Sunday, May 20, 2012

Anne J. Regan's Magical Music Art

by Robert Boyd

Anne J. Regan, Black Flag (Silent Painting Series), 2011, Guilford of Maine acoustic speaker fabric and wood

In 1978, Raymond Pettibon designed the logo for his brother Greg Ginn's band, Black Flag. The four dislocated black stripes were easy to reproduce and made for excellent graffiti tags. In 1980, Anne J. Regan was born. In 1982, Black Flag played at the U.H. Lawndale Art Annex. And in 2011, Regan replicated Pettibon's graphic using speaker fabric. And in 2012, she displayed the work at Lawndale Art Center as part of "Prospectors," a show consisting of work by the three artists in the Lawndale Artist Studio Program. Thus art and rock are intertwined over 34 years.

Black Flag show flyer

Regan's part in the "Prospectors" show is a music nerd's dream exhibit. I relate very strongly to this work. I'm the kind of person who doesn't just listen to a lot of music, but reads books about the bands and artists. What could be more nerdy? (Current music reading-- Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen.) Anne Regan takes things even further. As she showed in her MFA exhibit, she is very willing to take pilgrimages to key sites in the history of American pop/folk music.She continues those pilgrimages for the pieces in this show.

Anne J. Regan, (clockwise from the left) Boll Weevil Blues, 2011-2012, cotton gathered in Mississippi along HWY 61 and beeswax encaustic on panel; Tumblin' Tumbleweed, 2012, tumbleweed and beeswax encaustic on panel; John and June Carter Cash, 2011-2012, grass and rocks gathered at Johnny and June Carter Cash's grave in Hendersonville, Tennessee, and beeswax encaustic on panel

Taking a pilgrimage is an act of magic. It suggests there is something magic about a particular place, and that the act of traveling to this particular place is by itself a significant, if not holy, act. And I think magic is a major theme in the work in this exhibit. There is a variety of ritual and magic here--some cargo-cult-like actions, some hoodoo, some good old table-raping seance stuff. And all of these actions strike me as symbolic of the immense power music has on us--which is kind of magic.

Anne J. Regan, Lightnin' Wand, 2011, oak and mahogany conductor's wand buried at Lightnin' Hopkins grave for seven days and seven nights

Lightnin' Wand resonates because of the furtive ritual that created it. Lightnin' Hopkins, a giant of blues music, is buried here in Houston at Forest Park cemetery (ironically located on Lawndale--just a few blocks from the original UH Lawndale Art Annex).

Lightnin' Hopkins' grave marker

I imagine Regan visiting the cemetery (which is huge) and glancing around to see if anyone was watching, then poking the wand into the dirt by Hopkins' grave marker. Then a week later, coming back, hoping and praying that no one has discovered the wand. She pulls it up and the ritual is complete. Does the wand now have magic powers? Can it bring down thunder and lightning like Thor's hammer? I doubt it, but it feels like a quite significant object now.

Anne J. Regan, Wall of Sound (Silent Painting Series), 2010-2012, beeswax encaustic on MDF exposed at concerts to soak up the energy. (Left to right, top to bottom) Chuck Berry, Neil Young, Daniel Johnston, Beach House, The Raveonettes, Wu-Tang Clan, Dan Sartain, Bun B, Frank Fairfield, PJ Harvey, The Magnetic Fields, Girls, Bob Dylan, Clipse, Best Coast, Leonard Cohen, Jack White, Bleached, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Peaches

Likewise bringing rectangles of wax to a concert in order to "soak up the energy" seems like ritual magic--transmuting the sound into encaustic. Hence the title, the Silent Painting series. It's amusing that each painting looks identical, but each is distinguished by the knowledge that it was at a particular concert. And the fact that the earliest music recordings were made on wax cylinders connects this work to the very beginning of recorded popular music.

Anne J. Regan, I'll Meet You On the Other Shore, 2012, letters written to various musicians, photographs

In I'll Meet You On the Other Shore, Regan attempts to become a medium, communicating with the dead. Her method doesn't involve darkened rooms, holding hands, or trances. She employs the U.S. mail.

Anne J. Regan, I'll Meet You On the Other Shore (detail), 2012, letters written to various musicians, photographs

Each of her letters was sent to a dead musical figure. The way I interpret this piece is that the letters marked "RETURN TO SENDER" were not received by their ghostly addressees. But the ones she photographed that were not returned made it to that other shore. But the real power of the piece is the idea of writing down something you wanted to say but never could because the person you wanted to say it to was dead. Of course, the title comes from an old folk hymn. (The piece reminds me of a song--"Dancing With Joey Ramone" by Amy Rigby.)

Anne J. Regan, Mourning Sleeves, 2011, to sleeve titles in your record collection when a beloved musician passes

Regan understands how the death of a musician you love can affect you. The delicate black lace that symbolizes mourning strongly recalls work by Dario Robleto. Indeed, Regan's entire oeuvre seems very similar to Robleto's. (She's obviously less obsessive than Robleto, but who is?) This is not a criticism--I think there is room for more than one person to be working in this vein, and being first is no particular virtue outside of track and field and motor sports. What matters is the work. And the work has a lot of power.

Anne J. Regan, Billie's Fridge, everything from Billie Holiday's grocery list at the Alexander Hamilton Hotel in San Francisco, 1946, refrigerator, groceries

To a certain extent, we imitate our musical idols. But Regan takes this to a new level, buying everything on Billie Holiday's shopping list. This is what Lady Day was eating in 1946, near the peak of her career. This is imitation at the most intimate and banal. She isn't trying to look like Billie Holiday--she's trying to eat like Billie Holliday. But this could be magic too--the most powerful kind. "He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him."

I was simultaneously amused and moved by Regan's music-based art. I think it's hard for art to deal with music without becoming merely fannish. Jon Langford's portraits of his musical idols, for example,  are great, but they don't communicate much more than his own love of these musicians. I think Regan takes it a step further and suggests the strange power that music has over us with her objects full of ritual.

(Music listened to while writing this review: Traffic, Slowdrive, The Ramones, The Violent Femmes, Air, Ernest Tubb, Ian Gomm, John Doe, Alberto Iglesias, Orkestar Zirkonium, Jethro Tull, Legião Urbana, Elf Power, Shelagh McDonald, The Judy's, David Bowie, Bach, Badfinger, Titãs, Focus, Johnny Cash, Kurt Wagner and Amy Rigby)


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