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The Art of Eso Tolson
(image) The art of Eso Tolson.

Eso Tolson embraces his inner Memphis. In fact, he came up with the phrase "Embrace Your Inner Memphis."

When he's not programming and booking artists as Crosstown Arts performance coordinator or making his own art, Tolson, 34, posts empowering messages on Instagram.

"Embrace Your Inner Memphis" got "the most likes, and local organizations and businesses shared it the first time I had put it out," Tolson says. "It had gotten so much attention at that time that somebody wanted it on a shirt."

To make sure nobody stole his phrase, Tolson put up a website and had T-shirts silk screened with the words. "It turned into a whole thing. It's a campaign now — 'Embrace Your Inner Memphis.' The goal is basically for people to take the good and even the not-so-good about the city and realize that those things are what makes the city what it is.

"Everything that the entire world loves about America is in Memphis. Everything from the music, the food, the culture, the rich history. People from all over the world come here. The talent here is unmatched."

And, he says, "Some of the worst things about America are here at the same time. Everything from racism to inequality."

But, he says, "What that does is create this environment where all these amazing things can happen. The blues came about because of the pain that's here. [It] turned that pain into something. Into art. It's this beautiful pain that Memphis has that creates so many beautiful things.

"There's a distinction between people who are from Memphis and people who are Memphis. Because a lot of people who are from Memphis are like, 'Oh, I can't wait to get out.' They're not really contributing to the city. The most they do is go to work and then that's it. But they're not invested in the city. They're not helping people. They're not creating gardens. They're not assisting with the homeless. They're not empowering people. They're not going to games. They're not supporting the local restaurants. They're not doing any of that. They just live here.

"I'm not even from Memphis, and I love this city. I think when you embrace it, it takes on a whole new meaning."

Tolson, who is from East St. Louis, expressed his creativity for the first time at age 2. He took his grandmother's red nail polish, which was on the bedside table, and "went to town" with it "all over the bedsheets." (Brand new, by the way.)

When he was 10, Tolson won first place in a Mr. Bubbles coloring contest.

He excelled at sports, including track, in junior high and high school, but he also designed jogging suits.

He moved to Memphis in 2008 after discovering Memphis College of Art. He studied design arts with an emphasis in graphic design.

During his last semester, Tolson helped form a musical group, Artistik Approach, which still performs. "We do a little bit of jazz, hip-hop, soul, and we just create. Put it all out and make it our own."

After he graduated, Tolson began doing promotional work, including posters and brochures, for organizations, including Collage Dance Collective. "I like type and really dynamic imagery."

He also worked with Choose901 for about two years after making their first promotional video. "I remember getting my first paycheck. I went to the Art Center, bought a sketchbook, got some Sharpies, got some micro pens, and I was like, 'I'm just going to town and coming up with all these different phrases, sayings, and compositions of words.'"

He loves the power of words. "I was always attracted to just words. And I like how they look. I just like the letter forms in general. And I like that they can be visually pleasing, but also they can mean something. You can take something away from the image as well."

Tolson then discovered Instagram.

"Keep going" and "Make dope stuff every day" are two of his most popular posts.

He paints some of his words and phrases on canvas. One he did for Teach For America, which is at Crosstown Concourse, basically says one day all children will "have the opportunity to have access to an excellent education."

Tolson's works are currently on view at his "Spectacular Vernacular" show at Memphis College of Art, which runs through December 14th. "They're all words."

Monument Lab: Prototypes/Proposals

Monument Lab: Prototypes/Proposals
Reception Friday, January 18, 5-7pm
Clough-Hanson Gallery at Rhodes College

Clough-Hanson Gallery is excited to announce its first show of the spring season: "Monument Lab: Prototypes/Proposals" featuring artists Kara Crombie, Michelle Angela Ortiz, Jamel Shabazz, and Marisa Williamson. The exhibition is curated by Monument Lab’s Artistic Director Paul Farber.

Monument Lab is a national public art and history project based in Philadelphia. As a curatorial team led by Paul Farber and Ken Lum, Monument Lab works with artists, activists, and students to critically engage the monuments we have inherited and unearth the next generation of monuments.

Over the last five years, Monument Lab has organized several major public art interventions in their hometown that asked: What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia? The prompt fueled a citywide exhibition in 2017 presented presented with Mural Arts Philadelphia featuring the installation of twenty prototype monuments in public squares and neighborhood parks, along with learning labs staffed by youth research teams. Out of this exhibition, they engaged over 250,000 Philadelphians and visitors in person throughout the city, and produced the Report to the City, a reflection on nearly 4,500 public monument proposals gathered at the labs. The Report shared insights into how public participants imagine new monuments for a historic city. The key priorities that emerged from this engaged artistic research study: rethinking common knowledge, craving representation, seeking connection with others, and reflecting on process and power.

"Monument Lab: Prototypes/Proposals" includes prototype monuments from Monument Lab collaborators Kara Crombie, Michelle Angela Ortiz, Jamel Shabazz, and Marisa Williamson, in which they centered projects around themes of social justice and solidarity; artifacts of the Monument Lab public engagement process including samples of the public dataset of proposals and copies of the culminating Report to the City; and a research room that places the exhibition in local and global context.

Monument Lab: Prototypes/Proposals will run from January 19 through March 16, 2019.

Farber will give a free lecture on Monument Lab and the exhibition on Thursday, January 17 at 7 pm in Fraser Jelke Auditorium C on the Rhodes College campus.

Clough-Hanson Gallery is located in Clough Hall on the campus of Rhodes College. The gallery is open Tuesday - Saturday, 11-5. Admission is always free. For more information contact Joel Parsons,

Erin Harmon: Aggregate Optics of Make-A-Do

Erin Harmon: Aggregate Optics of Make-A-Do
Reception Friday, January 18, 5-7pm
Martha and Robert Fogelman Galleries of Contemporary Art
University of Memphis Department of Art, Rooms 230 and 240

Erin Harmon’s work dwells in the twilight zone between painting and sculpture. Filled with longing for places that do not actually exist, contradictions flourish with invocations of both the animated and the arrested, the joyful and the staid, the high and the low. Material and processes become sites for fantasy, illusion, and the interplay between flat and not-flat. The vibrant work in "Aggregate Optics of Make-A-Do" tinkers with scale to produce environments that we can project ourselves into as landscapes, even while confronting their qualities of un-nature.

Borne from Harmon’s previous body of painted paper collages, her new work is influenced by techniques common to theatrical painters, a lineage of shapes and images become a trail of breadcrumbs from one idea to another. These materials are scoured, drawn, painted, cut, and recycled over time, one idea begetting another, endlessly self-generating. Whether it be through ceramic, painted muslin, or projection animation (a collaborative video in which Harmon’s gouache-on-paper cut-outs have been animated by artist and musician Kyle Statham), the finished works encapsulate a romance with materials and processes.

The Sore Losers: A Monstrous Mash-Up Rises From The Grave
(image) One of the highlights of last year's Gonerfest 15 was the screening of director Mike McCarthy's The Sore Losers at Studio on the Square. Having received the full remastering treatment, it jumped off the screen as never before, combining the best of modern digital clarity with the richness of its original analog film stock. The film, first released in 1997, is an often hilarious Zippin' Pippin ride through exploitation, low budget sci-fi, and B-movie tropes. But it also provided a portal into the (then) unheralded underground music scene of the era.

Last November, the soundtrack was released on vinyl via Goner Records and Portugal's Chaputa! Records. It's barely left the turntable since. For what this double LP offers is nothing less than a reanimated, full-strength Frankenstein's monster of '90s garage rock, retro rock, and lo-fi experimentalism.

If the movie itself is a brilliant hodge-podge of styles, so is the album. The tracks are not just lo-fi, they are different varieties of lo-fi, from the late Jack Taylor's bashed-out title song, to the terrifying/thrilling onslaught of Guitar Wolf, to the quavering homespun charm of Poli Sci Clone. Satisfyingly snotty vocals and chugging/chopping guitars abound, as in contributions by the Makers, the Drags, Gasoline, and Los Diablos del Sol, but many artists you might think you have pegged defy formula altogether.

People were already nostalgic for the Gories by 1997, but Mick Collins avoids that familiar territory with a kind of minimalist crime jazz built on the prominent sax work of Jim Spake. Nick Diablo's track is reminiscent of Can's “Ethnographic Forgery” series, with Diablo channeling a lost field recording of some aged Delta harp player. Tracks from '68 Comeback and Jack Oblivian are littered with wah-wah guitar, organ, and synth hiccups that are true to the flick's sci-fi universe. Or, in the case of Jack Oblivian's back-shed funk “Vice Party,” the flick's soft porn universe. 

One gem, highlighted at the film's Gonerfest 15 premiere in the form of a 1997 music video that was never released, is “We Are a Rock & Roll Band” by synth pop trio the Clears. Also known as “Rock & Roll Band” to fans of the Clears' standalone album, the different title may be appropriate, as either a remix or a remastering has given the soundtrack version considerably more snap and crackle. Jack O and Chris Clarity also mine that back corner of the garage where grandpa stores his synthesizers.

Mingled in with all these sonic adventures, we also hear some first rate songwriting. The closer, of course is the 1953 chestnut, “Look Me Over Closely,” (later popularized by the White Stripes), but we also hear the neo-classic swamp pop of the Royal Pendletons, whose “I'm a Sore Loser” is perhaps even more a definitive track than Taylor's. 

And finally, in stark contrast with so much clamor, side three closes with the simple, haunting “Bad Man” by Greg Oblivian/Greg Cartwright, all mellow guitar, toy piano, and disembodied, over-the-phone vocals. The recurrence of that track through the film anchors it in a seemingly incongruous mood of regret and heartache. Though it no doubt surprised many Oblivians fans at the time (for this was well before the Reigning Sound), it's an especially fitting cornerstone for a film built on, and reveling in, incongruities.
Enough: Me Too Exhibition

Enough: Me Too Exhibition
Reception Friday, January 25, 6-8pm
Memphis College of Art and Community Education
1930 Poplar Avenue

Amidst a culture perpetuating violence and placing predators on platforms, Enough: A Me Too Exhibition bloomed. This exhibition exists to provide a voice, a wall, a pedestal, and a safe space to those who have not yet been provided one in the past. This exhibition is to lift up survivors of any gender, sex, class, race, sexual orientation, or ability - anyone affected by perpetrators of assault. It is the beginning of prioritizing both artistic value and morality in the art world. Enough is here to make our voices heard and embraced.

On view: January 7 - January 27
Reception: January 25, 6-8pm

Participating artists:
Zoe Allred
Haley Bagwell
Liz Bateman
Lauren Blair
Zahria Cook
Kaleob Elkins
Annalee Elmore
Leanna Hicks
Baleigh Kuhar
Abby Meyers
Sarah Moseley
Tom Nicolson
Eli Peck
Liana Pierce
Tawny Skye
Tracy Treadwell
Nicole Tremble
Luca Tucker
Leandra Urrutia
Denise Wakeman
Olivia Wall
Jonah Westbrook
Heather Wetzel
Meredith Wilson

Olga King & Savannah White Art Show
Olga King & Savannah White Art Show
Open Friday, January 25 from 6-8pm and Saturday, January 26 from 10am-1pm
Crosstown Arts
430 N Cleveland

Olga King and Savannah White unite in a duo art show Sink Into A Dream which will be held at 430 N. Cleveland on Friday, January 25, and Saturday, January 26.

Olga King, a native of Russia who has made Memphis home for several years, is well known for jewelry making and painting. Formerly married to a world-roaming photojournalist and herself traveling annually on excursions to find gem stones, King brings experience and world views to her paintings which vary between representational still life and ethereal personas.

Savannah Jewell White expresses her creativity in many ways – fashion modeling, event planning, and painting being three. Her paintings are particularly influenced by travel and she has done quite a bit, from Europe to the Far East, Milan to Mt. Fuji. The fluidity and vivid styling in her paintings hints at a life on the go; this is immediately verified when you meet her.

The show title references Travelling by 19th century romantic poet William Wordsworth, and takes double meaning in both an imbued sense of place for the traveler and the sometimes mystical, sometimes whimsical, always lively traits seen in the work of both artists. The pair of well-traveled painters will hold this duo, pop up show in the old Crosstown Gallery space east of Cleveland.

The show produced and curated by Ken Hall will be open from 6-8 pm on Friday and from 10 am to 1 pm on Saturday.

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