WHAT: Art exhibition
WHERE: Leeds Gallery (map)
WHEN: 21st Apr, 12
Take a look at the rest of my photos from the exhibition HERE.
MY STORY IN A NUTSHELL:
- Northern Arts Uncovered is one of the newest additions to Leeds’s independent art scene. It was founded by Helen Brady and Victoria Rosso, and aims to support up and coming local artists.
- I loved the huge range of media on display, which includes everything from oils to photography.
- The works of emerging artists and students were deliberately juxtaposed – but they were all of very high quality anyway.
- My favourite pieces were Pippa Dyrlaga’s dizzying paper cuttings and Nicole Viner’s quirky ‘Mad Giraffe.’
MY FULL STORY: The independent art scene in Leeds is spreading like wildfire. It seems like there’s no stopping it, despite the wind and rain trying to do their worst. Sorry Nature, but Art wins.
After hosting exhibitions such as the first ever Leeds Print Festival and ‘Access All Areas: 20 Years of Back to Basics,’ Leeds Gallery recently paused its current show, ‘Leeds Through a Lens,’ to make way for a one day event dedicated purely to emerging talents.
Northern Arts Uncovered is a brand new project founded by Leeds University graduate Helen Brady and producer/designer Victoria Rosso, who studied at Leeds College of Art. Its aim is to provide up and coming local artists with a platform to showcase their works in public. All profits made from the event went to Art Fund, a charity supporting the art industry in the country. Although neither Helen nor Victoria have ever curated an art exhibition before, the show was a huge success.
The thing I loved most about it was the variety of media on display. There were oil paintings, photography, book illustrations, textiles, prints, ink drawings, paper cuttings and more. It was a jungle bursting with a combination of colour, imagination, and talent that you rarely get in such mixed styles outside large galleries. There was no strict theme – just a bunch of great works beautifully juxtaposed against each other.
‘We deliberately mixed the works of emerging artists and students,’ Victoria explains, saying that they did not want or see the need to make a clear distinction between the two.
Helen and Victoria received an overwhelming number of entries from artists all over England after they opened up the submission area on their website. After an arduous decision process, they eventually whittled it down to the 24 artists whose works were displayed on the day.
Many of the artists were present at some point during the exhibition, and I had the honour of meeting Omnipresent Art – aka Okey Ebizie. His works are interesting in that they differ so much from one another. While his prints are mostly inspired by hip hop, his textile works are more preoccupied with simple pattern and bright colours.
It’s hard to choose a favourite in such a varied exhibition, but Pippa Dyrlaga’s paper cutting piece is probably the one I found most intriguing. Beautiful, dizzying and creepy in equal measures, the work clearly reflects the amount of time and patience the artist must have spent on it.
Another piece I liked is ‘Mad Giraffe’ by Nicole Viner, a 21-year-old Design student at Leeds Met. There is a sense of lightheartedness about it that almost borders on the absurd – but it makes you smile nonetheless.
Overall I really enjoyed the exhibition. It was definitely worth the trek down. Not only were the works on display thought-provoking and well executed, I also like that Northern Arts Uncovered helps to debunk the notion of “high art” by supporting these young artists and making their works accessible to all. Great stuff.
‘I’d be lying if I say I never get bored. It’s still a job,’ Greg Balla says. But then he leans forward and breaks into a sunny smile. ‘Though as far as jobs go, it really doesn’t get any better than this!’
Greg is one of those lucky people who found employment almost immediately after he graduated from New York’s Fordham University in 2008. He started off as an electrician, but now gets paid to be painted blue, drum on pipelines, and regurgitate marshmallow sculptures from the depths of his mouth onstage every night.
‘The best thing is that once the latex skull cap and blue face paint is on, I just become a Blue Man who has no ego and sees the world for what it is. This chair isn’t a chair to a Blue Man,’ he says as he strokes the seat of the bar chair next to him. ‘It’s a sheet of smooth, leathery material with bits of wood structured around it.’
‘Being a Blue Man is really liberating. It removes my identity and frees me from the constraints of being Greg Balla. When I first started doing this I was really conscious of the face paint. It’s greasy and sticky and smells like lipstick!’ he continues. ‘But now I’ve gotten used to it and don’t even notice it anymore. It’s become my second skin.’
As he spoke, I was struck by the passion with which he describes everything. His words are accompanied by a lot of hand gestures and an excited glint in his eyes. He smiles a lot, and occasionally pauses to apologise for ranting too much. There is something almost childish in the way that he bounces on his seat slightly, as though his enthusiasm just cannot be contained.
And then it hit me. Although the man sitting in front of me is not blue, bald or mute, Greg is still a Blue Man through and through. Not only has he fully come to terms with what his character is about, he has even aligned himself with it.
‘Being a Blue Man has changed the way I look at the world,’ he says with a sort of wisdom that only a child can understand. ‘I’m now hyper-aware of everything and have a better appreciation for things we don’t normally see.’
‘As kids we’re free, but as we grow up we adopt all these social masks in order to fit in. The point of the show is to encourage them to unmask themselves.’
The Blue Man Group, as I mentioned in my review, manages to create a level of interaction with the audience that is rarely seen onstage. The fourth wall is completely shattered as the actors clambered over the ponchoed crowd and peered deep into our eyes (and, in some cases, handbags).
‘We try to connect with the people, which means that we have to be very sensitive to them and figure out what kind of show they want,’ Greg says. ‘There’s a template to the show and we have the dots – A, B, C, D – but the audience has to help us join those dots. Sometimes we get a tamer lot, perhaps because it’s the Sunday morning performance, while other times the people just want to party. We try to accommodate that.’
In order for the actors to fully focus on the audience, the actual mechanics of the show itself have got to be solid. Although a magician never reveals his tricks, Greg was more than happy to share the stage secrets when he kindly offered to give me a backstage tour.
I was amazed by how cleverly it all works. From the tubs of blue face paint lined up on the wall ready to be splashed on, to the tubes used to connect bottles of paint to the drum sets, to the colour-coded pipe-drums (each colour represents a different note), everything is meticulously planned out.
I also noticed that there was a certain sense of pride and familiarity in the way that Greg showed me round the labyrinth of corridors and rooms. He talked me through each prop and process as though the place were his home, and introduced me to everyone we walked past like they were family.
And that is what sums up the true spirit behind the Blue Man Group. It is their understanding of how humans connect with each other on a primal level that makes them so enchanting to watch onstage. The Blue Men may not communicate with spoken words, but as Greg puts it, they have a very basic yet powerful language that is able to transcend social boundaries and bring everyone together.
‘We just want everyone to have fun,’ says Greg with his signature grin. ‘The best thing is when you get a Dad there with his kids, and the kids are having a great time while he’s just sitting there looking stern and being Dad. But then at the end of the show when the toilet paper starts shooting out and the giant balls come down, I’d look at him again and see that he’s completely changed. He’d be laughing and joining in and loving it!’
‘That’s what we’re trying to achieve. That’s what we’re all about.’
* ** *** ** *
The Blue Man Group is currently touring the US and showing in Boston, New York, Las Vegas, Chicago, Orlando, Berlin, Tokyo, and on board the Norwegian Cruise Line. Check their website for more details but this is one show you should go back to again, and again. And don’t even think about missing it!
WHAT: Restaurant (Delicatessen)
ADDRESS: 205 East Houston Street (corner of Ludlow St), New York City, 10002
HOW MANY TOBIES LICKED HIS LIPS IN HAPPINESS (out of 5):
(Yes, 6. The sixth Toby heard about Katz’s and insisted on gatecrashing the party.)
MY STORY IN A NUTSHELL:
- Simply that Katz’s pastrami sandwich is pretty much the best thing I have ever had the pleasure to shove into my mouth. This is what 125 of experience tastes like – heaven.
MY FULL STORY: When you think of sandwiches I’m willing to bet that you’re not going to be leaping to the moon in excitement. They’re good quick and filling, of course, but they’re hardly the first thing that comes to mind when you want a brilliant lunch.
Or are they? Because one trip to New York’s famous Katz’s Deli later, I am now officially in love with their world-renowned delis.
I first heard of Katz’s from America’s Travel Channel. Anthony Bourdain said he wouldn’t change a thing about the place, Adam Richman said that ‘if you don’t like it something is wrong with your mouth’, and seeing those two pretty much uphold the definitive pillars of good food on this side of the Pond, I took their word for it and decided to give it a go.
Looking back, it was a silly idea to go there during lunch hour, but hindsight’s 20/20 and we were starving. The queue stretched half way down the street when we got there, but luckily it moved fast and five minutes later we were in. In true New York style, the place was packed and so chaotic that even a city girl like me was slightly intimidated. Think City trading floor. After a lot of jostling, however, we finally reached the counter.
‘A pastrami sandwich, please.’
The cutter reached for his carving fork, went to the back wall where a large silver box keeps their meats hot and steamy, and speared a block of delicious goodness from its depths. He expertly sliced the beef, giving us a piece to sample. My taste buds swooned as the meat melted in my mouth, and my eyes widened as I watched the cutter pile on a whole pound’s worth of cut pastrami on to rye bread.
And then I sank my teeth right into what I can only define as the ultimate culinary masterpiece. No hyperbole could do this baby justice. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what almost 125 years of experience tastes like. No wonder every celebrity whose photo adorns Katz’s walls look so blissfully happy.
The pastrami was cooked to perfection, its flavour was rich without being overbearing, and the hint of mustard spread on the top layer of the bread added the final touch. It was an emotional moment. Never have I eaten anything that came this close to bringing me to tears.
In fact, it was so good that we decided to go back for more the very next day. It’s the first time that we have made such a desperate move but as we probably won’t be in New York again for a while, we agreed that the decision was justified. And I can assure you that the second visit was just as fresh and just as juicy.
All I can say is that if you happen to be in the Concrete Jungle, make sure you hit Katz’s up. Or else you’ll be regretting it for the rest of your life. The sandwich is worth every cent of the 16 bucks it costs.
WHAT: Play (Comedy, Music, etc.)
WHERE: Charles Playhouse, Boston, MA (map)
WHEN: 30th Mar, 12 (ongoing)
MY STORY IN A NUTSHELL:
- I’ve heard a lot about how good Blue Man Group is, but no one seems to be able to tell me what they’re about. After watching the show, I can’t say I can describe them perfectly either.
- In short, they combine comedy with technology, music, art, giant glowing balls and a lot of toilet paper. It’s a rave dance party as much as it’s fantastic theatre.
- Blue Man Group has been around since 1991. They are innovative in trying to make sense and make fun of the world around us.
- This is a truly creative and interactive masterpiece. It’s the most fun I’ve had in a very long time. I very highly recommend getting your hands on a hot ticket if you get the chance. It may well be the best thing you can do with your evening.
- My interview with one of the Blue Men will be coming soon so stay tuned!
MY FULL STORY: It’s not often that I walk into a theatre completely unsure what to expect. I’ve heard a lot of great things about Blue Man Group, but nobody seems to be able to tell me exactly what they’re about. After seeing them, I now understand why, because I am unable to give a satisfactory description of their show either. All I can say is that they are awesome, but I’ll try to elaborate.
Basically, it is a two-hour show where your senses are overwhelmed – in a good way. It combines comedy, technology, music, art, giant glowing balls and an insane amount of toilet paper. What started off as a civilised evening at the theatre turned into a giant rave party by the end, although the fact that the front few rows of the audience were given ponchos at the start should have set off warning bells. All I’ve got to say is that I am eternally indebted to the people who cleaned up the place afterwards.
Blue Man Group was first performed Off Broadway in New York in 1991, which means that it shares my birth-year. Since then they have expanded to occupy theatre spaces around America and places as far flung as Berlin and Tokyo.
It’s not hard to see why they are so well-loved. Painted blue from head to fingertips and dressed in black tracksuits, the three men continually poke fun at each other as well as the audience. Their way of trying to make sense of the world we live in is innovative and hilarious. Whether they were ‘paint-drumming’, strolling in and out of ‘GiPads’ (giant versions of iPads), or stuffing gumballs down their throats and spitting them out on a canvas, they had a way of keeping us all in stitches throughout.
Plus these guys are all genuinely very talented people. I’m amazed by how much they can communicate with just a look or a gesture. And their drumming skills are virtually super-human.
On top of everything, Blue Man Group also succeeds in achieving the very difficult task of creating truly interactive theatre. Even though I was wedged in the corner backseat, I still felt as involved with what’s going on onstage as those in the front row.
This is the most fun I’ve had in a very long time. If you are in any of the cities that they are currently performing at, make sure you grab a ticket and experience it for yourself. It may well be the best thing you can do with your evening.
* ** *** ** *
Click here to read my interview with the lovely Greg Balla, and let him tell you all about what it’s like to be bald and blue!