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LA painter Alexandra Grant explores language and text in colorful and intriguing works. She says lyrics often make their way into her paintings and takes us into the studio with her in her Guest DJ set – from the track that cures her self doubt and makes her dance to a band that embodies artistic fusion by combining mariachi music with soul. Her exhibit “Bodies” is up at the Honor Fraser Gallery until October 23.
Here are a few examples of Alexandra Grant's paintings. For More visit http://www.honorfraser.com/?s=artists&aid=5&eid=34
Anthony Valadez: Hi I'm Anthony Valadez and I am here with LA based painter Alexandra Grant. She explores language and text in colorful and intriguing works that I've been shown at MOCA and multiple galleries in the United States and abroad. Today we will be playing excerpts of songs she selected that have inspired her over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Alexandra, how are you?
Alexandra Grant: I'm great.
Anthony Valadez: Great, what did you bring for us today?
Alexandra Grant: I'm going to start out with The Beatles.
Anthony Valadez: Okay, which song?
Alexandra Grant: "For No One"
I think it's one of the most beautiful, short, smart love songs -- absolutely sad and absolutely catchy. It has this soothing quality, maybe because I did listen to it again and again and again as a child. What's interesting to me is how a lyric from a song can work its way into your imagination and then never leave, like it's always part of you. So it's really amazing to me how language has that sticky, velcro quality that a lyric can turn itself into a painting, can become a sculpture, can become so many things.
Anthony Valadez: And do you ever see these lyrics in your work? Have you ever looked at one of your pieces and thought ‘wow, that is truly inspired by the Beatles "For No One"’.
AG: Absolutely, because I work with a writer or different writers and I have an original score or script but then I respond to it so often song lyrics make their way in or random thoughts. But music I play in the studio all the time so very often, yes, the lyrics make their way into the painting.
Song: The Beatles – For No One
AV: That was The Beatles with "For No One." What's next?
AG: The next song I chose is a band from the Bay Area called The Mumlers and it's a song called "Tangled Up With You." I love how you encounter music in the world - sometimes you hear it on the radio, sometimes someone gives you a CD or an MP3. But I actually met Will, the main singer of The Mumlers, walking down the street to a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. And he and I just started talking about collaboration and I told him about how I worked with writers in my paintings and, he, how he writes songs for his band.
And then I listened to the music and I just sort of fell in love with it because you wouldn't expect this big voice to come out of this handsome young man. But, what I also love is that I grew up in part of Mexico City and they have a huge horn section like a mariachi band and I grew up listening to a lot of mariachi music so it's this amazing fusion of this old, soulful voice and mariachi.
Song: The Mumlers - "Tangled Up With You"
AV: Part soul, part indie rock, part mariachi.
AV: And interestingly enough, you brought up that this band is from the Bay Area. I would have thought this was from L.A., it's got that L.A. feel all over the place.
AG: I absolutely agree. I think that's one of the reasons I really related to it. One of the amazing things about living in Los Angeles is that crazy hybridity of the music scene. I remember when I first moved here, almost ten years ago, that somebody told me that Depeche Mode launched in L.A. on KROQ and that their biggest fan base was the Latino population. And I just loved – like for me that sort of opened up this idea of how fusion works in this city about music. Like, who is fans of what - nothing is clear cut and everyone is borrowing and translating from different cultures and there's incredible openness.
AV: That was The Mumler's "Tangled Up With You" as selected by our guest DJ Alexandra Grant as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. So what's next?
AG: So, for the next song I had to choose something from Patti Smith's “Horses” and I chose the song "Kimberly." For me, Patti is this sort of extraordinary force of nature, that she had such a great sense of what her own skill set was and was absolutely passionate.
I mean, the way she used language and was just on a trip going forward through time. You know, it's not that she didn't care that she wasn't the best singer in the world or didn't have the best rhythm, but she just was so committed to the ideas she was saying. And she was this sort of amazing feminist - there was this lyric that says "I feel like some misplaced Joan of Arc" -- but she's not saying it out of anger, you know, you didn't have the sense that she hated a whole lot of people. And the other thing I loved about her is that she really was an artist, in collaboration with Mapplethorpe and really part of the scene.
Song: Patti Smith -- "Kimberly"
AV: That was Patti Smith with "Kimberly." What's next up?
AG: The next song is called "Love Lust" and it's by a British band called King Charles. I'm a big sucker for romantic pop songs, and this one really just keeps getting me, in part because it's really a hybrid song - there's rocking part and sort of a synth disco part - but it's also incredibly tender.
Song: King Charles - "Love Lust"
AG: It's just all the visual games of language. When he's talking about, like, instead of having a guitar in my hand or a gun in my hand, I'd rather have your hand in my hand…I mean, I can imagine mapping that in a painting, it's just so beautiful. They also are able to do the same thing musically, all this sort of pastiche of different styles but it all comes together in this neat pop song. And for me, you know, I think people… I'm maybe not-so-secretly a big pop fan, but the pop song format is actually the perfect little gem place to experiment with language and form.
AV: That was King Charles with "Love Lust." Great song. What's next for us?
AG: What is next is "What's Up Fatlip." We have to have one song on the list that I will admit to dancing to in the studio. So-- I don't know, Fatlip for me is one of the underrated but great rappers. This song is so brilliant because it's all about an artist's insecurity and self-doubt and then if you go and look at the video online, he's just a true Angeleno, you know? It's absolutely hilarious.
Song: "What's Up Fatlip" -- Fatlip
AG: The video is great -- it has Fatlip in different scenarios all over L.A. and one of the great scenes is him dressed up as a clown, another is doing this sort of like, hippie-skippy dance. Like, he's just very charismatic and embodies all the sort of self-effacing and doubt that’s in the lyrics. He talks about success and people are all up in your face, like they were with you from the beginning and it's just so brilliant. And then, what happens after the success goes away is that you're sitting on the side of the street and getting chased by a Chihuahua and it couldn't be any more Los Angeles.
AV: One of the interesting elements of this song, as you mentioned: the artist's insecurity….
AG: Mmm hmm.
AV: Do you ever face any of this, because you are a very successful artist. Do you ever think about what Fatlip's talking about? Will this happen to me? Does this give you any doubt or are you Patti Smith?
AG: Oh, absolutely -- absolutely not, I don't relate to this song at all.
No, of course I do! You know, it's so wonderful -- that's why I love the song because mid-studio, you're sort of looking around and thinking, "Who made all this stuff? What am I doing?"
Any time I feel that way I put this song on and he's making fun of his own self-pity and being such a goofball. It really is sort of the song that cures any self doubt.
AV: That was Fatlip with "What's Up Fatlip?" as selected by Alexandra Grant as part of our KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Thank you so much for coming here and joining us at kcrw.com.
AG: Oh my goodness, it was my great pleasure. I'm a huge fan.
AV: For a complete track listing and to find out these songs online, go to kcrw.com/guestdjproject