Save Music in Chinatown 10 preview with the art of Senon Williams from Dengue Fever

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I don’t remember what year I became a fan of Dengue Fever, but I was definitely driving from my home in Silver Lake to Sawtelle and listening to KXLU. I heard something that sounded like psychedelic garage rock with Cambodia vocals, and immediately called the station to get the scoop when I arrived at the GR office. The DJ informed me that it was a demo from a new local band called Dengue Fever, and then gave me Senon’s phone number saying he wouldn’t mind.

We became friends, and the band popped up in the magazine multiple times during its 16-year run. After the publication ran its course, I have remained a fan and we are still friends. I see the band as often as I can and, after starting benefit shows for the music program at my daughter’s school, they volunteered to play one for us. I’m still amazed that  a big band like that would perform on our tiny stage.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised when Senon, who has turned out to be an excellent, thought-provoking artist as well as a top-shelf bass player, told me that he would like to make a flyer for one of our shows. How could I not take him up on it? How could I not ask him about his flyer and his art?

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Where did you get the idea for the flyer?
The idea popped into my head when I was thinking how to simply convey the idea that music is a basic need for kids.

Have you always had this secret life as an artist while being in a band?
I have been making art since I was a kid, drawing great medieval battles and torture chambers.

For the past few years, the computer began to rob the time I would contemplate my own thoughts. It feels good to be more present with my own mind as well as the tactical world. I have been working with ink on paper a long time, but my intense focus has given me technique and skill to freely experiment and use color.

When did you arrive at your painterly style paired with sly verbiage?
Words have been a part of my art for 20-30 years. Most of my work has been in sketchbooks, filling my downtime with no thought to put it out into the world—just a means to question or amuse myself with humanities-fraught existence.

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Are you totally self-taught? Are there “real” artists or instructors that have influenced you along the way?
I never went to art school. But I have worked as an artist’s studio assistant and in galleries, and have visited the studios of many artists I admire. Life has been a good education; I keep my eyes and ears open. Recently, I visited artists Mel Kadel, Tyler Vlahovich, and Eddie Ruscha and came away with inspirations, ideas, and techniques to experiment with. I felt like I went to school right then.

Does it feel like you’re using totally different parts of your brain than when you make art or play music? Can you compare/contrast the feeling you have when doing either?
Music is a part of me and I will never stop… Musically, my highest heights have always been playing with others and our connection, at times it is as though my physicality on this earth is suspended.

Oddly, visual art is the opposite. I feel bonded with the materials I am using and have a physical connection to the paper or wood. It’s a very tactile experience. The ideas, though, come from a different place–very personal and introspective–until they are cast off and the rest of the world can do (or not do) what they want with it.

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Was it difficult to put your art (and yourself as an artist) out there?
I met Laura Howe years ago when we were both working for art galleries. Now she owns an amazing boutique called Matrushka Construction, which sells all handmade clothes in Silver Lake. Ages ago, a few of my drawings were part of a group show in her store. Then, about a year ago, she asked me to have a solo show. I started to make art for it and the floodgates just broke wide open. ­­­

To promote that show, I had this idea to post one drawing per day until it opened. That was last April and I am still posting new work almost every day. I am not slowing down, and I feel there is not enough time in a day for me to do all I want to do. I can’t stop working.

Is it true that you paint when you’re in the van on tour? What is your setup?
I do draw while on the road, though not in the van. Too bumpy. I set up my inks and brushes as soon as I get to the hotel so if I have time to paint it is laid out and ready to go. The main problem is coming back after a show at 2:00 a.m. then working on the drawing into the wee hours.

I bring paper, Inks, paint, brushes, pencils, erasers, rags, and a knife (for safety).

Art shows against gun violence, benefits for music education… Can you talk about not only being creative but using your energy and presence for causes?
I care about this world and have always helped where I can. Small, kind acts can change the world in a huge way if enough of us take the time to feel for others. And I put my energy towards love and compassion so my children learn from my actions.

But I do hope humanity will look at itself as a whole one day and say, “I am kind.” And the people who are sour and embittered will say, “Forget it. It it ain’t worth it.”

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Check out Senon’s work on Instagram and get Save Music in Chinatown 10 tickets at Eventbrite.

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