Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

More Progress…

This morning we wake up and continue our work on the mural. The breakfast at the hotel Berkhana is awesome!  I keep getting the fried eggs and the woman who runs the cafe keeps making awesome homemade bread!

James and Anna are at the gallery already doing work. James and I go to the coffee shop (4A Coffee) and buy some more of that delicious awesome strong stuff.  We walk back to the the gallery.  James and I continue doing the work.  We’ve let off just a little because we have to finish the work in public.  Tomorrow we’re going to have all the work in the Arbat.  The Arbat is the city center or central commerce district in Almaty.  There will be all sorts of people watching us with the other graffiti artists.  The local graffiti writers are becoming more friendly.  Many of them have gotten to work on their panels.  You can see a wide range of styles.  I’ve learned there are two different groups of writers who seem to have different styles.  For the most part everyone is pretty nice to each other.  A couple of graffiti writers are doing a panel with the Kazakh theme to it.  They’re doing work in the computer style like the artist Loomit from Europe.  The stuff looks great!  They’ve got nice backgrounds and the colors are off the Kazakhstan flag.  There are silk road cities and even images of Astana all in different directions of the painting.  These guys have to be some of the strongest graffiti writers I’ve seen here. These guys are in their late 20’s I imagine. For the most part the graffiti writers are in their teens and early twenties here.  Some of the graffiti writers ask how long we’ve been painting.  I answer somewhere around 1984 is when I started painting graffiti. I think James answers around the same time give or take a few years.

With the painting, I try to keep following James’ lead.  He’s got something on his mind about how he’d like to do it. From my experience it’s best to follow his lead.  This guy can really paint!  During this time we chat about many things.  Mostly we try to catch up on all of the lost time we’ve had.  I haven’t seen James’ in like 10 years!  He doesn’t look any different.  A little older but he’s the same Jimmy on the Schwinn cruiser in Santa Cruz that I remember.  We fill in a lot of gaps about what has happened with our friends over the years.  We also get to know a little about our personal lives.  I wouldn’t trade this experience in for any other the opportunity to paint with James. It brings back memories of being kids in the sewers of Santa Cruz painting our names as big as we wanted and nobody around to fuck with us.  A cheeseburger and some soda and a bag of spray paint under Emeline Bridge was pure bliss. Now we’re in the middle of Central Asia painting graffiti together.  I would have never believed that this would happen if you told me this 10 years ago.

I see many people from the last time I lived here. Many have come by to say hello and to look at our work. It’s painful to think I don’t have much time to see everyone.

We call it quits and we try to put our work away Slava says he’ll take care of it because he has to put everything away in a certain order.  We notice many of the graffiti writers have been painting all over the neighborhood. I’m a little worried the local authorities are going to be a little angry. James and Anna go back to the hotel.  I think she’s a little under the weather.
I stay to discuss some stuff with Gaisha Madanov.  She’s back from Bishkek and we’ve got lots of stuff to discuss.  She’s a partner in our ongoing Artpologist project.  So since I’ve last seen her we’ve been working on new ideas for a project together.  Zhanara and I got to sit down and chat with Aminatou in Oakland about continuing the work and this is the moment I can discuss with Gaisha about the project.  We go to this little cafe and eat.  The food is ok.  It’s good to see Gaisha and she tells me a bit about what she knows from our work.  We’ve been sending messages for the last year between the collective.

I return to the hotel Berkhana. I knock on the door to see if Anna, James and Davon are around.  Nobody around.  I think they went back to Saule and Kyuanish’s apartment for more dinner and drinking.  I fall asleep. I dream a lot when I travel.


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Daniel’s Diary – SEPTEMBER 26th

I have a full nights sleep. I wake up around 7 am and start doing some writing on the computer. Around 9 am the door knocks Davon opens the door and it’s a film crew from one of the local television stations. I’m still in my boxers I tell them to wait for me to get dressed. The reporter is excited that I’m not ready and she say that it would be great to have me getting dressed on video. I think it seems a little ridiculous and I’m a little worried my mother-in-law here in Kazakhstan will see me on television in my boxers.

Daniel shadowed by the Kazakh video crew.
Daniel shadowed by the Kazakh video crew.

I quickly get dressed and they interview me as I clean up the hotel a bit and we go downstairs to eat some breakfast and I get interviewed about what I’m doing here. They walk with us down to the Tengri Umai and we finish the interview. We all wait for Vladimir. He shows up around noon. We start painting the canvases soon after. Some of the graffiti writers show up and start working.

Kazakh writers getting to work.
Kazakh writers getting to work.

We’re painting a bit in black. We’re using some Italian spray paint that is decent enough. Along the way we make small talk with the local writers and also some of the locals. I’m a bit concerned something will hit us on the head from the large apartment above. I follow James’ lead on the piece. We’re doing an oil well and mountain theme. Our letters are black like crude oil. Around 2pm the embassy officials come. They quickly assess our work and seem a little disappointed. It seems as if they wanted us to work more directly with the locals. We try to explain that we’re just getting started but it’s too late. The officials go and chat with Vladimir and it seems like there’s some communication issues about what the project would be like. James and I keep painting. We paint for around 5 hours. During this time Davon is preparing for a show and workshop in the downstairs gallery. His photos look nice.

We finish painting around 6 but after a meeting we don’t get out of there until 7pm. James needs to get back to Anna after he had agreed that he’d meet her at a certain time so we quickly get back to the hotel. We shower and return to see the opening of Davon’s show and we hang out with all the graffiti writers. We’re having some good times. We pose with them. Davon gives a talk to the crowd. He presents his work and talks about how we represent an alternative culture in the United States.

We quickly leave with Kyuanish and Saule to go to dinner at their house. We buy beer at the local store and we eat stuffed peppers and beet salad and drink vodka. Everything is so delicious! Everyone is having a great time. They seem to all really get along. I give the gifts Zhanara had packed for them. They’re so happy. I brought some coffee from home for them too.

We go to the studio and see their new works. Kyuanish says he sold all of his works from the last show and he says now he hasn’t done any new work. He says all he does is drink and watch football on the television. There are a couple of new paintings by him -one I really like of houses.

Kyuanish in the studio

Kyuanish in the studio.

Saule is working on a new series. She’s no longer working on her wax and acrylic media. She’s using vinyl printed photos stretched over frames and she paints pictures on them. The work looks super cool! She seems very happy about the new direction. We discuss her work and what it means to her. I say it’s really a great direction for her. During this time Zhanara talks with me on the telephone.

Saule and her work.

Saule and her work.

We go back to the hotel in a taxi. We go home put our stuff away and then I suggest we go check out the club on the corner. It looks terrible and so I tell them I know another place to go. SOHO Club. It takes about 5 minutes to walk there from here. There are too many ugly ex-patriots here. The music is good. We have one beer and then leave. James, Anna, Davon and I are all tired happy and a bit drunk.

We go back to the hotel turn the television on to see how bad things are back home with the further spiraling financial crisis. Things look bad there.

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Daniel’s Diary -SEPTEMBER 25th

So we arrived in Almaty around 5 am in the morning and we are quickly met with this embassy liaison who is there waiting for us with a sign with my name on it. There is another name and I quickly learn there is another American on the flight besides myself and Davon. We are shown what to do and we are sent to the front of the line with the liaison. We quickly get our stamps and go and wait for our luggage. We meet the other American. He’s an embassy worker with a couple of cats in tow. Davon and I are a little surprised that this guy has cats with him. There’s a police officer looking at them and he’s doing all the proper paper work but I’m sure he’s just as surprised as I am about seeing some American guy with his cats in tow. We later find out he’s on his way to Bishkek to live and for some reason he can’t live there without these two cats. Davon says that there’s a lot of love in that. I think he meant it was a bit extreme for someone to take a couple of cats clear out to Central Asia.

We are led to a large White Chevy Suburban and we throw our luggage in the back. We are driven to the hotel. It’s pretty decent Soviet Style hotel with some modern amenities thrown in. It has a television with cable so I can watch old Soviet movies and then watch CNN.

I can hear James and Anna’s voice in the hallway soon as we arrive into our rooms. I can hear the twangy American voices through the door! I open the door and let them know we’re here. We all chat and it seems as if James and Anna are having a great time already. Davon notes that it seems like they’ve already been here for a while. It looks like it’s taken them a little longer. They missed their connector in Heathrow Airport (I hate that airport) after booking a flight that seems to be to far away from the connection to Almaty. Anna pulled some persuasive action and they got a free hotel in London and flight the next day. They told us they’ve been walking around Almaty for the last day. They got to meet Vladimir and Leila. They walked to the embassy saw a bit of Almaty and even found themselves in an Irish Pub drinking Guinness and having Shepherd’s Pie.

We had breakfast downstairs and then all went for a walk near our hotel. We went to the Arbat and looked around a bit. We talked a little about our work. Afterwards we walked back to our apartment. My stomach wasn’t feeling so well. This always happens when I eat that fucking airplane food. I always tell myself I will try not to eat it. My “refined Chez Panisse stomach” isn’t used to all of these preservatives in the food. It wants organic tomatoes and grass fed meat. Fortunately the food in Kazakhstan is great! I make some phone calls to friends. I’m surprised after one year away from Almaty many of my friends cell phone numbers are no longer working. I guess you can’t take your phone number with you to the next available service. I reach Saule and have a brief chat with her (It’s so nice to hear her voice!) and we arrange to meet on the following day. They want to arrange to pick me up right at that moment but I let them know I have a lot of work to do.

Around 1:30 pm we meet Leila the embassy official, and Vladimir along with a few other embassy people. We have a brief meeting with them and we discuss a bit about what we’ll do. We talk a bit about losing the wall for a mural. Vladimir shows us the large canvases that we’re painting. They’re huge! We’re happy about them. We also get a chance to meet some of the local graffiti writers. They’re a bit shy but that’s normal.

We go to dinner with Bota and we meet Malik. We have dinner at Destarkhan. It’s a pretty decent place but it costs around 25 dollars. I think it’s pretty expensive but it was good food and Davon, James and Anna liked it.

We go home and we find out on CNN that Washington Mutual went under. Things aren’t looking good in the financial world.

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The flight from San Francisco to Almaty was quite long but it was fine since it was a KLM flight direct to Amsterdam. I landed in Amsterdam and waited to meet Davon.

We both agreed to meet in the airport terminal where we’d take off from. I watched the news and after a couple of hours I saw Davon come from the opposite side of the terminal with 3 large cylinders on his back strung over like a bazooka. We greeted each other with hug and went to another part of the terminal that had a great bar shaped like a soccer ball. Inside we sat down to have some drinks and a chat about his trip thus far and also about our future project with the Tengri Umai gallery.

The bazooka that carried Davon's photo prints from LA to KAZ

The bazooka carrying Davon's photos.

On the flight to Almaty our last leg of the trip (a 6 hour flight) Davon mostly slept (dude I watched Iron Man! – DR) I watched the television. I got to see the new Indiana Jones flick. It was pretty bad. I’d says there wasn’t anything new added to the film. I listened to this great radio show about the history of Brazilian jazz music. It’s was on one of these in flight radio shows. It was nice to hear some good Brazilian music it really soothed my soul.

I get really anxious on the flight nowadays. I don’t know where it’s coming from I think I’m going through some sort of mental change of some sort. Before I used to love to fly now I just keep thinking of how long it will take to get back to Zhanara and that kitchen of ours in Oakland with our new table and a pot of dark coffee and some Acme Levan.

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My return to Almaty

Exactly one year later after my fifteen-month-stay in Kazakhstan (see my diaries), I am about to embark upon another trip there. This time, Vladimir Filatov of the Tengri-Umai gallery proposed a collaborative project involving graffiti. His vision has been to do something outside gallery, in public space.

The proposed mural space.

My origins are in the art of spray paint. I haven’t painted much with this media in the last 10 years but I worked almost every day for over 15 years prior to that point with the art of the spray can. The Tengri Umai project is a collaborative effort with an old friend and artist colleague James Reitano. I have worked with Mr. Reitano doing various murals, gallery projects, and publishing projects since we were teenagers. I anticipate this to be a very special project just for the experience of working with him.

When I contacted James on the grounds of this project, James at once suggested to invite along his colleague, video-maker Davon Ramos. As soon I had a conversation with Mr. Ramos on the telephone, I quickly felt we would get along well. We share a common angle looking at the world and cultures as something to respect and learn from as humble observers and interactive artists. This collaborative project will help to gain a more nuanced understanding of America, especially places like Oakland or Los Angeles, for people in Kazakhstan and, vice versa, aid Americans to learn about Kazakhstan.

The weather here in Oakland is around 75F degrees (23C) after a few days of fog and a little rain this week. I am busy packing and getting ready for the trip. I leave on the 23rd and will meet Davon in Amsterdam. We will meet James already in Kazakhstan.

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five must do things in KAZAKHSTAN

1. Eat as much food as possible. Horse sausage included.

2. Record shopping. Kazakh breaks!??! Yes, please!

3. mixtapemixtape!!! stickering. Promotional opportunities never cease.

4. Taste as much local beer and vodka as time allows. And there’s always time for alcohol.

5. Dispel the myths of the fat, imperial American. Just as Borat has obviously skewed the American idea of the Kazakh people, let us also realize that the general idea of an American is perverted by the oil hungry, American business men that visit their country. It’s our job to let them know that those people do not represent all of us. That there are other Americans that do not necessarily agree with the overall practices of our government and that we have much to learn. We are the new Ambassadors. And we embrace that.

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TEAM KAZAKHSTAN (L-R Anna Slotky, James Reitano, Daniel Gallegos)

TEAM KAZAKHSTAN met for the first time last weekend in Oakland, CA. I had been in email contact with Daniel for sometime but this was the first time we had met in person and the first time Daniel and James had seen each other in over 10 years. It was a festive occasion.

As always, it was nice to put a name to a face and in between beers and PLOV (a traditional Kazakh dish of lamb and rice pilaf) lovingly prepared by Daniel’s wife Zhanara, we talked about what we were hoping to achieve on this trip both personally and professionally.

Sketches for the mural

Sketches for the mural

James and Daniel worked on sketches for the GRAFFITTI MURAL that they have been commissioned to paint by the TENGRI-UMAI GALLERY in Almaty, Kazakhstan and it was pretty awesome to see so many months of planning and concepting come to fruition. I have no doubt that they are going to blow the minds of the Kazakh art world.

Daniel and James discuss the mural.

Daniel and James discuss the mural.

It’s really amazing the amount of trust and collaboration we all have in each other despite the relative lack of personal experience we have with each other but it’s almost like we are already family. Even if the trip to Kazakhstan wasn’t happening, it was a joy to meet Daniel and Zhanara and I can already tell I have much to learn from them. And will.

We leave tomorrow. Me and Daniel are taking seperate planes to Amersterdam (he from San Francisco and I from Los Angeles) and from there we will travel together to Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan. There we will reconvene with James and his girlfriend Anna who left yesterday. I am thrilled to have this opportunity to travel to a place I never thought I’d get to go and am expecially honored to have the chance to show some of my work in a Kazakh gallery and have a chance to meet and engage with other artists from this beautiful country so steeped in tradition.

Onward to Almaty! Assuming, of course, that Daniel and I make it out of Amsterdam.

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