Ai Weiwei Breaks Into Alcatraz


(Pic #1) Flying hand-painted silk sculpture by Ai Weiwei, installed where prisoners on “good behavior” found opportunity to work on Alcatraz.

The world famous Chinese artist-activist never set foot on the island, but his work now fills its storied halls.


(Pic #2) Jail cell, bottom row.

Conceptual artist Ai Weiwei knows a little something about incarceration. In 2011, he was secretly detained “like a kidnapping” he said, when government agents intercepted him at the airport on his way to Hong Kong from Beijing. He recalls their pulling a black sheath over his head and shoving him into a car. He was ultimately released a few months later, but minus his passport.

Well, geography has not silenced Ai’s voice from being heard 6000 miles away. In fact, it could be argued that his message (exploring freedom of expression, confinement, and what it means to be a modern day political prisoner who fears his cause may have been forgotten) appears to be reaching record numbers of people. The exhibit, “@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz” has seen more than half a million visitors to date. Fans and tourists alike are making the trek hourly to “The Rock” on SRO shuttle boats.

Ai Weiwei has covered an entire work room floor with portraits of famous and not-so-famous dissidents from dozens of countries. (Pics #8 , #9, #10, #11). All made from Lego blocks, assembled by hundreds of volunteers.

You’ll need a full day to cover the entire show – allowing time to sit in a jail cell where chilling classical music is piped in, courtesy the artist.  (Pic #14). One such composition was written by Czech composer Pavel Haas, who was sent to a concentration camp in 1941; in 1944 he was transported to Auschwitz and killed. While he was imprisoned he wrote at least eight compositions, including the piece for string orchestra (now playing in Cell Block B.)  First performed by prisoners in Terezín, it is probably Haas’s best-known work today. Link to Audio here.


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(Pic #12) Alcatraz hospital room where artist Ai Weiwei has filled sinks and commodes with miniature white porcelain flowers.


(Pic #13) Alcatraz infirmary



(Pic #14) A moment to listen and reflect, as Ai Weiwei creates cell block listening rooms.



(Pic #15) Massive winged metal sculpture by Ai Weiwei in Alcatraz basement.


(Pic #16) Alcatraz building facade at port.


(Pic #17) Iconic prison staircase at port.




Brace Yourself: The Love Affair Between Art and Tech

It’s an advertisement hawking Adobe software products. It’s exciting and scary at the same time: I know that it’s a futuristic vision of graphic applications, but I also know in about 18 months just might be considered “old school.”

Still, there is a surprising intuitiveness in these design elements: basically no lag time between the artist’s thought and the action on screen. It’s almost like finger-painting in kindergarten. What we slop is what we get.

The exciting truth to emerge out of this partnership is: Artists – known for thinking in radically different ways – are now helping shape advances in technology, and it appears Adobe is responding to their needs. Because of this symbiotic collaboration, head-exploding innovation is practically guaranteed. And perhaps most important: better tech serves our creative spirit.

Related link: Creative pros like Macs, but Adobe cozies up with Microsoft 

New Year’s Revelation: Artists Make The Rules


(Pic #1) My new 4-year-old muse for 2015. Painting at our Hope’s Nest Christmas Art Workshop at Algin Sutton Recreation Center, South Central Los Angeles.

“Yes, Reindeer Can Be Red.”

This coming year, I am resolving to find fearlessness. The kind of fearlessness that showed up last week in the most unexpected place: at our annual Christmas Art Workshop in the heart of L.A.’s inner-city. 200 young artists with about 199 wildly different approaches to the art projects presented to them. (Pic #2).

The highlight for me came in the form of a question. A young man I had never met before began to tug on my shirt asking, “Miss, can you please tell me what color the antlers are on Santa’s reindeer?” I gulped. The former news reporter in me wanted to answer with scientific research (or course they are light brown, or beige, much like their coats of fur) — while the artist in me wanted to say, “You are the artist. You get to paint them any color you want.” Thank God I was able to let the artist out.

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(Pic #2) Young artist models her “all buttoned up” Christmas stocking.

I began to see that almost every child had “invented” his or her own color scheme, and that I might have been the only one tempted to search a National Geographic documentary for the “right” answer. The boy who asked me began to paint his antlers bright orange, and I nearly cried.

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(Pic #3) Pollock “splatter” painting technique

The girl next to him chose baby blue, and her sister went with black. I couldn’t have been happier. One girl actually covered over all of her back-and-white lines to create an abstract cloud of sparkly bliss. (Pic #4) Another painted a free-form, textured Jackson Pollock. (Pic #3) Color me ecstatic.

I need to remember there are no rules in art — and if only for a second we think there are — we have lost touch with those critical creative qualities we are born with: an innate sense of exploration, experimentation, freshness, and whimsy. These are the touchstones of great art – and I thank God I get to witness them in their full glory every year. Whenever I am short on inspiration, I will remember the reindeer.

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(Pic #4) Left: Two artists collaborate.  Right: Close-up: Sparkly abstraction