art

The Landing: an Audio Visual Experience by Maxwell Young

 Mr. Wisdom AKA The Oracle practices his soliloquy. Photographs by Russ R. 

Mr. Wisdom AKA The Oracle practices his soliloquy. Photographs by Russ R. 

More like a crash landing because what Uptown Art House presents at the Kennedy Center this Thursday, The Landing, is more than an audio-visual exploration, but an exposé on who has been pushing the arts community in Washington, D.C. over the last several years. 

 Flyer designed by  Richard Mijangos .

Flyer designed by Richard Mijangos.

Jamal Gray, the master curator of Uptown Art House brings together an experienced group of creators across the entire spectrum of the local arts ecosystem.  Featured players Maps Glover, Maya Sun, Mr. Wisdom, Ashley Shey, Ra Nubi, and Yacine Fall have been driving the performance art scene in the city, at times collaborating together in public and private exhibitions.  They are joined by Nag Champa Art Ensemble who is no stranger to playing in hallmark institutions like the Kennedy Center, producer/writer extraordinaire Britt Sankofa, wardrobe designer Afrovelvet, and the man behind the far-out psychedelic visual projections you will see during the production--Jimmy Keith.  Individually these artists have strong movements in their various disciplines.  Those hip to the scene would have experienced their work at venues such as Capital Fring, Black Cat D.C., The Philips Collection, Torpedo Factory or at DIY venues including The Bee Hive, Rhizome, and Uptown Art House.  But together as a troupe, they create a chilling, impactful piece that conveys the power of the arts culture in Washington, D.C.

The Landing is inspired by the 1984 science-fiction film Brother from Another Planet, the philosophies of Sun Ra, and the literature of Octavia Butler, though it is a completely original work.  Lyer (played by Maps Glover), an alien from the planet Sept, arrives on Earth searching for his companion Layan (played by Maya Sun) while experiencing foreign stimulants for the first time.  It is narrated by The Oracle, Mr. Wisdom, who offers a range of thoughts suggesting this intergalactic adventure is pre-ordained by a higher power.

Planning for this hour-long performance began in December.  Having watching several rehearsals, it is a reactionary piece.  Spectators are encouraged to participate, and during some of The Oracle's soliloquies, you'll think his words pertain to you--perhaps they do.  But beyond the improvisation that occurs, the players are feeding off one another's energy and movement.  Its been a resounding sentiment amongst the artists that what happens on stage is a visceral response to how they make each other feel in those moments.  As individuals, they are both actively experiencing the performance and the expressions of their peers, inspiring a totally new understanding of the theatrical piece.

"There's this interesting dichotomy when you are trying to portray this experience or emotion within your movement or gestures alongside other people who are also having this internal experience," said Glover.  "What makes it rich is when you can be inspired by peoples' movement at the same time.  Everyone is going through these internal experiences whether it be them exploring their characters through words or how they're articulating their ideas.”

The Landing: an Audio Visual Experience debuts at the John F. Kennedy Center Millennium Stage on Thursday, March 15 at 6pm.  The event is free.

Stop by Uptown Art House following the show for the after party.

Kennedy Center Millennium Stage

2700 F St. NW

Washington, D.C.

DIY Arts Scene, Uptown Art House on NPR's Kojo Nnamdi Show by Maxwell Young

Uptown Art House founder Jamal Gray joins The Kojo Nnamdi Show. 

 Photograph by Mark Williams Hoelscher

Photograph by Mark Williams Hoelscher

In the arts community, DIY ('Do-It-Yourself') spaces are integral to the prosperity of the artists and sustainability of the collective conscious. Homes, warehouses, breweries and repurposed restaurants along with their dedicated collectives support the advancement of creatives and organizations in the spheres of activism, art, and music.  These aren’t new refuges.  There was Club 57 in New York City--a haven for Keith Haring and other starving underground artists.  And we can't forget about Warhol's Factory either; the scene was just higher profile given the benefactor. These cultural hubs where people appreciate art and music, uninhibited by society’s parameters are alternatives to the traditional gallery spaces and concert halls where consumerism, popular/mainstream culture, and big business take precedent.

On Tuesday, musician Janel Leppin, Arts Editor of the Washington City Paper Matt Cohen, and Jamal Gray, founder of Uptown Art House joined The Kojo Nnamdi Show on NPR to discuss the DIY arts scene in Washington, D.C.

The independent arts scene in the nation’s capital has been nurtured by DIY venues including Rhizome, Paperhaus, Electric Maid--a legendary punk rock venue--Uptown Art House, and many others.  The problem due to gentrification and rising rent prices, though is that these venues struggle to stay open for a sustained period of time.  You may have heard of, or better yet, been to Art Under Pressure, Bohemian Caverns or Union Arts where District culture flourished.  Unfortunately, however, these historic landmarks no longer exist--extinguished for swanky redevelopment projects.

Listen to the perspectives of Janel, Matt, and Jamal as they speak with Kojo about the impact of the DIY community preserving Washington's heritage, and how it’s changing nationally.


Hot Takes

+  "Art spaces reflect whatever we're going through at the time." -Jamal Gray

+ "Money is speaking louder than art in D.C." -Matt Cohen

+ "DIY is about cultivating and incubating artists to be able to take their work to the next level." -Jamal Gray

+ "If we could have some sort of rent stabilization, so we could have a place that stays put for more than five years..." -Janel Leppin

 

Yung Mulatto Illustrates the Hip-Hop Sound from Pittsburgh by Alex Young

 Yung Mulatto photograph by Alex Young

Yung Mulatto photograph by Alex Young

Yung Mulatto can't help his native Southern Charm. He's the type to brew fresh tea leaves for a house guest. Tea time is one of Mulatto's hobbies, "just like doodling has always been," he said. The transplant makes a good impression upon Pittsburgh's resident artists and cool makers. 

Officially named Miles Saal, 20-year-old Mulatto speaks optimistically about his time in the city. "Pittsburgh is nothing like my hometown," he said. "There weren't a lot of arts programs at my magnet high school in Jacksonville, Florida." When he moved to the 'Burgh in 2013, Creative And Performing Arts High School opened the doors for Mulatto to explore his artistry and ingenuity. "A lot of agreeable people here" get his vision.

As an illustrator and music producer, Mulatto satisfies his desires while "trying to connect people with other people," he said. 

At eight-years-old, he handled the piano and the double bass. In high school, he played the trumpet. Since dropping out of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania where he studied music and film, Mulatto began to produce hip-hop. "I wanted to know more about the local scene beyond Mac and Wiz," Mulatto said.

He adores Pittsburgh for the creative people he meets. CAPA is the reason Mulatto met young rapper, James Perry. The big city, small town vibe familiarizes Mulatto with social circles. Although, SoundCloud digging and the unification of his drawing and musical skills puts Mulatto in the center of Pittsburgh's underground hip-hop community.

Mulatto's sphere of influence grows from drawing cover art for rap mixtapes or Local 412 Trading Cards done on coffee sleeves that idolize the 'Burgh's hip-hop heroes, like Pk Delay in a fur coat from his "M's" cover. Mulatto shouts out the scene regularly and casually. He doodles when he's working at the Jitters coffee shop in Shady Side. He selects local rappers, like Patches, to play through the shop's speakers. What goes in Mulatto's ears travels out of his hand on to the trading cards. The coffee sleeve drawings depict the life of the hip-hop scene and its actors like cartoons. "Danny Phantom, Anime, and Adventure Time are huge influences on my drawing style."

Importantly, Mulatto's work archives what is happening now creatively in popular Pittsburgh. He wrote out a long list of everyone he knew who made hip-hop here and the list travels as a beacon throughout social media space. Wait until the radar detects it.

The respect Mulatto has for the music community breathes organic collaborations with other artists. He drew the "Astro O2" album art for youth rap star Blackboi, and Mulatto sent him beats. Another rapper in Akono Miles received a storyboard cartoon about textbooks from Mulatto. "Cover art is the visual connection with music." Additionally, he joined with lifestyle label Reviving Real to release a mix featuring 15 local artists. He also drew the mix's artwork and placed some of his beats on the project. 

He knows the rap history. "The Bushnel is one of my favorite spots in Pittsburgh," he said. A lot of musicians throw house parties at that venue in the Oakland neighborhood. "I heard extensively about the Shadow Lounge when I moved here."

While exploring the landscape, Mulatto has become a fan of R&B artist Amir Miles and boom bap producer C. Scott.

[I’m] trying to connect people with other people.

Further, Mulatto's beat tapes are tranquil. His production matches the realism in his doodles. Listeners hear suave trumpets. His sounds come to life, and diverse instrumentation builds his music. "Producers shape where the sound will go," he said. "Sampling is big," too. "I kinda want to make the weirdest hip-hop possible. The kind that makes you turn your ear and say, 'This is amazing!'" For a reference, Mulatto likens himself to legendary hip-hop acts like Danger Doom, Outkast, Lil  B, and Tyler The Creator.

Ultimately, Mulatto calls himself a "big picture guy" and must thank the community he engages with and honors. "Pittsburgh has been really good to me," he said. Good times continue on September 16 at The Bushnel where Yung Mulatto hosts a birthday show.

 

Twelve Twenty One: Mensa A. Kondo Exhibition by Maxwell Young

 Artist Mensa A. Kondo outside of Uptown Art House.  Photograph by Maxwell Young

Artist Mensa A. Kondo outside of Uptown Art House.  Photograph by Maxwell Young

There's a skateboard with colorful paint blotches lying on the concrete floor of Uptown Art House.  Mensa A. Kondo, who's currently working on his installation for his exhibition Twelve Twenty One, finishes his clementine and kick-pushes over to his mural.  Vivid blue arms and hands, some featuring six fingers, rip through a green chasm that exposes the viewer to a hell-ish dimension laden with gazing eyeballs.  The piece stretches across an entire wall of the Art House evoking images from the 2002 film The Scorpion King, in which Rick O'Connell duels with Mathayus (played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) over the abyss of the Underworld and the thousands of demon souls. 

Kondo has been a seriously trained artist since high school where he attended Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Northwest Washington, D.C.  He reminisces about his old art teachers Mr. Harris and Mr. Easton with Jabari, another Duke Ellington alumnus and woodwind musician while we talk under the night sky.  "I first started my style at Duke.  We all went to Duke, most of us kids in the art scene here," says Kondo.

Twelve Twenty One is Kondo's fifth solo exhibition.  It is an amalgamation of works new and old as well as a "manifestation" of himself as an artist.  "There's pieces in the exhibit that I've had since 2011," he says.  "One was my first really big piece and it's an oil painting.  I don't really like oil painting that much anymore."

Sonics will be provided during the exhibition by local artists including *Discipline 99, Shaka, Luke Stewart with Trae the Drummer, and some familiar names from the Sounds of D.C. playlist like Sir E.U. with RobSmokesBands, Mr. Daywalker, Aquatic Gardner, St. Clair Castro and Dreamcast.  This is also a family affair, as Mensa's sister, Meche Korrect, is hosting the show.

The following is a snippet of the conversation I had with Kondo during his installation process:

MY: It seems like music is a complimentary aspect to your process.  What kind of music do you like to listen to?

MK: I've been listening to a lot of old shit, like some old psychedelic bands.  I like that sound--like 'y'all on hella drugs,' but it varies.  I had a Death Grips period, they're wild; they're on some cult shit, so I can't be fucking with them.  I would listen to them if I had to fight a whole set of people...Pink Floyd...Bad Brains forever.  I've seen them perform four times.  I got to see them here and in New York a few times.  The [mosh] pit was epic.

 Kondo takes a moment to appreciate his Bad Brains tattoo.

Kondo takes a moment to appreciate his Bad Brains tattoo.

MY: Who influenced you as an artist?

MK: There's a lot of people.  It even goes beyond artists.  I like comic artists.  Geof Darrow and Frank Miller--he did Sin City.  I like Miller's art, but I didn't like his writing.

MK: I do have some of Basquiat's things, though.

MY: You have some Basquiat pieces?

MK: No, things, like a jacket of his--my friend gave it to me.  I did find a little bit of hair in it and I threw it away.  I have some photos of him, too.

MY: Where else have you shown your work?

MK: I showed at the Warhol...

MY: Hold up.  You know I'm from Pittsburgh.

MK: I needed to find some more thrift stores up that way.  But yea, I won third place in this print-making competition.  That was the show I was most impressed about.  I've put on a few shows in D.C. by myself.  I rented out a spot on U St. one time, it was $100/day.  That was around 2012.  Now it's a barbershop.  I had something at Art Under Presser when they were still open on Georgia Avenue, and I had something at Union Arts when they were still open.  I was in Philly recently, too.

MY: What's your favorite medium?

MK: I like print-making the most.  You can make the print and just leave it.  I love painting, too, but you can make multiple prints and print on t-shirts.  It's dope. 

Twelve Twenty One

June 24th-30th

Uptown Art House

3412 Connecticut Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20008

Uptown Art House by Maxwell Young

The corner building on Connecticut Avenue in the Cleveland Park neighborhood of Washington, D.C. used to be a restaurant/bar space.  First, it was called 4P's--an Irish pub--until the patio was adorned with red awnings and the name was changed to Uptown Tap House in 2012.  Now, the building has a large 'LEASE ME' poster hanging on the exterior wall. Passersby peer through the side windows or poke their heads through the door, curious to see if a third restaurant plans to make its residence there.

In fact, however, the space is fairly open.  The tables and chairs, the wood floors, and even the ceiling tiles that embellished the old restaurant location are gone.  Left behind is an industrial shell that houses a modified Conestoga wagon harkening back to images of the Oregon Trail, graffiti art, and artifacts from protests like the People's Climate March and other activist organizations. Reclaimed and repurposed, the former Uptown Tap House is now the home of Uptown Art House, a community space for art, activism, and cultural engagement.

The empty canvas is reminiscent of the Factory--Andy Warhol's midtown Manhattan studio from 1962 to 1984.  The Pittsburgh-born artist's fifth floor space was the creative epicenter of his multifaceted work.  It was the backdrop to his screen tests that made his band of "superstars" like Edie Sedgwick and Brigid Berlin famous.  It was the recording studio for Nico and Lou Reed's The Velvet Underground.  And it was a manufacturing plant where Warhol churned out print after print.  Uptown Art House, much like the Factory, will be a space for like-minded creatives to congregate and collaborate in various art disciplines.

Advance to the 20 minute mark to watch Sebi Medina-Tayac and Jamal Gray talk about the mission of Uptown Art House.

Envisioned and directed by Sebi Medina-Tayac and Jamal Gray, Uptown Art House was created in resistance to the roles that gentrification and corporate acquisitions play in the displacement of local businesses, residents, and culture. 

"It's the missing organ in the city's creative body," says Medina-Tayac.  "We've had so many spaces shut down in D.C. because of gentrification that to go to an already gentrified neighborhood [Cleveland Park] as people of color, or as a native people is really meaningful. We need a hub."

Functioning since late April, Uptown Art House has already played host to some local programming.  As I previously mentioned, protest signs for the People's Climate March that happened on the National Mall earlier this spring were made in the space, and activist groups in coordination with the District's LGBTQ alliance were also in the space this past week preparing for the Pride Parade.  Rob Stokes of Medium Rare and the CMPVTR CLVB collective also organized an event 'Pittsburgh 2 D.C.,' in which Jack Swing, The Bird Hour, and Rob Smokes came together for a Steel City jam session.

Uptown Art House is subsidized by the Green Faith non-profit, which inspires, educates, and mobilizes people of diverse religious backgrounds for environmental leadership.  The community-run space is open every day of the week this summer, except Tuesdays.  On Mondays, visitors can expect instructional workshops on drawing, painting, and even talks on wellness and meditation practices.  Wednesdays will continue to be open house days for anyone and everyone to hang out in the space, make art, and listen to some music by local acts, while Thursdays and Fridays are set aside for organizations to rent the space and use to their discretion.  The Art House will also be open during the hours of the Cleveland Park Farmers Market on Saturday mornings as a youthful environment for kids to paint and create while their parents shop.

"In D.C., spaces are extremely expensive and scarce.  To find a space where anything community- based can happen that's not being run by the government is hard," says Gray.

On  Saturday, June 17th from 5-8pm, Travis Houze will be hosting a free viewing of his documentary Sounds of Summer, which highlights the past and present of DMV music culture. There will be a coinciding Q&A panel with the founder of One Love Massive and the CEO of B.A.M.M. Entertainment Molly Ruland and Cortez Santana respectively, along with Jamal Gray. 

We will be hosting a viewing of @travishouze "Sounds of Summer " Saturday June 17th 5-8pm

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Keep your eyes peeled to InTheRough for more programming by the Uptown Art House until their web infrastructure is established. 

Uptown Art House

3412 Connecticut Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20008