Monday, May 30, 2016

"Donuts/Doughnuts! Croissants! And Fruits!" Oh My Party

The scene of our special party held Friday on the 11th floor of PAFA's Hamilton Building. Doughnuts from Federal and vegan treasures from Dottie's Donuts and The Tasty, and fresh strawberries and juicy red grapes.
There's no better excuse to have sweets and treats affair like a kind going away get together. Amazing PAFA artists-- some who are staying in Philadelphia whereas others will move away-- built a solid community together. To commemorate our experiences, this irresistible menu included sugary fried goods and plentiful fruits.
We discussed PAFA, future plans after PAFA, veganism/vegetarianism and other random topics.
Still, sadly and with bittersweet feeling comes the final week of the 115th Annual Student Exhibition, the last week to sharing wall space together.
This is not simply an effort to have people run down to PAFA to see paintings, drawings, sculpture, printmaking, installation, and everything else. This is a request for an audience to see major pieces of beautiful, hard working tenacity from friends and colleagues that have earned great respect and admiration.
Here are the selected ASE highlights and below are treasures from the party.

The Tasty is Philadelphia's brand spanking new vegan diner that just opened. I have yet to try the breakfast and lunch platters, but their gorgeous vegan croissants were posted on their Facebook and Instagram pages, enticing my French fused craving. Flavors are chocolate and almond. Several friends preferred the almond over the chocolate. The chocolate is thick and clotted, very sweet. I could, however, understand the penchant for almond.....
Dottie's Donuts' flavors included Apple Cider with Maple Scone Crumble, Apple Fritter, Chocolate Cookie Crumble, Vanilla Coconut, Elderberry, and Vanilla Glazed. They were definitely surprised that these babies are dairy and egg free.
Fellow MFA peers Seth, Kate, and Tovah.
The last almond croissant.
Crisp, lightly flaked, semi-sweet and golden on the outside, a slight salty nutty flavor on the inside-- a winning combination!
Showing it off-- deliciously scrumptious from start to finish.
Group shot: Megan (Certificate) with us-- Seth, Kate, Tovah, and me. Plus the treats! Thanks Justine (BFA/Certificate certified) for the picture. A very huge congratulations to all of the graduates. I will miss them all.

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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Amping Up Tofurkey's Spinach Pesto Sausage

It's hot outside and everyone knows what that means-- family/friend barbecues and cook out celebrations!
Humid packing inflamed sun is blazing like a disco ball, having been housed behind puffed gray clouds of seemingly infinite rain. Spring looks to have been skipped and temperatures are already rising to summery proportion. 
Now before enjoying ice cream cones and iced coffee dessert drinks, I must suggest incredible Tofurky Artisan Sausages as the condiment sopping bun stuffer. Whole Foods Market is having a little sale on the vegan grill out fixes. I hadn't tried out any flavor beyond Tofurky's Italian Sausage.
Alongside temptation of testing out something new, saving a bit of dough is always attractive. Plus eye snatching, retro colored package labels proved to be quite seductive.  
Pan seared with olive oil, sides of Spinach Pesto Sausage is receptible to efficient browning, that nice caramel hued char. Compared to the Italian Sausage version, Spinach Pesto has a more refined bite, a less sweet noted consistency. Both have believable texture leaving one wanting another. Juicy, plump sausages are also wonderful when spotlighted with other tasty vegan favorites.

Dressed up with fried mushrooms and onions, and melted Field Roast Chao Cheese on a Pretzilla Sausage Bun, cherry tomatoes and sliver of basil on the side, pan seared Spinach Pesto Sausage felt right at delicious home.
Mouthwatering food art.
Kevita Master Brew Tart Cherry Kombucha balanced the meal-- a more grown up sophisticated palette than the hot dogs and soda of yesterday.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Brunch-y Visit to Miss Rachel's Pantry

With my "Happy Graduation" gift card, I took last Sunday day off and strolled towards Chadwick Street, excited to finally try Miss Rachel's Pantry. A popular booth at Philly Vegfest, Miss Rachel always sold out of goods quickly. The first year, in her crowd pleasing demo, she concocted an impressive looking filet from pan searing seedless watermelon.

 The interior has a rustic flair-- a vintage meets modest pin up girl decor and home sweet home charm. Plus the flavorful aromas from the nearby kitchen were most welcoming, a delight to nostrils and hungry appetite.
Miss Rachel's menu selection was infinite. There were knishes, jarred cheeses, cheese wedges, unique sandwiches, potato soup, mouthwatering desserts, and other yummy veganized items. The grilled cheese definitely sounds like a winner around here. Plus the behind-the-counter lady was pleasantly affable. She couldn't grant a true recommendation-- for everything was divine and worth tasting!
 I ordered two broccoli and cheddar filled danishes and orange juice and indulged on the delicious meal right on the clean farmhouse table, centering the cozy environment of the restaurant.
Crisp, flaky exterior (mimicking that buttery crisp so well) with a savory, creamy interior of familiar favorites was a perfect balanced heaven. Two delightful danishes were simply not enough, teasing in all actuality, but one had to leave room for gargantuan dessert.
A large whipped chocolate on chocolate cake slice was an unexpected pleasure for brunch hour.
Fancy side view. I wound up eating half of this cake on the spot. The moist texture packed in incredible richness was truly worth the slow, methodical devouring. It was so romantic that my heart skipped beats in the midst of enjoyment. I don't get to eat chocolate cake often and this terrific slab of goodness treated me just right.
I took pecan topped sticky buns to go in this beautiful warm pink box. Along the way home, reminiscing on the meal,  I couldn't wait to come back. There is an irresistible quality to the homey, comforting place that Miss Rachel provides. The food is amazing, affordable, and easily addictive. I can't wait to be back and bring friends along the return.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Going Through The Motions

With two oil stick drawings and three oil paintings created with the Fine Arts Venture Fund grant and a painting started last summer-- these six pieces were my contribution to the 115th Annual Student Exhibition at PAFA.
Two years ago, when I prepared for graduating from the post baccalaureate program-- dearest to heart more so than most educational pursuits-- Close Friend admitted that she wouldn't come, that the MFA program was “The Big One.” Lo and behold, weeks before “The Big One” arrived, she wouldn't make that either. I understood the why. Her wording of my life's events, however, delivered an internal degree of pain that gradually grew to tumorous capacity.
Both programs contained eventful amazement, a strand of wonderful gifts that not one could do alone. Although I honestly could have ended educational institutionalized relationship straight after post baccalaureate, there was something quite necessary about the graduate program. I certainly wouldn't have grown artistically closer to Titus Kaphar who told me to keep making paintings or taken profound direction from dynamic studio visits with Abigail DeVille, Jennifer Packer, and Ellen Altfest. I would have missed insight from David Dempewolf (and Yuka!), Kate Moran, and Scott Noel. And of course, further communication with the post baccalaureate crew, my surrogate family of Mark Blavat, Neysa Grassi, Jan Baltzell, and Michael Moore.
Still, many events transpired before "The Big One," others having little to do with Close Friend. Deborah, a kind, thoughtful woman, so strong and beautiful, was stolen by cancer. She, a mother to another comrade J, gave robust hugs, said "hi" to me during Skype calls to J, and often cared about my well being. She gave me a place to stay and a listening ear when I didn't have one. Deb and J had came to undergrad graduation. They stood at the top of the concrete stairs, right in the way of our class procession march. I hadn't minded the gleeful sight of them. I remember the joyous feeling, the happiness of seeing loved ones being present in an occasion that had been filled with strife and turmoil. My mom had came, Uncle Tyrone and Aunt Renita, Deborah and J, and other cherished Ohio pals. The moment was pure bliss.
On post baccalaureate graduation day, there was no such crowd for me. That I complied. My new friends had been enough. And I wished that for last Friday that had been enough, that I remembered that that was enough. 
Hope had sprung many, many blossoms. That hope burst into smithereens all at once.
On "The Big One" Eve, having gotten through prior days of tough juried final reviews, I attended the ASE Preview Party with sadness rampantly spreading through limbs, its needle prickling disease threatening to break through a happiness facade one timid poke at a time. 
Another night of no sleep arrived. No real sleep. I stared out at blankness, white sockets reddened and possibly enlarged.
On the day of “The Big One," I sat still, frigid and tired, lacking sleepiness. I was wide eyed and vacant, lax and unsteady. Eleven A.M. dragged on, creeping like a crooked thief wanting to steal the tears falling slowly down fat cheekbones. Two more hours passed. My body was a statue, mute and suffering, coaxed chivalry dying inside. There could be no false smiles crafted together when fatigued muscles lacked the courage, the strength. I wasn't an actress after all.
The new black and white dress waited. Fresh laundered tights wanted my feet to slip in them.
I could not move. I could not go to the shower. I could not wash the ocean from my face.
At 2:15 PM, the time to walk, I imagined the two G's sandwiched between-- Robyn and Dee waiting for the absentee me to separate them. I envisioned classmates gracing up the grand Historic Landmark Building staircase and posing for photographs right after the post baccalaureates were finished.

Coveted Masters of Fine Arts degree, a beautiful piece of notarized paper written with fancy Gothic script and an attached gold leaf seal, cannot possibly describe two wonderful filled years spent with esteemed faculty and treasured friends.
There is no place like PAFA. It's a remarkable historical place to graduate from. Among the brick and mortar stature, inside this special second home, are gentle, caring people who have shaped and watered seeds to my artistic and mental growth.
I heard that Melvin Edwards gave a moving commencement and that my hero Njideka Akunyili Crosby spoke beautiful reminiscence. I emailed her last week and hold onto her (surprising) reply's final sentence with inhaled breath:

I hope you are feeling better, and that our paths cross in the future.

Newly appointed graduate chair Didier William attended the ASE's public opening as well as local artists Danny Simmons, James Dupree, and the Tiberino brothers-- Raphael and Gabe.
I missed my favorite faculty and my best friends the most.

The work.
Thus, I conclude on a huge, resounding 'thank you' to friends reaching out to release me from the imprisoning clutches of isolated depression and pain etched grief. First to my best friend Asia, then my mom, the four post baccalaureate faculty- Mark, Neysa, Jan, and Michael, and my beloved co-workers-- Olu, Ebony, Ben, Megan, and Sonia for being wonderful people to hold onto. Plus Tovah, Lydia, Jonathan-- I love you guys so much. Peter Medwick and Greg Martino have also given rare generosity that will always be memorable.
My Philly family (with Ohio affection in between) is a great epic bunch of warm-hearted spirits.
I couldn't ask for anything else.

Sweet celebratory cards from my Ohioan bff, Asia-- writer/essayist/poet of the blog Inside My Creative Mind.
Surprise "happy graduation" dinner with PAFA co-workers Olu, Ben, Shareen (not a co-worker but very sweet gal and Ben's girlfriend), Megan, Sonia, and Ebony.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Colossal Impact of Norman Lewis

All good things must come to end.
With the 115th Annual Student Exhibition underway and students all installed now, one cannot help remember previous huge event that ended four weeks ago. Procession, the great Norman Lewis retrospective, began last November. Paintings, drawings, and lithographs elevated spaces in the Fisher Brooks (Hamilton) and Works on Paper (Historic Landmark Building) galleries. On its final bow, phenomenal art pieces closed with a long, flourishing stream of awestruck viewership, now touring onward in Texas and Chicago.
The press had been phenomenal.
New York Times featured three articles on including Black Artists and the March into the Museum and Four Rewarding Shows in Philadelphia. CBS Sunday News aired a segment with curator Ruth Fine.
Norman Lewis was not a man listed in art history textbooks. He wasn't mentioned one lick.
PAFA gave him a much lauded due.

Untitled Self Portrait, 1940s.
This momentous occasion meant the world to a PAFA student-- an African American, abstract loving PAFA student that is. Oh how remarkable the experience of coming down in between classes, spending time in Norman Lewis, astounded by intimate evidences of his existence-- private books, published articles, and letters, some containing PAFA affiliation.
Procession was divided into six sections: In the City: Life/Looking at Art, Ritual, Visual Sound, Rhythm of Nature, Civil Rights, and Summation. Different pastel hued walls indicated their division, in turn showcasing Lewis's breadth of experimentation going beyond traditional practice.

Top: Boule Mask, pastel on sandpaper, 1935. Ivory Coast Boule Mask, pastel on paper, 1935.
Bottom: Don Mask, pastel on sandpaper, 1935. Bobin (bobbin) Loom, Boule, pastel on paper, 1935.
Four pastel drawings showcase depth of African mask influence. Elongated faces, distinctive narrow versus thick features caught in a glint of light. Beautiful body of work cements the African diaspora foundation, the quenching desires to discover uniqueness about the continent and its inspiring, albeit distinctive art aesthetic.

Girl with Yellow Hat, oil on burlap, 1936.
Figurative paintings unveil early interest that one couldn't dismiss as passing fancy. Elements remain evident in later nonrepresentational abstraction.
Two Women Reading discusses literacy. Reading is one of the most powerful tools one can have-- it's elemental and can give anyone the potential to rise above. Language opens doors. In Lewis's rather evocative painting, the brown skinned woman's body is close, her head lowered, focused into the book whereas the red suited lady points at a word, likely instructing pronunciation.

Two Women Reading, oil on canvas, 1940.
Some of Lewis's personal objects-- flyers and letters from renowned Chelsea galleries.
Title Unknown (Jazz Club), oil and sand on canvas, 1945.
Roller Coaster, opaque watercolor, ink, and crayon on board, 1946.
Title Unknown, oil on canvas, 1947.
Five Phases, oil on canvas, 1949.
Too Much Aspiration, opaque watercolor, ink, and graphite on paper, 1947.
Cantata, oil on canvas, 1948 (Dayton Art Institute museum purchase).
Unknown Title, oil and metallic on canvas, 1953.
Winter Branches #5, ink on paper, 1954.
close up one.
close up two.
Masquerade, oil on canvas, 1967.
Carnivale II, oil on canvas, 1962.
Personal objects. Throughout the exhibit, books, brochures, sketchbooks, letters, and postcards were protected in display cases.
Lewis discussing the plight of being an abstract artist at a time where black artists weren't seen as such.
The prominent Civil Rights era impacted much of Lewis's oeuvre.
Turbulent, harsh times caused rift in Lewis's artistic career, the racial barriers not allowing him a true descent into deserved praise and acclaim. Intrigued gallery patrons would be thrilled by the paintings, but when discovering that a black artist's paintbrush defined mystic shapes and sophisticated design, they often turned away disgusted, repulsed, seemingly hoodwinked by their own individual tastes. This was heartbreaking for Lewis to witness. Nonetheless, he continued painting, a triumph in the world threatening to discourage and disillusion him.

Title Unknown (March on Washington), oil on fiberboard, 1965.
Alabama, oil on canvas, 1960.
Untitled (Ku Klux Klan), oil on canvas, 1960.
The Banjo Lesson, oil on canvas, Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1893.
The strong, powerfully symbolic Untitled (Ku Klux Klan) has a slight uncanny resemblance to Henry Ossawa Tanner's "The Banjo Lesson." Seventy-years separates their respective completions. Yet these compositions have subtle undertones of African American history implanted in their visual renderings that opens room for interpretative dialogue. With Tanner, lies an interest in the banjo, an instrument brought on slave boats, carrying its iconographic homage through the worst times ever conceptualized. In the midst of humble surroundings, the elder teaches the younger an important specificity. The much later painting by Lewis, has similar subdued color palette, warm earth tones abstractly manipulating figurative elements. The Ku Klux Klan, formulated after the concession of Civil War and American slavery's eventual abolishment, made up primarily of hate filled white supremacists who could never see African Americans as equal, as human. To this day, their violent rampages still wage onward and no true end in sight. This painting has a haunting missive. Softened edges dissolve into absent whiteness, begging closer inspection. Repetitive shapes bring forth a sense of unease and terror, a foggy memory longing to be forgotten.

Seachange, oil on canvas, 1975.
Norman Lewis was an invigorating, well received treat for PAFA, its students, and the community. He brought forth necessary education, a resourceful impact rising well above everyone's expectation of true artistic genius. Memorable exhibit stays inside mind, encouraging and significant, in allegorical line formations and cataclysmic bright colors and a prose like language, and solemnly requests an honored allegiance.
And I, the viewer, an up-and-coming artist, art lover, and writer, comply to Lewis and the others before and after him.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Jackfruit & Avocado Wraps

Something new that's up to stuff.
Trying out new foods is often an interesting adventure. Skepticism comes and goes, but the testing out of something one has never tried and/or have yet to prepare is cause for tricky concern. On one hand, it might be the nastiest food known to taste buds or cooked horrifically wrong repeatedly. This can then have the food crossed off and banned forever. I have had these experiences throughout this vegan venture. For a while, I hated eggplant. Until I realized that removing the bitterness helps out a lot! I first tried jackfruit last spring and enjoyed the flavor immensely.
However, I feared opening up the gourd and making it myself.
Thankfully Upton's Natural's has now released their brand new Jackfruit varieties-- Chili Lime Carnitas and Bar-B-Que. They pack a solid flavorful punch. Sweet, tangy elements meet wonderful notes of smoky spice in a head on collision that is utterly delicious. The chewy texture, like pulled pork sans the tough annoying bits/hazards, has a meaty reminiscence that is most welcoming, especially given that jackfruit is related to figs and mulberries.
Full bearded mascot.
This wrap is a simple no hassle recipe. The avocado (perfectly ripened by the way) gave a nice, rich balance to the savory juiciness of the warmed jackfruit. 

Ingredients and Preparation

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup chopped red onion
Upton Natural's Jackfruit
vegan cheese (used Field Roast Coconut Herb Chao)
1 avocado

Saute jackfruit and red onions together in a hot, nonstick skillet.
Pour into tortilla centers. Layer with cheese and avocado.

Other stuffing suggestions are mushrooms, jalapenos, spinach.... possibilities are endless!
Juicy closeup.