Monday, May 21, 2012

Scenes from Washington University Commencement

Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Donald M. Suggs

Student President Alex Cooper

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Awed by the St. Louis Children's Choirs

Last night we attended one of the 2012 Spring Concerts for the St. Louis Children's Choirs, with an emphasis on the plural Choirs. At the 7 p.m. program we saw three distinct choirs perform, with a finale that brought everyone onstage -- including a number of alumna.

The Choirs use the college paradigm of graduates and alumna more seriously than we knew before last night, this being the first season-culminating concert in which our daughter Leyla Fern performed. A major highlight of the program, as impressive as the impeccable singing, was the recognition of the graduating high school seniors leaving the Choirs after as many as 11 years.

I'm not a terrific fan of ceremonies, and skipped all of my own graduations, so I don't have the widest experience base when I say these were the best graduation speeches I have ever heard. But these were the best graduation speeches I have ever heard. The quality of narrative and impact of anecdote were overmatched only by the total command and poise at the microphone.

What these youth testified about the Choirs gave a clue to how they got this poised, experienced and articulate. A series of graduating seniors testified to the adventures of world travel tempered by the rigors of discipline, all experienced as a cohort of young people making their way across the greatest stages of the world. A Disney movie about the Choirs would do less to communicate the elusive magic of collective artistic endeavor than the successive statements of these teenagers.

We got the sense there is something physical, something tangible going on here. In attention to the tough love of conductors who expect precise musical achievement, these youth are shaped by an organization that has an unabashed healing mission, namely, that music can heal the world. It's a message that is shown to them as well as taught, as the youth all testified to choir practice providing what one graduate, Will O'Brien, described as "weekly healing sessions".

We watched our daughter onstage, singing in one of the two most junior of the Children's Choirs, and we felt secure in a way that parents seldom are allowed to feel these days, when we tend to question all authority and every influence on our youth, for very good reasons.

This morning, my wife, a thrifty African immigrant, said, "I don't always give extra money to all of these organizations we're already paying for their services, but I am going to give these Children's Choir people some more money."

Sounds good to me.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Jeremy Rabus adds a dash of flesh to his pallette

Jeremy Rabus has a one-man show, Twilight Canopy, up at Hoffman LaChance Contemporary, which I still think of as the new, smaller Hoffman LaChance.

Rabus has offered an effective solution to a one-man show in a small room by producing a large number (27) of small and very small paintings. This gives the visitor a lot to look at without crowding the walls or making you feel like you're in a dorm room with a picture pinned everywhere.

Compared to the other work of his I've seen, he also gives us a lot to look at in the form of figures. Jeremy's work usually strikes me as a phenomenon of gushing color where I don't even begin to wonder about what might be going on under the abstraction, in a representational sense. This work is a little different.

I see more things. Judging by the frequently representational titles of the pieces, it seems that Jeremy sees more things too, though we almost never see the same things. Where he sees, or at least says, "Teal Beam," I see a dolphin tail; where he sees "Strapped Cloud," I see a bird beak; his "Turbine" is my whale; his "Ice on Embedded Platform" (above) is my high-heeled shoe.

We also have two hits, or only near misses: his "The Bikeway" is my highway, and his "Striped Bug" is "Easter eggs" on my scorecard.

Moving toward a more substantial point, where Jeremy thinks he has painted a "Birdbelly," I am seeing sexy bikini thighs, and in a piece he titles "Avoid the Void" I'd swear I'm seeing a fragment of a female nude belly-down, with the creamy rise of her buttocks.

Up until now, I'd say his work has been asexual, though deeply in touch with the forces of nature we associate with the feminine: waterfalls, mountains, rainclouds. I think he is finding more flesh on his pallette. That's not a bad thing.

I also appreciate his respect for the local art buying public's poverty. These pieces are priced $50 to a low ceiling of $375. He already had sold 15 of the 27 paintings when I walked through yesterday evening, and the more people who see the show, the more he'll sell. It's good, fresh work by an artist who is growing, priced to move.

Twilight Canopy is up at Hoffman LaChance, 2713 Sutton Blvd. in Maplewood, through May 26. Curator Michael Hoffman may be reached at 314-398-9636 or

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Open letter to the mayor of Alton

Dear Mayor Hoechst,

You lead a river city, and yet you missed the boat.

Burlesque is the art of the almost nude. Burlesque artists do not get nude on stage. They get almost nude. You'd know this if you attended burlesque shows, but you have said you do not, and would not.

Fine, don't. Better view for the rest of us. But don't shut down what you don't understand.

I don't expect that a man of your age and inexperience would know this, but Burlesque is flourishing in our river cities. St. Louis is an international leader in this art form. Alton has been contributing to and benefitting from St. Louis' leadership and success in this art form.

You have put a stop to that.

Mayor, is it better for a city to encourage the vitality of young, creative people, or to destroy it? Do you want lively, engaged people in your city -- or leaving your city?

I am a Metro East boy (Granite City), though I live in St. Louis now. The St. Louis mayor is not much to my liking in his politics, but he has the sense to encourage the emergence of St. Louis as a world city for Burlesque.

Could our mayor find a code violated by our Burlesque performances in St. Louis? Does a fish shit in the river? Does our mayor and our police force allow our Burlesque artists to flourish because Burlesque artists do not, in fact, get naked, only almost naked? Does a fish take a drink in the river?

Mayor, you missed the boat. But it's not quite too late. Come on onboard. The water is fine, and the dancers are almost naked.


Chris King
Community-based artist

cc: Mayor Slay