Space Between Places – An Interview With Artist Morleigh Steinberg

“I kind of pushed him to do it.”

Morleigh Steinberg is in the midst of producing the first public showing of her husband’s series of desert photographs. “I just said to him, ‘You really gotta do something with this. People should see this. I think it’s important. And with the closure of the tour, now is the time to do it.’”

Preparation for the opening of “The Joshua Tree – Photographs by The Edge” at Arcane Space in Venice, California. Image originally posted by @arcane.space on Instagram used by permission. © 2017 Arcane Space, all rights reserved.

Perhaps I should mention that Morleigh’s husband is The Edge, U2’s revered lead guitarist and atmospheric sound architect.

Back in 1986, when the Irish rock band visited California’s Death Valley and Mojave Desert to shoot images for the cover of their upcoming album, The Joshua Tree, U2 photographer, Anton Corbjin, wasn’t the only one taking pictures. The Edge took up his own camera to capture the desert as he saw it.

“I think he’s got a really good eye.”

With a quiet enthusiasm that projects genuine confidence in her family’s artistic competence, Morleigh also can’t help but sound like her husband’s biggest fan.

“I think he’s got a really good eye. And it’s photography, so I said, ‘Let’s just do this.’”

Arcane Space in Venice, California. © 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

Morleigh is co-owner of Arcane Space (along with singer & artist Frally Hynes), a bodega studio a couple blocks from Venice Beach in Venice, California. When we first met, I asked her about her “gallery” and she politely corrected me.

“It’s not so much a gallery as it is a space,” she mused.

That caught my attention. As a spatial storyteller with Storyland Studios, I’m fascinated by the ways people use space to express something of meaning or significance. Whether in cathedrals, office cubicles, or amusement parks, creative people are able to transform space to express something about themselves and the way they see the world. So I had to go see Arcane Space for myself.

“I think a gallery is very defined,” Morleigh later explained. “There’s a certain structure that a gallery has to set up to present artists. But we’re still trying to find out what this is and how it’s gonna work. And it feels so free. Space can be so many things.”

Arcane Space in Venice, California. Image originally posted by @arcane.space on Instagram used by permission. © 2017 Arcane Space, all rights reserved.

The entire gallery… er, space is surprisingly small and painted stark white, from the floor to the ceiling. It gives one the impression of a blank page or canvas to be used freely for artistic expression.

“We want it to be a place where we can share,” Morleigh said, “that we can express what’s going on in our lives and what’s going on in other artists’ lives. And give them an opportunity to present work, or make work, or explore work, or push work, but not in a defined gallery. But just in the space.”

Opening of Arcane Space in Venice, California. Image originally posted by @cyanmogi on Instagram used by permission. © 2017 Morleigh Steinberg, all rights reserved.

Like a brand new journal or drawing pad, starting with a blank space fills a creative heart like Morleigh’s with a churning sense of potential and curiosity.

“How do you occupy space? How do you change space? And how does that make you feel? And how does it make other people feel? That’s more my curiosity. So that’s where Arcane Space came from.”

Lines In The Sky

Power lines in Venice Beach. Image originally posted by @cyanmogi on Instagram used by permission. © 2017 Morleigh Steinberg, all rights reserved.

Arcane Space’s first installation was a collection of Morleigh’s own photographs entitled “LA Sky Lines.”

Each piece featured the blue, California sky criss-crossed with telephone wires and poles, double-exposed for a disorienting kaleidoscopic effect. In most shots, the illusion confuses the eye with lines that converge in reflective patterns and unnatural vanishing points.

Some look like reflections on water, and others recall the arches and gables of a transparent greenhouse roof.

LA powerlines and palm trees. Image originally posted by @cyanmogi on Instagram used by permission. © 2017 Morleigh Steinberg, all rights reserved.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the connections that these wires make above our heads. We live in this very detached society. There’s something so tangible and so real about these wires going from pole to pole to pole to pole.”

And person to person.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the connections that these wires make above our heads.”

As I viewed the pieces myself, I recalled a childhood memory. Riding in the backseat of my parents’ car as we travelled through the San Joaquin Valley, I watched the wires and poles pass by in rhythmic waves. I remember being enchanted by the idea that there are people on either end of these wires, with miles of space between them, and they’re talking to one another.

“It’s really about the infrastructure between the sky and all these lines and wires that are connected above our heads,” she said. “I find it really delightful and very reassuring.”

True to her intention to allow the space to guide the work created there, the photographs weren’t hung on the walls. They were on the floor, leaned against the wall to create a sort of blue baseboard that follows the walls’ hard angles wherever they may lead.

“I was really looking at the whole space, and my images, and how I would use them, and that was the way they ended up. On the floor.”

Morleigh Steinberg making use of space at Arcane Space in Venice Beach, California. Image originally posted by @cyanmogi on Instagram used by permission. Copyright © 2017 Morleigh Steinberg, all rights reserved.

This unusual arrangement allowed visitors to view the images, not as individual pieces, but as part of a larger complete work. The space itself had become the work of art.

“There’s purity in putting a picture on the wall. But you never just put a picture on a wall, do you? You always put a picture up in the relationship it has to the rest of the space.”

The Space Between Places

Sculpture at LACMA in Los Angeles. Image originally posted by @skipperfreddy on Instagram. Copyright © 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

Morleigh’s perspective on space and our relationship with it springs from a lifetime of movement. As a lifelong dancer and choreographer, movement within space is what defines the artform she loves most.

She also grew up in Los Angeles, which, due to its never-ending sprawl connected like power lines through its notorious freeway system, forces its inhabitants to leave one defined space and move to another if they want to experience everything the city has to offer.

“There are several places in LA that are so unique, but you’re going to have to drive to them. You’re going to have to get in the car to go to them.”

Circle walk at Dos Lagos in Corona, California. Image originally posted by @skipperfreddy on Instagram. Copyright © 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

Morleigh’s parents were people on the move with a passion for exposing their kids to experiences througout the city. Morleigh developed a keen interest in both the destination and the space between places.

“And I got it. I didn’t mind going from place to place to discover.”

“I lived in New York for a time and there you don’t have to drive to experience a lot of different things. Here there’s always somewhere to go. That comforts me more than having the same places within reach all the time.”

“I think how we make space and interact with space has an effect on our positivity, on our outlook, on the whole human experience.”

New Orleans Square at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Image originally posted by @skipperfreddy on Instagram. Copyright © 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

One Southern California place she rediscovered for herself recently was Disneyland. Walt Disney’s cartoon kingdom in Anaheim might not be the first place an artist thinks of when seeking authenticity and genuine inspiration, but Morleigh went into the experience with eyes wide open.

“I was so impressed by it. I was really impressed by the landscaping, all California drought tolerant. But then in Tomorrowland, the landscaping was all vegetables, like kale, and chard, and herbs and it was quite remarkable and I was like, ‘Right on!’”

“Then, going into the haunted house, all the things that held the chains they were all these beautiful kind of patinaed bats. And they were real! They weren’t like plastic fake stuff. They were real materials.”

Brass bat stanchion in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. Photo provided courtesy of Todd Young Photography ©2017 Todd Young Photography, all rights reserved.

While Morleigh seemed genuinely surprised at the authenticity achieved in Disneyland’s fantasy worlds, she agreed wholeheartedly with the premise that creating space for people to respond to produces genuine emotional results.

“I think how we make space and interact with space has an effect on our positivity, on our outlook, on the whole human experience.”

Outside, It’s America

Flyer for “The Joshua Tree – Photographs by The Edge” taken from arcanespacela.com, used with permission. Copyright © 2017 Arcane Space, all rights reserved.

At the time of this writing, Morleigh is putting the finishing touches on Arcane Space’s newest installation; The Joshua Tree – Photographs by The Edge.

To music fans around the world, the photography for U2’s fifth studio album, The Joshua Tree, is widely considered the most iconic and beautifully integrated album art of all time. In many ways the photographs on the record sleeve created a unique space for the music to inhabit.

“The desert was immensely inspirational to us as a mental image for this record,” U2 bassist, Adam Clayton, told Hot Press magazine at the time of the album’s release. “Most people would take the desert on face value and think it’s some kind of barren place, which of course is true. But, in the right frame of mind it’s also a very positive image, because you can actually do something with a blank canvas, which is effectively what the desert is.”

“So let’s kind of catch the end of this magnificent tour and commemoration to that album, which meant a lot to a lot of people.”

The Edge in the California desert pictured on the 12″ single for “With Or Without You” from the album “The Joshua Tree” by U2. Copyright © 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

Morleigh recognized that an opportunity to display never-before-seen images of the same brilliant landscapes captured by of one of the band members would be unique and intriguing for many people. And the timing isn’t bad either. The band just finished a worldwide tour celebrating the album’s 30th anniversary.

Co-owners of Arcane Space, Morleigh Steinberg and Frally Hynes, at the opening of The Joshua Tree – Photos by The Edge. Photo courtesy of Scott Fifer, Founder of the Go Campaign, used with permission. © 2017 Scott Fifer, all rights reserved.

“It doesn’t make sense to do it 6 months from now,” said Morleigh. “That would feel like going back, you know? So let’s kind of catch the end of this magnificent tour and commemoration to that album, which meant a lot to a lot of people.”

With the confidence of a woman at the vanguard of creative exploration for her family, Morleigh convinced her husband to do the unexpected, to use the space to explore and share his own story. ”Let’s not make this about the band. Let’s make it about the landscape. And the landscape that you saw at that time.”

The Joshua Tree – Photographs by The Edge runs from November 22-December 17, 2017. 100% of the proceeds from sales supports the Go Campaign, which funds grass roots organizations that serve children and youth around the world.

Arcane Space is the collaborative effort of Morleigh Steinberg and singer/artist Frally Hynes.

Visit ArcaneSpaceLA.com for more information.

 

The author and his daughter taken by Morleigh Steinberg in Arcane Space in Venice, California. Image originally posted by @skipperfreddy on Instagram. Copyright © 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

 

 

Draw Like A Pirate Day

In honor of International Talk Like A Pirate Day, I thought I’d take you on a brief voyage to a time when sea-faring thieves and blood-thirsty brigands reigned terror upon unsuspecting sailors – to a time when I was a member of a band of pirates.

This band of ne’er do well cads were masters of their fearsome weapons. There was a bass player, a guitar man or two, a drummer, and a “xylobones” player. And there was a ferocious Captain whose gravelly, rum-soaked voice commanded the crew and any sorry souls who came to hear the cannon-thundered sound of their pirate rock ‘n roll.

Captain Bogg & Salty was a Portland-based buccaneer rock band renowned for marauding the nightclubs, pirate festivals, and a public library or two around the turn of the last century. And every so often, the bosun’s pipe would call me to join the crew.

Okay, I wasn’t actually in the band. I was a hired to bring the story of the band to life by illustrating their album sleeves.

Drawing inspiration from none other than Disney Legend Marc Davis who drew much of the concept art for the Pirates of the Caribbean attractions, I drew in pen and ink and shaded them with black water color. I tried to infuse the characters with a little bit of menace, a whole lot of humor, and that true treasure every pirate seeks, freedom.

To get a look at what I mean, check out this one I drew for their Dick Dale inspired surf rock song I’m A Pirate.

Surfing Pirate, ©2004, Freddy Martin, all rights reserved. No duplicating or reposting without permission.

I hoped to create a piece, like the picture books I remember as a kid, that viewers would want to take time to look deeply at the details and hidden jokes while listening to the song. Go ahead, look deeply. Can you spy the the pirates tube-riding companion? The not-quite empty flagon of rum? Or can you figure out the true reason this part of the ocean has such killer waves?

This piece didn’t make the cut but it remains one of my favorites to this day.

Still, the pieces from that period that still give me the most joy are the back covers. Each drawing seemed to serve as an expression of the spirit of each particular album. On the back of Bedtime Stories for Pirates, you’ll find a crows’ nest full of buccaneers singing their scurvy lungs out to nobody but the gulls. The backside of Pegleg Tango features a wooden-legged privateer swinging, nay, flying through the riggings without a care in the big blue world.

But the back cover piece that delivers the most yarrr for your buck in my opinion is the marooned pirate on the back of Emphatical Piratical. I’ll give you a look at it in just a second, but first I want to give you a step-by-step view of its creation, from concept to final piece.

First, Loren Hoskins and Kevin Hendrickson, the creative forces behind Captain Bogg & Salty came up with a concept for me – a marooned pirate who isn’t too upset about it. The music they’d been writing for the album had a laid back, island paradise feel and they thought their stranded castaway might whiling away his years on a white sandy beach.

Marooned Pirate concept sketch, ©2004 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved. No duplicating or reposting without permission.

So I plopped him in a hammock, looking out to see with a tasty coconut rum in his good hand. We loved the concept and could truly feel his relaxation coming to fruition. But with his face away from the camera, we didn’t quite have the same character driven fun we did with the other back covers. It could also look like he’s waiting for someone to come, hoping to be rescued.

Not our pirate. We wanted him to appear like he has found heaven on earth, so we turned him around.

Marooned Pirate concept sketch, ©2004 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved. No duplicating or reposting without permission.

Now we were getting somewhere. The look on this pirate’s face communicates pure joy. He doesn’t care if anybody ever finds him. You can almost smell the hibiscus. The site gag of the satisfied marauder marking an X where he’s found his treasure makes the point perfectly. This is the spot!

Before we could go further, we needed to take time to flesh out what our pirate would look like. The pirates in each of the illustrations represented a vast crew of pirates from across the seven seas, so we wanted to be careful not to repeat a face, or identify any particular character from the songs.

So I took some time and drew a line up of likely lads for the pirates in Portland to peruse and pick.

Marooned Pirate character studies, ©2004 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved. No duplicating or reposting without permission.

Now here was a rogues’ gallery of villains sure to give the mommies nightmares and the kiddies dreams of going to sea. With a little deliberation, and much talk about their possible crimes and back stories, we settled on the Spanish gentleman in the bottom right.

Huzzah! I was finally able to start work on the final piece. I played the rough cuts of the new songs over and over. Frogg Island, The Purple Tiki, The Plank Walker, and Waltz of the Waves kept me company as I drew fresh inspiration for the illustration from the lyrics.

Marooned Pirate, ©2004 Hendrickson Hoskins, LLC, all rights reserved. No duplicating or reposting without permission.

Take off your shoes and pore over this illustration on island time. See if you can find all the hidden clues about this freebooting fellow and his new life here in paradise.

Also, get ye to iTunes quick to download each and every one of Captain Bogg & Salty’s amazingly piratey albums. Privateering music fans of all ages will be able to get funky with the crew of the good ship Pollywogg. And if your younger pirates tell you they recognize the voices, you’ll be pleased to find out that these same buccaneers went on to create the songs and music for Disney Junior’s Jake and the Never Land Pirates. That’s right. Captain Bogg & Salty once set sail under the names Sharky and Bones under the notorious Captain Hook!

If you enjoyed diving into my illustrations, let me know in the comments below and I’ll make sure to open the junk drawer more often. And if you’d prefer to read more about other types of adventures, I’d like to know that too. You’re the reason I write, and I can’t thank you enough for allowing me the opportunity to share my take on the world with you.

 

All content, and especially the artwork, enjoy the protection afforded all intellectual property. Some of it belongs to Fred Martin and some of it belongs to Hendrickson Hoskins, LLC. Please do not use it without first gaining permission.