With the ballet’s Erica De La O at the helm, Cleopatra’s sexy will share the spotlight with her smarts and strategy

Erica De La O

Erica De La O in rehearsal | Photo by Sam English

The Louisville Ballet’s premiere of a new Shakespeare-inspired work as part of the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival’s season in Central Park has become one of Insider Louisville’s most anticipated events of the year.

Choreographer Roger Creel and Composer Scott Moore have given audiences original full-length ballets based on “The Tempest” and “King Lear,” as well as a ballet about Shakespeare’s sonnets. Each has brought not only fresh movement to the stage, but fresh ideas about what makes these Shakespearean stories special. 

This summer, Creel is keeping his normal duties of the initial conception of the ballet and developing its story, while Moore is again providing a brand new score and making his own contributions to the concept and the story. They’re taking on “Cleopatra: Queen of Kings,” and it all begins in Central Park on Wednesday, July 31.

This production also continues the collaboration the Louisville Ballet began with last year’s “The Tempest,” showcasing 10 award-winning step dancers from Western Middle School, performing choreography by Chris Malone and Antae Dickerson.

The big change is the addition of a new choreographer, Erica De La O. A principal dancer with the ballet, De La O has performed roles from the titular Giselle to Odette from “Swan Lake.” She brings a blend of modern ballet and contemporary movement to Louisville Ballet. 

Insider caught up with De La O and Creel to talk about dancing, dynasties and how to get inside the mind of a queen who took on the most powerful empire in the world. 

“(Creel) had already established that he wanted to do Cleopatra. And he asked me if I would be available … I think he wanted to have the female point of view,” says De La O. “We’ve had many conversations about ballet from the female point of view, and interrogating a ballet that’s done all the time, but interrogating it from the point of view of a woman.” 

In addition to bringing a woman’s perspective to art focusing on a woman’s perspective, Creel saw value in De La O’s lived experiences in and out of the ballet world. 

“Erica, having grown up in east L.A., has a lot of experience translating between worlds, which is exactly what Cleopatra has to do,” says Creel. “Cleopatra has bridged the gap between the Egyptian and Roman world.” 

Roger Creel

Roger Creel in rehearsal for “The Tempest” | Photo by Sam English

De La O’s transition between public spheres has manifested in her work before, particularly in her installation piece “Illesig.” While it deconstructed and reversed ideas on gender found in the classic ballet “Giselle,” De La O performed it in a skate park and community center in Los Angeles. 

Another gap De La O bridges is the space between the ballet classics of old and today’s new works, a feat that is coming to be a major focus of the Louisville Ballet under Director Robert Curran. 

For De La O, that means seeking out new opportunities and new ways of dancing. 

“I always do workshops when I go home (to east L.A.), especially in contemporary, because I knew I needed to explore contemporary movement and modern,” she says. “So offseason, I always make it a point to take workshops that are uncomfortable.”

That discomfort has paid off, and De La O has choreographed for the Louisville Ballet’s Choreographer’s Showcase, the Louisville Ballet School, “Dis/comfort Zones,” the Hadley Creatives’ interactive installation work at Actors Theatre, as well as other opportunities around the region.  

Erica De La O and Kristopher Wojtera

Erica De La O and Kristopher Wojtera as Marie and the Nutcracker | Photo by Sam English

Despite her work that steps outside of the world of ballet — and dance altogether — De La O is emphatic on one point.

“I’m a bun head. Loud and clear,” she says.

Bun head is the common slang in the dance world for dedicated ballet dancers. And De La O’s declaration certainly speaks to what audiences will see on the C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheater’s stage. 

“There is definitely ballet in it. And fouettébecause it’s my vocabulary. It’s my native tongue,” she explains. “But I’m also using it in different ways. There’s definitely a mix of classical ballet, and it’s used traditionally and un-traditionally. It’s used vertically and horizontally.”

De La O puts just as much thought into what that movement means.  

“Something (Roger Creel and I) are both interested in is constantly having a conversation about the information we have now about Cleopatra. And breaking down the image, this Hollywood image, the sexualized image she carried for so many years,” says De La O. “When in fact we now are more certain of her actual characteristics. She was very educated, she spoke many languages, she was an incredible military strategist, she ruled the country for decades successfully.” 

De La O believes that is a huge part of why a female perspective and choreographer is so important to “Cleopatra.”

“So, looking at the female body from a different point of view … rather than a hot babe in the black slinky thing and cool eye makeup,” she adds.

“Cleopatra: Queen of Kings” performs nightly at 8 p.m. from July 31 through Aug. 4 at the C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheater in Central Park, 1340 S. Fourth St. The free production runs approximately 90 minutes with one intermission. Pre-show entertainment is hosted by Louisville Ballet’s Community Engagement department and will include performances by the Louisville Ballet School students and pre-show talks with the artistic team. 

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Creature Feature’s Christmas in July event might have The Goat Man in a Santa disguise

The Goat Man

The Goat Man seems excited about Saturday’s Creature Feature. | Courtesy of Louisville Halloween

Halloween people don’t stop being Halloween people just because their favorite holiday was months ago — or is still months away.

Haunted houses, or “haunts,” often offer their dedicated fans offseason programming, and on Saturday, July 20, The Legend at Pope Lick Haunted Woods is mixing that special haunted feeling with the excellent summer tradition of outdoor movies on a big screen. The result is the Creature Feature Free Movie Nights.

Insider caught up with Michael Book — co-owner of Louisville Halloween, the company behind the Pope Lick Haunted Woods, the Black Orchard Haunted House and several other haunted attractions in the area — one of the folks behind the Creature Feature event.

He gave us the back story on how he into got into haunting, why The Parklands of Floyds Fork Pope Lick Park was excited for the creation of The Legend of Pope Lick Haunted Woods horror attraction, and what we can expect from the Creature Feature. 

Michael Book and Mayor Greg Fischer

Michael Book and Mayor Greg Fischer | Courtesy of Louisville Halloween

Book has been a huge horror fan since he was 3, when a favorite uncle started showing him horror films. Then that same uncle started taking him to haunted houses. 

“He took me to a couple of different ones,” recalls Book. “Being 4, I can’t actually remember if my first was Culbertson Mansion or The Haunted Hotel.”

From there, Book developed a fascination with horror, haunts and special effects that led him to start making haunted houses in his basement and garage as a tween, then working for and running professional haunts as a teen.

He worked at just about every major haunt in town, including spending time as the creative director at Industrial Nightmare and running Nightmare Forest.

But his longest-running association is with Danger Run, which he first joined in its third year, back in the late ’90s.

For those unfamiliar, Danger Run is scavenger-hunt-style game that includes local haunts. At first Danger Run worked with other haunts and had scare fans finding spooky experiences run by other companies. But eventually, it started running its own haunted attractions and formed Louisville Halloween as a parent company for the different entities. 

One of the haunted attractions the company runs is The Legend at Pope Lick Haunted Woods.

Organizers of the attraction — and the Pope Lick Park — definitely want to scare folks, but they also hoped to help make the park less likely to attract seekers of real danger, the ones who want to climb the trestle and look for the legendary Goat Man. 

“They wanted to change the public image around the monster, because that folklore is a big deal for people … and give people an outlet, a safe outlet, to explore that folklore,” says Book.

Last year, Pope Lick Park and Louisville Halloween decided to throw their first Creature Feature. Book says the event is a great opportunity for the haunt. 

“We get to interact with these people during the offseason in a way that’s a little bit different than going to the haunted house,” he explains. “So when they come to the Creature Feature, they get to see a movie totally for free, and in addition we also have costumed characters. Sometimes they are characters from the movie, and sometimes they are characters from the haunt itself.”

scene from creature feature

Movie fans await the night’s film. | Courtesy of Louisville Halloween

Last summer, Creature Feature ran one night of programming and featured the ’80s horror film “The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster” and paired it with “The Blair Witch Project.” Book says those films complemented the parks natural beauty — and spookiness. 

“They’re surrounded by woods, it’s in the dark, they’re under the stars,” he says. “We wanted it to feel spooky and scary. And we wanted the element of the Pope Lick Monster.”

But the first Creature Feature almost didn’t happen.

“There was a torrential downpour the day we were going to have our movie,” says Book. “It was dumping rain and it was 6 o’clock, and I was looking at one of my partners and I said, ‘We really just need to cancel.’”

But Book and company decided to have the event anyway, and roughly 400 people showed up. 

“It astonished everybody,” he recalls. “We had no idea it would turn out like that. So when the park saw that, and we saw that, we were like, ‘Well, this works. We have to do this again.’”

monster

This guy might be out and about Saturday. | Courtesy of Louisville Halloween

So this summer, which started with “Ghostbusters” in May, Creature Feature is offering a total of four free nights of monster and horror-oriented entertainment. 

For Saturday’s event, they decided to mix in America’s other favorite holiday. 

“This is our Christmas in July,” says Book. “We’re going to put up Christmas decorations. We’ll have the real Santa and Mrs. Clause, but we’ll also have characters from the haunt dressed in Christmas costumes. So the Goat Man is going to have a Santa costume.” 

The free film includes some free stuff.

“We’re going to do some giveaways that are actually wrapped Christmas gifts, so (winners) will have to unwrap their gift,” Book adds. “It’s all part of the scene to make it more immersive.” 

Finding the right feature film for Christmas in July was tough, according to Book, with the two possible movies being “Krampus” or “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

“Ultimately we decided there’s a bigger fan base for ‘Nightmare,’ and I love ‘Nightmare Before Christmas.’” 

Creature Feature kicks up some ho-ho-horror on Saturday, June 20, at the Pope Lick Haunted Woods, 4002 S. Pope Lick Road. Activities start at 8 p.m., and the movie starts at dusk. The event returns Saturday, Aug. 17, with a double feature of “Night of the Living Dead” and “Seven,” then haunts again on Friday, Sept. 13 with “Friday the 13th: Parts III and XI.”


Revelry’s ‘ALT’ exhibit challenges artists to use something different

Art by Tatiana Rathke

Tatiana Rathke’s work in progress for “ALT”

Revelry Boutique Gallery is a great place to see a wide variety of artists working in diverse mediums. Group shows like “Cuteopia” and “The Future is Unwritten” have emerged as one of the best ways to see some of the greatest new and established artists in Louisville. 

On Saturday, “ALT,” another group show at Revelry, is getting its chance to become of fixture of the art scene. “ALT” challenges local artists to work with alternative materials and explore outside the strictures of their medium. Insider Louisville spoke with two of the exhibition’s artists — Tatiana Rathke and Monica Stewart — to find out what strange materials they’ve been digging into for this show.

Stewart has been featured by Insider before, known for elaborate paper cuts that depict fairy-tale images that challenge and examine gender interactions in classic stories. She has been deeply immersed in her graduate degree program at UofL’s Hite Art Institute, which she recently finished, and just as she came up for air, she began to conceptualize her piece for “ALT.”

“As I was trying to lay out the project, I was beginning to have more space in my head to be overwhelmed by the atrocities of our current government … and all of these things I had been (ignoring) while I was totally engrossed in school,” says Stewart

Art by Monica Stewart

“How Do I Turn My Tears Into Blades” by Monica Stewart

The alternative material she planned to use was a byproduct of her normal art-making practice. 

“As someone who works a lot with cut paper and uses X-Acto knives, once the blades are dull, they are no longer usable. But they are also not the easiest things to recycle. So I tend to hoard them,” she says. 

The razor blades felt, to Stewart, like a way to discuss her feelings and frustrations. 

“I found a handkerchief, and I thought, that’s something we associate with mourning. It became a way to think about — in terms of imagery — ‘How do I turn my tears into blades?’ ” 

Playing off her graduate thesis’ focus on needlepoint, Stewart created a strongly metaphorical image with conceptual elements directly linked to her alternative material.

The finished piece is a handkerchief bearing a large, bright green eye dropping embroidered tears that seem to transmute into razor blades as they travel down the piece of thin white linen.

On the flip side, Tatiana Rathke works in multiple mediums as a photographer and installation artist. She already was considering an adventure in a different medium when she got the opportunity to put work in the exhibit.

“I’ve really wanted to work with found objects and assemblage … (so) I’m doing something more sculptural for ‘ALT,’ ” she says.

Unlike Stewart, Rathke didn’t start with a stockpile of objects. 

“I’m a person who goes to Goodwill a lot and finds an object that speaks to me,” explains Rathke. “I went and found a whole bin of Barbie dolls.” 

The Barbies were already the worse for wear — nude, with tangled and dirty hair.

“I felt like, wow these are something I loved as a kid, and I never would have thought to destroy Barbies,” she says.

Art by Mike McCarthy

Mike McCarthy’s “Mind’s Eye” is made of encyclopedias and is featured in “ALT.”

Not only would Rathke never have hurt a hair on her Barbie’s head during her childhood, she says she had intense feelings of love and connection with many of the objects in her life. 

“I sometimes said goodnight to my toothbrush,” she says.

When Rathke found the bin of Barbies at Goodwill, she immediately was inspired to pair them with an object she had previously found and kept — a mirror. 

Contrary to the gentle urges she might have felt as a child, Rathke got rough with the ubiquitous plastic dolls. She cut off their hair and spray-painted them pink. She wanted to subvert the color’s frequently assigned gender-specific meaning.   

“You make pink be whatever it wants to be,” the artist says. 

Rathke thinks the sort of challenge “ALT’ presents to creatives is important for their development. 

“I see artists who have their niche … and I think it’s important for me to make a lot of different things and keep learning,” she says. “And the only way is to keep experimenting with new materials.”

Sounds like “ALT” will be a learning experience for all 14 artists involved, and it promises to be an evening of new materials, new ideas and strong feelings — hopefully for the artists and the attendees.  

“ALT” opens on Saturday, July 20, with a free reception from 7 to 10 p.m. The exhibit continues through Aug. 12. Revelry is located at 742 E. Market St.


Punk pioneers show off their visual art side in ‘TK + TJO = TKO: New Work by Tara Key and Tara Jane O’Neil’

Tara Key and Tara Jane O'Neil

Tara Key and Tara Jane O’Neil | Courtesy of the artists

Louisville’s music scene has been lauded in nationwide music press for decades. And starting Friday, July 12, two of Louisville’s punk pioneers from the ’80s and ’90s will show off a completely different side of their creative spirits.

Tara Key, formerly of the Babylon Dance Band and currently a part of the New York-based Antietam, and Tara Jane O’Neil of Rodan present “TK + TJO = TKO: New Work by Tara Key & Tara Jane O’Neil” in the gallery space of the Highlands record store Surface Noise

Insider caught up with the two via phone to talk about the show and find out how they got to know each other in New York. 

Both had heard of another “Tara from Louisville” while in New York, and the two finally met in the mid-’90s when Rodan played its first show in the Big Apple.

"McAlpine Locks and Dam" by Tara Key

“McAlpine Locks and Dam” by Tara Key

Key recalls that moment.

“(Our friend) said, ‘Tara, meet Tara.”

O’Neil remembers that meeting in a similar way, although she also has an earlier memory of Key: She saw Key and the Babylon Dance Band live. 

“Tara (Key) showed up, and at the time she had short hair, she was wearing a leather hat, and she was up on stage … I was pretty young at the time, I was 15, going to hardcore shows and stuff,” says O’Neil. 

Members of the hardcore punk scene, then and now, can tell you that far too often there is a gender disparity exhibited on stage — punk and hardcore may be a rebellion against our dominant structures, but that rebellion doesn’t always manage to leave the sexism of those structures behind, so the image of Key on stage was pretty formative for O’Neil.

“Seeing a woman present that way was really exciting,” she says. 

Their friendship hasn’t taken any breaks since it began, and the two even worked together on Antietam’s 2004 record.

Key praises O’Neil: “(She’s) a multi-faceted artist, and I wanted to do something together.”

"Two Ladies" by Tara Key

“Two Ladies” by Tara Key

As the two were considering the possibility of a visual art team-up, Key came across a box of photographic negatives. 

“They had belonged to my dad and my uncle, who were both serious photographers but who never got any attention basically,” says Key. 

This discovery came not long after Key’s mother had died. 

“The negatives hadn’t been taken care of really, so when I took them out, I could see scratches on them. I could see everybody’s fingerprints from who had handled them, from my uncle to my mom to who knows who,” explains Key. “All those folks have passed now, so it really was emotional to know that I’m holding this object that they touched, that they put their heart and soul into.”

Key had gone through some of the negatives before, but when she did, she was preparing photos for her mother’s funeral services.  

“When I went back through, I saw amazing photographs that weren’t members of the family, which is what I’d concentrated on. But also landscapes and weird double exposures of stuff,” she says. 

While digitizing the negatives, Key’s creative spirit struck. She scanned them into the computer in a variety of ways, as well as manipulating them in Photoshop, to see how different approaches would affect the final images. She arrived at a process of scanning the black-and-white negative into the computer using the setting for a color negative. 

“And when I did that, magic colors appeared, not unlike what should have been there, but kind of hyped up,” says Key. 

She knew she wanted to exhibit these photographs and decided they could make a great show with O’Neil. 

Untitled by Tara Jane O'Neil

Untitled by Tara Jane O’Neil

O’Neil looked at the pictures and began to consider which pieces of her art she could include. While she eventually decided to use photographs from a project she began last spring, O’Neil works in multiple genres. 

“I move around a lot in the way I do visual stuff — mostly it’s drawing and painting ,” says O’Neil. “I used to do a lot more painting, but then I spent a ton of time on tour, so everything  had to be quite small, so I had a pack of pens and pencils and my notebooks, and that’s what I had to work with.”

Touring meant a lot of time on the road, but O’Neil says she has always moved around a lot.

Since she settled down a few years ago in New York, O’Neil had begun a photography series, cataloging objects she had carried in her various travels, objects that had been with her long enough that they had become precious artifacts as well as things that had been passed down to her from relatives. 

O’Neil saw these photographs as being akin to the work Key was presenting. O’Neil’s work is photography of artifacts, and Key’s work is photography made from the artifacts she found, the negatives of photos taken by her father and uncle.      

Both of these collections of work reflect on time and, in turn, reflect the time the two Taras have spent with each other as musicians and visual artists over the years. According to Key, artists need a community of other artists to help them grow. 

“You climb the ladder, and you take turns on the rungs,” says Key.

“TK + TJO = TKO: New Work by Tara Key & Tara Jane O’Neil” opens with a free reception on Friday, July 12, from 6 to 9 p.m. The exhibition hangs through Aug. 3. Surface Noise is located at 600 Baxter Ave.

And on Saturday, July 13, Key’s band Antietam will perform at Louisville Turners with O’Neil, Jmy James Kidd, Juanita and other bands. Music begins at 7:30 p.m., and Turners is located at 3125 River Road. 


John Brooks’ ‘A Map of Scents’ integrates the artist’s many disciplines

art by John Brooks

Detail of “You Were a Night Owl but It Doesn’t Matter” by John Brooks

If the name John Brooks rings a bell for Insider readers, it’s probably because we’ve profiled several artists who have been featured at Quappi Projects, the Portland gallery Brooks opened in 2017

Though he helps other artists from Louisville and beyond exhibit their work and connect with art lovers, Brooks has his own artistic practice that has been transforming in the last year.

The work he’s created will come fully into the public eye on Friday when “A Map of Scents,” his solo exhibition at Moremen Gallery, opens. 

John Brooks

John Brooks | Courtesy

Insider caught up with Brooks to talk about the show, how his art has evolved in the last year, and why running a gallery almost ended his love of painting, 

“Through opening Quappi Projects, I suddenly  had a lot of people who were coming through the space … it really sort of highlighted to me the fact that I was a bit stuck in my practice,” says Brooks. “I decided I was going to quit painting. I was just so frustrated and couldn’t see a way forward.”

Artists often go through fallow periods, but this seemed different to Brooks. It’s possible that this frustration in part came from the fact that his art follows several different paths.

“I had a painting practice, I had a poetry practice, I had a photography practice and I had a collage practice, and they all existed separately,” he explains. 

Brooks decided to merge those practices, but the process was complex.

“I started using both collage and some photography as a basis for composition for the paintings,” he says. 

Brooks’ new process started with him using existing collages and photographs and treating them as the subject of a painting, the way a still-life or a model might be a subject. After creating several new works this way, he began making new collages and then painting them. 

Even then he wasn’t using his poems yet. 

“In the past I’ve thought about poems and poetry, but they’ve just been sort of something to reflect upon, and they’re not really present in the work,” he says. “And I had resisted doing that for so long, because I felt like it was almost too easy, it was too leading.”

art by John Brooks

Detail of “Spring is a Yes Finally” by John Brooks

Despite that initial instinct to avoid obvious “meanings” in paintings, he began to be open to text from his poems. 

“I was thinking about specific poems or specific lines, but then when it came time to put the text in the work, they didn’t want it — the paintings didn’t want it. And I kept thinking, one will show up where it will and then we’ll do that, but it never happened.”

In a few places, words show up as background text not meant to inform or instruct a viewer. 

Then Brooks came upon the notion of using single lines from his poetry as titles. Similarly to his integration of collage, photography and painting, the artist began using lines from existing poems to title his paintings, but soon enough the paintings started suggesting poems to him, which he would then write down.

“Bisky Says Joy Comes from the Action” by John Brooks

These new poems then yielded new titles, phrases like “Spring is a Yes Finally,” “Friend, I’m in that Deepest Channel” and “You Were a Night Owl but It Doesn’t Matter.”

The words are evocative and by themselves conjure plenty of images. And yet upon first glance, the titles do not reflect in any literal sense what one sees in the paintings.  

Brooks’ practice has been invigorated by his integration of genres, and his new show includes one more exciting aspect. 

“I’m working at a larger scale than I’ve ever worked before,” he says. “There are some really big paintings in terms of my work.” 

Some of the pieces are 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide, which gives the viewer a lot of room to investigate the fine details of Brooks’ new process and the product of his near abandonment of the art of painting. 

“Through that pressure of having to figure out that (new process), it created a lot of growth for me,” he adds.  

“A Map of Scents” opens Friday, July 12, with a reception from 5:30 to 8 p.m., including an artist’s talk at 7 p.m. It continues through Aug. 10. Moremen Gallery is located at 710 W. Main St. on the second floor. 


New Ebony G. Patterson exhibit at the Speed cannot simply be viewed, it must be experienced

 "Ebony G. Patterson" exhibit

A shot of “Ebony G. Patterson” exhibit, now at the Speed Art Museum | Courtesy of Speed Art Museum

Step out of the elevator on the second floor of the Speed Art Museum, and you’ll see a fairly normal sight. One large wall has been transformed into an artfully displayed title written in over-sized letters: “Ebony G. Patterson: … while the dew is still on the roses

But as soon as one turns the corner and walks into the exhibition, one begins to realize the scope of the show — not only in its size but in its beauty and in the immersive aspects of the installation, which includes more than a dozen large-scale mixed media works.

The walls of the entire show are cloaked in handmade cloth wallpaper, another dark shade of blue that reveals a repeated image of flowers in a garden by night. Sprouting from the walls are outgrowths of flora, in some areas strings of blossoms float in the air, suspended by invisible tie line.  

Ebony G. Patterson

Ebony G. Patterson | Courtesy of Speed Art Museum

The beauty accentuates the difficult subject ahead, and like the Speed’s “Southern Accents” exhibit, it deals explicitly with our culture’s murder and oppression of people of color.

“… while the dew is still on the roses …,” which opened at the Speed on June 21, originated at Miami’s Pérez Art Museum, where Chief Curator Tobias Ostrander originally worked with the artist to curate the show.

But the Speed’s iteration fills the entirety of the museum’s second floor and has a much larger footprint than it did at the Pérez.

The lush, dark hues and flowers are meant to create a garden at night, an idea that began to shape when Patterson was considering what her works meant when placed together, while her conversation with Ostrander gave form to the exhibit. The works span nine years of the artist’s career.

Many of the pieces on display are richly embroidered and adorned tapestries, which can dazzle the eye at a casual glance but challenge the emotions and ideas of the viewer on closer inspection. But the first art viewers encounter is a film installation, which begins the ongoing examination running throughout the show.

A still from “Three Kings Weep” by Ebony G. Patterson | Courtesy of Speed Art Museum

In this film — “The Observation: A Fictitious History” — three large screens project a lush triptych of a jungle, and in the central screen, that jungle is inhabited by two figures.

They are clearly people of color but also are cloaked and masked in a way that throws their identity, nature and even genders into question.

“What happens, in the beginning, is that you’re entering an environment and you’re observing,” Patterson explains to Insider. “So again, the audience is being asked to bear witness at bodies that would not be ordinarily given real attention or attention in a way that is not loaded or grounded and stereotypes or fear.” 

After the video installation, the mixed-media works begin to appear, but only after the viewer sees a much simpler creation.

“The earliest work in the show is a drawing on paper,” she says.

That drawing features fabric and plastic adornments, a foreshadowing of what follows.

Starting with that drawing, there is a progression — almost a narrative — the exhibit creates. In the first several pieces, there are human figures, the bodies of black people, but then the bodies disappear, leaving behind images of empty clothes.

The visuals presented appear highly figurative and metaphorical, up to and including the names of many works that contain allusions to apocalyptic portions of the Bible. Additionally, some titles include words with two meanings — and two spellings. One example is “bear/bare,” a combination indicating the dual effects of seeing black bodies has on the women in the black community who must bear witness to the death, and in doing so bare themselves emotionally by witnessing.

“I see myself in relation to, you know, like the long history of painters, and so I’m recording the moment because I think these moments are really important,” says Patterson. “There’s something to be said about history that is not acknowledged. It repeats itself, and we’ve been in repetition mode for a very long time.” 

video installation of "Three Kings Weep"

Still from video installation “Three Kings Weep” by Ebony G. Patterson | Courtesy of Speed Art Museum

The ultimate piece in the exhibition is another video installation, “Three Kings Weep.” Three black men, on screens 20 feet high, each start nude and then dress in fine clothing, while crying.

“They get dressed to Claude McKay’s poem called ‘If We Must Die,'” Patterson says. “It recognizes that death is imminent, it is coming, but if we must die, let us die on our terms.”

The images — and the entirety of “… while the dew is still on the roses …” — demands that viewers grapple with their culpability in those deaths. Beautiful, unsettling and immersive, the exhibition cannot be viewed, it must be experienced.

“Ebony G. Patterson: … while the dew is still on the roses …” remains on display through Jan. 5. The Speed is located at 2035 S. Third St., and admission is free on Sundays.


TV and film exec Deb Spera on writing her first novel; author appears at Carmichael’s on Thursday

Deb Spera

Deb Spera | Courtesy of Grettel Cortes

Deb Spera has a pretty exciting life story, but when she stops by Carmichael’s Bookstore on Thursday, she won’t be telling it. Instead, she’ll focus on three women — Gertrude, Annie and Greta, the three protagonists of her first novel, “Call Your Daughter Home.”

Spera, a Louisville native, spoke with Insider in advance of her visit.

The author entered the world of the arts as an actor before jumping to producing plays and then switching to films and later TV.

You’ve probably seen Spera’s work, as she’s had a hand in a wide variety of films from “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” to “Free Willy.” The film world wasn’t fast-paced enough for Spera, so she moved to TV, and she’s worked on shows for Showtime and network TV, including some of our favorites like “Private Practice,” “Criminal Minds” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

She now owns and runs her own company, One-Two Punch Productions.

“About four years ago, I had a little lull in my life, and I decided to do something I’d always wanted to do, which was to write something,” she tells Insider. “So I had an idea to write five short stories that would be compiled into a small novella. I wanted to explore what was passed down from one generation to the next, so these five short stories consisted of five generations of women from the same Southern family, and they are all set in different time periods.”

Spera wrote those stories and started sending them to literary journals. She quickly racked up publishing credits — Sixfold, The Wascana Review and Pennsylvania English. She’s also a two-time nominee and finalist for the James Kirkwood Literary Prize as well as the Montana Prize in Fiction. If you’re not up on fiction prizes, just getting nominated for those two is a big deal. 

Despite early and encouraging successes, Spera was still feeling a little like a fish out of water. But you don’t work in the biz as long as Spera has without meeting a couple of people, and after asking Mark Bowden — who wrote the book “Black Hawk Down” — for advice, she quickly found herself with an agent who had a very different idea for what to do with these short stories.

“She said, ‘I don’t think these are short stories at all, I think they are novels in disguise, and I would love for you to start with the first short story and expand it into a full-fledged novel,’ ” says Spera.

Now with an agent and encouragement to write a full novel, Spera still felt completely unprepared.

“Then I cried on the couch for two weeks, because I was so scared,” she admits. “I was so scared of failing. I’ve never done a full-fledged novel … I was pretty sure I could not do it.”

She then initiated a trick that has worked for a lot of first-time writers in a multitude of genres.

“I just conned myself,” she explains. “I said ‘Well, I’m going to give myself permission to suck for one hour every day. I’m going to give myself permission to fail.’ ”

One hour became two, and before she knew it, she had the first draft, quickly followed by a full rewrite and a book deal for “Call Your Daughter Home.”

The book is set in 1924 in a small town in South Carolina named Branchville.

“My grandmother grew up there. As a child, I used to go visit my great-grandmother, Mamma Lane, and I spent some time in Branchville,” she says. “I would listen to the stories my grandmother would tell me about growing up in what she called ‘desperate times.’ ”

book jacketThose “desperate times” started before the rest of the country entered the Great Depression, after the mono-culture cotton-based economy was devoured by an insect infestation from the boll weevil.

Spera says there is a lot of her grandmother in the characters who inhabit “Call Your Daughter Home.”

“I was, as a child, mesmerized by her and her stories of hardships and survival,” the author says. “She was a real anchor in our family. She raised everybody like crops, she kept us clean and fed.”

The ability to rise above desperate times is at the heart of “Call Your Daughter Home,” a novel that has three central characters united by one characteristic.

“These three women are connected by their ferocity of motherhood. But they are not victims of their circumstance; they rise above their circumstance ultimately,” says Spera.

She describes the novel as a “Southern Gothic adventure” but also believes that motherhood has a universal appeal that will satisfy readers of all kinds, not just the ones drawn to Southern literature.

“Those are the themes I wanted to explore — how do three completely different women from completely different classes and ethnicities bond and band together?”

Jumping into another unfamiliar terrain, Spera is on a book tour. She says she already has started her second novel but has to put it on hold for just a moment.

“I’ve never done this whole thing before, doing a book tour. And I do have some things that need attention with my company,” she says. “But when all this dies down a little, I’m definitely going to take the time and give myself permission to write badly again, for one hour every day, and we’ll see what happens.”

Spera stops by Carmichael’s Bookstore, 2720 Frankfort Ave., on Thursday, June 20, at 7 p.m.