Classical Underground

Videos: C.U. and P-Town cool videos to bring to your attention: The one is from the Classical Underground concert last October that featured paintings by myself and two friends, Logan Hagege and Glenn Dean. (you can see them in the background). This violinist, Moni Simeonov, is one of my favorite performers there. This is a video of the painting trip to Provincetown last October, created by Jon Goward (for some reason the embed feature wasn't working on this video so I just put in a link above). Always interesting to hear the different perspectives that everyone brings, plus, look for the comedy as the credits roll. It’s playing at the Cape Cod Museum of Art and Addison Art Gallery for the Creative Convergence exhibition(s) that was a result of the trip, and is currently on view through February 28, 2011.

Back to Back: An Art Lecture and Showcase

I'll be giving a lecture this coming Sunday in Pasadena on the history of the California Art Club, specifically the 1940s. That decade was an exciting and turbulent period for the organization - it found itself squarely in the midst of the red-hot controversy over modern art in Los Angeles, contributed locally to the war efforts, and lost its beloved clubhouse. I'll share insights on the club's inner workings as well as how they fit into the changing national landscape of art and the theater of World War II.

"In the Trenches: The California Art Club during the 1940s" Sunday, October 24, 2010, 1:00 - 3:00 p.m.

$10 CAC Members/$15 Non-members

The Historic Blinn House at the Women's City Club of Pasadena 160 North Oakland Avenue Pasadena, CA 91101 626/796-0560 | Directions


Evening in the Foothills, 16" x 20", Oil, © Glenn Dean

Shadows on the Mountain, 30" x 40", Oil, © Logan Hagege

Spaceship Landing (The Salton Sea), 30" x 30", Oil on canvas mounted on panel, © Eric Merrell

Alexey Steele's Classical Underground, a collection of world-class musicians and artists performing in an intimate studio setting in Carson, CA, has gained quite a following since its inception only a few years back. From the beginning, Classical Underground has featured contemporary paintings along with amazing classical performances unlike anything you'll find elsewhere.

The next concert on the evening of Monday, October 25, 2010 will feature work by Glenn Dean, Logan Hagege and myself, These events have limited seating and sell out quickly, so you'll need to purchase your tickets soon after they go on sale. You can find more info (and buy tickets) on the Classical Underground blog.

Rex Lewis

At the latest manifestation of Alexey Steele's Classical Underground series on November 9, the audience was treated to a special performance by Rex Lewis. Rex was born blind and with severe brain damage, but despite his inability to perform simple tasks like tying a shoelace, when playing, he's completely focused. Music is his world, and saying that he plays the piano beautifully is only a small part of the story - he only needs to hear a piece once to be able to play it back verbatim from memory. [youtube=]

Along with Brahms' Waltz Medly Opus 39 and Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu, he even played an improvisation off of a Chopin Nocturne. His mother Cathleen Lewis has written a book about their life of music and struggles together, titled "Rex." Proceeds from the book help pay for Rex's piano and voice lessons (yes, he apparently also sings well too!) [Buy "Rex" on Amazon] Rex is easily able to do what we all struggle to do as artists (and, I would imagine, musicians) - focus. As soon as he sits down on the bench, other distractions are tuned out.

Here is the story and video of Rex featured on 60 Minutes in 2006.

Alexey Steele and Classical Underground featured in the Los Angeles Times, August 2009.

Alexey Steele is Taking Over Los Angeles!

alexey-carnegie_s On the evening of February 7th, artist Alexey Steele gave a lecture at the Carnegie Art Museum in Oxnard, California, which accompanied that museum's acquisition of his monumental drawing "Quiet Steps of Approaching Thunder." Before the talk, Alexey's good friend Maksim Velichkin set the mood for the unveiling with a piece for cello. I thought this would be a great place to recount some of the ideas Alexey (born in Kiev, Ukraine) brought up during the course of his lecture, as I've always loved his perspective. [Once you've met Alexey, you'll recognize his infectious laughter and palm-searing high-fives ANYWHERE.]

Art is very integral to the Russian way of life - when everything else in a society fails, art is still there and speaks to Truth. In many ways, art can be a tool of survival. Alexey contrasted this deep connection of Russians to their art with that of the American relation to art, the latter being one primarily of decoration today.

A living breathing Art needs public interaction to communicate, which is where museums fill their greatest role. Although acknowledging the need for galleries and collectors, he lamented that once a piece is acquired for a private collection it is no longer accessible to the public. 

The Russian idea of art deals very much with opposites: life/death, male/female, light/dark, advancing/retreating, etc. 

An idea first has personal relevance to the artist; it is only later that it may have relevance on a larger stage.

Art is communication. 

While he offered some explanations for his piece now in the Carnegie collection, Alexey was intentionally vague about defining everything. Using realism to communicate the unseen, the four-headed seraphim-esque figure is not completely visible to the viewer, and not everything is necessarily literal; to see one of the hidden faces, you would necessarily lose sight of another one as the figure rotated. This hints at those unexplained parts of normal life - nothing is ever completely seen or completely understood, but Art can give us a piece of the picture.

Moni Simeonov (violin) and Pepron Pilibossian (piano) performing Sevdana by Georgi Zlatev-Cherkin

I also have to mention Alexey's fantastic studio where he recently hosted another music concert with Classical Underground. Originating about a year or two ago as a small gathering of artists and musicians just hanging out at the studio and playing music all night, it has developed quite a following, usually boasting a few hundred devoted fans at each monthly performance. After a potluck prior to the concert, everyone sits back to enjoy the performances, which are now being taped and filmed. (Jeremy Lipking has some good photos from an earlier performance over at his blog.)

Apart from all the great musicians there (some are a part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic), there is a cadre of artists who frequent these concerts (some visiting from out of town),including Peter Adams, Glenn Dean, Logan Hagege, Dan McCaw, Ignat Ignatov, Stephen Mirich, Daniel Pinkham, Tony Pro, Christopher Pugliese, Rodolfo Rivademar, Katya Walker, and Aaron Westerberg. Here are all of the musicians for the February 9th performance, as they were the reason we were there in the first place (in order of appearance): Radu Pieptea (violin), Mikael Oganesyan (piano), Alexander Suleiman (cello), Yana Reznik (piano), Marina Kesler (mezzo-soprano), Maksim Velichkin (piano), Carter Larsen (piano), Indira Rakhmatullaeva (cello), Eduardo Delgado (piano), Moni Simeonov (violin), Pepron Pilibossian (piano), and Harout Senekeremian (piano).