By Markoff Chaney
It starts with an image, “I am the Baby Jesus.” See it up there? That’s it. (Probably should’ve put a cutline somewhere; this’ll suffice.) Per the image, Slade Graves did that. It was the first image in what became a new body of work she’s showing this month at the Raven Café. “I am the Baby Jesus,” which is also the name of a draft chapter from an in-progress book by Michaela Carter. And, oh yeah, there’s an art opening — no, no, no, a closing! — and there’s going to be a reading, and poetry, and dancing, and I’ve waited far too long to mention Surrealism, which is a PART of this.
Maybe I should just let Slade and her artistic director, Valerye Jeffries, explain. …
[Editor’s note: The following interview was culled from conversations between the reporter and artist Slade Graves and Valerye Jeffries, artistic director of Slade’s art closing. Slade’s art closing is after-hours, probably around 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 1, at the Raven Café, 142 N. Cortez St., 928-717-0009, RavenCafe.Com, $5 donation, bar operating, no food.]
Where did the idea for this show come from?
Graves: I think it started with us finding out about the Prescott Society for Surrealism, which was founded in 1939 by Hattie Safford. It was an entirely female branch of Surrealism that had little contact with the European group, though Ms. Safford did meet Max Ernest at a gas station in Flagstaff. There’s a quote from her: “He had what looked like a nest in his white tuft of hair, but he was too tall for me to see just what was inside it.” Anyway, what we’re doing is, we’re bringing that back.
Jeffries: We’re holding the first meeting of that society in a long time. Surrealism is the name of the game. Anytime we talk about some aspect of the closing, Slade brings in Surrealism. It’s a meeting; it’s a performance art piece; it’s an introduction to Surrealism; and, ultimately, it’s her art show. All of it kind of surrounds this art show. There’ll be some dance, some poetry, and other performances — and, most importantly, Slade’s art hanging on the wall.
Graves: The show hangs in mid-August, so the art opening is actually the closing of the show. Everything is upside down and backward.
Jeffries: It’s very fitting with the theme. We’re having a lot of fun with it. We had our first rehearsals in early August, and it’s been really fun. As far as the cast goes, we’ve got some members of the Why Not? belly dance troupe, Delisa Myles of The Flying Nest, Michaela Carter, and so many more. There’ll be some spoken word and some readings as well.
All of this is based around your art, Slade. What inspired this particular body of work?
Graves: It was Michaela. So, it kind of began with the Michaela Carter Collection. She’s in the throws of writing another book. This one is about Surrealism and centers around Leonora Carrington and Max Ernst. I was privileged enough to be able to read one of the first draft versions, and it’s going to be amazing. There’s a chapter, “I am the Baby Jesus,” that kind
of plays on Max Ernst’s younger years, and there’s all this incredible, lush language and imagery and the environment where it takes place and it’s just so cool and surreal. Anyway, I read that, and I’d just gotten into working with spray paint in fine art. I’m self taught when it comes to that. And the first piece that came out of me was “I am the Baby Jesus.” I wasn’t consciously doing it, but it’s what came out. And, as Val mentioned, Michaela will be doing a reading. … The entire cast is female. This is a woman’s thing, though it won’t be exclusively women in the audience. We wanted to keep the cast all female. Well, Jonathan Best is part of it, too, but he’s the exception. [Editor’s note: Jonathan Best is an exception to a lot of things.] It’s about them being empowered and showcased around the art. The dances and writing are all inspired by the art.
Jeffries: The ideas is that the paintings are coming alive. They say a painting’s worth 1,000 words; well, we’re going to give you some of those words. I think the dancing, in particular, really shows the kinds of feelings Slade’s work brings up. There are about five paintings that people took inspiration from for the dancing. It’s great because it’s their interpretations, not Slade’s. It’s really fascinating how different people get different things from the work.
Graves: In terms of numbers, there’ll be about seven large pieces and, oh, I don’t know, let’s say 108 smaller ones.
Say someone’s reading this and curious about coming to the show. What would you tell them in advance?
Jeffries: I think the main thing for them is to embrace the strange, to really come with an open mind and not expect anything in particular, to participate and lose your mind for a little bit.
Slade, how does Surrealism fit into your art and life?
Graves: This year, inadvertently — I’d done it three times before I realized it — I started signing my pieces upside down. You know, the world is super surreal right now. We’re living in strange times and there’s a lot more stress and uncertainty than we’re used to. One of the impetuses for myself is to turn things around and take people out of their heads, give them a breath of fresh air. I think this show can do that. I think Surrealism can do that. Think about the era right after the second World War; things were wild and people didn’t know what the next day would bring. It’s kind of like that now.
Jeffries: Artists always depict the times
they’re in. Knowing the context is an important part of interacting with art.
Graves: You know, I’ve never felt like my art really did that. I’ve always felt like these are dire times and I should be painting dire times. But my art turns that upside down, and I show you an upside down, backward image. So, I guess it does that, too, in its own way.
Jeffries: There’s this fantastic optimism in your work.
Graves: I don’t think I do that conscientiously.
Jeffries: But it’s what happens. I feel so lost and upside down and don’t have a way of being, and I see your art, and it’s a way to turn that into an optimistic thing.
Graves: Well, thank you.
Jeffries: And the way you use words, beautiful words, in your pieces — I think a lot of people can relate to that.
Graves: I’ve always put words in. Sometimes I think, damn, I just want to explode with fists and arrows, but then I work in phrases like “look up.”
Jeffries: You know, I hadn’t seen any of the pieces for this show until Slade asked me to come on and she sent me all of the work. I was just blown away. I’m kind of an art snob and won’t work with anyone unless I’m really drawn to the work. I had such a deep connection to your work, Slade. Every single one of your pieces has a subtly to it that hits you. You could just glaze over and say, “oh, great composition, great color,” but it’s so easy to really dive into them and see what you’re trying to say. It’s eerie, and it’s backward, and it’s upside down.
As this show comes together, any parting thoughts?
Graves: I give Val so much credit for her professionalism and vigor and joy. I’ve never done anything like this, and it feels so good. … The best thing is that I’m able to share with everyone. I’m bringing in all these really talented people. I’ve done collaborations with seamstresses and woodworkers and metal workers before, but this time I’m bringing in my friends, my peeps, the people who’ve enriched my life. It’s exciting. It’s surreal.
Slade Grave’s art closing is after-hours, probably around 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 1, at the Raven Café, 142 N. Cortez St., 928-717-0009, RavenCafe.Com, $5 donation, bar operating, no food.
Markoff Chaney is an Earth-based whodunit pundit and (Fnord) Discordian Pope. He has lotsa bills and no sense. Contact him at NoisyNoiseIsNoisome@Gmail.Com.