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Like what you see? Become an Arts Voyager Sponsor for as little as $9.99/month. Your sponsor notice appears on our Home page and links to your own website.  Or contribute what you like. Just designate your PayPal payment to paulbenitzak[at]gmail[dot]com . Or contact us as the same e-mail address to find out more about sponsorship opportunities and other methods of payment in $ or Euros.  Merci!

Cowtown (Jazz and) Blues: In Texas, Robert Berry Persists in Painting Music


Robert Berry, “Soul  of Jazz and Blues.” Acrylic and cerne relief outliner on canvas. 24 x 48 inches. Price: $750. Artist comment: “Created in 1999 on Gallery Wrap Canvas. Jazzed up in 2016.”  Image copyright and courtesy Robert Berry.

FORT WORTH, Texas — While picking yellow as the background for a painting may be an unusually bold choice, it’s an appropriate one for a visual artist whose subject is a musical art which is also constantly re-creating its own distinct environment: Jazz. But what makes Robert L. Berry and his JazzXpressionStudio unique in the landscape of local artists in this city whose promoters somewhat ambitiously refer to it as the capital of “Cowboys and Culture” is that his boldness is not confined to artistic choices, but extends to the business of art. After eight years of participating as a showcased artist in Arts Goggle, the business association Fort Worth South’s twice-yearly art crawl, Berry decided to up the ante in 2012 and rent a street-level boutique space in a mid-sized office building on the district’s marquee avenue, W. Magnolia, so that he could display and sell his work in the neighborhood year-round. On paper, it was a good idea. With its craftsmen homes quickly being bought up and gentrified, the Fairmount neighborhood anchored by Magnolia held the promise of being the nearest thing to a Bobo (Bourgeoisie Bohemian) wonderland in Texas this side of Austin. If Berry finally had to close up his boutique — he now opens his studio by appointment to those interested in his art and also sells directly from his online gallery — it was because the neighborhood was ultimately more bourgeoisie than Bohemian, its denizens not so interested in actually buying art. And Fort Worth’s haphazard public transportation system — the city council actually gave back $25 million in federal aid it had received for light-rail transport that would have made it easier to get to the cultural district and other outlying districts because its main business patron was worried it would draw tourists away from downtown — worked against making Fairmount and Magnolia a destination for outsiders.

But like any inspired artist, Robert Berry persists in creating despite the unencouraging local ambiance. (If Fort Worth may have recently been declared the fastest-growing city in the U.S., the city’s cultural budget continued to go downhill.) And ‘persists’ is the operative word: It’s one thing to create art in Paris or New York, where there’s no shortage of art fans and colleagues to train with, not to mention a real infrastructure of galleries and museums; it’s another thing to *continue* in a town which puts more value on dimestore cowboys than platinum artists. So we thought we’d check in with Robert Berry and share some of his work, classic and recent. You can see — and order — more on his website. — Paul Ben-Itzak (Originally published in 2012.)


Robert Berry, “Ghosts of Jazz.” Acrylic and cerne relief outliner on canvas. 24 x 24  inches. Price: $550.  (Custom black frame included.) Image copyright and courtesy Robert Berry.


Robert Berry, “Golden Jazz Trio.” Acrylic and cerne relief outliner on canvas. 20 x 20  inches. Price: $350.   Image copyright and courtesy Robert Berry.


Robert Berry, “Coffee Jazz Break.” Acrylic and cerne relief outliner on fabric. 30 x 40 inches. Price: $1,000.  (Custom frame included.) Image copyright and courtesy Robert Berry.



Robert Berry, “Jazzy Pianoxpression.” Acrylic and cerne relief outliner on canvas. 15 x 30 inches. Price: $450.  Artist comment: “Traditional canvas. Painted on all sides. No frame necessary.”  Image copyright and courtesy Robert Berry.


Robert Berry, “Jazzy Drumbeat.” Acrylic and cerne relief outliner on gallery canvas. 30 x 30 inches. Price: $500.   Image copyright and courtesy Robert Berry.


Robert Berry, “Jazz Blvd 2006.” Acrylic and cerne relief outliner on canvas. 20 x 24 inches. Not for sale.   Image copyright and courtesy Robert Berry.


Robert Berry, “Martini Monday.” Acrylic and cerne relief outliner on canvas. 24 x 30 inches. Price: $550.   Image copyright and courtesy Robert Berry.


Robert Berry, “Line Composition Connection.” Acrylic on canvas panel. 8 x 10  inches. Price: $80.  If Robert Berry has recently branched out from all that jazz, his work still retains the experimental essence of the musical form.  Image copyright and courtesy Robert Berry.





The chouetitude of Desuetitude: Lost in time in the Plains of the Pré Saint-Gervais

gervaisclairesantotTaken with a Holga box camera and shared at the recent Portes Ouvertes of the Pré Saint-Gervais on the frontiere of Paris, Claire Santrot’s photograph, above, recalls the portraits of Roman Vishniac and Andre Kertesz. Courtesy and copyright Claire Santrot.

LE PRE SAINT-GERVAIS (Seine-St.-Denis), France — When I was 12 or 13, my parents split up and my two younger brothers and I started spending half the week in my dad’s architecture studio in San Francisco’s Mission District, a converted candy store – soda fountain – pharmacy. Autrement dit, un loft avant son temps. We were always finding turn of the 19th-20th century victual bottles in the overgrown garden. The place, on Guerrero Street — next door to the childhood home of Timothy Pflueger, a pioneering architect who designed many of the city’s art deco movie palaces and downtown landmarks — had a corrugated tin ceiling that my father painted pea green. He divided the house with a wall on the other side of which my brothers and I initially shared a tiny loft, before that part of the house was divided into three bedrooms. It was about this time that I started getting nostalgic — for the jazz and cinema of the 1930s and ’40s, with my step-mother turning me on to KMPX, a former hippy radio station that had converted to big band music. Later, when I was living in the back part of the building as an adult with my dad using the front for a studio, my neighbor, a New Yorker named Sy who drove a taxi for a living but had also DJ’d and whose one-eyed albino cat Bowie used to scramble with my part-husky feline Mesha, showed me the stash of a dozen old radio consoles the electronics guy on the street had bequeathed to him before walking off into the Sunset (district, perpetually shrouded in fog). The jewel of the collection was a compact system which had both a built in tape-deck and a turntable that could play 78s, which Sy leant me so I could record my godmother Annette’s old Andrews Sisters, Mickey Katz, Jascha Heifitz, and even one mammoth Caruso disk from 1906 (“La Juife”). Up until last Sunday, Sy’s collection comprised the most antique radios I’d ever seen in one place.


Jean-Marc Franchini’s acrylic and silk paper portrait of Woodie Guthrie. A legal suit was recently brought in the United States to wrest Guthrie’s unofficial National Anthem, “This Land is Your Land,” from the corporation which currently owns the rights and release it to the public domain.  Copyright and courtesy Jean-Marc Franchini.

Thus it was that entering Jean-Marc Franchini’s studio-atelier-flat-museum-discotheque on June 19, to kick off my second day making the tour of the Portes Ouvertes (open studios) of the Paris frontier town Le Pré Saint-Gervais, I found myself stepping into a double time warp, back in Sy’s Guerrero Street apartment in the 1990s and in the home/studio of an avid music fanatic of the early 1960s. Even Franchini’s lanky size and close-cropped ‘do with an Alfalfa wave on top is consistent with the decor: He could be the gas station attendant behind the guitar player somewhere on Route 66 behind whom hides a green Elvis (“Because he’s dead,” explains Franchini) in one of his paintings. Then there’s the half-circle independent bar-counter island, the sofa and matching (or close enough) lounge chairs with independent cushions, and the groovy shellack coffee table. About the only thing that’s (relatively) modern is the stereo complex above six or seven shelves of densely packed records, the more vintage radios and record-players-in-a-valise that line the elevated salon being a mix of the functional and the simply decorous. “I just haven’t yet figured out how to connect the two record players to the receiver,” Franchini explained. If he can’t get any of the record players to work, the many blues and big band figures peopling his tableaux — some created with China Ink, some simply oils, the most remarkable and tactile being those made of a combination of silk paper and acrylic — might just  step out of the frames and start jamming. As is often the case in France, Franchini’s heard of ’50s era American musicians obscure to me (Skip James), but even his portrayals of more familiar figures — Billie Holiday, surrounded by her band in an intimate club setting, or Woody Guthrie with a guitar on which he’s written “This guitar kills fascists” — manage for the most part to avoid the clichés.


The bluesman Lonnie Johnson, and friend, captured by Jean-Marc Franchini in acrylic and silk paper.  Copyright and courtesy Jean-Marc Franchini.


Jean-Marc Franchini’s China ink portrait of Billie Holiday and friends.  Copyright and courtesy Jean-Marc Franchini.

It’s not just the interior design of Franchini’s apartment-studio that is one of the most period-consistent settings I’ve ever seen. (And having spent three years living in Fort Worth, Texas, I know something about desuetitude.) Saint-Gervais itself could have been transported in a time capsule directly from the late 1950s or early 1960s. Thus it is that even stepping out of Franchini’s apartment building, onto a somewhat dilapidated street with low-story dwellings and an abandoned lot overgrown with weeds across the way, rather than being jerked back to the present, you simply continue your stroll expecting to find more of the same….as did I, Sunday, in the “Atelier Monsieur Madame.” (Madame has so far resisted my requests to provide the full names of herself and the brother with whom she started the business several years ago, after taking a formation as a cabinet-maker, a not so dramatic shift from her ophthalmologist career as you might think, given the eye for detail of “Veronique,” the most I could extract from her. To the familial enterprise “Monsieur” brought many years of scouring the antique markets and “vide greniers” (like neighborhood-wide garage sales; vide = empty, greniers = attics) for beat up relics of the 1940s through ’70s. (The same terrain where Franchini finds his furnishings; if they ever need touching up, help is right around the corner.) From restorations, the pair has moved on to actually recreating period furniture from scrap. Among the technical challenges they face is finding… formica. French formica is apparently not as sturdy as its American counter-part, and, “Madame” told me, the best way to fix up the tarnished surface of an armoire door, for example, is often by cannibalizing the material from somewhere else in the same armoire.


Old made new again: Outside the Atelier Monsieur Madame. The furniture, like the garden/yard, is authentic, refurbished from the 1940s through ’70s  or (front left) created from scratch in the same style. Image copyright and courtesy Atelier Monsieur Madame.

Right now, it seems like the next step for Madame et Monsieur may be making the backyard presence of their workshop more apparent from the front entrance of the apartment building in which its located. And to further demonstrate how ideally suited Le Pré Saint-Gervais is to retro environments and retro-retouching, when I entered the yard onto which their atelier opens up and pointed to a couple of lawn-chair and table relics, and even a rocking-horse grazing and asked, “Your work?” Madame smiled faintly at my attempted cleverness and answered. “Nope. The neighbor’s furniture.”

At this point, I decided it was time to move from the obsolete (the closest English translation to ‘desuet,’ though I’ve also seen “quaint”) to the obscure and hied over to the atelier of Monique Mathey, who had constructed a camera obscura d’occasion using only a cardboard box, a hole puncher, and a piece of aluminum. After marvelling over the work of Claire Santrot in the same atelier, particularly a series on hands covering one wall and a number of photos taken with the Holga box camera made popular by the lomography movement, I wandered over to the territory of the obscura.

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A critique with a 360-degree pinhole view of reality: Your not so humble servant, captured by Antonia Machayekhi. (As headware, Monsieur sports the latest in homemade cameras obscuras.) Photo copyright and courtesy Antonia Machayekhi. (Click here to see Machayekhi’s portraits of Cabu and others; and here for her reportage on the harpsichord maker Claude Mercier.

After about my fifth time asking Mathey to explain how her homemade camera obscura worked, she suggested, “Try it out for yourself,” and plopped the box over my head, leaving me barely enough time to remove my urban cowboy’s Stetson. Et voila le tenue qu’il faut pour un critique qui voir que l’obscure. — Paul Ben-Itzak

For more on the Portes Ouvertes of the Pré Saint-Gervais, see our Arts Voyager portfolio of Valeria Aussibal.