Max Benavidez – Venice Beach – What You Do Is Who You Become


“Day by day, what you choose, what you think and what you do is who you become.”


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Scenes from Cadaques, Spain – Summer 2016

Cadaques at evening looking toward the sea and town

Cadaques at evening looking toward the sea and town

Max Benavidez laughing in Cadaques, Spain

Max Benavidez laughing in Cadaques, Spain

Gallery Poster in  Cadaques

Gallery Poster in Cadaques

Amazing baroque altarpiece in the church of Santa Maria in Cadaques build in the 18th century, Costa Brava, Catalonia, Spain. It was designed by Jacint Moreto and made by sculptors Pau Costa and Joan Torres.

Amazing altarpiece in the church of Santa Maria in Cadaques build in the 18th century, Costa Brava, Catalonia, Spain. It was designed by Jacint Moreto and made by sculptors Pau Costa and Joan Torres.

Classic backstreet in Cadaques

Classic backstreet in Cadaques

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Hanging out in the Arts District in Downtown L.A.

Max Benavidez Downtown LA

Max Benavidez

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Gronk’s “Theater of Paint”


Gronk paints set designs for big bold operas, little intimate plays and even on the walls on the way in to his loft in downtown Los Angeles. A whole exhibition dedicated to his set designs is now at the Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM). The show is immersive since you can actually experience being on one of his sets yourself. It’s also a fun show imbued with the spirit of bricolage as well as an ingenious juxtaposition of the high and the low.

The immersive part is the series of set designs themselves that are beautiful, labyrinthine, dense and intricate paintings that become part of the theatrical experience. Like characters in an opera or a play, they “speak” and play a central role. He’s also painted a set that you can actually perform in or simply stand on to get a feel of what it’s like to be on one of his stages. He recently had a performance of “La Tormenta,” one of his alter egos, on that set.

The fun part of the show is that besides his set designs, notes, and diaries of drawings, Gronk pays playful homage to the cult 1950s B-movie, “The Giant Claw.” It may be one of the worst movies ever made mostly due to its dreadful special effects. It was a joke without intending to be a joke. The movie’s low budget meant that instead of using the his first choice for special effects, FX master Ray Harryhauser, the director, Sam Katzman, was forced to hire an inexpensive special effects firm based in Mexico City. The result was a ludicrous puppet-like creature. An inside joke for the movie’s cultists is that throughout the movie everyone keeping repeating that the creature is “bigger than a battleship.” In actuality it was probably a few inches high. Where the Japanese gave us “Rodan” with it’s well-made believable flying pre-historic monster, Katzman gave us “The Giant Claw” where you can’t help laughing at the unbelievable creature flying around like a deranged kite. You can see the whole movie on YouTube and judge for yourself.

In the “Theater of Paint,” Gronk has sculpted the claw from the creature. In the movie the last thing you see is the claw as the creature sinks into the ocean after being killed. In the show, one big black claw hangs from the ceiling and another is installed on a circle of red carpet. Gronk really loves this movie. He did a whole book of fascinating drawings called “The Giant Claw that drew its inspiration from the movie.

I don’t know if the claw has an existential meaning for Gronk or not. It could simply be that he was taken with the idea that something so bad as the horribly concocted clawed creature would even star in a Hollywood movie. Or, the big claw could simply be the symbol of Hollywood itself as in, “you have to claw your way to the top” to be a star.

This is where the concept of bricolage comes into play. It’s a French word that basically means “do-it-yourself” and use whatever materials are at hand, the odds and ends, and create something new from that. The creature in “The Giant Claw” was an accidental form of bricolage. Imagine yourself at the studio in Mexico City where they built the bizarre and ugly papier-mâché creature. It seems they grabbed whatever was lying around to make the bulging eyes, the stringy hair, and the oddly shaped wings.

I was fortunate enough to have seen the 2005 world premiere at the Santa Fe Opera of Gronk’s set design for the opera, Ainadamar, based on the tragic assassination of the Spanish poet and dramatist Federico García Lorca. Lorca had been shot and killed on the outskirts of Granada by the Spanish fascists in August 1936 because, as the fascist’s own documents attest, they saw him as a “socialist and a freemason,” about whom rumors swirled of “homosexual and abnormal practices.” Gronk’s set design incorporated the warm color palette of the region into the set design and used the seed image as an organizing motif to literally set the stage for this sad but ultimately inspiring production dedicated to the power of the artist.

This set for Ainadamar by itself is high art. When Gronk’s series of opera sets are seen alongside the black sculptures of the giant claw from the B-movie you get a unique mixture of the high and the low. This is what makes the show interesting.

Opera is often seen as the art form preferred by elites and, of course, B-movies are usually the purview of the masses. The intersection is where you can find Gronk and “Theater of Paint” provides some serious fun and a worthwhile diversion in a hot summer filled with terrorist violence, unhinged politics and basically a world on the precipice.

In As You Like It, Shakespeare famously wrote, “All the world’s a stage/And all the men and women merely players/They have their exits and their entrances/And one man in his time plays many parts.” This resonates for me when I see Gronk’s painted stages and the many parts he’s played as an artist. It’s almost the perfect quote for a show of set designs and reminds us that life is a performance, we play many parts and then we’re gone in a flash and, if we’re lucky, someone might memorialize a part of us like maybe a claw.

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The Horizon’s Verge

“Between two worlds life hovers like a star, twixt night and morn, upon the horizon’s verge.” – Lord Byron61715BlueBlack3A9623

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“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.”
Herman Melville




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How to Grow Old

“To know how to grow old is the master work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living.” Herman Melville





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An American in Provence

As an American heading to Provence after spending a week in Paris and then another week in Istanbul, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Yes, I knew of Peter Mayle’s classic A Year in Provence and years ago enjoyed watching the French films about rural Provence, Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring. More recently, there was Ridley Scott’s amuse-bouche with Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard, A Good Year, a film offering a picture perfect postcard image of Provence. I was also aware of the famous expats who had lived here at one time or another: everyone from Ernest Hemingway to Nina Simone. Perhaps I was expecting too much for one place to deliver. Well, we were in for a pleasant surprise.

Quartier Mazarin

Quartier Mazarin

We arrived in Aix-en-Provence early one evening in mid-June from the Marseille airport to a charming apartment in the Quartier Mazarin, an elegant section of the city. The rooms were just a few hundred feet from the famous Place des Quartre Dauphins with its beautiful fountain (dating back to 1667) and, as we would later learn later from our tour guide, right behind the legendary Hotel de Caumont. All was good and then it started to rain and I mean it really rained.

Suddenly, we wondered if we had made the right choice but then we realized the weather–whether in Provence, Istanbul or Los Angeles–has a mind of its own. Anyway, there was a certain romantic feel to the rain especially when we threw open the French doors and the moist night air drifted into the apartment along with the soothing sound of rain falling on the cobbled street below.

Our time in Provence became unforgettable because we had come upon a recommendation for guided tours in Rick Steve’s Best of Europe 2015‘s section on France. He recommended Discover Provence, which is owned and managed by the British-born and French-fluent Sarah Pernet. Sarah and her team offer small intimate tours of Provence. So, instead of being tourists walking around lost and asking for directions in broken French, we were introduced to Provence in the best way possible.

Our first full day in Provence began with Sarah leading a tour to the stunningly picturesque perched villages of Luberon. Not only did Pernet take us to the well-known villages such as Gordes and Roussillon, she also took us to some of the villages off the beaten track. As you tour these hilltop villages you also pass fields of lavender and olive trees. Since it had rained the night before the air was full and the scent of the damp soil mixed with lavender, rosemary, and an earthy aroma wafted through the air, something that I had never smelled before. Call it the natural perfume of Provence.

Luberon Villages

Luberon Villages

At one point, Sarah stopped at the side of the road next to a field of lavender. There was a muddy and clay-like feel to the soil. She even said if that if we weren’t careful we’d sink right into the ground. It was a bit like quicksand. Again, there was that aroma and it was then that I knew that this was part of the secret allure of the place: the soil, the air, the wind, and the calm aliveness that surrounded us. Along with the strong scents in the air it was also the light violet hue of the lavender next to the pale green of the olive trees, and the dark green of the grape leaves on their vines. I would learn later there was one more ingredient that made Provence even more captivating.
Lavender Field and Olive Trees in Provence

Lavender Field and Olive Trees in Provence

Every step along the tour Sarah combined historic, geographic, cultural, and local flavor to give us a true sense of the hilltop villages and their surroundings. As I mentioned, she also took us to lesser-known villages and a special treat was Ansouis with its 1,000-year-old chateau. As Pernet told us, the villages were perched high on the hills because they were originally built as fortresses for protection from attacks by encroaching battling families, armies, and outsiders.
Pont Julien

Pont Julien

Along the way we stopped for a photo at the Pont Julien, a classic and beautiful Roman bridge with three arches spanning over the River Calavon. This was near the village of Bonnieux and Sarah told us that the bridge was built in 3BC and took twenty-five years to complete. It really is a superb bridge even now in the 21st century. She said that it remained in use until quite recently. Although we never made it to Avignon and the famous Roman aqueduct, the Pont du Gard, seeing the Pont Julien was the next best thing. The Romans knew how to build things to last.

The next day we took a walking tour of Aix-en-Provence. Sarah walked us from the main fountain in the city, the Fontaine de la Rotonde, to sights throughout the town. One of the highlights was seeing the high school, the Collège Bourbon, that Paul Cezanne, the famed Aix-en-Provence-based painter, attended and where he met his great friend, the writer Emile Zola.

Cezanne, Zola and Baille

Cezanne, Zola and Baille

It was also there at that Collège that Cezanne, Zola, and another close friend named Bastistin Baille spent so much time together that they became known as “les trois inséparables” or simply, the inseperables. Sarah told us that a film is being made about their intense friendship called, of course, The Inseperables, to be released sometime in the next year.
The Card Players by Paul Cezanne

The Card Players by Paul Cezanne

Interestingly, it’s only a ten-minute walk from Cezanne’s birthplace to his grave. There are brass studs actually built into the sidewalks in Aix with the letter C standing for Cezanne and if you follow them you embark on a self-guided tour of Aix about Cezanne. Some tourists have actually taken the studs out of the sidewalks as souvenirs.

The highlight of our time in Provence was a truffle hunt at a secret farm that Sarah had arranged. She even joked that we had to be blindfolded so the farm’s location would remain a secret. When we arrived the sun was bright and shining. The farm itself was exquisite. There were grape vines, olive trees, oak trees, beehives, cherry trees, and pomegranate trees coupled with the now familiar splendid ripeness that is Provence.

The host, a Frenchman named Johann, gave us a deep dive into the truffle business. He had purchased over 500 oak trees and planted them throughout his farm. He said that maybe 25 percent would be the trees where the spores of truffle would grow. The oak trees are planted and then nearly seven to ten years later you learn whether or not truffle spores have taken “root” near an oak tree.

Truffle Hunting

Truffle Hunting

We hunted truffles along with a truffle hunter named Jean-Marc and his two dogs. One, a cute two-month-old mixed breed called Éclair, was just learning how to hunt truffles. The dogs smell the truffles in the ground and begin to dig and then the hunter goes over and finishes the dig and brings up the found truffle. Before long we had a basket filled with summer truffles since this was June. They are pungent and musky but still not as pungent as the more sought after winter truffles.

After the hunt, Johann took us back to the main house where his wife, Lisa, took our basket of truffles (truffe in French) and served them sliced with cheese and bread plus champagne or a red wine produced from grapes grown on the farm. She also served us truffle ice cream made by a local ice cream maker who drives a jaunty yellow ice cream truck to all the farm markets around the area.

It was then that we experienced the final and most important ingredient that made our time in Provence special. It’s the people. It was Sarah, Johann, Lisa, Johann’s 92-year-old grandparents smiling and waving to us, and the gentile lifestyle that they all live and love. We sat by a cool blue swimming pool sipping wine and champagne as the sun set. We talked. Everything mixed together to show us that for those moments on a beautiful farm it was a way of life that is Provence at its best.

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Pablo Delgado: Art & Dystopia

Tonight on April 4, 2015 I walked the streets of downtown Los Angeles. I was walking down Spring Street on the night of the full moon and a lunar eclipse. I’m not surprised that it was a night of discovery, of the unexpected, of something new.

A timelapse of the lunar eclipse on April 4, 2015.

A timelapse of the lunar eclipse on April 4, 2015.

I walked into the Howard Griffin Gallery into the exhibition of “Pablo Delgado: On Their Level.”

Installation View, Pablo Delgado show at the Howard Griffin Gallery, Los Angeles

Installation View, Pablo Delgado show at the Howard Griffin Gallery, Los Angeles

The gallery itself is the art with chipped walls, exposed beams and ceilings, wires, and pieces of little stones throughout as if it the space itself had been bombed or terrorized or simply decayed. This is the world as accidental dystopia. The end times. As you go through it, piece by piece and revelation by revelation, you see four of five epic signature works that seem to intrude astutely right into your vision as if they always belonged there.


Mirrors are placed over some of them and reflect a reality or scene you didn’t see on first glimpse. There are multiple and parallel prismatic views of the world. We only see what we are accustomed to seeing. Our programmed viewing habits get in the way of seeing of what is really there and what is actually before us. Delgado exposes in the most subtle way the taking in of the totality of what is around us at every moment in its most varied, muted and ethereal manifestations.

Delgado, as the gallery notes on their site, “is a visual artist originally from Mexico. After moving to London to study, Delgado emerged in 2011 as one of London’s most important street artists of the 21st century with a cult following. Delgado’s work is both populist and conceptual; he is known for his miniature paste-up scenes in which he rearranges existing imagery from mass media or popular culture into new compositions in a surreal and humorous way. Delgado’s early work consisted of tiny doorways pasted up around the walls of East London. He then started working with ‘the figures that came out of these doors,’ attempting to reflect the rich mix of cultures that makes London so cosmopolitan.”

Even Less (White), Delgado, Howard Griffin Gallery, London

Even Less (White), Delgado, Howard Griffin Gallery, London

Delgado’s work in “On Their Level” is the art of shadow and prescience. He shows us what we see and then reveals in the most subdued ways what is hidden in the shadows and in the darkness. We not only see what is directly in front of us but also what is deeply within, hidden away inside us as we observe and perceive. Is it not true that what we see is nothing more than a reflection of our deepest desires and secrets refracted onto the perceptions of our observations?


In the central installation in the show, Delgado has created viewing platforms. You place your head through the openings and see tableaux of figures from another time in imaginary communities that are dystopian in that sense that the surrealism of the view seems to be an environmental catastrophe just as much as it is an imaginative and somewhat playful symbol of both the world hurling toward the extermination brought on by global warming and a complex exhaustion of natural resources. It is as if the soul is recoiling from the hard and material facts of reality but cannot turn its eyes away from the holocaust of our habitat.

“On Their Level” is an exhibition that places the viewer inside the art and then turns that placement into a question of the deeper meaning of our existence. Delgado is an artist to watch as he has captured our moment in 2015 beautifully while at the same time allowing us to surrender to its dark allure with a both a wink and a giant question mark.

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The Secret Lives of Bilingual Books

Many Americans are familiar with well-known mainstream children’s books such as the Dr. Seuss series, Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are. But what about Americans who come from another culture, speak another language or are bilingual? What children’s books are there for them and their families?

This group, until recently, was especially missing from children’s literature, often referred to as kidlit in the publishing world. These are the families whose parents’ first language is Spanish and whose children are learning English in school. When you add in the fact that the majority of the 54 million Latinos in the U.S. are bilingual and yet very few children’s books are bilingual you have a tremendous gap in books that can speak to this community and its culture, particularly the parents. That means they don’t see themselves in the children’s books distributed at their schools, stocked in their local libraries or sold in bookstores. The effect of this invisibility and absence in children’s books is dramatic and negatively affects the self-esteem of these children.

Nationally, nearly 25 percent of all K-12 students are Latino and the percentage is only growing. In California, the most populous state in the country, Latinos comprise 53 percent of all students in K-12. Latino families like these–who live all across the country from the Southeast to the West Coast–are often bilingual with Spanish being the main home language for many.

And, guess what? Until now there have been very few children’s books for this huge population of children who want to see themselves and their families in children’s books.

Finally, one publisher is doing something about it. In the early 2000s, Katherine Del Monte founded Lectura Books and since then has been publishing bilingual books aimed at this large and increasingly expanding population. Her desire has been for parents and their kids to learn together how to love literature and to see themselves in the literature. These families are often marginalized in our society and their stories untold. To remedy this, she started Family Stories for Parent Involvement.

“We all want a literate society,” says Del Monte. “The question is how do we get there? How do we do we reach millions of families who speak Spanish at home and help them learn English, learn how to read, and to build vocabulary. Reading is the essential building block for literacy and if we don’t create bilingual books for these families, our society will lose the edge that literate and educated citizens bring to the country and its economy.”

Based on her research and personal experience, Del Monte decided to tell their stories in a combination of both English and Spanish. To date, she has published 25 bilingual books including Letters Forever, a moving story about a young girl in San Antonio who exchanges letters with her grandfather who lives in Veracruz, Mexico. She dreams of seeing him again one day and when she becomes 18 she visits him in Veracruz. It’s a story of love across the generations and the power of culture and music.
Another title published by Lectura Books is The Shark That Taught Me English. Written and illustrated for elementary students, it tells the story of a girl named Sophia who only speaks Spanish and how she learns English with the help of a shark image that her teacher uses in class. Once she begins to learn English, her self-confidence grows and by the end of the book she is teaching English to her father. Del Monte’s books have won many awards including the Moonbeam Award, the Independent Publishers Award, the International Latino Book Award and been listed on the Texas State Reading List.
“My goal is to show the stories that are overlooked by mainstream publishers,” explains Del Monte. “I want to publish bilingual books that connect families to their stories. Rather than allow this audience to be an afterthought at best, I want to showcase the brilliance and wisdom of their stories. No one in the U.S. is doing this today. You simply can’t ignore a quarter of all the children in our schools. You can’t ignore their parents simply because they don’t speak English, are immigrants and work in low-paying jobs. True diversity in book publishing will only come by publishing in English and Spanish for the 37 million people in our country who speak Spanish.”
This is not a new concern. In 2014, a hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks became a social media phenomenon when two authors of color, Ellen Oh and Lamar Giles, tired of the lack of diversity in kidlit, launched the hashtag and a movement was born that brought awareness to the stunning lack of diversity in American children’s literature.

Flavorwire recently reported that, “In 2013, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center in Wisconsin cataloged 3,200 children’s books, constituting a majority of all children’s books published that year. Of these, only 68 — about two percent — had black authors. A slightly larger number, 93, had black protagonists. The numbers are either comparable or worse for Asian Americans, Latinos, and American Indians, and show stagnant or regressive movement.” They also noted that a 2014 Publisher’s Weekly salary survey included questions about race and ethnicity and it found some dismal results: of the people working in publishing 89 percent are white and only three percent are Hispanic or Latino, 3 percent Asian and one percent African-American.

The bottom line: although the U.S. is growing more diverse every year, you would never know it from children’s books or from the publishing industry itself. For that reason, Lectura Books plays a key and necessary role by publishing books that are culturally relevant to children and families who are often ignored. The long-term outcome will be to produce literate young people who go on to college and contribute to our society and its economic vitality. That’s how you build a literate society.

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