Housed in a comic store, NerdMelt hosts nightly experimental comedy shows, writing workshops, comic book Q&As and the occasional video game competition. But the staff won’t kick you out if you don’t like Star Wars. One of the reasons NerdMelt has a swelling band of followers is the inclusive nature of the community. At one recent MeltDown show, hosted by the irreverent boozers Jonah Ray and Kumail Nanjiani, an audience member volunteered a story about how he went to a theme park with his friends and they deserted him at the park. His fellow audience members started chanting: “We would hang out with you! We would hang out with you!” Devoted audience members also are known to bring food to share with their fellow nerds and be some of the best-looking geeks in the city. After five minutes of a NerdMelt event with Dan Harmon (creator of NBC’s Community), Patton Oswalt or a whiskey-doused, hilarious up-and-coming comic sitting next to you, you’ll want to hang out here, too. 7522 Sunset Blvd., Hlywd. (323) 851-7223, meltcomics.com. (Photo: Seth Olenick. Jonah Ray getting sensual. )
It’s one of those perfect afternoons in Los Angeles, the day as crisp and bright as summer lemonade. A slight breeze rustles through Andrew Levitas’ Laurel Canyon patio. The mixed-media artist has a cigarette, the requisite accessory of a dreamer, in hand.
“For me life is about creating,” the 34 year-old native New Yorker says, blowing smoke into his hand-planted garden. Levitas paints, sculpts, writes, acts and directs. But at his home/studio his mixed-media work is his most transparent passion. His elusive paintings—as big as the brand new Porsche in the driveway—decorate his living room. Sculptures of skull icons mark the entrance to a tidy kitchen, and Levitas’ signature Metal Work photography hangs throughout his palatial dwelling.
“I’ve created this photography technology called Metal Work and essentially I shoot images and develop them on to custom materials,” Levitas says. “Then I melt them at a very low temperature onto hand-etched pieces of aluminum.”
The result is a raw-edged, handmade piece of art that serves as more of a wall sculpture than photography. Using a welder to manipulate the reflective material, Levitas’ sculptures play with light and movement. The mirror-like quality is intentional. Levitas wants the art to literally reflect its owner and its surroundings.
One of the centerpieces in his living room is a staggering image of a wildebeest herd in Kenya captured charging up a hill. Alone the image is beautiful, but with the Metal Work technique the artwork looks alive.
“Standing here looking at it you should hear the hooves pounding, and feel the heat in the air—feel the movement. I think that my process brings that out, or at least I hope it does,” Levitas says.
And in this afternoon sunlight it does; follow the wildebeests as you shift across the room and they move towards you, appearing almost three-dimensional.
On Levitas’ kitchen table Metal Work sculptures the size of a notebook are made with hollow grooves so that the work can stack together like two upright puzzle pieces. The sculptures feature haunting images of a skeleton-littered catacomb in Rome. According to the artist, his Metal Work is one of the few archival photographic processes that can be outside.
“Imagine the sculptures at a big size and they are really something to be seen. Blow them up and they have a certain impact. This is where my work is going,” Levitas says.
It is not difficult to imagine sculptures twice his size gracing the lawns of the likes of MOCA. Already his work has been featured in a solo show in the Hamptons, the Museum of Art and Design in New York, the Chelsea Art Museum, Art Basel Miami, and—perhaps his most joyous occasion to date—the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts at the Louve in Paris.
Levitas’ presence is calm, his voice is deep and soft, and his hair is the stuff of romance novels. Which was no doubt an attribute that contributed to his Los Angeles beginnings. He moved to L.A. in 1998 after landing a role in the soap opera As the World Turns. For over a decade, Levitas has been in dozens of films and TV shows but he always returns to creating visual art.
“Every day is different. Some days it’s traveling, some days it’s sculpting and building my Metal Works, some days it’s being on a movie set, other days I’m writing, or sitting in a theater all day watching movies, some days it’s spending all day painting,” Levitas says.
Film has maintained its influence in Levitas life. He has his own production company, named after his photography technology, and he co-produced the recently released film The Art of Getting By starring Emma Roberts. Several scenes include artwork from Levitas’ own studio. In the fall, he plans to direct a screenplay he wrote.
There’s no trace of New York cynicism in Levitas demeanor, which could be credited to the perfect day, the incredible house and—again—his impressive crop of hair. But Levitas is the first to admit he has a lot to be grateful for.
“I think the hardest thing in life is not to feel part of something, and to not understand where you belong,” the artist reflects. The multi-hyphenate creative says that he has been fortunate to discover a creative community and be surrounded by mentors and family that support and inspire him.
“At the end of the day the reward is putting the paint brush down on the canvas—the money comes and goes—but the act of painting stays.”
At 9 o’clock on a crystalline Saturday morning in South L.A., more than a dozen 16-year-olds are in perhaps the last place you would expect — drilling algebra equations in a classroom. Education honcho Kim Barrios-Thomas charges through the door.
“Mind on math,” she announces. “Where are our minds?”
“Math!” the 10th-graders shout.
“Tenth grade is your stepping stone — it shouldn’t be your roadblock,” Barrios-Thomas tells the class. She explains she recently spoke to their teacher, who says a few folks could be working harder. “But, for the most part, I was falling-out-of-my-seat happy looking at your grades,” Barrios-Thomas says.
The class holds only a small number of the 500-plus middle and high school students who come to USC to take part in the Neighborhood Academic Initiative, headed by Barrios-Thomas.
The program offers six years of college prep and is designed for kids in neighborhoods near USC. Most come from low-income families that often lack the academic tools and know-how to get their children into a university.
And the kids are showing up on weekends and on weekdays before breakfast.
“This is a neighborhood where college-going is not the norm,” Barrios-Thomas, 49, explains as she walks down the hall to check in on another class. According to her, it’s been a point of pride for parents in the community to be able to point to USC and say, “My kid is going to go there.”
The USC program is built as much on Barrios-Thomas’ tough love as it is on securing funding from grants and USC. She has been building the program for a decade, engaging the entire USC-area neighborhood by pushing parents to become involved, setting up a community watch program and incorporating social services. The number of participants has doubled since she began her work.
Barrios-Thomas grew up in the neighborhood and is herself a USC grad. All qualified graduates of the program who get into USC are granted a full financial aid package.
Not everyone gets into USC, she says. “But they are all going to college, or it’s going to kill me. And I won’t be killed.”
As she makes the rounds, Barrios-Thomas heads into a classroom of seniors discussing Shakespeare.
“Who has heard from colleges?” Barrios-Thomas asks. They share the news: UC Davis, Mount St. Mary, Cal State Long Beach, San Jose State. The list of acceptance to schools goes on. One 12th-grader not present has just received notice of early admission to Yale.
Satisfied, Barrios-Thomas leaves. Of course, the director recognizes the Waiting for Superman connection.
“I refuse to see that movie. … I already know the disparities, that’s why I work so hard,” she says. “I don’t need to sit there and cry about it. I already watch it every day.”
IMAGE: Kim Barrios-Thomas by Kevin Scanlon.
At conferences it’s not unusual for Dr. Paul Zak to have people lining up to hug him. The neuroeconomist is a leading expert on the hormone oxytocin, aka “the cuddle chemical.”
Along with his preference for hugging strangers, the Claremont Graduate University economics professor is known for discovering that social networking stimulates the release of oxytocin — the essence of affection and empathy — in our brains. Oxytocin is a hormone found in mammals that can be measured in blood or saliva.
“That Tweeting or posting on Facebook causes the release of oxytocin is sort of shocking,” Zak says. He explains that our brains have not evolved to a point where interacting with friends or loved ones in person is clearly differentiated from posting on their Facebook wall.
“We really want to connect, we are the connecting species, and this is just another way to do it,” he explains.
Zak coined the term “neuroeconomics” in 2001 and became a founder of the field, which combines economics with psychology, biology and neurology. Raised in Southern California by an engineer and a former nun, Zak grew up tinkering in his dad’s lab at UC Santa Barbara. He went on to earn his Ph.D. in economics from Penn and participate in postdoctoral training in neuroimaging at Harvard.
He has caused a stir in the media with his unusual experiments, which include examining the levels of the cuddle chemical at a wedding by taking blood samples from all the participants (the bride registered the highest levels of the hormone, followed by her family).
Zak also is known for his California good looks. In 2005 Wired named him one of its Top 10 Sexiest Geeks. A colleague, Jorge Barraza, a postdoctoral fellow at Claremont, says Zak is embarrassed by his status as a sex symbol. “But I think his wife kind of likes it,” Barraza says with a smile.
Around campus, the nickname Dr. Love trails Zak. He hasn’t fought the label. His cellphone ringtone plays KISS’ “Dr. Love” and he regularly signs his emails with that moniker. His license plate reads OXYTOSN.
He jokes that it makes him less aggressive on the road.
Zak wasn’t always so certain of his interest in the chemical. Before his research, oxytocin was thought to be limited to forming connections between mothers and babies. At the time a colleague warned Zak that studying the “female hormone” would be career-ending. How wrong he was. After 10 years of work by Zak, the chemical is recognized as a trigger for trust, generosity and empathy — among both genders.
“If I can increase the love in the world a tiny bit by being a crazy guy out there, I’m thrilled,” Zak says.
But he is hardly crazy. He is calm and reserved, with big ideas, which he methodically addresses in his work.
“In the laboratory we basically control the environment as much as possible. We have [participants] do one thing that changes the way their brain works and we control everything else,” Zak explains.
“If one of our goals in life is to be happier, it’s all about our relationships,” he says. “Sartre’s quote, ‘Hell is other people,’ is wrong.” According to Dr. Love, other people are more like heaven.
IMAGE: Paul Zak’s brain halo by Kevin Scanlon.
(Originally published May 5, 2011 | 10:15 am)
Our analog society is increasingly becoming a distant memory. But two recently published books are nudging us to celebrate a time when photographs were arguably more candid and pants were considerably higher-waisted. The photo-driven “My Mom, the Style Icon” and the collection of essays “My Parents Were Awesome” invite us to draw sartorial inspiration from an unexpected source — our parents. Or grandparents.
The two books feature images of fabulous beehives, covetable Buddy Holly frames and gloriously untamed tresses. They tell tales of admirable style and parental devotion that come from individuals with whom, as teenagers, let’s be honest, we wanted nothing to do. The books first took life as vintage-tinged blogs, and the websites are still active, providing a warm fuzziness in an often snarky blogosphere.
Piper Weiss, 32, created “My Mom, the Style Icon” after rifling through her mother’s closet and discovering rapturous vintage items. Since last year, the website has continued to swell with stories of stylish mothers and grandmothers with submissions from all over the world. The book expands on those stories with sections that feature weddings, mom rebellions and traveling with pantsuits. There’s also a tribute to lucky dads, who look on dotingly at their stylish ladies. Celebrity mothers are sprinkled in the book, including the demure mother of singer Karen O and Chloë Sevigny’s mother in wedding white.
“The 200 women in this book have become kind of famous to me,” Weiss says. “You know, I haven’t met most of them, and I probably will never meet them. But they have become these people that when I see an item of clothing or hairstyle, I think of them like they were Audrey Hepburn.”
The editor of “My Parents Were Awesome,” Eliot Glazer, 27, cobbled together his website in 2009 with a similar positive aim. He considers the blog and his book as a way to honor a time when your parents were hip, and photos were more organic instead of hand-selected for Facebook. “There’s not necessarily a lot of places where we can use a platform to show devotion to our parents and our grandparents,” Glazer explains. The book features essays penned by comedians and well-known writers who tell stories with wit and searing honesty. One contributor, Christian Lander, better known as the writer of “Stuff White People Like,” describes a photo of his dad attired in a skinny tie at his parents’ wedding with both astonishing envy and admiration. “What bugs me the most is the simple fact that my dad looks fantastic,” Lauder writes. “He looks like he’s about to leave tomorrow to write an Esquire feature on William Burroughs.”
Photos, from top: Making appearances in “My Mom, the Style Icon” are mom Vivienne Davis. (See the original post here.)
(Posted April 15, 2011 | 8:08 am/ All the Rage)
No one could call the Los Angeles fashion scene monolithic. But with the dominance of Hollywood costume design and New York reigning as the nation’s fashion capital, it’s easy to overlook innovative design happening right in our own backyard.
On Friday night the Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design presents Design Runway, a showcase 0f cutting-edge apparel and accessories stitched together by local design students.
The second inaugural free show is open to the public and it marks a shift for the Art Center. Traditionally, the design school does not teach courses in apparel design. According to instructor Justine Limpus Parish, a fashion designer and illustrator, the Design Runway Show is exciting because it represents the Art Center’s first foray into building an apparel design program.
But don’t expect a traditional fashion show.
“Really what makes it so interesting is the various foundations that these students come from,” Limpus Parish says.
Students from backgrounds in environmental design, product design, illustration, graphic design and motion graphics have collaborated to create an eclectic performance. The show flows from dramatic evening wear to Art Deco-inspired menswear to heavy metal motorcycle fashion. In keeping with the Art Center’s multimedia roots, a film accompanies each collection.
“Each one of them has a strong vision,” Limpus Parish says. She explains that one student, Deja Morlan, drew inspiration from an art installation piece by Erick Swenson, while student Minh Nguyen played with his background in environmental design.
Jesse Genet, a product design student, is featuring a collection of wool suits and silk blouses inspired by bodysuits worn by the strongmen of 1920s France. She’s found that working with students of other discplines has taken her out of her general routine and into a new direction of design.
“Art Center traditionally has no fashion design training. I think they are finding with this show that they can explore fashion without encroaching on being a traditional design school,” Genet says.
Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design presents the Design Runway Show from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday at Hillside Campus, Ahmanson Auditorium 1700 Lida St., Pasadena.
– Sophia Kercher
Photo: By M & B Studio featuring Art Center College of Design student Jesse Genet’s designs inspired by the 1920s strongmen of France.
See original post here.
(Photo: Brian Leatart)
Its origins may have been smoky scotches such as Laphroaig, but the true character of the Smoking Gun is built on mixing contrasting assertive ingredients—say, a grain whiskey like scotch or rye—with pungent bitters. Now, Allan Katz, general manager of downtown’s Caña Rum Bar, has reimagined the cocktail in an exclusive rendering for Los Angeles Times Magazine, pairing what he calls the evilest fernet imported to the States with Plantation Jamaica rum.
“Here we have a rum that’s heavy bodied—it’s got some substance,” Katz says of his version, “but there are some fruity notes—and that’s necessary since I’m forgoing the scotch.” He suggests an ignited-grapefruit garnish to add ammunition to an already aromatic potion.
• 2 ounces Plantation Jamaica Rum
• 1/4 ounce canela syrup*
• 1/4 ounce Luxardo Fernet Amaro
• Large grapefruit twist**
Pour ingredients over one large cube of ice in chilled glass and stir 10–15 seconds. Strain into old-fashioned glass with one fresh large ice cube. Garnish with an ignited, silver dollar–size grapefruit twist.
Read the entire article here.