Coachella definitely put the ‘Art’ in its 2014 Music and Arts Festival. For the first time in its history of 16 years, the festival’s official poster bore the names of its visual artists alongside the musical acts. The presence of visual art is inseparable from music and performance at Coachella, and it’s been an important component of events from year one. What’s increasing seems to be is the level of recognition, as well as the range of diversity.
There are also more voices of complaint about the commercialism and cost of Coachella– which imply superficiality and an impersonal, if not totally inaccessible, experience. This seems to correlate with the quantity of large-scale production that much of the visual art at the festival obviously requires. There is certainly much high-tech engineering and work of towering proportion, which is often architectural, interactive and/or functional as well as artistic. This includes such pieces like the extensively photographed astronaut ‘Escape Velocity’ by Poetic Kinetics, the elaborately sculptural stage area of The Do LaB, and Keith Greco‘s house-like installations which comprised ‘Archetypes’ in the camping area.
Not quite as widely publicized, though, is the equally significant presence of smaller scale, more DIY kinds of visual work like the posters, T-shirts and screenprinting in the Coachella Boutique, live mural painting in The Do LaB area, sculptures of individuals such as Shrine, Teale Hatheway and Don Kennell, and the many trashcans painted by often emerging artists for Global Inheritance. This is not to mention the beautifully handpainted signage throughout the grounds, attendee-created car decoration for the Carpoolchella contest, the whole way down to the outfits, make up and personal decoration of fans themselves!
Some claim that art and music festivals can have an almost cult-like air of exclusivity if they are too eccentric, small-scale and underground. So is Coachella really becoming too mainstream, or is it finding the right balance between attracting only a niche group and creating work that excites and brings the arts to a wider audience?
While this post may not be able to answer to this, which may be a subjective opinion, it does offer some insight into the minds and efforts beneath the surface of Coachella’s visual side. It passes on some words from Carmen Zella (live painting curator for The Do LaB), Global Inheritance, and Jonathan Halperin (Content Coordinator of The Coachella Boutique), as well as individual artists Teale Hatheway, Shrine and Hans Walor.
Carmen answers for Cartwheel Art:
What are some of the various types of roles that visual artists play in your productions?
Visual artists create the productions. We curate and facilitate public art and they are folks who we go to to manifest and realize ideas of all kinds.
Live painting has a slower creation time, uses more traditional, physical materials and has a raw, hand-created feeling that makes it stand apart from some of the other kinds of Do Lab productions. Do you see continuing and possibly expanding the involvement of this kind of painterly and sculptural part of Do Lab?
Our audience and fan base have been inspired by the live painters at our events and our showcasing of this work has come to be a really branded part of the entire experience. The interaction and intersection of music and visual expression brings a heightened creative atmosphere. Our appreciation and showcasing of creativity in all its forms is an important component of what we do and the artists that we work with are a central part of our focus.
How does the Do LaB typically come into partnership with such artists (particular the painters?) What kind of qualities do you seek in your artists and their work?
We have a wide reach of artists and many are recommended by creatives in our community who give us names as a reference. As we expand we are looking for contemporary talent, and artists that are up and coming, and whose work and calibre is high, professional. The artists we work with are usually practicing this craft professionally and by that, I mean are dedicating themselves and their time to this career path. We must continue to raise the bar as the artists that we are working with are refining their skills and entering into higher price brackets with their collectors. Although our standards are high, we are always welcoming and look at every artist submission and every work that is placed in front of us. Inspiring creativity and encouraging others to create art is at the heart of what we stand for.
Global Inheritance is another Los Angeles based organization, which is behind the TRASHED: The Art of Recycling program, found at Coachella as well as other music and arts festivals like Stagecoach and at the art fairs during Art Basel week in Miami. It’s wonderful to see an organization focused on environmental responsibility and other social issues recognize the power of visual and interactive art to create major change. Global Inheritance has directly and indirectly become a supporter and promotor of artists as well as of its primary causes, as the TRASHed recycling bin program exemplifies. In Global Inheritance’s words, the goal of the program is:
…to be available but also be inspirational. We take the recycling bins on site and we really try to create pieces of art that will engage people. Hopefully that inspires people to pay attention to the fact that there is a fully developed recycling program at the festival.
The program boosts a large number of individual painters and artists into exposure and the work spreads a sense of playfulness, innovation, color and surprise throughout the grounds of the festival. More can be read about Global Inheritance at Coachella in Cartwheel Art’s 2013 post:
This year’s contributing artists were:
Abi Regan + Alan Bovinett + Amy Fry + Ashley Macias + BB Bastidas + Ben Swenson + Brandon Sopinsky + Bree Mena + Brittney Scott + Cameron Shiflet + Carlos Ramos + Carson Catlin + Cesar Torres + Cole Canedy + Darren Downing + DevnGosha + Dylan Bradshaw + Erin Clark + Fae Feliciano + Hans Haveron + Jacob Livengood + Jeremiah Garcia + JRyu + John Park + Jonny Alexander + Jose J. + Josh M. + Josh Wysocki + Joyce Hu + Justin Hauser + Sickfeet + Maritza Torres + Moushiiie + Maxfield Bala + Michael Pizarro + Mike Ong + Nori Pesina + Olivia Bernardy + Oscar Cervantes Sandoval + Reid Hausner + Robert Shaw + Shannon Simbulan + Spencer Mann + Victor + We Are Rodents + More
Global Inheritance encourages submissions for future TRASHed programs and can be contacted at TRASHed@globalinheritance.org.
Jonathan Halperin is the mind behind the Record Store and the Coachella Boutique, which features limited edition screenprints by artists like Emek and RISK, as well as live screenprinting and painting. Not surprisingly, he’s a major art collector and curator. He’s had a hand in the visual art at Coachella now for years:
As one of the first coordinators to envision visual art’s presence at Coachella, can you comment on its evolution?
Coachella has always focused on and had gigantic three dimensional art out on the field between the sculptures and even painted trash cans throughout the establishment. Having two dimensional artists come in and paint up the boutique and record store seemed like a natural (de)evolution.
There’s been a lot of talk about the live painting in the Do LaB area, and many think this year is the first time visual artists painted live- but you were the first person to introduce live painting back in 2011?
Yes, that first year we had artists like Luke Chueh, Dabs and Myla, Sket One, Angry Woebots, Beast Brothers, and Phil Lumbang.
This year The Boutique featured a mural by D*Face and the Do LaB live painters were DevNGosha, SandOne and collaborators Christina Angelina and Hans Walor– all of whom are well known for their painting and mural work around Los Angeles and beyond.
Hans responded to Cartwheel Art Art about the unique potential of live painting in the midst of an audience
How you feel the crowd engages with live painters? What do you think you are able to exchange in the festival environment, and why is that important among the larger scale, more technically-driven productions?
I would have to say that the “one on one” connections that can be made by live-painting at festivals, are some of the most powerful impressions that I have experienced as an artist. I think that these verbal and visual conversations allow the viewer to become part of the work energetically just by their presence. I think that the pieces become a moment of their experience and a part of them in a certain sense. I believe that painting larger scale pieces really allows the viewer to see more of your process, brush strokes, and details. Larger scale pieces can also catch the viewers eye from a distance which is important when a painting in large crowds at a festival.
Brewery-based artist Teale Hatheway, whose brainchild was ‘InTentCity,’ combined painting with ‘primitive’ architecture in the breathtaking spectrum of largescale tipis bordering the El Dorado Lake camping area. She shares with us some of her process and ideas:
Roughly how much time and how many people went into your installation?
I worked consistently, November through April, but the bulk of the effort came in the form of seventy hour weeks, January through March. I had one assistant at a time, but three total. I was also the grateful recipient of some gifted resources. I could not have accomplished this project without my assistants (Juli Gudmundson, Mike Fulton and Kate Hoffman), my resources and my background in production.
I’d love to hear more about your most personal connection to, or most important memory relating to architecture.
I’m not certain I can distill my relationship to architecture into one moment, but I think the foundation came from an awareness that the built environment, in its most accessible form, is a connection I share with everyone in my community. Looking at my environment and how it guides, protects, entertains, and inhibits is a way for me to feel a part of something larger than myself. Sharing my observations through painting has opened avenues of communication for me. Aside from that psychological awareness, I would say that my dream life is pivotal in my interest. I am constantly exploring buildings in my dreams – sometimes revisiting them numerous times over the course of years, until I come to some sense of closure. Another influence, on the more intimate front, was Gaston Bachelard’s assertion in his “Poetics of Space,” that nearly everyone has a recollection of the door knob of their childhood home – that there is an emotional, sensory connection to place made through perfunctory use if it. The ideas which inspire me are simple, but the connections which come from these experiences can be complex and powerful.
There was a lot of focus this year at Coachella- with Keith Greco’s Archetype installation, Shrine’s buildings, and your Tipis- on structures that represent human dwelling places, albeit temporary ones (appropriate in the massive camping area of the site)! Were you a part of the discussion that landed on that theme?
I was not.
How would you describe the relationship between experiencing art, community and a sense of belonging- even in a possibly nomadic way- as these particular shelters imply?
Coachella is a fantasy. Over the years, the festival has evolved into an immersive environment of art, music and performance. It is loud and busy and high energy. The entire experience, for audience members, lasts only four days and all of the festival’s structures are temporary. The cyclical development, maturity and conclusion of the event is primarily functional, but it has the added effect of being part of the magic. For someone like me, respite is key to my mental and physical well being in an environment like Coachella. Having a place to call home makes all the difference. Striking that balance between creature comforts and temporary dwelling is a huge part of Coachella. It is an area where Goldenvoice has invested a great deal of creative experimentation and consideration in making the entire experience less about mere survival, and more about escapism and pleasure. It seems to me that we live in a world where kids can’t get away with anything anymore: no bonfires on the beach, no playing soccer in the street. I think that has a great deal to do with the success of the event – it’s a destination for playful, cultural and social exploration.
What do you think is the highest potential for architecture?
The highest potential for architecture is to protect, inspire and endure. The first, protection, is pretty obvious, but the second, inspire, is less so. Whether it is using beautiful and/or advanced materials, expressing regional decorative or functional attributes, or reflecting intelligently on its surroundings, architecture, as a daily interaction, has an obligation to support creative thinking. Finally, durability is not at the forefront of contemporary construction concerns, which is absurd and, of course, wasteful. I’m amazed that we continue to allow developers to build these enormous, ugly, poorly constructed monstrosities and call it “housing.” I feel the tides turning, though. The “maker” culture runs deep and it signals a renewed interest in quality building materials, artisanship and fresh answers to age old questions. It’s going to take 20-30 years, but there will be a lot of work for demolition crews and excellent opportunities for creatives who explore how to feed the human spirit.
Keith Greco, who created the installation ‘Archetypes’ in the camping area, consisting of multiple house-like structure of various styles and levels of fantasy, seems to be a kindred spirit– as is another Pasadena artist, Shrine, who also contributed two elaborately crafted and decorated pieces to this area. Shrine discusses this with Cartwheel Art.
How you were first led to Coachella?
I first went to Coachella on a 60 show tour painting murals with audience members around the world on The Vans Warped tour. The year after that I designed a stage for The Sasha and Digweed North American tour that set up at Coachella. Years later I returned doing three shows a day with Lucent Dossier and for several years, performed and built stages with Lucent and The Do Lab before eventually doing my own art installations on the field, that now total five.
It seems like community and community engagement are very important to you.Do you usually work with teams of people in creating your art?
I prefer to work alone and occasionally will do collaborations with other artists that inspire me. I often have a crew or team because some of these installations are huge or the skills required to build them are beyond mine. I often need help with engineering, building, operating heavy equipment, collecting large amounts of found materials like cans, bottles, wood.
Have you also performed at Coachella? How is performing a different experience for you than painting and building?
I performed on stage with Lucent Dossier, and also performed on my own out in the crowd engaging people in various ridiculous adventures. I’ve always said that making art is a performance. I think everyone’s performing, playing their roles. I’ve been playing the character of the eccentric artist for over twenty five years now, it seems to suit me. Performing requires a lot of work: rehearsing, making props and costumes. Eventually when you get on stage and it all comes together its a huge adrenaline rush that is often followed with a staggering low. All in all it’s good fun if you have the energy. I started to focus on my installation work as its also rewarding to create a 60ft structure in the middle of 80,000 people and hear and see them laugh, cry and become inspired.
What do you think the power is of decoration and costume on both objects and human beings?
When you adorn something you make the statement that this place , this moment, this object is special. As we move through this meaningless dream, we give meaning to the people, places, events in our lives. Decor and costume are tools for accentuating meaning. I’m creating the world I want to see. I paint my car, my clothes, my house, tattoo my body. I make special art for people I love. It’s all a way to stay inspired, to live inspired, to create meaning.
Do you have an early memory of a person or experience that helped you to first understand you are an artist- and to chose to follow that path?
I became an artist sitting and drawing in my grandmothers’ kitchens. My grandmothers’ cared for me, hung up my art, told me I was a good artist and I believed them.
How does a self-proclaimed nomad choose one location as a home base? In other words, what magic do you think that California and the desert holds for many free spirits and artistic souls- and which seems to make it a perfect place for festivals like Coachella and Lightning in a Bottle?
California is a place where people have often come to re-invent themselves… people in general escaping stifling traditions [for] the dream of fame. The unknown adventure out west where anything is possible. I own a house and have two kids in Los Angeles, so for now its the closest thing I have to a base. I feel more comfortable on the move in places I’ve never been, but always look forward to coming home.
The complete list of artists and descriptions of their works can be viewed at Coachella’s Art of 2014 site.