look like you really matters.

Narrator: Amy first met Tyler when he was a senior at MICA,

where she was on the painting faculty.

Now that she's relocated to Jersey City,

Tyler can just stop by her studio

a few floors up from his at Mana Contemporary.

Sherald: I think Tyler's work is phenomenal.

When I think about what I was painting as a senior in college,

I'm not even sure how I got into graduate school.

He's very far advanced and very passionate about what he does.

Narrator: Amy's an important mentor for Tyler.

Another big support in his life

is the Eileen S. Kaminsky Family Foundation, or ESKFF.

It's also based at Mana,

where they provide studios for artists from around the world.

ESKFF helped Tyler through college with grants,

and he's worked for them as a mentor

for high-school students.

Ballon: ESKFF -- This program -- It really saved my life.

It kept me out of a lot of things.

Like, a lot of my friends now that I went to high school

with are either, like, dead, in jail,

and it's just like I used to be

around them on the daily, you know?

Woman: Hi, Tyler!

Ballon: Just to see how different our lives went,

I really thank God for this place.

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

Narrator: Tyler is working hard

on what he wanted from the beginning --

to give a shape to his Christian faith

as he sees it at work in his world.

Both of his parents are pastors and active in the community.

Sherald: I think that the best work in the world --

I mean, it doesn't have to be figurative.

It could be, for example, Ai Weiwei.

The work has a connection to the person's story,

and that's part of his story.

And so I feel like that is what really grounds it

and connects to the human spirit.

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

Ballon: I feel like I have to paint.

Like, I have to.

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

o.

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

If I don't, I feel like I'll be wasting time and energy

and just wasting my life, you know?

♪♪

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

Narrator: Coming up, a folk- music duo from the Pine Barrens.

But first, a photographer with a mission in Camden.

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

Mos Def: ♪ I don't wanna write this down ♪

♪ I wanna tell you how I feel right now ♪

♪ My man

♪ I don't wanna take no time to write this down ♪

Montgomery: I'm doing street art where I'm taking my images

and displaying it for public use.

A lot of people that are in the neighborhoods that I serve --

they won't go to a gallery or a museum,

so I try to bring my images to them.

So I will put up big posters of my artwork,

so that way, people could either look at it,

they could take it home if they want to.

It's really for them.

I'm a photographer.

That's what I do for a living.

I take pictures of people.

I take pictures of things that I really like.

I've been a youth advocate now for over 30 years.

Children really saved my life.

I was on a path leading to destruction.

And when I started working with children,

it made me look at myself in the mirror

because I didn't want to be a hypocrite

and tell them not to do the same things that I was doing.

Narrator: That realization led photographer

Erik James Montgomery to create his own foundation --

teaching at-risk youth the art and business of photography.

Erik calls one of his recent projects

"Kings and Queens."

Montgomery: That's a great shot.

"Kings and Queens" was birthed out of the idea

of influencing the younger generation

to not only see themselves beyond the N-word,

but to also see themselves as royalty.

And if they see themselves as royalty,

perhaps they'll talk different, they'll act different,

and they'll treat each other a lot differently, as well.

Boy: Wait a second. My head's too big for it.

Montgomery: What?! I don't believe you.

Let me see.

♪♪

Narrator: Erik grew up in East Orange,

where he decided early on that he wanted to be a photographer.

Montgomery: My family had a large collection

of album covers, and we would always play music.

And I would look at these beautiful album covers for hours

while listening to the music.

One cover in particular was Al Green's

"I'm Still in Love With You."

The way that he was sitting in an all-white background

and his brown skin just bouncing off the LP.

Al: ♪ Don't ya know that I'm still in love? ♪

Montgomery: I went into the darkroom,

and that's when I really fell in love with photography.

Mos Def: ♪ I don't wanna write this down ♪

After I left East Orange,

I moved to a town not too far from Camden.

But when I first drove through Camden,

it reminded me a lot of Newark.

And I felt at home.

At that time, it was the world's most dangerous city.

The murder rate was out of the stats.

So it was crazy.

Out of that, I saw people and not numbers.

And there's poverty.

But I see through all that, and I see people with passion.

Mos Def: ♪ I don't wanna write this down ♪

♪ I wanna tell you how I feel right now ♪

Montgomery: So I will photograph somebody who has overdosed.

I will also photograph somebody celebrating a 16th birthday.

And I will give the same amount of attention to each subject.

I'm trying to shine a light

on the plagues that's going on out here.

Mos Def: ♪ Tomorrow may never show up

Narrator: In another project, Erik had middle-school kids

choose a single word to describe themselves.

This was the starting point for making self-portraits.

Sanchez: We basically took a photo of ourselves,

a self-portrait, and we basically chose a word

that we want to describe ourselves,

instead of being defined as what other people see you.

I chose the word "beautiful."

Mos Def: ♪ I don't wanna write this down ♪

Echevarria: And I did "warrior"

because I went through some sicknesses.

And for me, being able to fight them off, for me,

is the biggest achievement.

So that's why I can say, "I'm a warrior."

Mos Def: ♪ I don't wanna write this down ♪

Tre' Shawn: I chose "brainiac" because I like to learn,

and I always will continue to learn.

♪♪

Montgomery: Sometimes we have to go through some hard times

for the brighter day.

That's ultimately what I want people to see

and to take away when they view my work.

♪♪

Mos Def: ♪ I don't wanna write this down ♪

Narrator: Later on the show, a painter's craft blurs the line

between reality and illusion.

But first, two friends from Jackson

making a name for themselves on the Roots music scene.

Mos Def: ♪ I don't wanna write this down ♪

Black: ♪ One, two, three, go

♪♪

Makoviecki: Jackson, Jersey,

is where me and James both come from originally.

James still lives here now.

I've since lived in New York City and Philadelphia,

but I always find myself coming back to Jackson.

♪ There's some people I tell a tale about a time and place ♪

♪ We all know well, and it's hard times in the Pines ♪

Black: This is sort of our home.

You know, this is our fort.

20 minutes south, I mean, it even gets more desolate.

And you drive 20 minutes north, and it gets a lot more built up.

So we're kind of smack dab in the middle

of a lot of things right here.

Narrator: After years in rock, punk,

and traditional folk bands,

the duo Jackson Pines now plays original music

inspired by their roots in the northern

Pine Barrens town of Jackson.

Makoviecki: Living in Jackson,

you grow up 20 minutes from the beach

and about an hour either way to Philly and New York.

My father was a music teacher.

He was a band director in Carteret for 30 years.

He was a horn player for 30, 40 years.

It was a really inspiring place

because I grew up with my dad going to Knicks games

and seeing the New York Philharmonic practice

on an afternoon,

but also, we would go with the Cub Scouts

and go camping at Allaire State Park

and feel like we were miles away from civilization.

Black: I still enjoy that to this day,

like, going to a city, coming back,

and hanging out in the woods for a few days.

So it's a nice balance, you know?

Makoviecki: ♪ I got friends

♪ If they're not dead, they're tryin' ♪

♪ To find something to fix their heads ♪

♪ Hard times in the Pines

Black: My grandpa was a welder in the Navy.

He came back and opened our shop, Blackie's Welding.

That was his nickname -- Blackie.

Lloyd Black.

Then my dad took it over eventually, too.

It's pretty much his fault and my mom's fault I play music.

I would get off the bus in elementary school,

and he always had

Hank Williams Sr. playing in there.

So I was like, "What the heck is that?"

She always had cool CDs.

The one CD I always put on would be

Johnny Cash's Greatest Hits.

And that opened a lot of doors for me,

even if I didn't know it at the time.

Mos Def: ♪ I don't wanna write this down ♪

A half-hour from here, there's Albert Hall,

and a lot of people don't know, but there actually is a vibrant

bluegrass folk-music scene in South Jersey, Central Jersey.

And Albert Hall -- we used to go there when I was a little kid

and watch guys playing banjos and fiddles.

And then I'd come back here

and I'd play in a punk band with my other friends.

So it's kind of like that polar opposite with music

'cause you got bluegrass down the road,

and then you've got a guy playing in a bunk band

the next street up.

Makoviecki: Me and James would listen to his record collection,

which was expansive.

And he introduced me to all these country singers

I didn't know about.

We would go off and riff about the lives of these musicians

and the dream of singing songs and writing stuff

and traveling the country.

When I started my first folk band, Thomas Wesley Stern,

we knew James was always this great bass player in these funky

or punk-y kind of bands.

My band mate asked him,

"Would you learn how to play stand-up bass

to be in our folk band?" And he said, "I'll try."

And he figured out how to play the darn thing.

And we've been playing together for the last eight years now.

We've been to England and Ireland together.

We've traveled across the country multiple times.

To have someone as solid and consistent as James is

just something that makes me really, really lucky.

And sometimes I don't know how I could do it without him.

Mos Def: ♪ I don't wanna write this down ♪

♪ Time goes by

Narrator: As a new band, James Black and Joe Makoviecki

balance recording and touring with their day jobs.

For Joe, co-writing music

with fledgling songwriters fits in nicely.

Chambers: ♪ Make me feel stressed inside ♪

Makoviecki: As a working musician,

I'm lucky to have a lot of different freelance jobs.

Chambers: ♪ What's keeping you

Makoviecki: One of the things I do --

I get to go to Lakehouse Music Academy,

and I run song co-writing sessions

with a multitude of their student body.

Chambers: ♪ With every little thing that I'll never say to you ♪

♪ 'Cause

Makoviecki: We'll either start a song from scratch,

or they'll come in with a song we half-wrote

or something they wrote at home

that they were really excited about.

And we will sit down and we will finish that song.

Chambers: ♪ You made me do a double-take ♪

Makoviecki: They'll take those songs,

bring them into the studio,

which is also in the music academy,

and they get to make albums.

That's what I do, and I'm really lucky

to be able to do that because making sandwiches

at the corner store didn't work out as well.

So I'm really happy to be able to do something

that I feel like I'm actually good at.

♪ I feel so down

♪ And I know why

♪ I just watched my man go down and die ♪

♪ I put his body in the river

♪ And let sweetwater take him down ♪

Black: Joe's songwriting is very present-day

but with an old-timey feel.

I guess you'd call it "Americana."

I guess that's what it is.

You take day-to-day things, like Joe will write a song

about a guy selling coffee with him this morning --

the conversation they had.

And he'll turn it into that, and it's just --

it all kind of grows from there.

Makoviecki: ♪ I cried till the well run dry ♪

Black: "Sweetwater" really stands out to me.

The imagery he put in that song

and how it comes back to everyday life here.

It's like a Pine Barrens novel in a song.

Makoviecki: ♪ I said sweetwater gonna take them down ♪

Cedar trees grow along the rivers in the Pine Barrens,

and it stains the water this beautiful dark hue.

In the 1700s, the British colonials called it "sweetwater"

because it reminded them of the color of tea.

It's the image of taking someone you love

and laying them into a river

to allow them to return to the earth.

Eight years ago, I lost my father.

My father was a musician his whole life.

He is one of the main reasons

I could never imagine myself as anything but a musician.

So I'm just taking this stuff that I've gleaned,

and I'm finding a way to sing about

one of the more tragic moments of my life,

which was losing my father,

and braiding it into this language of the land,

this language of the music that we love,

and turning it into something

that I hope other people can relate to.

And I've had people come up to us

and say that they've had this song played

at their father's funeral.

And that's the kind of stuff that keeps us going.

♪ I know sweetwater gonna take us all right down ♪

♪♪

Thank you.

Mos Def: ♪ I don't wanna write this down ♪

Narrator: For our final story,

the meticulous craft of an entirely self-taught artist.

Mos Def: ♪ I don't wanna write this down ♪

♪♪

Erbe: About 6:00 in the morning, I spend about half an hour

mixing my palette for the day.

Years ago, I used to paint 14 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Narrator: Artist Gary Erbe is a contemporary master

of an ancient tradition known as Trompe-l'oeil --

extreme realism designed to trick the eye.

Erbe: I began painting in 1965,

and in 1967, I discovered Trompe-l'oeil.

I was so fascinated by this art form --

that how they could squeeze paint from a tube

and create such detail, such illusion.

Trompe-l'oeil is actually -- It's a French word,

and what it means is to fool the eye --

to create an illusion with paint.

For instance, you have some wonderful textures

in this painting.

you have the metal, the chrome, you have the plastic,

you have the fabric, you have wood.

All these things make a painting,

especially a Trompe-l'oeil painting.

Mos Def: ♪ I don't wanna write this down ♪

Burger: When I was a young man myself, I discovered Gary,

and I remember we gave him an award and I said,

"You know what, Gary, don't let this go to your head."

Little knowing that he'd end up

to be quite a giant in the Trompe-l'oeil milieu.

As an artist myself, I would never have the patience,

which he has, which is unbelievable.

And out of it comes some very magical forms.

Narrator: A 50-year retrospective

of Gary Erbe's work

is part of a fascinating new exhibition

of Trompe-l'oeil painters

at Morven Museum & Garden in Princeton.

It's called "Masters of Illusion:

The Legacy of John F. Peto."

Allen: This is a show exploring really Trompe-l'oeil art,

which is a French phrase for, "Tricks the eye,"

"Deceives the eye."

And one of the best examples

of American Trompe-l'oeil artists is John F. Peto.

He worked in Island Heights from the 1880s

through his death in 1907.

Narrator: John F. Peto lived and worked

in this house in Island Heights, New Jersey, near Toms River.

It's now a beautifully restored museum.

Allen: We came across this really neat idea

of focusing on Peto as an early New Jersey Trompe-l'oeil artist.

And then we met Gary Erbe, who's a living

New Jersey Trompe-l'oeil artist, and we thought,

"How fun to kind of show Peto's legacy through today."

Erbe: First couple of years of painting Trompe-l'oeil,

I emanated the great 19th century Trompe-l'oeil painters

John F. Peto, Haberle, William Harnett --

he was another very famous Trompe-l'oeil painter.

What I'm trying to do in my work

is bring it up to the 21st century.

I became very interested in modern art.

So what I did is I figured out ways

of integrating the principles of modern art into Trompe-l'oeil.

Narrator: Gary Erbe grew up in Union City

and now lives in Nutley.

His work can be found in the Phillips Collection,

the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Brandywine Museum.

♪♪

♪♪

Erbe: My father could never hold a job.

My poor mother had mental issues.

She went through shock treatments

and all when she was very young.

And my brother and I just basically lived on the street.

We were a recipe to fail.

To be honest with you, it's amazing my brother

and I became artists.

My journey actually began when I was 8 years old.

And my mother had remarried. So I had a stepfather.

And when I entered his apartment,

it was very nicely furnished,

and there on the walls, I saw three paintings.

I had never seen a painting prior to that,

never saw an art book.

I remember taking a chair, standing on a chair,

and touching one of the paintings.

I was amazed at seeing this oil painting.

♪♪

First comes the idea, but then what I do is

I work on a 1/2-inch-thick plywood,

and I create a construction.

So after I compose my composition via construction

and I'm satisfied with the construction,

I then proceed on, and then I create a painting.

Now, the painting can last anywhere from nine months

to 16 months.

It depends on how complex the painting is.

I like pop culture,

and that is reflected in many of my paintings,

such as one on exhibit at the show

is called "The Big Splash"

'cause I remember when TV was introduced

back in the early '50s.

It actually changed society

because no longer did you see people

sitting on their porches, talking to each other.

They'd be in the house watching television.

Mos Def: ♪ I don't wanna write this down ♪

I always believed that artists are born and they're not made.

You have to have the mind-set.

And maybe I was born with this mind-set.

I was destined to be what I'm doing.

♪♪

♪♪

Mos Def: ♪ I don't wanna write this down ♪

Mos Def: ♪ I don't wanna write this down ♪

Narrator: That's it for "State of the Arts" this time.

Visit our website and search for what interests you.

We have hundreds of stories online,

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Twitter, or Instagram.

We leave you now with more from Jackson Pines.

Thanks for watching.

Makoviecki: ♪ Birth of life through birth of death ♪

♪ Your knees, your eyes, and your hands ♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪ Lately, life was scaring it out of me ♪

♪ I don't know who I wanna be

♪ But I know it's by your side

♪ Tragedy

♪ They keep shooting people in the street ♪

♪ Makes me wonder if we oughta leave ♪

♪ And wave this place goodbye

♪ Oh, my love

♪ Workin' on a brand-new world

Narrator: That's it for "State of the Arts" this time.

Narrator: That's it for "State of the Arts" this time.

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

encouraging excellence and public engagement of the arts

since 1966,

is proud to co-produce "State of the Arts"

with Stockton University,

New Jersey's distinctive university.

Additional support is provided by

the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation

and Bramnick Law, a personal injury law firm.

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,