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August 9, 2012

Host: Ted Simons

Arizona ArtBeat: Bruce Marion

  |   Video
  • Chandler artist Bruce Marion talks about his creative process and the inspiration for his paintings. He also comments on his recent experience introducing children to abstract art as an artist in residency at a local charter school.
  • Bruce Marion - Chandler Artist
Category: The Arts   |   Keywords: art, artbeat, artist, painting, ,

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Ted Simons: On tonight's "Arizona Artbeat" we look at the work of Chandler artist Bruce Marion. He'll be here in just a moment, but first photographer Scott Olson and producer David Majure take to us a Scottsdale school where Marion introduces kids to abstract art.

Bruce Marion: You think we'll bring some light in there.

David Majure: Bruce Marion enjoys teaching students a subject that has limitless possibilities.

Bruce Marion: With a painting, we could add a little color here, lighten this, this painting could go a million different ways. And I love that. There is no right answer. We're going to continue on -- you're going to work with Ms. Lee.

David Majure: Bruce and his wife worked as a team during a two-week artist in residency program at the PLC arts academy in Scottsdale.

Lee: Does that matter? No. No. It's just a guideline for us to help us get started. Does everyone have that?

David Majure: Using one of Bruce's paintings as an example, Leigh shows the second graders some fundamentals of blending shapes and colors.

Lee: That's great.

Bruce Marion: What's up, man? How's it going? Ready to do some painting?

David Majure: Meanwhile, Bruce works with the students one-on-one.

Bruce Marion: Let's see. What do we want to do?

David Majure: They're collaborating on a class project, and the abstract painting that every child has helped create.

Bruce Marion: Work it up off the template. There's something really beautiful happening in the moment, and that's how these are approached. These are not preplanned, but one step leads to the next, leads to the next, you step back and look at and it make some choices. I love that process. And I think the kids respond well to it. Good job. Good morning. What is that on your watch? Are you super excited?

David Majure: Bruce has fun introducing kids to abstract art.

Bruce Marion: You know, they seem pretty open to it. Because I think most of them don't know how to draw realistically or render, so I think it's more natural to them.

David Majure: On the other hand, he says grown-ups are less likely to get it.

Bruce Marion: Actually when I got out of art school I used to think anyone that did ash extract art didn't know how to draw or paint. So you become an abstract artist, but from being a realist and an illustrator, and moving into painting, I made a leap to go into abstract art, and I realized how difficult it actually is, because there's no subject matter to really lock it in. Like once it looks like a tree, OK, I'm done, I rendered it, it's a tree, but again, with abstract art it's so open, all you have is texture and shape and moving light through it, and you're playing with all the abstract elements.

David Majure: When kids have a chance to play with an empty canvas, they don't hesitate to fill it with ideas and endless possibilities.

Bruce Marion: For me I think my main goal is -- I know a lot of them won't be artists and there probably a few that L. but I like they're learning some skills out of it. Ultimately I think in any teaching it's just giving them the excitement about learning. I think if you have excitement about learning when you're out of school, you'll continue that process.

Ted Simons: Joining me now to talk about his painting and his work with kids is Chandler artist Bruce Marion. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Bruce Marion: Thanks. You're welcome. Thanks for having me.

Ted Simons: You are an artist, what does that mean? What do you do?

Bruce Marion: Well, I'm a lucky one. I get to paint pictures and make my living doing that, which is amazing. I'm thankful every day for that.

Ted Simons: When you paint, is it something that you see? Is it something -- abstract or maybe not so abstract, or is it something that you see?

Bruce Marion: It's interesting, I was an illustrator for a lot of years where I would look at things and illustrate and create realistic things. Most of the pieces I do now are a sense I have about something, I'll start with something, with abstraction on my canvas and I'll let the image emerge, and it may take different directions. I may start creating a river, and it's not working, it may move in a whole different way. So I have really learned to follow the process of painting without forcing it to be what I think it should be.

Ted Simons: So much in the way a novelist will say I started with my characters being one way but the characters decided to be something else. It’s the same thing with painting something.

Bruce Marion: Exactly.

Ted Simons: I know as well, I thought this was fascinating, you start with an under painting so to speak, you start with almost a background in a sense, but like a sculpture, you then subtract from that and bring something -- how -- talk to us about that.

Bruce Marion: It's interesting, I studied classic art and the old masters would always start their painting with a medium tone, brown, umber or brown, and they would build their painting off that. But they'd get rid of the white. Like a writer staring at that white canvas is intimidating. So when I started playing with abstraction, I kind of developed this technique where I would do this wild abstract painting, very free form with all this energy, and paint moving around, and I'd fill the canvas, so I'd have color, and texture happening. So then I let that dry, and then to me it's a matter of -- so I've got this crazy universe going, then I start like a sculpture, chipping away, covering up parts of it with opaque layering until the imagery starts emerging out of it.

Ted Simons: And you never know what that going to be until you subtract?

Bruce Marion: Exactly. I'll usually base coat them not knowing what I'm going to paint.

Ted Simons: You use the same concept, I've read, and hope you tell us more, with the kids. As we saw, they're doing their thing, and something develops.

Bruce Marion: Exactly. The beauty with the kids, they listen -- each class listened to a different piece of music, some was more classical, one was a 2001 kind of piece, and out of that music we started talking about the emotions and feelings of that, and what colors did that feel like. Was it cool colors or warm and hot colors, so we decided on a palette then from there the kids -- they loved this part, they did the abstraction where I give them appellate knives and tubs of paint and they're going at it. It's actually quite beautiful in that state. So then that dried and we talked about what kind of shapes does this music feel lik?. Is it oval shape, jaggy shapes, and so they're kind of interpreting music into a visual form.

Ted Simons: And they understand what you're asking them to do.

Bruce Marion: I think so. The results speak for themselves. It's pretty neat.

Ted Simons: The idea of teaching kids the creative process, it can be such a dicey thing. You're dealing with kids, you're not sure -- talk to us about that, and this nonlinear way of thinking. How you're promoting that idea as opposed to two plus two always equaling four.

Bruce Marion: Exactly. As I've learned in my career, the first part of my life was very logical and if I do A, B, C, I'm going to get D. Logical brain. And the more I started letting go and listening to my intuition, and just looking at what's around me and responding to that, almost like the golf swing you're talking about, you've got to be in the moment doing it. You can't be thinking of your lesson, your practice. And I approach art that way. I'm right there with the canvas, and I'm going to see what's emerging out. Because there may a beautiful passage, but if it's not my initial plan, I would just cover it up. But by following the painting, I can allow that passage to become part of it, and I can see what beauty is coming out of it and be right there in the moment.

Ted Simons: When you're working with kids, are they easier -- I know you work with kids and adults, are kids more amenable to that sort of thing? Is it easier for them to get rid of that nonlinear thinking?

Bruce Marion: I'm not sure. I think kids are more open to it. I think as adults we get a little more locked in with our thoughts and what we think we can or can't do and what's acceptable or not. And I think adults too, myself included, we start getting very worried about outcome. Your art is like broadcasting is a very public sort of thing. I'm going create a painting to show to people. You don't want to do something that looks stupid, oh, this has to be my masterpiece. But as I tell my students, the minute you start thinking that way, you freeze up, when you think about oh, I gotta do the perfect shot, you've lost it already. You can't be thinking that.

Ted Simons: It's that little person on your shoulder who keeps saying, this isn't very good.

Bruce Marion: That too. Oh, yeah. We all have that one.

Ted Simons: You've got to brush them off and move forward. Do you notice a difference between teaching kids and adults in that sense of being open in that sense, just sake brush that critic off and go ahead no matter what?

Bruce Marion: I'd say the kids are much more free. When you give them paper -- my wife was working with them on small pieces, they would do some amazing things, not thinking about it, but intuitively, and I think as adults we get too analytical and too worried about how it's going to look and worried about the outcome. I think kids haven't been conditioned completely to that stage yet.

Ted Simons: You mentioned -- I saw on your website a couple of quotes. "You must be both a dreamer and a pragmatist." What does that mean?

Bruce Marion: That's a good question.

Ted Simons: That was long ago you must have said that?

Bruce Marion: I hardly ever remember what I say.

Ted Simons: Here's another one. "There has to be a duality of character and purpose when it comes to art." Does that make better sense?

Bruce Marion: I think with both of those, what it means to me is, I've got to show up and do the work every day so there's a pragmatic part to it. But I am such a dreamer, my -- I have enough ideas, if I lived to two or 300 years old I wouldn't have enough time to do all the ideas in my brain as far as explore with art. So I think the pragmatist has to pull it down and stay focused on what needs to be done and -- you always have to do the work. You can't wait for the inspiration. So you've got to show up for that.

Ted Simons: It's basically, guy back to the writing analogy, you have to sit down and write. Sit there and do it. You just can't wander around staring at the sky. Is that -- does the muse hit you or do you find the muse?

Bruce Marion: I find the muse. If I waited for inspiration, I would never have a career in this. It really is a matter of the discipline -- what I found, this is interesting. You start painting and then the inspiration comes. Sometimes you're inspired before, but mostly show up, start painting, and watch what happens, and your mind and creativity starts getting engaged and you're getting excited about something. So it really comes out of the work, where I think people misunderstand a lot of people wait for inspiration, or people who are learning, I'm not inspired, I'm not going to do anything yet.

Ted Simons: It's like that with a lot of life. You've got to just do it and if something happens, it does, if it doesn't, it doesn't. Your work with children is fantastic. I love the idea of teaching problem solving skills and such by the creative process. Congratulations, and thank you so much for joining us.

Bruce Marion: You're welcome. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Johnny Franklin’s Celebrity Photos

  |   Video
  • The Sunnyslope Historical Society is hosting a free exhibition, "The Life and Times of Johnny Franklin", Sunday, August 12th, from 1-4pm. The exhibit features photographs and memorabilia belonging to the late Johnny Franklin, who photographed numerous performers visiting and living in the Valley of the Sun. Arizona music historian John Dixon provides a preview of the exhibition that includes photos of entertainment luminaries such as Elvis, the Rolling Stones, Fabian, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Fats Domino, and Phoenix’ own Wallace and Ladmo.
  • John Dixon - Arizona Music Historian
Category: The Arts   |   Keywords: art, photography, celebrity, ,

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Ted Simons: Elvis, the rolling stones, fats domino, Patsy Cline, a few of the celebrities who had their visits to the valley captured by the lens of Johnny Franklin, a valley man who took photos not only of the famous passing through town, but those that lived in the valley as well. The Sunnyslope historical society is hosting an exhibition of Johnny Franklin's photographs and memorabilia, here to tell us about the life and times of Johnny Franklin is Arizona music historian, John Dixon. Good to see you. Who was Johnny Franklin?

John Dixon: Well, Johnny was the kid backstage with his little instamatic in just about every show, taking pictures of the known and the not so known. And he was really -- he was a young entrepreneur, he started -- he would take some of these pictures and turn them into fan club memorabilia, and you could join the fan club of the famous and the not-so-famous. And probably the most interesting thing that he just went to so many places, so many venues in the day, and took all of these great pictures of the famous ones, which would go off to Nashville, and he would send them five, six copies of the same picture, get an autograph on three or four, they would be sent back to him, and he just started building this huge archive of photos and negatives and autographs of all of these famous folks.

Ted Simons: And we see him here with Wanda Jackson. Back in the day.

John Dixon: That is in the day.

Ted Simons: We have so many things that belonged to him. His business card is next, it's an interesting business card in the sense that we see him, we see his name, address, and we see some Wallace and LADMO folks.

John Dixon: Those are I think some Kirsten Brothers images. Johnny was regularly at the show, so he created just a wonderful archive of motion picture stars, sports, anyone who would stop by the show, as well as their regular cast of characters.

Ted Simons: I think we have shots of live performances, again, taken by Johnny Franklin. And this was -- where is this? What are we looking at?

John Dixon: Wherever TV was, they did openings, they did -- every weekend they would travel all over the Wallace and Ladmo show, travel all over the state, and they had different sports teams, with uniforms. They would play the faculty of these different high schools, and then they would do a live show after these different games. They even had a boxing team, and -- of which all the members and sometimes some of the D.J.s, the La chords, but basically it was the cast and crew of the Wallace and Ladmo show, and they would be in mar Enzi one night, Prescott the next night, and it was amazing.

Ted Simons: That looks like Michael Landon on the left.

John Dixon: That is Michael Landon, with Aunt Maude on the left, and then just one of many stars of the day who stopped by. And one of my favorite shots, Ladmo back in the alley behind channel 5 television, just signing autographs for the kids. I don't know whether it was before or after the show. That's just such a candid wonderful shot that just the fact Johnny was there to capture these great moments in Arizona history. It's great.

Ted Simons: We mentioned Wallace and Ladmo and Johnny Franklin and all of his photographs, there was a Wallace and Ladmo coloring book, and I guess some of the illustrations inside, including the cover, were taken by -- were modeled on photographs.

John Dixon: They are modeled on photographs by Johnny Franklin. So Johnny took these various photos of Wallace, Ladmo, Gerald and Maude out at legend city, and then someone actually traced them and blew them up to make them the pages of this coloring book. But they were all based on Johnny Franklin photos.

Ted Simons: Obviously Johnny Franklin much more than just Wallace and Ladmo. He basically, if you were in town and he was around, he took a shot not only we're talking about as we mentioned, national and international star, local folks, you mentioned the La chords. Who were they?

John Dixon: They were just a great soul group of the time, and they were regulars on the Wallace and Ladmo show besides being performers. There's a great picture of the postcard, and it had Johnny's address. You could joint fan club, and everything was 206 east Alice in Sunnyslope. All of these fan clubs. And they were just a wonderful group of the time. They sang on the show as well as being a member of these various teams, and gene blue is featured on the left, Gene runs -- is the president I think of Phoenix OiC and has been there many years. That's gene on the left, so he's still around.

Ted Simons: You bet. Johnny Franklin also had -- they didn't -- did they call them fan 'zines?

John Dixon: They did. He had a little magazine, he and his brother, and Alice Diaz, the editor. They put about a little -- for about a year called "a closer look." There's a young Linda Ronstadt on this particular cover. For about a year these were given out at the Wallace and Ladmo drive-in, and at various advertisers. They sold advertising for all the leather and lace shops on mill Avenue, and so you could also pick up "a closer look" there.

Ted Simons: That's a great shot of Linda Ronstadt.

John Dixon: It's a great shot. And what he would do is take a picture later, the next time they came up, of the same person holding a closer look, many times with that cover, and showing it, and he would publish that in "A Closer Look."

Ted Simons: We have Frank Zappa next. Basically doing what you're talking about.

John Dixon: But Johnny, he just -- the energy of this kid and the chutzpah to go backstage. Security was much more lax.

Ted Simons: Talk more about that. How difficult would it be to do something like that today?

John Dixon: Well, it would be much harder. That's what security is for, that's what you have the venue security as well as the security for the artist themselves. It would be next to impossible, without going through tons of paperwork, talking to the promotion agent, the publicity, the management, to be able to do it. And they have the rights to oversee what you have and approve any and all images. They would be able to do that. In those days Johnny took it, published it, thank you very much.

Ted Simons: And in those days, when Johnny Cash came to town and played at the riverside ballroom, Johnny Cash was a star, but he wasn't Johnny Cash quite yet. So look at those shots.

John Dixon: Those are great shots. That's the wonderful riverside bar.

Ted Simons: Where was that?

John Dixon: The riverside ballroom was just on the south side on central of the bridge, on central. And for years they had a swimming pool there, and it was a swimming pool, and they had an outdoor venue with the flaps on the side, and the venue burnt down and they built a new one closer to central. But Patsy Cline, just all the act of the day were performed there, and he's got great shots on stage and he would also have candid -- he's got a wonderful series of Roy Orbison shots, about eight of them, backstage reading Sixteen magazines, calling on the phone. And he was able to get these folks -- there's Johnny backstage -- get those Phoenix to pose. And he would send them these pictures wherever they were, because he's got tons of addresses and tons of envelopes in his archives that Johnny Cash sent back to Alice with his autographed pictures. Johnny, thank you so much for the pictures, look forward to seeing you the next time.

Ted Simons: Fantastic stuff. I want to keep going, we're not going to get to all of it, but dick Clark appearing in town. Where is this?

John Dixon: That is on the tarmac at the airport. That's richie Hart on the left, and dick -- they're standing on the tarmac, welcoming the stars because they're young, because Duane Eddie had done the music to it. So that was the Arizona connection, Duane Eddie. And so they flew all the stars out here, they had a screening I think downtown at the fox, they did some live music at the Phoenix Indian school bandstand, and that's taken I think at the Ramada Inn next to bill Johnson's big apple on Van Buren.

Ted Simons: It's still there.

John Dixon: That's 1960 that dick came out here. So Johnny was there to capture that moment.

Ted Simons: And he was also at what I think became the celebrity theater, but wasn't the celebrity theater then taking a picture of a band that most definitely became quite -- the Grateful Dead. When is this?

John Dixon: This is 1968, Ted, late '67, '68. The travel lodge built what became the celebrity theater. I think it was called the circle star theater originally, but it was a theater in the round, and so he was down there for quite a few shows. This is just a great -- he's got some other great candid shots that we'll have at the exhibition.

Ted Simons: That is remarkable.

John Dixon: It's great.

Ted Simons: Some other big names, Fats Domino, Duane Eddie, all here, all shot by Johnny Franklin.

John Dixon: That particular -- the Phoenix National Guard armory on 52nd street, he was there, and then there's great Duane Eddie shots too of Duane. And he would also take color -- there's color, he's playing the Dan ELECTRO guitar. And just some wonderful wide shots, that's the big roll-up door at the Phoenix National Guard armory. Without his history, Ted, to add to my musical history of records and tapes, this really makes it a complete picture. So I'm honored to have many of these images in my personal collection, and the family has added some for this exhibition we're doing on Sunday.

Ted Simons: What happened to Johnny Franklin?

John Dixon: Johnny Franklin in the end was -- he was one of these guys who would do the weekend -- like Greyhound park shows, and in the end he was driving to Tucson selling watchbands and watch batteries, and he also had a booth in the Grand Stan at the Arizona state fair for years selling posters of country and western stars. He was a big country and western star, he would go to Nashville to the fanfare every year, and he even -- when he was hospitalized he would go down to the state fair when they would have the country artist and get backstage to have his picture taken with them. And so he was still befriending many of the country stars, even in his last days.

Ted Simons: OK. But how long ago did he die?

John Dixon: December the 8th he passed away.

Ted Simons: And he was still going at it.

John Dixon: He was still going at it, 71 years old. Just -- as I say, he was always collecting and his wall in his hospital room is covered with autographs of country fans.

Ted Simons: Great work, I'm glad we had you on to help celebrate the life of Johnny Franklin and we'll talk more about the exhibit, but thank you for being here, man. Good to see you.

John Dixon: Thanks for bringing me down.

Ted Simons: So to speak. We're not bringing you down. For goodness sake. See more of Johnny Franklin's photographs and memorabilia this weekend, the Sunnyslope historical society is hosting the free exhibition, the life and times of Johnny Franklin, Sunday, August 12th, from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.