Photo credit: Larry Estes
Last July, I wrote a blog post about Cool and Eclectic, a store located inside the Pembroke Mall at Virginia Beach. It's one of those rare and unique stores where you can come across all kinds of neat nostalgic items and find yourself exploring their selections for hours on end. I interviewed Mark and Diana for last year's post about the store and while it's been relocated in a new space at the mall, the variety the store offers continues to flourish and deliver on its slogan, "Where it is Usual to Find the Unusual".
This year's trip was an extra special treat. As part of a continuing series of giveaways, Cool and Eclectic was giving away prints of an original comic strip, Artchilles, illustrated and signed by store owner, Larry Estes. The story is about a Virginia Beach native who works at a factory owned by Kempsville Building Materials. As he continues to work there, he desires to keep his artistic dream afloat and goes out of his way to keep it alive, so he takes on the journey of the individual and puts his salvaged drawings together, revealing his story. I spent an afternoon chatting with Larry about the project and the themes he explores via its narrative and its imagery. The character, Artchilles reflects the journey Larry experienced (and continues to experience). We see that Artchilles takes a series of drawings, pieces them together like a puzzle and thus, we see his journey take shape. As stated by Larry himself in his video, Drawings Survive to Tell a Story, he is "piecing together this extraordinary journey, using copies of actual drawings from the journey to authenticate its unfolding". Through mixed media, Larry goes from a standard illustrated page, which is crafted similarly to that of the classic comics of the 1950's and 1960's and then on the next pages, he incorporates the copies of the drawings into some of the panels and arranges them to match the narration. For example, on page 2, we see a copy of each drawing laid out with one flat in the center of the first panel. The perspective of the ones on either side of the drawing are morphed to appear facing inwards. They are apparently going into the direction of the one in the center and all together, they are close to fading into a black hole. The letter boxes in yellow are from the narrator's perspective while the ones in white delve into what Artchilles is thinking. "Initially, Artchilles created sketches of random subjects he was to make into large paintings..." the narrator highlights. "[B]ut, as the prospect of acquiring a studio grew dim, drawing took over. Focus turned to his own life." The use of perspective in a panel painted pitch black accompanies this narration so effectively, especially with Artchilles' own words below the drawing in the center saying, "I yearned to paint..." The sentence is incomplete as if fading into the abyss along with the drawings. It highlights the sense of being on the brink of obscurity.
The next panel is a close up of the drawing on the right hand side, focusing on Artchilles' narration: "But the brush kept eluding my grasp". The drawing depicts the brush falling out of his reach as a foot steps on his hand. An onomatopoeia that reads crunch! is belted, all together demonstrating how limited in his options Artchilles really is.
In the third and final panel of the page, the narrator describes the monotony Artchilles is locked into. With six drawings of a man boxed in lined up in a perspective that gives the illusion of ascending forward, towards the reader's right hand side and descending into obscurity looking into the left, we see the repetitive nature of the job. Even so, Artchilles' words above the drawing facing the viewer boldly say "I Was Stuck!" This use of perspective fittingly gives the sense of endlessness.
Onto the next page, which as the title implies, "Taking the Leap", Artchilles does precisely that. He is seen surrendering and then dives into the unknown. Afterwards, he sees a vision of a muse, who guides him to his desired destination. When delving into the significance of this page (and the entire story at large), Larry offers a question that prompts readers to ponder for a moment over what might be holding them back from seeking his/her own journey: "Have you ever seen a more poignant expression of that pivotal moment before taking the leap? With arms raised, you have surrendered to the unknown". With that said, the third page not only serves as a rising action, but it also invites the readers to assess a time when he or she was confronted with such a moment. And if they haven't already done so, it encourages them to seek it. As Artchilles raises his hands to the sky before taking the plunge, the text in the yellow boxes is no longer written from the third person perspective. It transitions to Artchilles' point-of-view as if he's finally taking control once again. The next page depicts how Artchilles fares trying to balance out his work at the factory and listening to the muse, which eventually results into a sudden halt. It is then revealed in a typed text in yellow boxes that he conceived this series of drawings thirty years ago while he was still working in the factory, which eventually became a homeless center. With the old drawing board destroyed, Artchilles then resorted to using invoice paper to illustrate on. Below the drawing of the building, we see a real-life sample of the invoice paper.
The fifth page depicts Artchilles gradually freeing himself from the grip of the factory work. Although its a very small start, it serves as a spark to grow and flourish. All he has at this point is a brush and coffee. From there he lets his inner individual out as much as he can, but realizes he needs more to continue that journey of growth. "Duality continued to manifest. The path was filled with ups and downs. I needed more than a brush..." This gets us to think that while we are maintaining the endless cycle of monotony without taking the time to seek out our individual journey, eventually the desire to seek it starts to break through in some form or another. We may not be aware of it at first, but when we become too accustom to a routine, somewhere in the corners of our minds we are called to seek beyond that repetitive nature and consult every means possible to fulfill our individual journey and find who we truly are to reach our true potential.
Taking a moment to step back, the story of Artchilles is indeed the story of Larry's own journey. It's told in ways that simple words could not express. Through its imagery, the way mixed media is utilized and how text accompanies and plays into the narrative in unison showcase the journey. It's true that it's highly difficult to make art a full-time career and it's important to obtain a good paying job, but at the same time, being so caught up in an endless cycle where you function like a factory machine without any time for self-reflection whatsoever is detrimental. It will eventually lead to that craving for self-reflection. The desire to seek the individual journey, whether we are 100% aware of if or not will gradually make its way to our conscious mind and when the timing is right, we will seek our own journey of self-discovery tenfold. Taking such a concept into account, even as you go about your everyday life, I highly encourage you to take the time to reflect on your own journey. When you have some time free of monotony (and distraction), think of something that is inspiring to you or something you've written or pieces you've made that can be put together to tell a story. Experiment with those ideas and see what kind of story unfolds. That there is the road to discovering your journey as an individual.
Once again, huge thanks to Larry for his time and sharing his work with me. To learn more about Artchilles and Larry's other works, check out his website and his Instagram.
To learn more about Cool and Eclectic, visit their Facebook page.
We often underestimate how therapeutic art really is. Whenever some of the most awful things happen, that words alone aren't enough to ease the pain and trauma one is feeling, the ability to create and express such emotions is always there for us to retreat to. When creating a piece in response to tragic experiences and how they change the person's life, it's a reflection of the hardship that was endured and how one copes, leading to recovery and a stronger appreciation of life. Art inspires us to never take things for granted and show us that despite dark times, there is a light that always helps us carry on and makes us stronger than we were before. An example of such a creative piece that was born from the ashes of a tragedy and is a true inspiration is the independently released album, Inner Landscape, by pianist Antimo Magnotta.
Antimo Magnotta was a resident pianist on board the ill-fated Costa Concordia. After a long-time personal struggle, he composed an album reflecting on his experiences from the night of the sinking and dedicated it to the memory of the 32 passengers who were killed. Through the album, Magnotta retells his perspective of that night through by letting his music narrate. The title, Inner Landscapes, as stated by the musician himself, "is a music cycle inspired by my thoughts after the accident. It refers to this brand new landscape I was experiencing ̶ like a window in reverse. It is part of a slow and ongoing healing process". In an article by Lizzie Davis on Classic FM, Magnotta describes what happened the instant the Concordia hit the rock:
"People started asking 'what's going on?'. I tried to keep the passengers calm and said 'we will be getting some instructions from the bridge'. But the loud speakers were just delivering a ghostly silence...People were holding broken teeth in their hands, it looked like a horror movie, a nightmare. This big floating entertaining funfair turned into a death trap."
It started as any regular night, where Magnotta would perform at the café, when at about 9:45 PM, the impact shook the entire room, sending people off balance. Magnotta felt the bolts on his piano come lose, that the piano rolled out of its place. In the midst of the chaos, no one from the bridge communicated with the passengers and crew members about what was really happening or how much danger they were actually in. After helping some of the passengers and fellow crew members the best he could, Magnotta made his escape through a shattered window and caught the attention of a nearby lifeboat. He made it safely to land roughly by 3:00 AM.
The track listing sequence narrates Magnotta's experiences from that night, starting with a piece, dedicated to his daughter Sofia. The track Sofia reflects that he had last seen her 10 days before he left on board the Concordia and that she was on his mind when the incident was taking place. The next track, Where is Everybody recalls the sense of chaos and disorder that filled the room as a result of the long stress-inducing wait for rescue. Open Waters, Seven Short Blasts and One Long One and Abandon Ship depict what was taking place inside and the feeling of escaping the doomed vessel. The Crossing, I'm Alive and The Island paint a bittersweet image of survival. The piece, Thirty-two is composed of 32 notes, each note dedicated to each of the victims who lost their lives. In the final track, Losing Myself, Magnotta illustrates the effects the disaster had on his life and state of mind one year later upon his arrival to London. When delving into his situation as a result of the aftermath, Magnotta states:
"I lost my sleep, I lost my peace of mind and I lost my little savings. I was on the edge of poverty...I was suffering with post-traumatic stress and didn't want to play the piano...All I wanted to do was become anonymous and forget about my past...I had to learn how to play the piano again."
Picking up the shattered pieces in his life and relearning to play the piano again, Inner Landscapes served as therapy and rejuvenation for mind and soul for Magnotta. It was through this album project he could express the fears, hopes and tension he felt when the accident occurred. On his Bandcamp page, in the description for Inner Landscape, Magnotta highlights what he hopes listeners will be reminded of when they hear his music. "I found solace in my music and I hope it will serve as a reminder of the restorative power of art and the resilience of the human spirit". At a time when all seems lost in darkness, Magnotta reminds listeners of what comes after. When hardship and tragedy happen, it can be easy to ruminate in it to the point there appears to be no end in sight. In the end, because of that 'resilience of the human spirit', we as human beings are capable to grow stronger from even the most tragic events. We are not given a spirit of fear, but are blessed with a spirit of hope. The 'restorative power of art' is the reason why we create. Without our abilities to express ourselves through our God-given talents and creativity, ̶ just imagine for a moment how much sadder the world would be without art ̶ when tragedies strike, how would we inspire others during hard times? We try to find the right words to say when horrible things happen, but art can illustrate empowering sentiments that words alone can't do effectively. It is through works like Inner Landscapes that we are reminded that in the wake of tragedy, there is healing even in the most horrendous moments.
We all know art is restorative, but we sometimes underestimate its power and necessity. With Antimo Magnotta's story being told in the form of music, listeners can learn from his experiences that when a devastating event changes one's life, there is hope and alleviation. By using our artistic gifts as a means of therapy and self-reflection, we are reminded that after even in our darkest hours, we are capable of bring light into the world.
Finding new good music on the mainstream radio has become increasingly rare these days. Flip through stations playing the latest Top 40 hits and you’ll mostly hear songs about clubs and sex with repetitive patterns and bland rhythms. On occasion, you’ll come across a good recent song containing meaningful and relatable lyrics or a feel-good song with a memorable melody and variation in its rhythm, but in today’s mainstream, listeners are usually bombarded with some rather lifeless beats and dull melodies. The question is not only how do you find good music these days, but also where do you find good music these days?
Before exploring the answer to this question, remember when in previous decades, whenever something was new to the mainstream, it was met with critics who also romanticized older music? When people discuss music they like from the 1980’s or 1990’s for instance, most of their selection is based on some of the most memorable hits, not the ones they would have deemed the worst. As with any opinion, listeners’ definition of what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ music always has been and always will be subjective. The way to distinguish a ‘good’ song from a ‘bad’ song is not based on the decade it came out or what instruments were used (i.e. synthesizers or acoustics). Sometimes our mentality favors the ‘what I like’ bias thought process rather than examining what goes into the making of a good song. With that mindset in place, listeners can make informed choices and discussions about what’s working in modern music and what isn’t.
So, what does today’s music offer that previous decades didn’t? The Internet, of course! It’s an obvious answer, but there’s no denying it. Because of websites like SoundCloud, Bandcamp and perhaps the most obvious, YouTube, independent musicians can start a fan following online. If you search artist after artist, you will find there is an abundance of music you might not have thought was being made today. In her article, 10 Reasons Today’s Music Industry Doesn’t Suck on GuitarWorld.com, Laura B Whitmore delves into the many ways today’s musicians collaborate, communicate and distribute their music. Options that didn’t exist twenty or thirty years ago are now at artists’ and their listeners’ fingertips. One of the examples Whitmore pinpoints is that “[t]here are more options than ever to get your music heard”, in which she writes “[w]ith loads of media outlets, blogs, distribution sites and more, there’s no doubt you can take matters in your own hands when it comes to music distribution”. The wealth of outlets enables today’s musicians to showcase their talents where listeners have easy access to. They are not limited to just the radio.
A little personal story, this was how I discovered most of my new favorite music and artists. I simply Googled 2016 love ballads in hopes of finding modern music that gave me the same positive, pleasant feeling as popular hits of the 80’s and 90’s. Sure enough, I found plenty, if not more than I expected. I came across a New York based pop duo known as Paperwhite and their song entitled Pieces, which I found on a YouTube channel called NewViceCity by Fernando Martinez. The channel features a wide variety of songs and artists from recent years whose music is influenced by the classics with a modern spin. There’s Haim, Pure Bathing Culture, St. Lucia, Susanne Sunfør, Fire Tiger, Allie X, Great Good OK Fine, Savior Adore, Gavin Turek and Phoenix to name a few who might peak the curious music fan’s interest. Even Carly Rae Jespen’s latest tunes are featured on the channel, (which are a huge contrast from her Call Me Maybe days).
Another YouTube channel I also listen frequently is New Retro Wave, where I’ve discovered some interesting 1980’s and early 90’s influenced musicians such as Wolf and Raven, Dance with the Dead, N I N A, KRISTINE, Dana Jean Phoenix, Le Brock, FM 84, Timecop 1983, Michael Oakley, The Midnight and Robert Parker. While I consider New Retro Wave a favorite of mine, to step out of my own bias, I'll address the channel’s shortcomings. There are some songs (mostly the non-vocal tracks), that sound rather similar. Because the channel is catered to fans of retro music and 80’s/early-90’s pop culture, this is where personal taste can easily overshadow other perceptions of what constitutes as ‘good’ music. What listeners critique about today’s mainstream music, regarding it to sounding all the same can also be said about some of the music showcased on NRW. That’s not to say NRW is not recommendable, but it has its intended audience who would be looking for the familiar synthwave tropes, which brings us to another pointer in finding new music: niches.
When it comes to defining good music, the target audience a radio station or a YouTube channel is dedicated to can also play a major role in the listener’s selections. Whether the music is ‘indie’ or ‘mainstream’, the listener can also tune into any station playing their favorite genre. Take Sirius XM for instance. When scrolling for a specific station and you’re looking for adult contemporary ballads or light pop, stations like The Blend or Velvet might appeal to you. Some good examples of today’s best artists listeners can find on Sirius XM include Tori Kelly, Gavin James, Josh Kaufman, The Revivalists, Mary Lambert, Matt McAndrew, Colbie Caillat, Rachel Platten, Michael Buble, Jordan Sparks, Josh Groban, Leona Lewis, Adele, Susan Boyle, Alicia Keys, Sam Smith, Kelly Clarkson, Idina Menzel, John Legend and (I kid you not) One Direction.
To further illustrate this point about the relevance of niches, author and Wall Street Journal writer, Jim Fusilli examines older listeners’ bias towards the music they listen to and why they refuse to engage with modern music in his book, Catching Up: Connecting with Great 21st Century Music. According to Fusilli, the target audience for music has always been geared towards youth and that the music business always knows how to effectively market towards them. Music catered to older listeners don’t receive the same amount of airplay or promotion. Because of this approach to marketing music, older listeners tend to feel alienated from most of the current music scene and therefore, often don’t know where to begin their search. He also has a website called www.renewmusic.net, which as its tagline, “Music for Grownups” implies, is devoted to helping adults find new music that appeals to them.
Finding good music today can be a bit of a challenge if you only restrict your selections to the radio only, but if you expand your searches online and on various stations, outlets, streaming services and YouTube channels you might be surprised by what you find. Because music is at its most expansive in its reach than it’s ever been, discovering your new favorite songs and artists can be sought out with a simple click of the mouse.
Ever (re)discovered new facts about any art form or part of pop culture that you thought you knew before and realized there might be more to the story than what meets the eye? The Blog section debunks common expectations and assumptions in the art world.