This month, we feature Cayley Miranda Schmid, in our series of people working to make a difference in the world and in their communities. Schmid is a professional musician, fiddle instructor, community event organizer, dancer, writer and magical weaver of connection for people interested in traditional and folk music and dance. In a recent podcast interview, her bandmate and interviewer, David Pender Lofgren, credited Schmid with drawing him into celtic music and their band. It is safe to say that there are many musicians in the Pacific Northwest and beyond that owe their introduction to music and the social circles that it can provide to Cayley Miranda Schmid.
We were curious to discover what motivates someone to spend so much time and energy creating opportunities for others in her community.
I love being able to create environments for people to enjoy music and enjoy their communities. Once I find something I love, I want to find a way to share it with other people and enjoy it, together.
Born in Vancouver, Schmid’s family moved to a quieter seaside town in Northwest Washington when she was just a child. Not being a big-city child, this was a decision for which Schmid remains grateful.
I’ve never lived anywhere else for long enough to compare; Bellingham is small enough that information spreads by word of mouth, but large enough to support lots of projects. A lot of people move to Bellingham from larger cities to have more of a sense of community. Bellingham is also starting to get more of a reputation for being a folk-music-loving town, which attracts more of the same!
Schmid began her performance career as a ‘tweenager,’ participating in competitive Scottish Highland dancing. She soon found that she enjoyed Irish dancing and preferred the celtic music that accompanied Irish dance.
Irish and Scottish music drew me in first as music to dance to, and then as music to play. Jigs and reels at a good tempo feel like a heartbeat, and playing it with other people feels like a natural human function. The tunes jam so many notes into a phrase of music, but it feels exhilarating and not chaotic. Sometimes it’s hard to put your finger on what draws you to something you love, but I know it makes me happy.
When she was just 12, she saw Anna Schaad perform in Bellingham and was mesmerised by her glamour. Realising that her violin lessons could be re-focussed on learning fiddle tunes, Scmid’s musical journey began. Under the mentorship of Schaad, she began performing at the age of 14, developed a lifelong performing partnership with cellist Clea Taylor Johnson, (a fellow founding member of the traditional celtic band, Giant’s Causeway), had her first professional paid tour as a fiddler, and returned to Bellingham and a roster of fiddle students, by the age of 20.
Schmid currently plays in Giant’s Causeway, and in the multi-genre band, Polecat, which she joined at the request of guitarist Aaron Guest, who later became Schmid’s life partner as well as band mate.
Schmid is grateful for the many wonderful opportunities that she received as a young musician and recognizes that many music students don’t have these same chances to experience performance, mentorship and the social aspects of being a musician. Over the past decade, Schmid has dedicated much of her time to providing safe spaces to explore one’s craft, with more experienced musicians, in workshops and jam sessions. Schmid hosted a weekly Celtic Ceili gathering (roughly translated as an Irish kitchen party), which has evolved into the multi-day, multiple venue autumn Bellingham Irish Festival. Schmid also organises a diverse festival of workshops, performances and jam sessions of many sorts of traditional music in the celebrated multi-day, Bellingham Folk Festival. The 2019 Bellingham Folk Festival takes place at the Bellingham Unitarian Church and offsite concert venues this coming weekend; January 25-27th.
Schmid seems to never rest. A typical day consists of:
Lots of computer stuff. Emailing and calendar coordinating. Feeling guilty about not cleaning the bathroom. Four or five private fiddle lessons, sometimes group classes. Feeling guilty about not exercising. Play a show or go to a show, have a rehearsal or recording session. Making a big to-do list for tomorrow.
As a precocious and self-motivated youngster, Schmid’s experience with home schooling and self study taught her that if there is a gap in her knowledge or experience, she has all the skills and resources necessary to fill it or find those who can help her fill it.
I’m always excited to learn new things about the subjects that I’m passionate about. Expanding my understanding of music and folk traditions makes me appreciate it even more, and it seems like other people want that as well. I don’t think there needs to be a definite line between teachers and students, we can all be open to receiving new information.
In a teaching role, the most valuable thing I can do is to share why I love doing it, and to help other people find their musical happy place. Everyone learns so differently, and everyone has a different idea of what they want to achieve. I try and adapt to each person’s learning style and speed, and to push folks a little further than they think they can go. Some people are able to work on music every day, and some only have an hour a week to play, but everyone can still experience the joy of playing. For myself, I’ve had times that I’m really motivated to improve on my instrument and times that I need to take a break.
Recognizing that there are many ways to learn, Schmid has for the last 5 years, organised a multi-day festival with a full roster of workshops on songwriting, singing, dance, and in depth sessions with senior musicians on various instruments that aim to help developing musicians take their skills to the next level. When one thinks of music festivals, one imagines summer sunshine, camping in a field and jam sessions that go into the late evening with the long summer light. A bright light in the space between summer festivals is the Bellingham Folk Festival.
I like that the festival is in the middle of winter, when days are short and you want to be cozy, inside, with your friends. My friend Sam Vogt designed the perfect logo for the festival; a lantern in an evergreen forest. I think that sums up the feeling of being at the festival pretty nicely. The Bellingham Folk Festival has a pretty huge offering of workshops, so it appeals especially to those who are interested in playing music as well as listening.
I have loved seeing new communities of folk music players and appreciators start to form in Bellingham over the last few years. I am constantly trying to introduce people to each other that have already connected! We are bonding with the people we share happy times with, and community seems to spring naturally from those shared experiences.
We wondered how funding impacts Schmid’s choice of festival performers and instructors and where Schmid sources the money to fund these events.
There isn’t any! Everything I organise is supported by ticket sales. The festivals receive some financial sponsorship from generous local business and individuals. Those donations are crucial to getting the events off of the ground. Then I shoot for ticket sales to cover most of the operational expenses.
For me, an ideal festival line-up would include half local musicians and half touring musicians, performers and teachers who are passionate about sharing with the people who have showed up to be there, and a blend of current friends and new people to connect with. I so appreciate teachers and performers who come with the ‘all in’ attitude, ready to participate and connect.
Undoubtedly, love of the music and craft inspires this ‘all in’ attitude, but we suspect that Schmid herself inspires people to want to give generously to these events.
As if her to-do list was not massive enough, Schmid has recently revived an old passion for fiction writing.
In high school and college I did a lot of creative writing. Mostly poetry and short stories. I think I stopped putting energy into it when I didn’t have a class or peer group to share it with. Right now I’m VERY slowly working on a (piece of) young adult fiction about kids playing traditional music. It’s sort of sitting on my desktop right now, waiting for creative moments.
Creativity is a quality that is not in short supply with the multi-talented and tireless Schmid. We at TTDOG look forward to reading her fiction, in print, soon. As is our way, we asked Cayley Miranda Schmid to tell us what makes her most grateful and where she finds her greatest joy.
I am grateful that I get to work with and be friends with so many kind, supportive, and fun people. People who are generous with their time, passionate, courteous, hilarious and loving.
Amongst musicians and music lovers across the Pacific Northwest and beyond, it is hard to overstate how beloved Schmid is. Her goal in all that she does is to make people feel good about playing music, and to create opportunities to break into the jam sessions and social events around which musicians congregate. Her gentle warmth, charm and delightful sense of humour endears her to others, brings them to her performances, and draws crowds to sold-out sessions in the multiple festivals and gatherings that Schmid has organized.
I hope that the festivals continue to grow and bring people joy. I want to have a lot of fun and to get better at everything I’m already doing. I would like to continue to do work that I am proud of, and to have more memories of great times with friends.
Perhaps it is in performance, where we can best see how this joy of making music, together with others, has been the motivation for her work.
The Bellingham Folk Festival runs this year January 25-27 at the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship, 1207 Ellsworth Street, Bellingham.
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For years, I have longed to make music but I had missed the opportunity to learn as a child. Earlier this year, as I sat with a musician friend watching videos of new world music, I spotted a percussionist playing some grooves on a bottle. “I could play the bottle!” I declared. My friend laughed and we thought no more about it.
The next week, while looking for a woodworking class, I happened upon an advertisement to join the Street Beats Band, at the Roundhouse Community Centre, in Vancouver. Street Beats Band is an urban percussion community band that makes grooves on found objects. I remembered that street musician playing the bottle and decided to take the leap.
Street Beats is a 2 year project produced by Instruments of Change, a not for profit organization founded by flutist and activist Laura Barron. The project was commissioned by David Pay of Music on Main for the International Contemporary Music Society’s World Music Days in Vancouver, this week.
The mission of Instruments of Change, is to use “the arts as an educational tool to empower individuals to become instruments of transformative change in their own lives. By expanding community access to cultural activities, we allow diverse populations to make and experience music and art.”
We asked Laura Barron to reflect on the inspiration for creating this platform and project:
I’ve always been a social activist but mostly not in a music capacity. I worked as a phone crisis worker for Vancouver rape relief and women’s shelter and I taught yoga at a downtown East women’s shelter and in a women’s prison. I did some music as a performer in hospice, doing therapeutic music, not music therapy, but I was not finding a way to really intersect my musical expertise with the kind of empowering work that I wanted to do in a social engaged way.
Instruments of Change was born out of that interest and I took a class at SFU on exploring art for social change for mid career professional both from the arts sectors and from the social sectors: artists wanting to find a way to apply their work in social contexts and social service workers wanting to infuse their work with more art.
It’s a really great meeting of minds and I got tremendous inspiration and ideas from that course but also met probably a dozen collaborators that I’ve since done many of the projects that are Instruments of Change initiatives.
Among the initiatives are the Women Rock programme, Artist in School programmes locally and internationally, the Stick Together programme and Street Beats, amongst others.
This (Street Beats) project was born out of my constant interest to find the most accessible ways for anyone and everyone to make music.
Surely we can all find objects and surely we all have a heartbeat and we can stick together with a groove and so it is, in my opinion, the most democratic kind of music making that I could think of.
My board member and good friend Dave Pay who runs Music on Main got the bid for Vancouver to be the host city of the International Society of Contemporary Music World New Music conference three years ago, and once he knew this big conference was going to happen here, he knew that he wanted one community engaged piece in this rather challenging, complex, avant garde music context which is not unheard of but not that common.
Community music often you know takes its form in choirs, in drum circles and other kinds of music but has very rarely intersected with this more esoteric classical new music context.
A resourceful, multi-talented musician with a multi-disciplinary team and a network of community partners, Laura Barron set about creating a transformational community music experience.
I’d already been doing some found object drumming and thought this very democratic music making form could work extremely well and of course be fused with any number of composed classical elements.
We had first just a Street Beats band to learn what community was capable of doing, what kind of rhythms were possible, how we were going to teach those, learn those together, strategies for working with the community, what sounds were possible out of these instruments.
James Maxwell, our composer, whom David Pay selected, observed that process (in the first year and a half) and let that inform the piece that he wrote for us to play collectively.
As a community band, Street Beats Band plays percussion on found objects from the city streets. Aside from the affordability issues involved in equipping a band with instruments, we wondered about the appeal of found objects:
Duke Ellington said “You gotta work with what you got.”
Anyone…at any time…with whats available to them…can be musical and creative and artistic.
And we’re doing some pretty complex rhythms right? Look at this really complicated piece that many of you who have not played an instrument or certainly not played a drum before are able to do right? And that’s something over my years of leading community ensembles I’ve realized is that there’s just a greater, faster learning curve when you’re just paring it down to one music element which is rhythm. Though some people say ‘I can’t keep a beat’ or some people say ‘I’m tone deaf.’ I don’t really believe it. I think we can all eventually connect to our own inner pulse in the inner ear.
Teaching those who have not traditionally had the opportunity to make music can sometimes present unique challenges, particularly for a diverse and inclusive group of community members. Through the use of pneumonics, and music theory which is stated in everyday language. Laura Barron and fellow musicians and facilitators Martin Fisk and Robin Reid, have managed to take a group of individuals who might not have made music and who did not know one another and turn them into a cohesive band.
It’s always my job to find the most skilled, multifaceted musicians who can play those roles because that does not just require that you’re a good performer or require that you’re a good teacher but requires that you have you know true facilitation skills and understand how to work with a broad demographic, understand how to work with people who might have language challenges – we have a few people in the group that are ESL – and in the first iteration we had some people with mental illness. And those are things that when you open your doors that are possible and we really want to be as inclusive as we can so I’ve built a great team over the years for all our projects of these multi-talented artists who have the sensitivity and the skills within their disciplines to do this work well.
The found objects that Street Beats band members play range from buckets to frying pans, thanks to the Vancouver binners’ community.
The involvement of the binners came in the nascent stages because I’ve always been super interested in trash and concerned about trash. Since I was a little kid. I used to have nightmares that we’d have nowhere left to put the trash, that we’d be living in piles of trash and then I went to India and realized that some places people live like that.
The binners are our foremost repurposers and recyclers in our city. They hear and see and think in ways very different from most of the rest of us and I knew of their work and I knew of the Binners’ Project which is a non-profit which supports them was really trying to raise their profile in the city, legitimize what they’re doing, provide better income opportunities for them and I thought wouldn’t it be great if we could actually hire them and pay them to be the curators of our instruments? So that’s what they did to create this whole inventory that we’ve held onto throughout the whole two years of the project.
The Binners’ Project was on my radar as a passion and interest of mine and I approached them and they were thrilled to be involved, right in the early days of the project. I walked their routes with them and went to their meetings. You know when you build these community partnerships its all about trust, and building connection.
And I’ve since hired them for other projects.
One of my school projects was a kind of found object project and I brought the binners in to talk about being responsible, non wasteful citizens and that was fantastic for the kids and those adults who said they have often not been made to feel welcome in those spaces. So to be paid and asked to come in and be an expert on something in a school environment was super confidence-building for them.
The Street Beats project has evolved over the two years, with the first year’s performance of Street Beats Band being solely urban percussion composed by 4 community groups.
A sample of the 2016 grooves:
In 2017, Street Beats Band will be accompanied by professional musicians, Music On Main All-Star Band to collectively play a classical score married with a sonic landscape of the built/urban environment composed for the festival by James Maxwell entitled Eight or nine, six or seven.
Music on Main is a fluid group of musicians that have known each other and played together for years. It was always the concept that they would be featured in the piece.
We’ve had City funding for two years, Instruments of Change funding, partnerships with the Roundhouse who lets us have our space for free, the Binners’ Project the UBC Learning Exchange that is also in the downtown east side and let us store the instruments for free so all in all this is probably a $50,000 project so we had to work towards success.
We never use volunteer facilitators. One of the things that drives this is how much I value the arts and want to impart a value of the arts in everyone we reach and so by allowing participants to make and do art, of course that increase the value in their lives but paying artists commensurate professional rates is one of the most important ways I can demonstrate value for the arts.
Certainly there seems to be some interest in having a community found object band so we don’t know what the future might hold but this was a two-year project. We‘ve asked for nine 3-hour sessions from you all and that’s already quite a lot for people’s busy lives.
Barron hopes that her work will encourage people to participate and support her programmes. The more people that participate, the more it proves to funders that arts are worth funding.
Having worked so hard for a successful performance this weekend, we wondered how Barron will know if this has been achieved:
I really hope that it inspires other people to realize that there’s music around them everywhere. There’s the possibility to make music with things you might not have considered instruments before so that might happen to some of our audience members or participants.
And then I think that probably all of us underestimated what would be possible merging a community ensemble and a contemporary new music classical ensemble and so all of those composer that are in the room – hundreds at least, from around the world – I imagine are going to be quite impressed and inspired not necessarily to write a piece for found object drum ensemble but to have confidence in what non-traditional music makers are capable of.
That’s what I really hope to see.
We asked Barron to consider that which brings her the greatest joy and for which she is most grateful:
My greatest joy in life is allowing people to find their true voices while I find my own. And, as a passionate connector, I am most grateful for my relationships with family, friends and community.
Of course, you may be wondering: Has Instruments of Change and my participation in Street Beats Band transformed my life?
Making music together is a one of a kind bonding experience. People I considered strangers just weeks ago have become a part of me and I will miss playing with them, come Monday. Playing in Street Beats has given me the confidence to seek out new and varied ways of making music. I have joined a community harmony workshop, joined the Vancouver folk society to attend sing alongs, as well as the Pacific Bluegrass society that hosts jam sessions for Old Time and Bluegrass players. I am set to pick up my new ukulele – which I am told is an easy first string instrument to play – this week. My preference is for world music and jazz, and my bandmates have even talked about continuing our grooves together in informal jam sessions. Whatever the future holds, I have become a musician through this process, and I don’t intend to stop.
It has been an empowering transformation to participate in the band.
I hope that you, too, will find a way to engage with this wonderful work.
James Maxwell’s Eight or nine, six or seven will be performed (free) by Instruments of Change Street Beats Band and the Music on Main All-Star Band on Saturday 4 November and Sunday 5 November at 11 AM at the Roundhouse Community Centre, at the corner of Davie & Pacific, Vancouver, BC.
Portland artist Jesse Narens is most at home in nature. Artworks with tree motifs, raindrops and layers of mark making reflect the forests and coastlines of the Pacific Northwest. Collected and followed by a global audience, Narens’ work is both lucid and magical, with creatures that seem to emerge, disappear and re-emerge from an ethereal plane. What draws one to the artist’s work is an individual preference, but there is no denying an ineffable quality of being transported to another world – sometimes primal, sometimes whimsical – vaguely familiar, if not altogether forgotten.
It is easy to make comparisons to visionary art when one looks at the works of Narens, although the artist would eschew any hierarchy – spiritual or otherwise – between the artist and other living beings. In the creative process, Narens becomes one with both subject and object and returns both artist and audience to their wild essence of being. Narens’ work embodies a transitory moment that is the quintessence of life, death, and art.
TTDOG met with Jesse Narens earlier this year and began a dialogue with the artist in advance of their upcoming show Asleep in A Field, opening Friday 4 August in Portland. Narens describes the artist’s career to date.
I started painting at the end of 2010 after my friend and artist Jesse Reno suggested trying out some alternative techniques. Prior to that I had never painted before. I focused on ceramics in high school, and dropped out of art college in less than a semester because I felt like they were creating artists, not letting people just be artists. I have always done something creative with my time.
I do whatever I feel like doing, creatively, at any given time. Painting and music are my go-tos , but every so often I get the urge to try something else.
Collaboration and a sense of community with other artists has always been important to Narens. As a teenager, the artist created showcases for their own and other artists’ works.
The shows I was hosting when I was 15-20 were one night music and art shows at different venues around the Chicagoland area, made up of people from the midwest that I found online, back when Myspace was popular. I showed my own work and played music at those events.
I’ve always enjoyed sharing the things I like with friends, so when I started playing music and making art it just made sense to try and be an event organizer or curator of some sort.
Collaboration extends as well to the audience where meaning-making becomes an adventure between artist, subject, object and audience.
My paintings, titles and music never really have specific meanings. I am trying to create a feeling. The feeling I get when I am in the woods or on the coast in the Pacific Northwest. Where people see bear and wolves, I just see a generic animal form, usually.
Sometimes I choose words just for the way they sound or to further push the atmosphere in the painting. It’s also important that all of the elements (music, words, painting, etc) are taken in together at the same time to get the full experience of my art.
Observing Narens’ recent body of work, one gets a sense of both forthrightness and mystery that allows the artist to give birth to and express the unutterable. Whether seemingly benign or ferocious, the creatures in Narens’ works seem to belong to a world that adults, living in contemporary society, are no longer able to see, let alone access and engage. Returning to a clarity and confusion akin to that of childhood, Narens leads us back to our own natural connection to the wild that we have distanced ourselves from, over time. To do this, Narens draws upon motifs of the natural world.
Looking back on pieces I can remember making in high school, most of them were tree related; people with branch arms, bark texture on my ceramic pieces…I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and I don’t remember experiencing much nature before the age of 20 when I moved to the Pacific Northwest. The few experiences I did have before then were all very memorable, and while I might not have thought about it then, I recognize now that the feelings I have now when I am out in nature have always been the same. It’s the only place where I feel I can just be. It’s the only place that feels correct to me. When I go back home I tend to spend a lot of time worrying about things that shouldn’t matter, but we have made them matter. I paint the places and things that make me feel good.
I find my greatest joy in nature.
As an intuitive artist, Narens’ artistic process mirrors the cycles of the natural world. The artist composes and decomposes each piece over and over again. Each layer, rather than adding armour and complexity, seems to strip away artifice and repression and restores freedom of vision. There is no attempt to obscure what has come before and the history of mark making, evident in the pieces, is like a treasure map the artist has left behind, to lead the audience to a sense of uninhibited being.
I don’t have the final piece in mind before it’s done. I just start painting, whether or not I have an idea, and the piece evolves as my mind processes what I’m seeing and thinking about at that time. Pieces get to a point where they definitely look like they could be called finished, but something just doesn’t feel right to me. I’ll paint over “finished” pieces again and again until they are done. Even pieces that are done might someday become unfinished again. If I have to sit with them for a long time, at some point, my mind might be in a different place than it was when a particular piece was finished, and I will no longer feel connected to it, so I paint over it. When I sit down and examine why I do certain things, I feel like working this way is a lesson in letting go and embracing change.
I get stuck at some point in almost every piece. Usually when they get to a finished looking point, but I don’t like it. To move forward, I usually have to paint over the parts I like the most. It frees up the piece to become something drastically different at that point. It’s not always the easiest thing to do, but it’s almost always the answer.
Narens does not create artworks for archival purposes, and believes that decomposition is as valid as composition in the making of art. For Narens, an artwork has a life that continues beyond the moment when the artist and the subject have transmuted the mystery of creation into form. What happens beyond that moment is a part of the life cycle of the art and Narens delights in seeing, for instance, works weathered in nature or by time. An ecosystem of its own, Narens’ art is in a constant state of flux and adaptation.
I don’t like making products for the sake of having things to buy. Sometimes I draw something and want it on a shirt for myself, so I get maybe 20 shirts made. When I do make something like a shirt or a book, I only make a small number to keep the items special to whoever ends up getting one. I try to make things on my own, or work with friends so I can keep the prices as low as possible.
Narens work is primarily self expression, yet the artist aims to allow their artwork to be a catalyst for a return to the wild. Using social media, Narens showcases the natural world through the artist’s own adventures as much as showcasing their artworks, encouraging followers to get outdoors. On occasion, Narens has left free artworks at natural sites as incentive. Having experienced nature, followers may be encouraged to protect the wilds. Yet, in the face of our society’s failure to protect ecosystems and natural preserves and our failure to act to avert the catastrophic impacts of climate change, Narens accepts the limits and responsibilities of one’s own place in the lifecycle of this living planet.
I’m alive, so I’ll live the best life I can, but I don’t have much hope for humans.
The earth will fix itself when we are gone, if we can’t learn to live with it.
Even though I feel this way, that doesn’t mean I’ve given up. I’ll continue to try and inspire people to care about the planet, and to share and support the work of people who I think are doing a better job than I am, like E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and Archangel Ancient Tree Archive.
While humankind may provide no solace for Narens, it is to the pockets of community, cultivated by the artist throughout life, that Narens turns.
I am currently going through a big transition in my life, so at the moment I am most grateful for the friends in my life that have been around since I was young.
Like an old friend, Narens has returned to the artists’ roots, performing live music with art at the upcoming exhibition, Asleep in A Field. For many of Narens’ fans, this will be the first opportunity to experience the artist’s music (performed under the name Ghost&Flower) with Narens’ artworks.
The last time I played music live was in 2011 and the last time I played music where my art was on display was probably 2008.
As with my visual art, my music is for me. And with music, I am again chasing a feeling that I don’t get from anything else, and I can’t express it in words, but when I am making music I very quickly go somewhere else in my head. I’ve recorded very little over the last 12 years of playing music live. I make music the same way I paint. It’s improvised, and I build layers through loops. I use a prepared guitar instead of electronic instruments, and build most of my rhythmic parts with a contact mic to play the room. Recording, even live, takes me out of the headspace that I am doing music for, so it’s no fun for me.
I went to a Bang On A Can marathon show when I was around 18 that had a big impact on my music. The show was something like 12 hours of non stop experimental music, but at the beginning they encouraged you to come and go as you wanted because doing so meant that each person would have their own unique experience with what they heard.
I’ve played so many great shows that I wish I had recordings of, but I know they would have gone different if it was being recorded. I like knowing that everyone who has seen me play had a unique experience that no one else will ever know.
Asleep In A Field opens Friday, August 4th in Portland and runs through Tuesday, September 5th at True Measure Gallery. Jesse Narens will play live music under the name Ghost&Flower on opening night, at sunset. For those interested in purchasing artworks but who cannot attend the exhibition, contact Jesse Narens (Jesse@Jessenarens.com) or True Measure Gallery.
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Savage creates a direct connection with his ardent followers through the vulnerability of his lyric, the poignancy of his voice and his virtuosity as a musician. What sets Josh apart from others in the industy is his absolute committment to intimate living room performances throughout the world. When we last saw Josh, he had completed his living room tour of Europe to promote Quatre Épines and was awaiting the release of a film documenting his unprecedented tour. The film, The Living Room Tour, by independent filmmaker Duncan Trevithick, follows Josh Savage as he plays 44 gigs throughout the summer.
We caught up with Savage to discuss The Living Room Tour, a Winchester Short Film Festival Official Selection, released last month.
Sofar Sounds inspired me with the concept. Living Room Tours are the only way I can tour independently on a large scale and guarantee an attentive audience.
TTDOG asked Savage whether filming the tour impacted on the intimacy his audiences have come to expect in his concerts.
Being documented takes some getting used to. it didn’t feel like it impacted the intimacy of my shows however. I guess cameras are more commonplace in today’s society.
Did Savage have a single favourite moment captured in the film?
My optimism about chewing gum when my car was broken into. At the time, I was in shock so I can’t remember what I said but I’m glad I’m able to see the light at the end of the tunnel in nightmare situations.
Just 24, he reminds dreamers of all ages to follow their hearts. In a message to his fans at the launch of the film, Savage called The Living Room Tour:
A short documentary about choosing yourself as an artist. About not waiting for the gatekeepers to say yes. About finding your own path to your own definition of success.
TTDOG asked Savage whether there was something for which he was particularly grateful in the making of the documentary.
I’m most grateful for the wonderful people I met on the road who supported me and keep me going to this day. It’s lovely to have a documentary to reflect back on the adventure and I hope it will inspire new artists to take the plunge and follow their passion.
Savage has inspired thousands through his performances and music. His latest single, Whisper in the Snow, featuring Alice Pearl will launch tonight in London before Savage heads out on the road for his 2017 Living Room “Whisper in the Snow” Tour this Friday, 20 January.
In a city like Los Angeles, whole industries are based on revision of reality. One Georgia-born artist, turned LA native, C. Michael Frey, seeks to capture the sublime in the every day world. His exhibition “Clouds” is currently showing in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles. With this collection, Frey invites viewers to “get lost in a sense of wonderment and escape.”
Frey achieved a B.F.A. in painting and drawing from the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia and later moved to New York City to pursue his art. There, Frey worked in a commercial photographer’s studio, where he honed his skills in digital illustration and photographic retouching. An award winning artist, Frey’s work has been featured in advertising campaigns, on album covers, and in magazines such as The New York Times, New York Magazine, Numéro, V, and Wired.
We caught up with Frey in Los Angeles about his upcoming exhibition of Clouds, and his other current works.
TTDOG: Tell us about the move from painting and digital design to photography. Why Clouds?
CMF: I’ve always used photography as part of my creative process, so I don’t really feel I’ve moved away from painting. It’s more of an exploration of another medium that has happened organically.
The Cloud photos weren’t really planned. I moved to Los Angeles about ten years ago from New York and the sky feels so different here. It’s expansive and seems limitless. If I’m having a bad day or feeling stressed, I can easily escape in nature by taking a walk around the neighborhood or going for a hike. The open sky puts things in perspective. We seldom have clouds, but when we do the sunsets are often amazing. I started photographing these moments and really wanted to capture the drama of the clouds and take a subject that is generally seen as pedestrian in art and reveal the sublime nature of these clouds. Clouds are representative of the creative process itself: daydreaming and romanticism. There is a quote by Henry David Thoreau: “you must not blame me if I do talk to clouds.” This communion with and escape to nature and finding divinity in nature that the Transcendentalists strived for really resonates with me.
Romanticism is about the heart and idealism. Clouds are great symbols of idealism to me. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve so not engaging my heart isn’t really an option.
TTDOG: When you say spirituality in this context, do you mean Judeo-Christian concepts of heaven being in the sky?
CMF: It can mean that, but it doesn’t have to. Even in non western and pagan traditions, the sky is held in high regard, often where the gods reside. But specifically for me, spirituality is about a connectedness to our environment. It’s more about recognizing the power of Nature and how there’s a seemingly “other” world happening above us all the time.
TTDOG: What is your creative process? Does it differ for photography, art and design?
CMF: With painting I always have a clear idea of what I want to paint and a plan before I take paintbrush to canvas. I mostly paint people and photography has been instrumental in capturing subjects and developing the image I want to create. Usually a subject will sit for me and I take a series of photographs. I’ll edit the shoot and pick my favourites and then start manipulating them on the computer until they are close to what I want to recreate in a painting. I’ll print out images I refer to while I’m painting. But it’s not so much about just recreating what I see. It’s about the feeling. When I paint someone’s portrait, I really want to show their essence. Georgia O’Keefe said: “Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.” This really sums up what I’m trying to accomplish as a painter.
With photography it’s a much more simplified process that’s about being in the moment and being a witness to that moment. I capture what I see in front of me. There’s no planning and I’m not controlling the subject. With the Clouds photo series, I’m zooming in on details to find something that’s compelling. In a way it’s much more freeing than developing a painting that I spend weeks working on. The tedious part comes with editing thousands of images down to the best ones and getting the printing right. With the Clouds series, I wanted to capture the same ephemeral nature of clouds with the printing, so I had them mounted on acrylic to get a sense of lightness and light. It also helps the colours to pop and gives the images a gem-like quality.
Graphic design is a totally different animal that requires a mindset that is often the opposite of what I’m doing when I paint or take photographs for myself. With design, I’m always trying to communicate to a specific audience for a client. It’s not about my message. I may be using many of the same tools, but the goals are different. In creating art, whether it be a painting or photograph, I’m trying to inspire or challenge a viewer to think about things or view things differently, which can sometimes be uncomfortable. With graphic design, you generally aren’t trying to challenge the viewer. It’s more about positive engagement and commerce. Good design usually makes the viewer feel good whereas good art may leave the viewer crying in the fetal position.
TTDOG: Goodness! I’m not going to your gallery with you!
CMF: I meant that more figuratively but I did have someone start bawling in front of one of my paintings, once.
TTDOG: I think if I were to start bawling in front of your cloud series, it would be in a healing way; they are full of joy and love and even innocence.
CMF: Yes, and it’s actually a big change in the subject matter of my work. The paintings of my earlier years are very dark, intense and melancholy.
TTDOG: To what do you attribute this change?
CMF: Mostly, deciding that being an artist doesn’t have to be about suffering. At 41, I’ve also become content in who I am as a person. Presently, life is more about what I can accomplish now and being happy in the moment rather than struggling to figure it all out.
TTDOG: I know that you paint from a sense of deep connection to something bigger than yourself. Do you experience the same connection with photography?
CMF: They are very different experiences. When I’m painting I can go into a very meditative state where I lose track of time and really just start feeling what I’m creating. There’s a flow to it where I feel like I start to channel that creative muse. There is also a lot of time spent just looking and thinking. There is something very therapeutic about it that I don’t experience from anything else.
Photography is much more about a single moment in time. It can actually be frustrating because the camera separates you from the subject. The real challenge in photography is capturing what the subject is making you feel.
TTDOG: How much of the feel of the cloud photos is from digital manipulation? What do you make of those purists who define photography as only that which is captured in camera?
CMF: For the Cloud photos, there is very little digital manipulation beside some colour tweaks to make prints match what I’m seeing on screen. For the most part they are cropped the way I have shot them. I try to find the most interesting moment happening at the time and shoot many frames so I have options.
I can understand why some people define photography that way, but I’m no purist. It gets boring to have too many rules.
TTDOG: Your photographs in the cloud series have a painterly quality to them. Some of them have a feel of a Rothko or an Agnes Martin, in that the colour and subtle gradations draw the viewer in to a meditative state. How, if at all, do you think your painting has influenced your photography?
CMF: That’s a very flattering comparison. Thank you. My most recent paintings have been minimalist portraits that use colour gradients. I’ve become interested in the way colour and subtlety can have an impact, rather than spelling everything out with great detail and realism. That interest has definitely carried over to my cloud photos. I like the idea of breaking things down to their most basic parts.
Minimalism is very freeing, I think. It allows you to see things you’ve never noticed before in a new way. It’s amazing to me how a single colour can evoke emotion.
I want people to have an emotive response through colour when seeing my work but it’s not as simple as if I paint someone’s portrait in blue that I want them to feel sad. Mostly I’m using colour, when I paint, to relate to the individual I’m painting. I guess it’s more about how I see them and the aura they give off. With the clouds, I don’t have any control over that.
Of course I’m in control of what I choose to photograph. But how the subject changes while I’m photographing, I have no control over. I love the ephemeral nature of the Clouds for that reason. If I’m not fast enough I can miss out.
And definitely through the editing process, it’s all about what speaks to me and what I find interesting.
I have a long work history working in print so I’ve learned the technical ins and outs of how to get a print to look the way you want. But, having a printer who you are confident in is definitely vital. Luckily most printers these days have colour profiles available if you are making digital c-prints. But, there is still a lot of trial and error.
TTDOG: Who are your influences?
CMF: In general, I really love old masters like Caravaggio, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Jacques-Louis David. I’ve always been drawn to figurative work and especially artists who know how to manipulate light and expertly render the human form. Cindy Sherman has been a big influence on the subject matter of my painting. I used to primarily paint self portraits and have always been drawn to exploring the concepts of identity and perception.
The cloud photos have been a big change in the type of art I make. When creating the cloud photos, I thought a lot about William Turner’s cloud study paintings. His expressive use of colour captures the power of nature in a way that I wanted to communicate through these photos. It also made me think a lot about color theory and has influenced my recent portraits which are much more minimalist in colour. I’ve developed a great appreciation for modern minimalist artists that play with colour and spectrum like Josef Albers, Elisworth Kelly and James Turrell.
TTDOG: You mentioned colour theory before, when we were looking at some artworks together. Can you explain more about that for those of us who are unfamiliar with it?
CMF: Color theory is understanding how different colours relate to each other and how they interact when they are combined. Color created by light and color created by pigment work very differently. It can get rather technical and complicated, especially when you are trying to get a photograph to match what you are seeing on a digital screen.
Colour created through light is additive. If you combine Red, Green and Blue, you get white and there are millions of colour variations. The opposite is true with paint, which is subtractive. Mixing those colours together in pigment would leave you with a muddy mess. And the spectrum is much more narrow with pigments: there are only thousands of colours that can be reproduced.
TTDOG: You have some pretty exciting work that has come out of this collection. Tell us about that.
CMF: Yes, Urban Outfitters recently contacted me about doing an artist partnership with them using some of my Cloud images. The images will be printed on a variety of products like tapestries and bedding as well as clothing. The first pieces of the line will be available this coming holiday season.
TTDOG: Will there be more photo series?
CMF: I intend to continue photographing clouds as long as they are in the sky, which is hopefully a few more years, at least. I’m not sure where this series will lead; I’m just going to see where it goes naturally. I’ve been thinking of ideas for how to mix the Cloud images with painting. But in my heart, I’m more of a painter than a photographer. Ideally I’d like to be able to work successfully in a variety of mediums, and for there to still be a common thread that can be seen.
TTDOG: Artists have a certain reputation for being free spirits and promiscuous. But you are married, settled and stable. How has this helped or hindered your work?
CMF: For the most part it’s given me the space and ability to work freely without having to worry so much about income. My husband, Tim, is very supportive of my work. If anything I’m sure he wishes I were more prolific and spent more time painting. It is challenging to work as a freelance designer and manage my time so that I have time to paint.
In western culture we have a very romanticized view of the ‘starving artist.’ When I was younger, I had the notion that one needed a lot of drama and sadness in their life to be an artist. That’s not very sustainable or interesting after a certain age. I’m very grateful for the happiness I’ve found being in a happy, long term marriage. It’s been freeing for me to let go of my preconceived notions of what life as an artist and particularly a gay man, should look like. I’m not really one to look back and question what could have been. Life is a journey about learning, and I’m grateful for the choices I’ve made that have led me to the life I have today.
TTDOG: You have exhibited Clouds in a West Hollywood shop at now an Eagle Rock craft beer tasting room. They are not conventional venues. What made you choose to show this collection in this way? Why do you suppose more artists are exhibiting in this way?
CMF: I originally showed my Cloud series at TENOVERSIX in West Hollywood. The owners are great friends of mine and I’ve been doing design work for them since they opened. They’ve an amazing eye for everything from fashion to housewares to art. I was honoured that they showed my Cloud photos.
Craft Beer Cellar, where I’m showing the Clouds from Saturday night is in Eagle Rock, a couple of blocks from my house. They opened about a year ago and recently started showing art. I’ve become friends with the owners and asked them if they would be willing to show my work. Eagle Rock has a unique art and social scene and in many ways feels more like a small town than just a neighborhood in LA. I haven’t been showing my work in Los Angeles until recently. I’ve mostly been focused on my graphic design business and haven’t been putting my art out there. Honestly, I find the art world extremely intimidating, but I’m getting over that and am taking the first steps to have my work seen.
I think more artists are showing their work in unconventional spaces because there is so much competition out there for gallery shows , and there are also just a lot more interesting spaces that people can interact with your work these days. But non-gallery spaces like coffee shops and restaurants have always been great starting points for getting your work out there so people can see it. You have to start somewhere.
TTDOG: What’s next for you?
CMF: I really hope to show more of my work in the coming year, get in some group shows, and hopefully have a solo show in a gallery. I’m going to continue to grow my portrait series and cloud photos. I’d love to create a book with the Clouds, but the expense of printing a fine art book is rather prohibitive. If I could find a publisher, that would be wonderful.
TTDOG: Where do you find your greatest joy and for what are you most grateful?
CMF: I find my greatest joy in sharing food with friends and loved ones. I love to cook – it’s a quick creative outlet that helps me be more social and share my talents with other people. There’s something very comforting about providing nourishment for others. We host a weekly potluck for friends that has become something I look forward to each week.
I’m most grateful for my relationship with my husband. Tim is my rock. He’s my biggest support, but he also grounds me, gives me very practical critiques in my design work and art, and keeps me balanced.
***UPDATE: Clouds will be showing again from 6 Feb-12 Feb at Space 15 Twenty, 1520 N Cahuenga Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Closing event will be held on 12 Feb 11am- 2pm***
(Previously, there was a Clouds opening event Saturday, 10 September, at Craft Beer Cellar at 5 p.m. as part of the NELA Second Saturday Art Walk. Craft Beer Cellar is located at 1353 Colorado Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90041. Tel: 323-206-5164.)
Images from the exhibition will be on sale at the shop and tap room and via Frey’s website. The show runs now through the end of September.
For more on C. Michael Frey, follow him at:
To commission Frey, send him an email at:
Anyone familiar with the acoustic music scene in London will have heard of singer/songwriter, Josh Savage. In their ‘Ten Artists to Watch,’ The Huffington Post says: “Fantastic song writing and a resonant, rich voice, Josh exhibits real skill as a musician and singer.”
At just 24, Savage has garnered himself an international following, performing his own acoustic rock and folk compositions in the UK, USA, Europe, Canada and the Middle East, despite being unsigned and without representation. The self disclosure of his lyrics, coupled with unexpected phrasing and emotive musical composition engages the ear, and once heard, lingers like the scent of French perfume on a silk scarf.
Listen to him once, and it is easy to get hooked.
Following the success of his first EP, Savage recently launched himself as a bilingual singer/songwriter with his 2nd EP, the french-language Quatre Épines. To promote the EP, Savage booked his own “Living Room Tour,” packed up his guitar and a bag, and with his cameraman, set off for a dizzying schedule of shows in living rooms across Europe. The tour culminated in a sold out EP launch at historic Winchester Guildhall, surrounded by friends, family and fans from across England and Europe.
We caught up with Josh Savage shortly after the launch of Quatre Épines. He had just moved to London and was working on writing his first full length album. We asked him about his sound:
“When I get asked, I say my sound is Folk/Rock but I don’t really know. I don’t believe it truly represents my music but it gives an idea. I don’t like labelling my own sound. When I write music I don’t aspire to sound like someone else, I write songs to get things off my chest. I am obviously influenced by other people’s music but more on a subconscious level.”
Savage’s voice, sometimes soulful, sometimes innocent, has a clarity that blends and contrasts with his instrumentation to generate a timbre of perfect harmony. Vocal purity, delicate features, floppy curls and a gleaming smile mix with evocative lyrics, to create a cocktail that earns Savage a place in the tradition of medieval French troubadours:
“I would say ‘troubadour’ is an accurate summary of what I do, perhaps not what I sound like. I definitely travel a lot! In time, I’d like to tour with band and more ambitious arrangements.”
Ambitious arrangements are well within Savage’s grasp. As a child in Paris, and a youth in the UK, Savage stretched and refined his voice, performing as a choral soloist in France, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. A piano player from the age of 4, it wasn’t until Savage began to sing that his passion for music was born. After school, Savage went on to complete a music degree at University of York in the UK.
The influence of classical choral and orchestral arrangements is clear in his music, as Savage moves with virtuosity between guitar, keyboards, trumpet and vocals, and glides from ballad to rock with ease.
“I recall Henry Purcell was a favourite of mine when I was singing in choirs when I was 10 and Coldplay influenced me into writing songs. I’m a sucker for melodies and I love all sorts of music like Bonobo, Bear’s Den, Olafur Arnalds and Yann Tiersen.”
For Savage, writing is something that begins with melody and composition. A piece will run through his mind and he hums out the chords, refines and rewrites the melody before he begins to work the lyrics into his melody. Yet time for composing can seem difficult to find:
“To be fair, I’ve done very little writing since releasing Spaces EP. When you’re managing, booking and tour managing yourself and couchsurfing, it’s very hard to find the right balance and unfortunately it’s difficult to find time to write songs. That’s why after 3 years since university, I decided to move to London to focus on writing.”
Part of the urban myth that has grown around his music is the story that Savage chose to write his final University thesis in French, in order to prevent his professor from grading him on his lyrics. Those who understand French will know that he is equally versatile as a French and an English lyricist.
Sais-tu je rêve toujours aux mémoires de nos baisers
Mais tu m’as brisé le coeur car tu préviens du malheur
Avant que rien n’ai vraiment commencé
Do you know I still dream of the memory of our kisses?
But you broke my heart because you foresee misfortune
Before anything really happened
–Lyrics © Josh Savage, from ‘Quatre Épines’
Even those unable to understand French cannot fail to be moved by the title song from his EP, Quatre Épines, inspired by the devotional love of the Prince for his ‘Rose’ in Antoine de Saint Exupery’s famous parable, The Little Prince.
We asked Savage about his influences, as a writer:
“My granddad has an endearing habit of muttering random lines of poetry to himself. I ask him about his favourite poems and borrow his poetry books from time to time and they sometimes inspire me to write songs but other than that I know little of poetry.
Of course, I aspire to get better and better. The danger with art is that success tends to have an influence on your creativity. You can end up taking less risks and trapped in creating what you think you should create rather than what you want to create.”
Savage manages to keep taking risks, writing emotionally complex and mature lyrics with authentic vulnerability. Deeply personal, his unguarded songs invite the listener to visit their own private places of love, loss and hope.
New bonds won’t stretch thin
In this high tech world we live in
I could see ours rust across our shores
Then I stumble upon clues
And I see them haunt you
You’re so scared to tell the truth
–Lyrics © Josh Savage, from ‘Your Lips’
Being an affable and optimistic young man, we wondered how Savage managed to achieve such melancholy in some of his lyrics:
“…When I hit rock bottom, I write a song about it and it gets it out of my system. I always aim to add an optimistic spin on my sad songs though. When I’m happy, I tend to be too busy making the most of it rather than writing about it, unfortunately.”
An old soul in a youthful form, Savage achieves a wide range of lyrical moods. He is a musician that is hard to categorise.
“My demographic is actually pretty spread out and I’m not sure why. I have an international fanbase and my music seems to suit older audiences as well as younger ones. When I first toured the US, Poland and Germany for the first time, I often had people coming up to me after the show saying they’ve been listening to my music for a while and it blows my mind!”
Savage is particularly beloved in Europe. While in Poland this spring, Savage was invited to participate in his first TedX performance. The performance has helped to showcase him to a large crowd in Warsaw, and to a larger, worldwide, TedX audience.
Savage has striven for every bit of exposure he has achieved. As a teenager in Winchester, he worked the summer music festival circuit, studying the bands and meeting people in the business. Over time, he has been steadily invited to play more and more of these same festivals which are so important for showcasing musicians. His summer tour schedule is already filling up with festival gigs. Large audiences, according to Savage, bring a great energy and unpredictability to his performances.
But perhaps it is in intimate settings where his poignant music is best experienced. Savage holds the worldwide record for performing the most shows (over 40 shows as of last month) with Sofar Sounds, the secret-location, indie gig organiser that was founded in 2010. Taking the ethos of Sofar to towns even without a local group, Savage booked 44 living room concerts across the UK and Europe in the summer of 2015. The previous year, Savage undertook a similar living room tour of the UK and France.
TTDOG has had the pleasure of hearing Josh Savage perform in both large and small venues, but the living room concert is a uniquely intimate experience.
“If I had never played my first Sofar Sounds show in Oxford back in January 2013, I might not still be doing music today. It was the best show I had ever played and it was such a breath of fresh air compared to demoralising shows playing to drunken audiences who talk over you. Sofar Sounds has been a great way to introduce my music to new audiences in new cities where you don’t have the pressure of bringing an audience and can actually focus on playing a good set.”
Savage doesn’t just show up and play Sofar concerts. This enterprising musician took the idea of these gigs to his own town, organising local acts and venues. TTDOG wondered how Savage, a singer/songwriter, manager, performer, promoter, and tour manager found the energy and time to take on the committment of organising a concert series involving other bands.
“The energy and hard work I’ve put into setting up Sofar Winchester has never been an issue. Hampshire in general doesn’t have a great music scene and I felt it needed something like Sofar. It’s made me really happy to see Sofar Winchester flourish in the last 3 years and supporting other struggling acts I’m passionate about. I’ve had people help me in my music career and it’s my way of giving back.”
TTDOG asked Savage if he had further plans to work with other musicians in their own careers:
“I would love to produce other musicians but there are only so many hours in the day. That may be something for a later time.”
What strikes everyone about Josh Savage is his unwavering hope, both for himself and for others. Perhaps the most personal piece he has written is ‘Mountains in Hurricanes,’ a track from his first EP, Spaces. Savage explains that the song is about someone close to him, who was suffering psychosis. The way this person managed his psychotic episodes was to take long runs along a path that led up a local hill. His lyrics reveal a man willing to go to almost any length to overcome, and to help others overcome adversity.
If it’s too much, give me a call
But I doubt that too much will be enough
You can take it all
You can take on mountains in hurricanes
And if you fall…
I’ll give you my bones to break ’cause I have faith
I’ll give you my bones to break ’cause I have faith
–Lyrics © Josh Savage, from ‘Mountains in Hurricanes’
At many of his gigs, Savage tells the story of his talented friends who have given up practicing their art, because it is unlikely that they will succeed in the business. Josh Savage is not so daunted. He is a man of passion and determination to pursue his dreams and that serves as an inspiration to other musicians and to his audience. Savage relates a story of a former heroin addict, who, upon hearing his music, decided to walk to the South Pole and achieve his own dream. TTDOG admits that on days when it seems difficult to be inspired to write, the memory of Josh Savage quoting Nelson Mandela to inspire his audience to never lose sight of their dreams is enough to shake off any lurking defeatism.
Josh Savage is no starry-eyed dreamer. He knows the odds and yet, he persists:
“I have 3 part-time jobs to keep me going and the reality is that you may never be able to make a living solely in the music business, which is why if you go down that path you have to be very very passionate about it. If it never leads to anywhere, I can safely say I’ve had a fantastic journey and no regrets.
…I don’t see any point in thinking that far ahead. If it feels right to move on from being a singer/songwriter, I will know. However, I have a feeling that whatever I do will always involve music.”
Savage has begun work on his debut album and plans to release another English language EP, shortly. Yet, he knows that everyone must have a Plan B. Should he fail in the pursuit of his dreams, Savage’s plan B is to get lost in his childhood city, Paris. The thought inspired this song and video from his Spaces EP.
Whether at a Sofar gig, in the recording studio, on a festival stage, or lost in Paris, we at TTDOG are grateful that Josh Savage has found and continues to share his passion: Music.
TTDOG asked Josh Savage: For what are you most grateful and where do you find your greatest joy?
“My friends and family who keep me grounded and have helped me on my journey.
I find my greatest joy after finishing a song, performing or losing myself in a beautiful place.”
To hear more of Josh Savage’s music, buy his EPs , attend a gig, send him jars of honey, or fresh roses, click the links below:
Josh Savage Website
Josh Savage of Facebook
Josh Savage on Twitter
High costs and chemical contamination of fresh food is leading more and more individuals to seek to grow at least a portion of their own food, themselves. But as global populations continue to shift from being rural to city dwellers, gardening can be a challenge.
Urban gardening seeks to fill this void. Urban gardening is the practice of growing food within a city environment and can involve animal husbandry. It is a way of mixing urban style and design with nature and can reduce food miles by growing foods local to their use. Urban gardens help improve biodiversity, reduce urban rainwater runoff and help to mitigate the”heat island” effect caused by the concentration of infrastructure and lack of passageways of cooling air in cities. While most cities are far from the ideal envisioned by forward thinking urban planners, it is possible, with vertical farming, hydroponics, various agricultural technologies, and visionary architectural design, to conceive of a future where cities grow most of what the residents need, within the city confines. In the meantime, current urban gardens, like those on the High Line in Manhattan, provide relaxing green spaces for residents and revitalise business in the area.
Making the most of this growing trend is Nomadic Community Gardens, situated in the heart of the hip East End section of London known as Shoreditch. Nomadic Community Gardens works with city developers to care for disused urban spaces in a “meanwhile” use as they await planning permission to build. The space provides a venue for not only gardening but for community gathering of all kinds. The gardens are called “nomadic” because everything is portable and can be moved to a new location. Beds are built on pallettes to be transportable and to prevent contamination of and by the ground.
On Sunday 1 May, Nomadic Community Gardens celebrated a first birthday. The joyous celebration comes after several years of hard work to gain land use permission and a year of tenancy in the garden. The success of the community garden is largely due to the vision and dedication of James (Jimmy) Wheale, co-founder and Director of Nomadic Community Gardens and the next in our series of individuals using their skills to make a difference.
We met with Wheale earlier in the spring to discuss the social enterprise that has brought new life to a disused space off Brick Lane.
“I came across and idea in Berlin, when I was living there several years ago. It was a meanwhile use of space in an old carpark that they’d gotten the permission to use and so they created a cafe and a garden in a sort of foresty area and I thought: ‘Wow! There’s no reason this kind of thing can’t happen here.'”
Wheale admits “Continental Europe are light years ahead of us in terms of using space for the meanwhile time period and with a concentration on the creation of communities and the qualitative benefits that they bring to people’s lives,” yet, he was determined to turn his idea into a reality, in London.
When Wheale returned from Berlin, he described the idea to his friend, Junior, who had moved into a flat near to a disused space. Over the next couple of years, the two developed a winning proposal for the disused land, and when the land was sold to London Newcastle, they pitched the idea to the new owners.
“We’re attempting to act as a conduit between a corporation that finds it difficult to reach communities and the communities who need resources and who need space. Our project is there to find space and organise it so that communities can make use of it and if local authorities support what we’re doing it becomes more attractive to development companies who are trying to get permission from local authorities to do developments. If they can subside something in the meantime it almost offsets the damage that can happen in development.”
“Luckily for us,” Wheale says “their leadership has vision and believes in social responsibility and so they allowed it.”
London Newcastle quickly gave approval and although the team hoped to have access to the space in February 2015, in order to prepare the land for the growing season, they only gained access in May. This meant that there was a tremendous push to get garden beds ready for the remainder of the growing season. Fortunately, they built over 100 beds, and because of the position of the garden between two railway lines, without overshadowing buildings, the conditions were perfect for growing vegetables. In a densely occupied city like London, Wheale notes, this “breadth of horizon is unheard of.” With such a great deal of sunlight, the vegetables grew quickly in the first season and gave the residents the boost they needed to their enthusiasm for urban gardening.
The space was initially leased to Nomadic Community Gardens, to act as caretakers, on an initial 6 month lease. Wheale admits that he couldn’t demonstrate to the owners that he had done this sort of work before and that the plan would work, and he credits London Newcastle for their faith in the team.
“They took a real chance on us,” he says.
The lease has now been renewed, but the garden could be given 2 months notice, at any time, to vacate the space.
“But, you know, that’s part of the deal,” he adds.
In anticipation of this, Wheale has been talking with other landowners about taking the garden elsewhere, when London Newcastle begins to develop the land. Wheale explains that the intent of the project has never been to reclaim land from development but to make use of the resources, for the community, in the meantime.
Beds in the garden are free to residents and the garden is self supporting through the hosting of events that generate a minimal income to cover basic running expenses. Wheale hopes that in future gardens, development companies could subsidize start up costs to allow gardens to focus on being self sustaining once they are operating. In this way, the garden does not need to apply for funds from limited charity funding sources.
“Obviously we’ll never be earning big bucks,” Wheale says “but it doesn’t need it.”
For the Shoreditch Nomadic Gardens, Wheale used in his own savings for start up costs to get the ball rolling. Some of his investment has been repaid, though he admits that not all of it has.
“The boss always gets paid last,” he says, smiling.
At present, the garden is tended by volunteers, but Wheale has plans to pay certain key roles in the garden and if the garden concept spreads to other areas, he hopes to be able to provide employment opportunities, training and skills development along with community garden resources.
Wheale has a degree in Cultural Studies and has developed an eclectic set of skills. He worked in construction, and gained problem solving skills and determination in his time in the theatre industry. He has managed bars, where he learned to create ambiance and to nurture the social relationships of a community. Wheale also has prior experience with organic gardening. He argues that bringing vegetation into the urban environment is important for increasing biodiversity, and allows wildlife to flourish. The gardens also provide habitat for bees, which are currently under threat in many countries.
Vegetation, Wheale says, “softens the urban environment so you’re not always facing hard, impenetrable surfaces and there is a sort of therapeutic and health benefit to vegetative life, whether it’s just walking around it or growing it and tending to it and reaping rewards from it.”
Whilst Wheale likes the idea of offsetting carbon emissions with more vegetation, his main reason for creating the garden, was the social aspect and potential to improve urban quality of life.
“One of the most important things for people is quality of life. We are the sum of our relationships, and I saw that spaces in cities were being restricted with austerity measures and space is really where we get to build those relationships. Creating a community garden I thought was important, with the idea of growing vegetables because I felt that was a universal language that would create more cohesion as they all share in an activity. And that grew into trying to meet the more diverse needs of people in the community.”
In our trips to the garden, TTDOG experienced the great ambience of camaraderie and community. Friendships have been established and grown through the experience of being a part of the community garden. TTDOG asked Wheale how community became so important to him.
“It really came from my studies. It opened my eyes to the way society is structured and the way that structure affects people’s experiences, and I think that there is something to be said for support networks. We need to feel like people are caring for us and know our name. Anonymity is a really dangerous kind of experience to fall into and the way that society is organised and the way it atomises people not only affects their quality of life but also means that they’re under a level of consciousness that isn’t really benefitting them. They’re sort of really propping up something that is benefitting out of them.”
The garden has a wide reach through what Wheale calls various “spheres of influence” from the sphere of the immediate community that tends to their beds to the wider community that comes to the garden for workshops and social events to an even wider sphere of tourists who visit the garden and take ideas back to their own communities. And, because they have so much manpower and materials now, the team at the garden has been able to help other community projects, building beds for other gardens, and hosting workshops for other community gardens.
Nomadic Community Gardens currently hosts skills training in pallete furniture building, pallets bed building and basic DIY skills. There is also knowledge sharing in gardening.
Individuals experience a sense of satisfaction from the relaxed atmosphere and previously frictious relations between different communities have been eased and bridges built between members of these communities who have come together in the garden.
There are cafes in the garden and market stalls can be established to accommodate people’s enterprise.
The garden plays host to street artists who paint the walls with beautiful murals, musicians who jam on music nights and interactive theatre events.
TTDOG wondered how the community might respond when the landlord chooses to develop the land, removing this wonderful oasis for gathering, learning, sharing and gardening. Wheale philosophised that there may be a saturation point for community resources, when their impact begins to ebb. This may be because people have had the benefit of it, learned the skills they wanted to learn, or the limit is reached in terms of the number of beds. At that point, the garden can become more exclusionary than inclusionary and moving to a new location allows a new community to reap the benefits of the life cycle of the public space.
And, when there is a void that is left behind, this can create the impetus for the community, who has had the benefit of the space, to create it for themselves. His hope is that this can create a kind of community activism to rejuvenate and develop their own public spaces.
TTDOG asked Wheale’s advice on creating a community garden using meantime use:
“Come to me and I’ll give you the lowdown. I underestimated what it was going to take to get this project off the ground. There is a whole world of stuff that you have to do from writing literature that inspires people to having the practical knowledge of how to build things to the social knowledge of how to manage relationships, create and hold space and see yourself as the gatekeeper and not the possessor, how to relinquish control and allow stuff to happen organically, and, how to have discipline to turn up and work and inspire. One of the things is also creating the relationships with the PLCs and have them believe in you. You have to come with a proper proposal and a plan and some sort of strategy.
It’s no mean feat. You need to have a bit of self confidence and self love, because there’s been so many times when you think: ‘Should I just walk away?'”
Wheale looks around at what he and his team have created, and continues:
“It’s not an easy task and it looks great because it’s come through the really hard work of people that believe in it. But the only way to have more of these gardens is if the communities run them, themselves. I’d like to provide consultancy and maybe have some sort of a manual and some Youtube videos.”
“You’ve got to be the change you want to see in the world. One of the beauties of consciousness is that you can learn by doing. You don’t have to necessarily know how to do, before you do. There needs to be a certain conviction and a direction of purposeful intention that you go towards a goal and stick with it. Appreciate the down times and have gratitude for when it’s all coming together. You just have to start and you’ll find your way. And you may have a couple of false starts but it’s about the personal journey.
We’re all destined for greatness as long as we tread that road.”
As is our practice at TTDOG, we asked Wheale:
For what are you grateful and where do you find your greatest joy?
“I’m grateful for the experience to experience life. We are eternal spirits that have entered a soul to experience this space time. And I’m grateful for the tools that I have to experience it. I’m just happy to try to make the most use of them as I can in my lifetime and hopefully encourage others to live to the maximum of our potential and the fullness of our being.”
“My greatest joy is in that experience: the emotions that come from the sensory communications that we have in our life. As much joy as I can feast myself on, really. And not without sadness. I think sadness is as valid an emotion as joy and happiness is. You need to sit with your pain and work through your demons and I think that everybody has insecurities and everyone has something traumatic happen to them and those are the two defining experiences of our lives, and those are the important things to work on.
Once you work on those, the door is open for more joy.”
Nomadic Community Gardens is located off Brick Lane and is open Monday – Sunday 10 am to 10 pm. The garden hosts special events and workshops daily. Meeting of Styles UK will hold a major event on the UK bank holiday 27, 28, 29th in the garden with dozens of artists gathering in an annual Paint Jam. The public is welcome to come and watch live painting, enjoy food, music and drinks in a relaxed community setting.
We continue our series on individuals making a difference in the world, with the skills they possess. As a Valentine’s Day special, we feature LA based street artist WRDSMTH.
Each day, WRDSMTH touches hearts around the world with a new WRD – spray painted images of a vintage typewriter, topped with his messages of motivation, love and humour. WRDSMTH mixes a sense of nostalgia with pop culture in his art and for a world lost in the complexity of the “extreme present,” his WRDs evoke a simpler time – perhaps imagined – when we were all a little kinder to ourselves and one another, and when love was a committment for life.
Every piece, in its own way, feels like a love letter, sent out to the world, from the artist.
WRDSMTH calls his WRDs “indelible messages” which he “tattoos on walls” in cities around the world. WRDs can be found in Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Diego, West Palm Beach, London, Paris, Edinburgh, and Melbourne. His art is best experienced in its public context where its position in the surrounding environment adds another layer of meaning. However, for those unable to see it in situ, clever use of social media enables worldwide followers to participate in the daily experience, with photographs of his work appearing on his Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr accounts.
Hoping to achieve a modest following of 500-1,000 followers, WRDSMTH currently has over 75,000 followers on Instagram and the number continues to grow, daily.
We emailed WRDSMTH in LA, to ask him a little more about his work and his motivations for being a force for positive messaging in the world.
TTDOG: In a recent article you were quoted as saying: The aim of art is “to inspire, entertain, or woo other individuals” Are you trying to woo us, Mr. WRDSMTH? As my father would say: What are your intentions for us?
WRDSMTH: No and yes. I recently used the word woo mainly to refer to the romantic WRDs I put up all over the world, as opposed to the motivational ones which inspire and the funny ones which I hope entertain. However, yes, I am trying woo people with my words. My intention is to affect. Period.
I hope my work makes people ponder, smile, and maybe laugh. The notion that people turn a corner and see a piece of mine or are driving by one and my WRDs affect them in a positive manner, makes me happy and, in turn, adds fuel to the creative fire. If a percentage of those people notice the name attached to my pieces and at some juncture look me up, fall into the rabbit hole that is the my body of work, and possibly become followers/fans, then my wooing was successful.
TTDOG: Why do you think positive WRDs from an anonymous stranger are so important to people and why is that craving so universal?
WRDSMTH: When I began WRDSMTHing, I just felt that this city (L.A.) and the world needed some positivity. I think it’s easy in this day and age to feel negative toward current events, politics, and even most of what’s deemed entertainment these days. I shy away from those heavily debated topics and instead choose to focus on the individual – the person that happens upon my WRDs – and, again, I aim to affect them in a positive manner.
And even though my messages reach a wide audience, I think people find the words compelling because of that one-on-one experience. I often am told people feel like my WRDs are speaking directly to them, which is a huge compliment, in my book. And the mystery of who is putting all these WRDs all over the world definitely works in my favor, which is a big reason why I retain my anonymity.
Born in Ohio, WRDSMTH moved to Chicago, where he crafted words into slogans designed to sell dreams through consumption. Realising that time waits for no one, he risked all to chase his own dream of being a writer and moved to Los Angeles. Following a very successful run, in 2013, he again turned his craft to selling a dream, with his WRDs. This time, it was the most cherished but often abandoned dream – fulfillment.
Despite his startlingly rapid rise as an international street Artist, WRDSMTH remains dedicated to his first passion: writing. He writes, every day. For solitary people of letters, his WRDs offer not only a dose of motivation but a sense of community.
TTDOG: One of your most famous WRDs says: “Aspire to Inspire Others and the Universe Will Take Note.” In what way do you feel the universe has taken note – for yourself as well as for those who have been inspired by you?
WRDSMTH: ‘Aspire’ has definitely become a mantra for WRDSMTH, but that’s because those words are so in line with what I aim to do and aimed to do from the get-go. I began this endeavor speaking to all the creative individuals doing time in Hollywood. However, I quickly realized it wasn’t just about those doing time here, but those doing time everywhere. Everyone has a dream – whether it be a creative one, a productive one or a romantic one.
We all aim to inspire others and if that intent is truly altruistic, I firmly believe the universe will take note. And hopefully good karma ensues. My success has been unexpected. I actually started WRDSMTHing for me because I needed an active hobby. The fact that my WRDs are resonating with so many is thrilling on a daily basis, which is why ‘Aspire’ is a mantra. The messages I get from fans and followers are amazing and are always welcome. I love hearing how I have inspired and motivated others. I also love hearing how my romantic WRDs have helped bring people together.
In a city and in an era where ‘authenticity’ is simply an attribute for branding, the nostalgic warmth and sometimes gut wrenching honesty of his art hints at the character of the man behind the WRDs.
TTDOG: Is the open hearted, playful, and vulnerable quality of your WRDs an extension of your professional writing, or is the anonymous WRDSMTH an alter ego that doesn’t get space for expression in your other writing? Why put yourself at risk, in a renegade medium? What impact does the medium and your anonymity have on what you communicate?
WRDSMTH: Both. I think the most compelling stories in any medium are open-hearted, amusing, and vulnerable. At least my favorite novels, movies, TV shows, and music have those characteristics. My professional work includes novels and screenplays and I follow that path, along with a strong belief that “less is more” in all my writing. WRDSMTH is such a merger of worlds for me. I used to work as a copywriter in advertising, so I think I understand how to be effective and affect with as few words as possible. However, WRDSMTH is not like advertising in that I have the creative freedom to say what I want with no agenda or boundaries. That is refreshing and addictive. As far as the risk in a renegade medium . . . isn’t that a vital ingredient in most success stories?
While affirmation is a great drug, I was not seeking it when I started WRDSMTHing and I always say I’d still be doing what I do even if I only had 500 followers. I will always say what I want to say and will always express myself in a myriad of personal and vulnerable ways because that’s what writers do. Hemingway once said “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” I love that. Another mantra of mine that I penned is, “Do it for yourself and hope that what you do resonates with others.” I guess where Hemingway and WRDSMTH intersect is where my WRDs are born. The medium of street art seems to add a level of cool to my words.
The action of putting pieces up at all hours of the night while dancing a line of legality romanticizes the words to a great degree. There’s a difference between potentially reading “You got this. You know you do.” on a motivational poster or “You are amazing. You deserve amazing.” in a greeting card, versus seeing those words on a wall on the corner of Sunset and LaBrea. And the action of taking a picture of those pieces and Instagramming them or sending them to a loved one is more meaningful in this day and age of texting and social media. However, while I am aware of all this, it doesn’t change or alter what I put out there. My WRDs come from my life and my experiences, not from the expectation or hope that they will be Instagrammed or forwarded.
Specific laws, enforcement and penalties for street art vary from city to city and from country to country. In some cases, artwork is specifically commissioned or ‘permissioned.’ WRDSMTH’s installation at SYNDCTD creative agency in LA, and in Lululemon’s shop windows are recent examples of such work. Without such permissions, the question of legality is always a concern for artists painting in public spaces.
While second guessing what the law would consider ‘acceptable placement’ for his street art, WRDSMTH has stated that he never paints on private property in order to have his WRDs seen. Sensing what he terms a renaissance occurring in street art in Los Angeles, he points to promising changes on the horizon. Some city council members have begun to work with street artists to attempt to provision public spaces for art, as part of urban rejuvenation and beautification.
Not to detract from the LA cool of WRDSMTH, the street artist, his midwestern kindness goes beyond messages of love, humour and inspiration. A proponent of the Pay it Forward philosophy, WRDSMTH gives of his time and notes that most of his sales have some component of charitable giving attached to them. In 2015, he gave time and artwork to several causes including after school programs for LA children, local youth centres, the city’s homeless and for breast cancer research.
TTDOG: You help and inspire many people. Who has helped and inspired you, along the way? Who helps you these days, and what inspires you to stay positive and keep going, even on those days when things look bleak?
WRDSMTH: I am inspired by a lot of things: Friends. Family. Love. Music. Sunsets. Sunrises. Wanderlust. A really great burger. Cookies and mint chocolate chip ice cream. Honesty. Laughter. Great conversation. Really good wine. Art in all its forms.
Someone once said, “Life is a struggle. But every now and then, we stumble upon something magical and it just makes everything all right.” My list includes things I often stumble upon – and they just make everything all right for me. Maybe for some, my art is something stumbled upon. At least I hope it is. And I stay positive by immersing myself in the things I love, by surrounding myself with people who challenge me, and by finding the good hidden in all the bleak on this big blue marble we are spinning on.
TTDOG: Many people want to make the world a better place but feel that they alone can’t make a difference or that they don’t have the skills, talent or opportunity. What would you say to them?
WRDSMTH: Find a way. There’s always a way.
TTDOG: What do you wish people would ask you about yourself or your work, but never do?
WRDSMTH: I like when people ask me my name instead of calling me Word or Mister Smith. I enjoy when fans inquire about my other writing. I like when they ask about my muse(s). I love when they ask if they can buy me a drink. I’d like more single girls to ask if I am single. I also wish people would ask me what my favorite palindrome is. The answer: racecar.
Heads up, ladies: WRDSMTH is single!
As is our practice at TTDOG, there is one final question for the artist:
For what are you most grateful and where do you find your greatest joy?
I am most grateful for my life – the amazing and baffling opportunity to spend some decades living and making a mark in the world. And my greatest joy is knowing that my work, words, and WRDs are reaching and affecting people all over the world.
WRDSMTH’s original artworks have been sold at Julien’s Auctions, Art Share-LA, In Heroes We Trust, Q Art Gallery, The Gabba Gallery, Stone Malone Gallery, and LabArt. He currently has prints, photos and wearable art for sale at Paper and Fabric.
To learn more about WRDSMTH and be inspired by his daily artwork, follow him at:
Email WRDSMTH at: WRDSMTHinLA@gmail.com
You may have noticed stickers of a retro-styled robot with a vibrant red heart popping up across your city. If you have, chances are these are part of the Global Love Invasion. Next in our series of people making a difference – with the skills and talents they have, where they are – is Toronto based artist and designer, Matthew Del Degan, creator of Lovebot.
TTDOG reached out to Matthew Del Degan to discuss the spread of compassion and kindness through the icon of Lovebot. If you haven’t seen the character on the streets of your city, you may be wondering: What is Lovebot?
“It’s a cold concrete object in Toronto with a big heart, or warm center,” says the artist, “It’s a metaphor for the robotic interactions of people in our city…”
Lovebot was Del Degan’s design response to the way urban commuters were failing to engage their emotions, particularly their compassion, when interacting with one another.
“PEOPLE HAVE UNIQUE LIVES and THEY ARE ALL SPECIAL!” He ardently asserts. ” That grocery store clerk is probably going through some things, just like you. You have feelings and the ability to love, and so do they! Maybe I’m an odd ball, but when I get groceries I ask people how they are doing, what they have been up to and if they feel good today, so that it’s not a robot interaction.”
Lovebot, with its faceless solidity and seemingly incongruous vibrant red heart “lovingly disrupts the robotic routines of humans and reminds them that there is love in their cities and kindness around every corner.”
The artist’s design appeared on the streets of Toronto in the form of a Lovebot sticker and paste-up, which won the hearts of street art fans, and quickly made its way around the world through volunteers eager to spread the disruptive visual message of compassion, kindness and love.
“All I ever wanted them to do was to make people smile,” says the artist.
And he did. Not content to rest on his success, the artist expanded beyond the quickly changing art gallery of the street. He took the visual language of the project to a wider audience through a more permanent type of installation that engaged the entire community. The aptly titled “Love Invasion”, saw the artist embark on a series of trials and errors to create a 250 pound, 2 foot tall concrete Lovebot. This unusual sculpture and several models of various sizes were installed in the footfall of commuters to encourage city dwellers to reflect on their surroundings and their participation in the culture of the concrete jungle that typifies a big commercial city centre.
“If I can make a cold hearted person smile then good, and if a child stumbles upon a concrete robot in the city, then I’ve caused magic or wonder in someone else’s life. It’s about creating true value, and for me that’s a positive change in someone else’s life.”
Matthew Del Degan’s “Love Invasion” went beyond the messaging of a single artist to a wider community. By using his Lovebot in the service of illuminating and amplifying kindness and love, the character became the image of a global art-based social movement for love and kindness.
Working with a team of friends and volunteers, Matthew Del Degan created and self-financed an army of 100 Lovebots. He called on the people of the city of Toronto to help recognize individuals and organisations who had engaged in outstanding acts of kindness by nominating them to receive a concrete Lovebot sculpture. This act not only recognized the kindness and love that already existed in the city, but stood as a reminder that small acts of kindness can be monumental because they contain within them the potential to be exponential – inspiring more compassion and kindness from those who witness or remember them.
“Attaching a sculpture or small monument to kind acts caused, well, kindness to seem monumental.”
“I’m not thinking that a concrete robot can inspire someone to love…the stories behind them may.”
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) prepared this introduction to his work:
Matthew Del Degan belies the well-worn stereotype of Millenials as selfish, disengaged individuals with a sense of entitlement and solely preoccupied with sex, partying, video games and music. Whilst Matthew is a skydiver with over 130 jumps, a motorcyclist, active public artist, and is a notoriously avid gamer – an aspect of his aesthetic that is reflected in the retro feel of the Lovebot – he is a man on a mission and living from a sense of purpose.
His mission to be vulnerable and to share his love feeds his purpose to make the world not only a kinder place, but one where love and kindness is amplified. A muscular man sporting a platinum-blonde mohawk, he not only thwarts stereotypes of his generation, but also of his gender.
“In North America we have an idea of what manly is: big, strong, brutish, often overbearing, tough, and aggressive. To me that sounds like a large baby. I am a very physically strong man. I kickbox, and I lift concrete robots often, however, I recognize that compassion and love is what makes a man a true hero. A hero, is someone who fights for good, who is loving and giving . A true man looks after others and their safety. They are powerful, yes, but also supremely gentle.
I guess I just had the perfect father who was all that and more. And, my mother was also just spectacular. The women in my family are top notch. I owe a lot of my love to my grandmother, who was my best friend and took me everywhere.”
As head of the Love Invasion project, Matthew awarded the first concrete Lovebot sculpture to his grandmother, in recognition of all her kindness and love. To borrow from the American journalist Hodding Carter, the artist’s family has given Matthew Del Degan the roots from which to take wing with his dreams.
“…compassion and love is what makes a man a true hero.”
And in like fashion, the father of Lovebot gave his creation its own wings to soar. Taking a back seat, he provided the platform through which the kind deeds of others could shine, deepening the meaning of Lovebot and the committment of Toronto citizens to its ethos.
“I’m not thinking that a concrete robot can inspire someone to love,” he says, humbly, “but, the stories behind them may.”
By recognizing acts of kindness, compassion and bravery, the Love Invasion not only raises awareness of all the good that is being done in the community but acts as counternarrative the media’s unrelenting message of bad news and trouble in the world.
“Love became my focus because this world is missing it. It’s a sad world. You know: starvation, animals going extinct, pollution, corruption, beheadings…people wasting their lives on Facebook laughing at cats and fail videos of people falling off things. This world is a sad world, but I’m not going to sit…and watch it be that way. So, because I know how to love, and this world needs it, that’s what I do.”
Subverting the zeitgeist of disaster, disconnection and disempowerment, Matthew Del Degan’s work for love, kindness and compassion becomes an avante garde occupation. As has always been the case for society’s vanguard, the way is not always easy.
“I cry. I bleed for my work. I suffer,” admits the artist. “People don’t see that part. I never asked for this to be easy, and I’m not surprised when it’s hard. I receive hate. It’s unbelievable. But, at the end of the day, I have something to fight for and I’m living my dreams…Sometimes I question everything… But now there are too many people who respect what I do, and who support it or have contributed to it and like I said, this world needs more love. I just choose not to stop or give up.”
The Love Invasion of Toronto is mapped out on the Lovebot website to encourage visits to the monuments and reflection on one’s own memberships in communities of friends, families, coworkers and neighbours. For those who are inspired by what both Matthew Del Degan and those who receive the Lovebot honour have done to bring love, compassion and kindness into their community of the city of Toronto, but who are perhaps at a loss as to how they can make a difference in their own communities, he has this advice:
“If you sit there and do nothing, this world will only get worse. ..Get up and do something. Be a small part of the fight for love. You don’t have to change the world, but if you make one person smile… you change their world…
It’s perspective. Change your attitude and your world changes. My perception or circumstance is seen though my lens. When I change that lens what I feel is very different, but the circumstance may be the same….I’m only heading towards better things and now I’m biting off far more than I can handle… but that’s how I got this far…Work and bite off more than you can chew, then swallow… that’s how you grow…
Just don’t give up on this world or yourself. We all deserve better than that…Don’t waste your life. Do what you want to do. “
When the artist is not creating concrete sculptures, he is busy creating new projects and art for sale. He recently launched the first Lovebot toy, and is busy molding his special edition Valentine’s Lovebot which allows fans to have a piece of his art in their home. As well, he is currently organizing an art event ‘spectacular’ showcasing some of the finest art talent in Toronto. But Matthew Del Degan remains committed to his vision of making the Love Invasion a global art-based social movement.
“I’m also working on a new sticker package designed to be shared globally. Lovebot fans often want to share the love when they travel or in their respective countries. So I’m designing a larger, cheaper, package for them to do just that. I’m also building my group of volunteers around the world.”
Matthew Del Degan recently shared more about the kind acts which have merited a Lovebot monument with MTV:
TTDOG sends Matthew Del Degan and Lovebot much love and best wishes for continued success. As is our practice, we asked the artist one final question: For what are you most grateful and where do you find your greatest joy?
“I’m thankful for my life, and I’m thankful for everything I had been given and what I’m managing to do with it.
I find joy in living. I’m not waiting for heaven, that would be so stupid when it’s right here, right now in front of me.”
“Just don’t give up on this world or yourself. We all deserve better than that.”
To learn more about Lovebot, to volunteer for the Global Love Invasion or to support the art and design of Matthew Del Degan:
Websites: Matthew Del Degan, Lovebot
Instagram: Lovebot, Matthew Del Degan
LinkedIn: Matthew Del Degan