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Flesh Out: University of Memphis MFA Thesis Exhibition


March 23 – April 6, 2018
Opening Reception: March 23, 5-7 PM
3715 Central Ave.
230 and 240 Art & Communication Bldg. 

RSVP here

The Spring 2018 MFA thesis exhibition Flesh Out features the work of Kelly Cook, Ellen Dempsey, Bienvenido Howard, Jennalyn Krulish, and Lacy Mitcham. An investigation of conceptual and physical elements is “fleshed out” as they emerge in the graduate work of these five artists. The exhibition is an amalgamation of notions about what it means to be human and art’s incarnational qualities. Similar to a human body enveloped in living skin, the exhibition reveals layers of artistic, social, personal, and philosophical connections.

Sculptures and installation by Lacy Mitcham center on the repulsive and attractive qualities of the human body, reflecting her studies of psychological and physical maladies. The intangible nature of human connection is conveyed through the metaphor of social interaction in the watercolors of Kelly Cook. Ellen Dempsey’s furniture sculptures, infused with humor, utilize quotidian objects to emphasize discarded or overlooked properties. Jennalyn Krulish’s paintings of ecological relationships share specific knowledge about human involvement in the biosphere. Painter Bienvenido Howard deals with the liminal space between the viewer and portraiture. His work echoes the undergirding theme of Flesh Out, which expresses how artistic works exemplify a process of continual growth.


Free and open to the public, Mon. - Fri., 9 am to 4 pm (during run of exhibitions)

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Big Betsy
(image) The annual return of one of Memphis’ rowdiest bands.

A lark is a lark is a lark, and many a band has been launched on a whim, but Big Betsy is one lark that grew legs and became a Memphis institution. After staggering on for well-nigh a quarter century, the group will once again mount the stage at Murphy's Saturday, not to mention Celtic Crossing, and Railgarten. Having taken the city out for a jig every St. Patrick's Day for over two decades, their dance card is full.

Perhaps having roots in another band known for its gonzo antics has given Big Betsy its charm. Neighborhood Texture Jam has always been known for crunching riffs, original subject matter ("Rush Limbaugh-Evil Blimp," anyone?), and over-the-top performances, including chainsawing an inflatable doll stuffed with dog food. They were also perhaps the first band to supply "texture" via members pounding on steel barrels and other industrial detritus.

This anything-goes approach spilled over into a side project formed, as well as anyone can remember, on St. Paddy's Day in 1993, by members of NTJ, sans lead vocalist and exhorter-in-chief Joe Lapsley. Founded by NTJ guitarist Tee Cloar, Big Betsy also included Greg Easterly (who can play fiddle as well as "texture"), Steve Conn, John Whittemore, and Paul Buchignani. Non-NTJ members have filled out the lineup over the years, including Charlie Yarwood, Brad Trotter, and Andy Mus. Clearly, these are players who like working together, to which both Big Betsy's longevity and NTJ's perennial reunions can attest. And the band's roots in the hard-rocking NTJ give their take on Irish music a decidedly heavy edge, as does their love of one of Ireland's most rocking groups, Thin Lizzy.

"Tee was definitely the main driving force and came up with the name," explains mandolinist Whittemore. "We all liked Thin Lizzy, and Thin Lizzy/Big Betsy are the opposite halves of the name Elizabeth. And we liked traditional Irish drinking songs, so we decided to do this thing for St Patrick's Day. Of course, Murphy's was the logical place to do it. The Pogues were also an inspiration. Kinda raucous. Of course, we're a little more raucous than the Pogues."

A healthy sense of absurdity colors the proceedings. Easterly, for example, who will often travel from Nashville or Knoxville to join in, does not always play his instrument. "Greg plays fiddle. But sometimes he holds a banjo and doesn't play it. It's a tradition. My old roommate Matt Johnson was the original banjo holder. We used to say that we wished we had a banjo, so he'd come and hold one."

Most of the other instruments, however, are actually played, albeit played-up for maximum visual impact. "If there's one crowning achievement of Big Betsy," says Whittemore, "it's that we're the only band to ever feature an electric mandolin shaped like a Firebird guitar. And so in recent years, Charlie has played a Firebird and I've played a Mando-bird, as it's known. And then on the other side of the stage, there is a double-neck electric guitar, like the Jimmy Page thing, and a double-neck acoustic guitar. I'm pretty confident we're the only band to have two Firebirds and two double-neck guitars on the stage at the same time. That's probably our greatest achievement."

For all that, much of the material is traditional. "There's 'Streams of Whiskey,' 'Whiskey in the Jar,' 'Whiskey You're the Devil,'" says Whittemore. "And a lot of songs about beer. And we do several Pogues songs: 'If I Should Fall from Grace with God,' 'Sally MacLennane,' 'Dirty Old Town.' There's a great song called 'Jack's Heroes,' about a famous Irish soccer coach, and a song called 'Waxies' Dargle.' I don't know who Waxie was, and I don't know what a dargle is. But it sounds good."

And to top it off, a creative wardrobe. "There are often hats," says Whittemore. "This year, I happen to have acquired some special haberdashery that I think will play a role. The first couple of years, I played in a bustier, but I quit doing that. I don't look quite as good as I used to."

Big Betsy can be seen and heard thrice on Saturday, March 17th: Celtic Crossing (1:30 p.m.), Murphy's Bar (5 p.m.), and Lafayette's (8 p.m.).

Julia Bullock at IRIS
(image) Julia Bullock performs with IRIS.

This weekend's IRIS Orchestra program is an American tribute with all works from the first half of the 20th century. But a thoroughly 21st century presence will come with guest performer Julia Bullock interpreting several tunes.

Bullock is a rising star: The soprano is the recipient of the 2016 Sphinx Medal of Excellence and other major awards. Critics have praised her powerful emotional presence revealed in performances in operas and with symphonies worldwide.

She recently immersed herself in Josephine Baker: A Portrait by composer Tyshawn Sorey. The operatic study of the iconic singer was presented at the 2016 Ojai Music Festival and helmed by acclaimed director Peter Sellars. At this weekend's concerts, Bullock will perform two songs popularized by Baker: "J'ai deux amours" and "La Conga Blicoti."

Bullock didn't like it when a college teacher compared her to the legendary singer during a voice lesson. "I didn't want to be thought of as simply a 'black singer,'" she says. "But I discovered where the paths of our lives paralleled in some respects, and was moved by the fact that she placed her role as an entertainer alongside her work as an activist and humanitarian. The themes of exploitation, demoralization, and discrimination that followed much of Baker's life were something I wanted to look at onstage, because strangely, by deciding to go into a field that is predominantly run, produced, written, and performed by white people, that helped me want to take ownership of all that I am — a woman of mixed heritage [white and black], who has many influences and doesn't need to deny any of them."

Bullock wanted to explore the themes of exploitation and objectification, particularly of black women. "Baker was the perfect vehicle," she says, "because of how inviting and innocuous seeming her material was — most people only remember Baker as a black Venus in a banana skirt." The New World Symphony invited Bullock to perform Baker's songs on one of their club concerts, and they commissioned the orchestrations of the two songs she'll be performing with IRIS. Sellars took an interest and offered to work with her on developing the program.

"I spent hours researching all of Baker's recordings, organizing them by themes, and sitting with Tyshawn to talk through the music that I most wanted to reimagine," she says. "I continue to edit the text and experiment with different cuts." 

Bullock is also performing the Gershwin classic "Summertime," and she says, she has to remind herself that it's a lullaby, not a show piece. "I approach this material like everything else," she says. "The lyrics are what inspired the music [other than Brahms — he wrote his melodies first and then found poems to accompany them]. But either way, I must ensure that the text and vocalism exist side by side and that one doesn't overshadow or overwhelm the other."

Michael Stern, the music director of IRIS, met Bullock when they performed Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915 together at the Young Concert Artists Gala in New York in 2016. He wanted her to perform with IRIS, and the scheduling finally worked out — and Knoxville is also on this weekend's program.

Bullock's journey began in a home where the arts were essential.

"Music was always playing in my house," she says. "My father had a beautiful baritone voice and played several instruments as an amateur; and my mother loved to dance, so I'd go with her to tap classes and shuffle along in the back before I was enrolled myself." 

And her influences?

"I'd say the performer who first influenced me was Tina Turner," Bullock says. "I'd simply weep if I met her today — yes, I am that big of a fan." Other singers who got her attention from the first listen are Regine Créspin, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, and Kathleen Ferrier. "They were all great communicators," she says. "There was a passion and ferocity in their delivery; there was a clarity in their sound, and a focus of intention."

It wasn't until well into her teens that she began to get into classical music. "I was floored by the intensity of the material, both musical and poetic," she says. 

From this emerged her own intellectual grounding in her art. "My parents instilled the credo that if I'm not providing a service in my work, then it's not worthy work," she says. "There are invaluable byproducts from making music that make it vital. Music helps us listen more closely, it encourages us to engage with one another and ourselves, it asks us to act with intention and make choices, despite not knowing the future outcome."

Consuming Passions Call for Collections

We are looking for collections! Our summer show for 2018, Consuming Passions, will feature collections from the Memphis region. We have dolls, memorabilia from both World Wars, a sports collection, a collection of Moon Pie paraphernalia and other interesting lots. 

Do you have something you want to show off? 

Contact our assistant director, Warren Perry, at
Memphis Musicians Perform a Benefit for 901 Comics Anthology
(image) Diverse Memphis groups unite for comic anthology fund-raiser.

Memphis bands Sweaters Together and Tape Deck will headline at a benefit concert this Friday at the Hi-Tone to fund the printing and release of the second edition of the 901 Comics Anthology. For Shannon Merritt, co-owner of 901 Comics in Cooper-Young, the anthology is a passion project — and a much-needed resource for the Memphis arts community. "It's really hard for somebody to go out and do it all themselves," Merritt says. "To write, draw, color, and then turn around and distribute it. So I started [the anthology] as an idea to get people together and do an anthology and distribute it for them." Merritt produced the first 901 Comics Anthology last year, and after its success, he's bringing the anthology back with more muscle behind it.

"I started a publishing company, Bad Dog Comics," Merritt says. In the process of promoting and distributing the first anthology, Merritt visited six states and 25 comic book stores. The initial distribution infrastructure is in place, and Merritt says that after the benefit concert, the printing costs will be covered. With the important details taken care of, Merritt is free to plan other Bad Dog releases — Stoned Ninja in April and Kill All Super Heroes in June — and plot how best to connect Memphis College of Art's final crop of graduates with local writers.

The first edition of the 901 Comics Anthology was also funded in part by a benefit concert. Merritt, who has his hands full juggling his store and his new publishing company, leaves the music booking up to Harry Koniditsiotis, who works at 901 Comics and owns and operates the 5 & Dime recording studio. "I picked Tape Deck because Jason Pulley is one of the best keyboard/piano players in town, and he's one of my go-to session guys at the 5 & Dime. Sweaters Together — Aimee and Marie — were part of an improv jam session Mike Doughty of Soul Coughing had at the studio," Koniditsiotis says. "I knew Aimee from her previous bands the Vignettes and Rickie & Aimee and always dig her music. I saw Sweaters Together at last year's Rock for Love and liked what they were doing."

Sweaters Together are, according to band member Chrissy Green, "four body-positive queers with multifaceted instrumental talents, delivering wholesome content." The band is no stranger to benefit shows and unconventional venues, having played roller derby bouts, art galleries, and Rock for Love 11, an annual benefit show supporting the Church Health Center. "We've been on a bit of a hiatus," Green says, "But we're coming back full force."

Forceful is an apt description of Sweaters' live performances, which harness a punk energy and an art-rock attention to detail that keep the shows as visually interesting as they are aurally satisfying. The band combines clean guitars and warbling keyboard riffs with layers (and layers) of vocal harmonies, calling to mind comparisons to Bake Sale, before that homegrown group morphed into Goner Records' heavy hitters NOTS. On "Softly," harmonies and quiet piano build to an eventual crescendo of crashing chords and pounding drums. Some tracks drip with angst, and some are, simply put, beautiful, hooky pop compositions. Sweaters' unclassifiable quality keeps them in good company with the rest of the lineup for the anthology benefit.

Tape Deck, who will open the festivities on Friday, sounds like a funk-infused circus straight out of a comic book, as though The Band's Levon Helm and Richard Manuel started a super group with Rowlf and Dr. Teeth of the Electric Mayhem Band. Front man Jason Pulley's keyboard playing lends a haunted calliope air, and his gravelly vocals conjure Oscar the Grouch as he sings of panda bears and Grizzlies coaches. Yet allusions to the funny papers are largely unconscious. "I really wish I knew more about comics," Pulley muses.

Still, Tape Deck are no strangers to collaborative happenings, having released their Unconventional Solutions EP last December at the Madison Avenue recording space Move the Air. The event also featured the premiere of a short film by John Pickle and a potluck dinner, the table overflowing with food, booze, and hot chocolate. "It was very interdisciplinary," Tape Deck's Jason Pulley says of the party. "It wasn't any one person's idea. It was five people's ideas that just came together and coalesced."

In the pages of comic books, such team-ups and crossovers are common, usually coinciding with blockbuster movie releases. In the real world, musicians, writers, and artists are often too busy perfecting their work to actively seek out connections with other creators. But if art is fundamentally about connections, it too works best when its heroes share their superpowers.

Hump Day to the Max: Sons of Mudboy and Oblivians Light Up the Week
(image) A flurry of inspiring music will ring through Midtown today and tomorrow, as players rooted in the 1990s, but tapping into much older influences, make mid-week performances. Time to call it an early weekend and phone in sick tomorrow? Perhaps.

It starts tonight at 7:30 pm, when Sons of Mudboy start their set at Bar DKDC. The group features the progeny of the legendary underground rockers Mud Boy & the Neutrons — Ben Baker, Cody and Luther Dickinson, and Steve Selvidge — along with the last surviving Mud Boy, Jimmy Crostwaithe, and other friends to re-imagine the roots-rock Mud Boy sound for this century. While Selvidge and Baker often lead a version of the group in this weekly time slot, tonight's show promises to be special, as the Dickinson brothers, who are often away on tour, will join in the fun.

Mud Boy has been hovering over the city a lot these days, with many still reeling from twin release parties for Robert Gordon's newest book, Memphis Rent Party, featuring interviews (and an accompanying LP) with Jim Dickinson and others connected to the bohemian scene of 30-40 years ago. Pat Rainer, another member of that artistic community rooted in the '70s, also launched her photography exhibition at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music at the same time, with many striking images of Dickinson, Sid Selvidge, Tav Falco, and others from that era. It's still on view at the museum through this July.

Tomorrow, Luther Dickinson will still be in town, this time at the Old Dominick Distillery's Pure Memphis Music Series. This series provides a unique, intimate space to hear its well-curated artists. The sound is stunningly good, and the drinks are, well, very fresh. Dickinson will be joined by Amy Lavere and Sharde Thomas, with whom he worked in his side project The Wandering, which also featured Shannon McNally and Valerie June.

In an interview with Jarrett Bellini from "Apparently This Matters,” Luther Dickinson recently reflected on the connection he feels to musical history and the songs of his father and those he learned from. “It's the repertoire. It doesn't matter, the stylistic trappings, or production. It can be electronic interpretation, whatever. Whatever it takes to get yourself off, and to trick a new generation into listening to it...It's hard, but the repertoire is what has to be carried on. That has been my biggest realization. My dad and his friends, they weren't hippies, they were beatniks, they were bohemians. Before the hippies. They were rock 'n' rollers turned folkies, and the folkies were song collectors. That was the hippest thing, who had the most obscure song.” Expect some choice rarities in this unique ensemble gig. And also tonight at Bar DKDC, on a very different tip, we'll hear another version of roots music from the Oblivians. Though most would call the group post-punk, when the trio started in the early '90s they were known for bringing a hint of the blues back into DIY garage rock. How much this was deserved is debatable, for they really were mining their own territory. But it can't be denied that very few punk bands covered songs by Blind Charles White, as they did. Nowadays, they reunite occassionally, and this year will be especially busy for them, as they play the Debauch-A-Reno festival in Reno, Nevada next month, with many dates following in Europe in May and June. But this may well be their only Memphis appearance. Expect a packed house tonight!

Sons of Mudboy play Bar DKDC Wednesday, March 21, at 7:30 pm. The Oblivians play there at 10:30 pm. Luther Dickinson & Friends play Old Dominick Distillery Thursday, March 22 at 7:30 pm.

The Daily Avalanche

John Shorb
The Daily Avalanche
Opening Saturday, March 24, 5-8pm
On view March 24-May 13
Tops Gallery
400 South Front Street (entrance on Huling)

Tops Gallery is pleased to announce The Daily Avalanche an exhibition of new drawings and prints by John Shorb. 

In this exhibition Shorb creates imagery collected from historical archives with a particular focus on bygone newspapers and scenes of genteel disquietude.
Late 19th and early 20th century newspapers are rendered as both nearly illegible palimpsests and wiped-out voids. Shorb's drawings of these disintegrating papers, emptied of content and reduced to their broadsheet form, suggest tabula rasa, modernist idealism, tombstones, and cracked screens. The printed works multiply, fracture, and layer examples like The Weekly Caucasian and The American Citizen into abstraction, hot off an awry press. These especially partisan papers, whose readers are literally and figuratively on the same page, are absent from the collective memory, but mimic the current state of news. Shorb presents this form of ideally objective information in a mode of ambiguity apt for the white noise that delivers misinformation and propaganda and upholds a brutal status quo. More intimate drawings of birdhouses and hunters offer a vision of hopeless nostalgia for an agrarian past that still remains ubiquitous in Southern iconography. In the Madison Avenue Park space Shorb will present Colonel Memphis, a drawing, depicting a manic Cotton Carnival caricature, affixed to a wooden scaffolding. 

Shorb explores what imagery is "fit to print" in a time when everything is available to search.

John Shorb is an artist living and working in Brooklyn. Shorb has had solo shows at the University of Mississippi Museum, Northeastern University, and Long Island University in Brooklyn. He was awarded a Hambidge fellowship in 2011 at the Hambidge Center in Georgia as well as a Winter Residency in 2017 at Penland School of Crafts. He studied film and literature at Carleton College and then received an master in divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. 

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