The Queens of Style in Santa Cruz
First things first: I’m so very grateful to have been well-received and taken care of by my Californian friends and business associates. Santa Cruz County is a kind and peaceful place; in the mild indian summer here I have found the space and opportunity to express my creative vision. The focal point of my vision currently is the rendering of large-scale portraiture in low-pressure aerosol paint using greyscale and monochromatic palates. Knowing that most of you will likely experience these pieces on small monitor (or even smartphone-sized) screens, I have tried to express the scale of the work by standing-in some of these frames. However, the experience of sharing a room with portraiture of this scale is quite different from remote digital viewing. In person, one can approach the wall and enjoy each microcosmic moment of the piece: the texture of smoothly diffused colors, the multi-shaded iris of an eye, the recklessness of floor-length drips… Afterward, one can step back again to watch all of these moments combine into something greater than the sum of its parts.
One of my favorite markets to work with is the bar and nightclub industry. Recently, I’d been seeking the proper venue to bring my greyscale illustrations into a nightclub setting. The opportunity arose when my good friend Dr. Pride introduced me to Bobby Card of Capitola. This March, Bobby opened an exclusive speakeasy on Coral St. in Santa Cruz. A follow-up to his former after-hours joint “Shades of Green”, this club is dubbed “The Greenhouse Studio”. It features large-scale pieces by veteran Santa Cruz muralists Taylor Reinhold, Casey Landaker, and myself. Bobby’s vision for the Greenhouse Studio is a retro-prohibition-era art club that blends modern EDM and Burlesque with 1920’s Jazz music and Flapper-Girl/Pinstriped-Gangster fashion themes. My contribution to the ambiance covers a 10’x30′ space behind the marble-topped bar, depicting three seductive elements of cabaret culture in the form of three playing-card Queens.
The first subject of this mural is the right-most section, the Queen of Diamonds. She was painted from rough to finish in six hours in a single evening. I don’t employ grids or projections in my work; I study a photographic reference and enlarge the image with my mind. This Queen came into focus most easily of the three– bearing a dead-on perspective and a high-contrast composition, she represents the vice of vain material wealth. She clutches at thick strands of pearls around her neck and sports a Diamond engagement ring on her left hand– a symbol of a love affair with the age itself. She was a pleasure to paint; her expression is of youthful affection and naiveté; of the exuberant sweetness that directly preceded the Great Depression. The silk that covers the left hand and the feathers of the headdress are my favorite moments in this portrait, as well as the balance in the arch of her glossed lips.
My second effort, the Queen of Spades, was painted the very next morning in a comparable amount of time. She is the centerpiece– most treacherous of the set, under a suit that represents alternative and extreme lifestyles in popular culture (think Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades”). She is ominously seductive, sipping at the illicit poison of the era from an embossed cocktail glass. The glass itself is the most difficult technical detail of the entire mural– painted in translucent Magic-White with Shock-White highlights. Capturing the shape of a transparent object with a spray-can was an entertaining challenge made possible by a cool hand and Montana gasket-technology. The Queen of spades looks like a gal that you might want to reconsider crossing, a whiskey baron’s daughter or some such; sizing you up with a glance as she drains her glass. “If you like to gamble, I tell you I’m your man. You win some, lose some; it’s all the same to me.”
The third and final piece of this installation is the Queen of Hearts. She was painted after two days’ rest in three sessions, which is to say she gave me the most trouble. A lit cigarette rests in her gloved hand and flapper-girl-style beads dangle from her brow and ear– these were the most challenging details of her outfit. The Queen of second-highest suit represents the oldest profession’s presence in the room: the vice of sexuality as it is seen accompanying other vices. She leans into the mural from a dark, smokey corner of the room, her glassy eyes catching flashbulb bursts. The rounded curve of her right shoulder traverses the corner of the room, streaked by gloss-red drips that reach the concrete floor. Her expression is gentle yet savvy; she might be the concierge of the room as she introduces the viewer to the other two Queens. “Some say Diamonds mean money for this art, but that’s not the shape of my heart.”
“The Greenhouse Studio” of Santa Cruz opened with an all-night Prohibition Party on March 26th, 2016 to a classy, pin-stripe-and-feather-clad crowd. The evening featured the live, anachronistic musical stylings of Post Street Rhythm Peddlers– a local outfit that integrates sultry female lead vocals and blazing brass solos with a solid side-show backing band. Second set belonged to Dark Rose Cabaret– a sexy collision between conventional stripping and political performance art. They gave Bobby a run for his money with a lapdance onstage… DJ Little John headlined the bill, spinning beats deep into the a.m. Meanwhile, the newly re-finished steel-and-marble bar was tended all night by a couple of local Flapper-girls in Red, accenting the lips of the three Queens relaxing behind them. Bobby Card now proudly owns the showcase piece of my 2016 winter residency in Santa Cruz, California, which as I write this has come to a close. If you’re in the area, I encourage you to pay him a visit at 360 Coral St. to see this piece in person. Next week I’ll be traveling to Portland, OR, and then back to Massachusetts for the Spring season. I’m currently booking projects for the Spring/Summer; please refer to the contact link at the top of the page if you too are interested owning a custom mural for your home or business. Cheers,
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