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“By the Book: A Tribute to Dolph Smith” at the Brooks.

Veteran artist Dolph Smith constructs books from scratch. His son, Ben Smith, chef/owner of Tsunami restaurant, constructs culinary dishes from scratch.

Their creations are similar.

"He can make the most elaborate scallop dish and present it beautifully and all," Dolph says. "But it's not done. It's not complete until you devour it."

The pages in most of Dolph's books are blank. "I hope whoever would get them would finish them for me by using them. In any way."

Examples of Dolph's one-of-a-kind artists books are featured in "By the Book: A Tribute to Dolph Smith," which is on view through November 26th at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Also included in the show curated by Marina Pacini are books made by 11 artists Dolph has worked with.

Dolph, 84, who taught drawing and painting for 30 years at Memphis College of Art, has made at least 100 books. "I started out on watercolor on paper. And then I learned to make paper. And then paper becomes books. So, it's all tied together."

Constructing books is "moving away from that craft cloud that hangs over things like that," Dolph says. "It's moving away from it being a craft to really being an art form. And I support that. It's an object. It's interactive. You're drawn to use it rather than just stare at it. And it has moving parts. You pick up a book with 30 pages. I see that as 30 moving parts."

Dolph has used paper he's made to construct his books, but he usually buys "archival" (designed not to deteriorate or yellow over time) paper from a German mill.

He never knows what size or shape the book will be until he begins folding the paper. "You fold it until it tells you what size to make the book. You don't tell it what to do."

Dolph makes several sections or "signatures" of pages, which he then sews onto cloth tapes before adding the book cover.

He uses archival thread. "It's waxed so you can sew and it moves nicely through the pages. The sewing is a perfect example of that old saw we have about form meeting function. Because it's a beautiful pattern of thread, and yet it holds the book together. So, that's beauty holding the book together."

Dolph constantly makes books. "I finish one, and I start another. Some of them take up to a week 'cause I have to think it out. You know, making a book is like reading a book. You begin with the paper telling you what size it's to be. And then you improvise out of that. And you begin a conversation with the book."

He taught himself how to make books. "If I had gone to England to learn to be a professional book binder I would have been there seven years, and I would have learned to build a book completely."

Dolph makes all types of books, including some he uses. "I make my date book. I make my to-do list book. I always carry a handmade book."

And, he says, "I make crazy books. Ladders are uplifting to me, so I have a book in there that's lifted up on ladders. It's an uplifting book.'"

Inside the book are haikus, but, in keeping with the ladder theme, Dolph calls them "highques."

Dolph also makes books for friends. Describing one of those gifts, he says, "I did a glass cover in the shape of a bottle. And I etched three marks on it to show it was liquor."

He collected "a lot of hair from our dog," which he added to the book. He titled it Hair of the Dog.

Trap Revival: Moneybagg Yo & the Second Coming of CMG
There wasn’t a group prayer, but the anticipatory energy, the pop and rumble from the crowd, and the obligatory smoke (fog and otherwise), called for one. Someone in the hallway backstage at Minglewood Hall Friday night obliged. “You done turnt up on the city, mane,” the voice said. “The city f*ck with you.” Shouts of affirmation went up in succession and crescendo, rolling through the hallway. Then the crowd of some four dozen folks, more church family than rap posse or crew, climbed the steps up to the stage to bask in that fact and prophecy. Before the sold-out crowd and with Moneybagg Yo at the front, Yo Gotti’s Collective Music Group continued its award tour on the home court.

The three dollar pop-up show, announced the same week, quickly sold out, a testament to Moneybagg Yo’s particular appeal, CMG’s enduring and broadening popularity, and the evolution of live music consumption in the city. Ostensibly, the show was a celebration of the release of Moneybagg Yo’s Federal 3x, the debut album follow-up to mixtapes Heartless (2017) and 2 Federal (2016). The release of February’s Heartless was accompanied by a show at The New Daisy, now familiar (if contentious) turf for hip-hop artists of all varieties. But Minglewood has become a marker of a rising hip-hop star’s ascent and a corollary to FedEx Forum. The call and response between Yo and Gotti, first deployed on the collaborative mixtape 2 Federal, was manifested here: If Yo Gotti’s birthday bash at FedEx Forum in June was an apex, Moneybagg Yo’s Minglewood show was a signal of what is to come from CMG. Friday's show kicked off a run for the artist that includes stops in Atlanta, New Orleans, and Philadelphia.

Moneybagg Yo, like CMG compatriot Blac Youngsta, is part of a second generation of the label’s trap artists, men chronicling loss, trauma, gun violence, and intimacy live from the underground drug economy. Yo, however, pushes the mechanics and intricacies of the trap to the background, marshaling a heavy but nimble flow to ruminate on relationships, friends lost to incarceration and murder, and the specific perils of success and fortune. Across 2 Federal favorites, including “Doin’ Too Much,” “Pull Up,” “Lil Baby,” and “Reflection,” and adding new tracks from Federal 3x like “Doin’ It” and “Insecure,” the performance barreled forward with the undeniable rhythms of trap and Moneybagg Yo’s deft cadences.

There were no flourishes or live show transitions. Show openers, including M-Squad Entertainment’s Heroin Young and BlocBoy JB, were community favorites, and there wasn’t a set list per se. But the crowds, on the stage and on the ground, were there for a collective celebration of trap Memphis, trap music, and the ascension of yet another CMG artist to the global stage. The crowd all but expected Yo Gotti, such that when he arrived towards the end of the set and performed “Rake It Up,” the celebration reached a simultaneous fever pitch and relief.

Trap music is a kind of hip-hop blues structure, of which Memphis artists have long been inheritors and architects. Though Moneybagg Yo has not yet found a consistent footing in that trap-as-blues space, the path there is evident. Blues tropes of women, trouble, and heartbreak now find themselves in discussions of infidelities outed on blogs and Twitter timelines; more importantly, the crowds, a diversity of black Memphians not unlike that on the I-40 bridge last July, know. All kinds of church services happen across the city every day of the week, but Friday night was a kind of revival, a recommitment to the next generation of trap in Memphis.

As whispers and shouts about the “new” Memphis music scene reverberate throughout the city’s arts administration elite, Friday's pop up show served as a notice that the city will only continue to discount black music, black artists, and black consumers at its own peril. Moneybagg Yo, signed to CMG last year with much fanfare, has a distribution deal with Interscope records for Federal 3x via his independent label, N-Less Entertainment, a coup for an artist working in any genre. He has thus far easily topped the iTunes charts, and next week’s sales will likely indicate similar successes across industry metrics.

CMG, like Hypnotize Minds before it, has created its own pocket in Memphis music and in the global music industry, with little support from a city that sells music like FedEx moves packages. The pop-up show alone reflected a robust wrap-around industry of jookers, photographers, videographers, deejays, and journalists, many of whom appeared to be the age of those “disconnected youth” about which there has been much handwringing over the past two years. The artists, performers, and crowds on Friday were about survival and revival, and Moneybagg Yo proved himself to be amongst trap’s preachers. A good portion of Memphis’s 65% black population already knew that. The rest of the city, like the rest of the world, would do well to take notice.

Movin’ On Up
(image) Rock for Love offers a weekend’s worth of music at its new home in Crosstown.

Church Health is unique among Memphis institutions. It was founded three decades ago by Scott Morris as a place to provide help for the working poor who fall through the cracks of our broken health insurance system. Some of those people are Memphis musicians.

"A lot of musicians and artists don't have access to health care," says Church Health Communications Director Marvin Stockwell. "This is the music scene itself backing a cause that helps so many of them. That's been the message of the show for 11 years."

Stockwell, a founding member of the legendary Memphis punk band Pezz, was one of the driving forces behind starting the Rock for Love benefit concerts. The annual weekend of live music has raised tens of thousands of dollars to help pay for the care of poor Memphians. Three months ago, Church Health moved to an expanded new home in the Crosstown Concourse building.

Stockwell says scheduling Rock for Love for the same weekend as the Concourse's gala grand opening was a no-brainer. "Why take a weekend-long event, built over a decade, and have it come three weeks after the big hurrah? This is the inaugural, celebratory moment of our brand-new home. It made every sense in the world."

This year's event comes with an added bonus. In the early 2000s, Makeshift Records regularly showcased new Memphis music with a series of sprawling compilation albums. Earlier this year, Memphis musician Crockett Hall found a copy of one of the Makeshift compilations in a used bin at a record store. When he asked his friends on Facebook about it, a discussion ensued in which people told fond stories of the acts they had discovered from Makeshift.

J.D. Reager, an organizer of Rock for Love (and a Flyer contributor) had been involved in the grassroots label. Since a Rock for Love compilation album had been successful a couple of years ago, and since the last Makeshift compilation release had coincided with the first Rock for Love, maybe it would be a good idea to, as Stockwell says, "gin up the old machine."

The new Makeshift 6 compilation includes 34 songs by contemporary Memphis artists, ranging from Mark Edgar Stuart's tight singer/songwriter compositions to Glorious Abhor's noise punk. Select-O-Hits donated their services, helping make the album a reality, and all of the artists donated tracks to the compilation. "When I listen to this broad swath of Memphis music, I think of how proud I am to be a part of this Memphis music scene," says Stockwell.

The album will get its official release this Friday, August 18th, the first night of Rock for Love. Artists include Jack Oblivian, Cassette Set, Yesse Yavis, Moon Glimmers, Sweaters Together, the Rough Hearts, and Indeed, We Digress. Al Kapone will be deejaying between sets. "Friday is the Makeshift release show," says Stockwell, "so we wanted to have as many of those bands as humanly possible."

Saturday, August 19th, amid all of the other Crosstown opening festivities, Rock for Love acts will be providing music all across the site. The main stage is one of the most diverse lineups in recent memory, beginning with beatbox soulsters Artistik Approach, the Rising Star Drum and Fife Band, Latin big band Melina Almodavar, singer Susan Marshall, and finally Memphis hip-hop superstars 8-Ball and MJG, backed up by Winchester and the Ammunition. Reager says drummer and bandleader Graham Winchester is "very excited about backing up both 8-Ball and Susan Marshall."

In the atrium at Crosstown will be quieter, acoustic sets, led by Reager and featuring Crockett Hall, Juju Bushman, Mystic Light Casino, and Faith Evans Ruch, among others. That night, the party moves back to the Hi-Tone where Chinese Connection Dub Embassy leads an all-star jam party including Kapone, Tonya Dyson, and Lisa Mac.

Stockwell says the new Church Health facility has energized the whole staff. "There's so much potential here that we have only started to scratch the surface of."

Four Knowledge II

Four Knowledge II will open at Crosstown on Friday, September 8, and bring together the talents of Beth Winterburn, Kat Gore,  Janet Smith, and Lisa Williamson.

Winterburn, granddaughter of famed Delta photographer  Harris Barnes, holds a Bachelor of Artsin Fine Arts  from the University of Tennessee.  Her work in bold, gestural brush strokes and minimalist detail has built a strong following. Very mathematical in approach , her work is an exploration in control

Kat Gore is a graduate of Memphis College of Art with years of experience working in the interior design industry while creating her unique approach to mixed media painting. She has had many shows and continues to find fresh inspiration.

Lisa Smith Williamson holds and BFA and MFA from Memphis College of Art and is in the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts.  When not painting or studying, she is working to create The Junkyard Memphis interactive art museum.

Janet Stuart Smith’s notable work has included scenes of Paris, Venice,  downtown Memphis, and her family’s beloved Justine’s.  Ever nimble her recent work is lighter, florals or abstracts in watercolor. Her work is widely collected in homes and businesses.

“The combination of different styles and personalities of work gives the show a pleasing ensemble effect; any one of the artists could easily carry a solo show but the four together have synergy,” said curator Ken Hall.

 The pop up show will be on view Friday from 6-8 pm and again on Saturday from 10 am – noon.  For more information see or call 334-6790.

BÊNNÍ: The Dirty South’s analog auteur visits Memphis

Welcome to the most sonically fluid age in history; a gazillion sounds can be yours for the asking. The digital era has brought with it the triumph of the software simulacrum — sounds that once required a day's labor from lab-coated crews at Abbey Road can now be dialed up in seconds. But after the novelty wears off, you notice a distinct thinness to the sound. Perhaps it's the sheer reliability of digital audio: Like a holographic dog, it always behaves. It rarely barks and never bites. Small wonder, then, that we're seeing a renaissance of the creaky, old analog synths that first made electronic music possible. Using oscillators tuned or de-tuned with actual knobs, their very unpredictability gives them that rarest of qualities: character.

None have taken up the analog torch more than the New Orleans-based BÊNNÍ. On the back of his new LP from Goner Records, I & II, he proclaims, "No softsynths were used in the making of this album."

As if we needed to be told. One listen to the thick warble and woof of his instrumental excursions is all you need. The minimalist arrangements, usually featuring the chugging rhythms of drum machine and synth bass, with a sprinkling of ethereal sounds over the top, help showcase the richness of the analog textures.

Being a synth geek myself, I naturally quizzed him on his gear. "Everything was a Roland Juno 106, a Roland RS 09 String Synthesizer, and a Roland MC-505 groove box," he says. All were mainstays of the '80s and '90s. And, as it turns out, he owes his love of all things Roland to a fortuitous discovery in the Bluff City. "I was recording with the band Natural Child," he remembers. "We were at High/Low Studio, and they had a Juno 106 there that we were messing around with. I was like, 'Oh, I really like this!' I found a cheap one in Mississippi, later, so I bought it."

The composer is a fixture on the New Orleans indie scene, playing a pivotal role in several respected bands there. "I'm usually a drummer. But with Wizzard Sleeve and the Gary Wrong Group, I did drums and keyboards. Like I did the bass lines with the keyboards and played the drums. That was my little gimmick with that band. Now, I'm trying to maybe incorporate some live percussion into my solo thing, eventually."

In keeping with this dexterity, BÊNNÍ will be playing drums with the Heavy Lids on an upcoming European tour, while also showcasing his solo keyboard works as an opener.

But despite his work as a drummer, keyboards have always been his first love. "I've been playing keys since I was five. I had a digital keyboard at my house when I was a kid. I took maybe one year of lessons when I was in fourth grade. But I play by ear pretty much."

Perhaps this background explains the spare minimalism of his record, distinguishing it from the famous retro-synth sounds of the Netflix original series, Stranger Things, created by Austin's S U R V I V E. In contrast, BÊNNÍ's work is marked by a distinctly DIY aesthetic. "I recorded it all on a Tascam Portastudio 07. A little four track. One of the cassette ones from the '90s."

Having recorded direct to cassette, it was appropriate that BÊNNÍ's first release (now side one of his new record) was on a cassette-only label, Chicago's AVRCRC. It was mixed by that hero of DIY analog audio, Mr. Quintron, who writes, "The thing to me that has always kinda set the Memphis/New Orleans punk scenes apart from other places is that music and musicianship always outweighs high concept or the typical sneering 'f*ck you' attitude of other places. BÊNNÍ is a Musician with a capital M, and it's no accident that within a year of his coming to New Orleans (from less than an hour up the Gulf), he began to influence the local landscape as much as any of us who had been here and doing it for decades."

Now, thanks to Goner, BÊNNÍ is bringing that same ear for creative homespun sounds up the river.

New Paintings by Juan Rojo

New Paintings by Juan Rojo
Reception Friday, August 4, 6-9pm
Work on display August 4 - August 17
Jay Etkin Gallery

The first exhibition of Juan Rojo at Jay Etkin Gallery will open from the 4th of August to the 30th of August.

RECEPTION: Friday August 4th from 6 to 9 PM.

Juan Rojo's work has always been rooted in tradition, from Spanish Baroque painters to more contemporary Masters like Lucien Freud or Frank Auerbach. While the paintings still contain allusions to those works, they exist as points of reference instead of the kind of derivative mimicry of his early paintings. In this new body of work, decoration plays a primary role as an element that intrudes and at times even obscures the faces of the subjects and disguises their identity. There is a playful and trusting relationship between artist and model that allows the artist to use the bodies of the models as mannequins, as structures to which all sorts of objects can be attached. Some objects are meaningful to the models, but others are placed there to compose form, color or line. This dress-up process is intuitive and anarchic but also treated with great care and a fundamental part of the process. This playful approach helps him to discover new forms and to deepen his exploration of the figure. Rojo cultivates a problematic dialogue in his work between form and content. He contrasts a pleasing aesthetic and elements of decoration with the use or abuse of the (predominately female) models. Rojo puts the viewers/spectators in an awkward space where they have mixed feelings; seduced into taking pleasure in the form of the paintings but instinctively distrust what is in front of them, even if they do not know exactly why.

I am. Amen.

I am. Amen.: Activist Artist Hank Willis Thomas is Pryor Lecturer

WHAT: Globally-renowned artist Hank Willis Thomas is giving this year’s Downing Pryor Lecture at the Memphis College of Art. He is a co-founder of the first-ever artist-driven super PAC, For Freedoms, and his work is meant to initiate dialogue about race, politics, and art and is particularly relevant to Memphis in the 50th year after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The lecture, “I am. Amen,” is free and open to the public. 
WHEN: Thursday, Sept. 146:00-8:30pm. Reception from 6:00-7:00pm, with lecture and Q&A following.
​WHERE: Callicott Auditorium, Rust Hall, Memphis College of Art, 1930 Poplar Ave, 38104

Hank Willis Thomas is a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to identity, history, and popular culture. His work has been exhibited throughout the U.S. and abroad including, the International Center of Photography and Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Thomas’s work is in numerous public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art New York, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the High Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. His collaborative projects include Question Bridge: Black Males, In Search Of The Truth (The Truth Booth), and For Freedoms, which Thomas co-founded in 2016 as the first-ever artist-run super PAC. For Freedoms was recently awarded the 2017 ICP Infinity Award for New Media and Online Platform. Thomas is also the recipient of the 2017 Soros Equality Fellowship. He received a BFA in Photography and Africana studies from New York University and a MFA/MA in Photography and Visual Criticism from the California College of Arts. He has also received honorary doctorates from the Maryland Institute of Art and the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts. Thomas lives and works in New York City.

“This series of paintings (above) was inspired by a 1968 photograph by Ernest Withers of marchers during the Memphis sanitation workers March.  Martin Luther King was assassinated while there in support of the March.  The men carried signs which read ‘I am a Man’.  I found it fascinating that the phrase I grew up with was ‘I am THE Man’.  The collective statement became individualistic in the age of integration.  Reflecting on American history I wanted to riff and remix the text, ultimately ending with the revelation ‘I Am. Amen.’  MLK showed us that our greatest gift is our consciousness and it is up to us what we choose to do with it.” 
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