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For the Birds: The Birdsong Project: Last week, music supervisor Randall Poster released The Birdsong Project – a collection of original songs and readings that are all inspired by one of nature’s greatest gifts: the expansive world of birds and their song. An idea that was hatched at the start of the pandemic, Randall brought together some of the most visionary and influential artists to create work for the project and the first volume is now available to stream. It’s incredibly moving, and the best part about it is that the proceeds with benefit the National Audubon Society to support bird conservation. Additional releases will be available to stream monthly over the summer and a limited-edition box set of 20 LP’s will be released in the fall.
Kneeland Co. Podcast: Lee Kaplan of Arcana Books: A few years ago I had an ambitious calling to start a podcast (only one episode!) and I interviewed my dear friend Lee Kaplan, founder of Arcana: Books on the Arts aka The World’s Greatest Art & Design bookstore located in Culver City, CA. Lee is a force. An OG of the LA music scene who began his career at Rhino Records in 1975, where he introduced jazz and reggae vinyl to the original store in Westwood and later went on to start Arcana in 1984 in his apartment. I listened to my interview with him recently and was so inspired by his stories, like waiting in line for the first Led Zeppelin record to be released in the US and his discovery of art catalogs through a prominent LA art book dealer. Listen to the podcast here and then read a little Q & A with Lee:
JW: Name three of your most treasured books and/or art catalogs from your personal collection, and what is it that makes them special to you?
LK: That’s not an easy task, as I have so many – if not too many – books and there are so many different criteria by which I might answer this question. There are the ones I love that might be construed as influential or inspiring. There are those that for whatever reason I return to time and time again. And then there are those things I just happen to favor in the moment. Let’s take one of each, shall we?
1 – Edward Ruscha’s “Twentysix Gasoline Stations” is the antecedent for so many of the great photographically-based artist books of the nineteen sixties and seventies. Chronicling the artist’s own Great American Road Trip along Route 66 from Oklahoma to Los Angeles, it both celebrates and puts a conceptual nail in the coffin of Kerouac and the Beat Generation’s “On the Road.” The small format, mundane, matter of fact typology of the quotidian gas station was both visionary and influential on so many levels. And in 1962, Ruscha’s virgin self-published effort could well have been commercial suicide. That it sold all four hundred and forty copies and went into two subsequent editions is serendipity, And art history! I never tire of looking at this and thinking about what might not have been had Ruscha not taken this quirky chance.
2 – A favorite of mine as both an epic example of bookmaking and a childhood touchstone is Jesse Alexander’s remarkable 1972 document of Formula 1, “At Speed.” I was born and raised in Los Angeles, where my father was a weekend Southern California Sportscar Club of America racer. In the fifties he was friends and drove with the likes of Dan Gurney, Phil Hill, and Richie Ginther, who were the first American drivers to race in F1. My parents divorced in 1966, the same year my father celebrated my tenth birthday by taking me and a group of friends to see John Frankenheimer’s groundbreaking film “Grand Prix” at Hollywood’s Cinerama Dome. What a sensory experience that was! The film’s actual drivers were all my childhood heroes like Gurney, Hill, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, Bruce McLaren, etc. Jesse Alexander is from Santa Barbara, and was international in his scope as a competition photographer. His photos of classic Ferrari sports cars are legendary, and “At Speed’s” riveting images of those guys participating in the sixties European Grands Prix both on the track and behind the scenes completely changed the notion of what an automotive photography book might be. Gargantuan in size, many of its images are strikingly spread across the gatefolds. It’s a niche book for sure, with no precedent for its immense scale and vibrant color reportage. It’s everything I wanted to experience back then, but never actually could as all the action took place in Europe, and well, I was not yet even in my teens.
3 – “Encampment, Wyoming: Selections From the Lora Webb Nichols Archive, 1899-1948” is an exquisitely produced photobook from the small Dutch publisher Fw Books that arrived during the darkest days of the pandemic and which totally lifts my spirit every time I return to it. Nichols was the studio photographer for the small Wyoming town of Encampment, and her images distill half a century of distinctly American image-making that parallels if not presages everyone from Disfarmer to Walker Evans to Diane Arbus. This obscure gem should reside in every photography lover’s library.
JW: What was the first album that blew your mind and how old were you?
LK: My first actual LP was “Beach Boys Concert” which I received as a Christmas gift in 1964. It was just Pop Music, but it was my own! The first album that “blew my mind” came the following December in the form of “The Kink Kontroversy.” Ray and Dave Davies were pretty badass by my nine year old standards. But, the album that totally changed the way I thought about music and how it was made was Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, and Han Bennink’s “The Topography of the Lungs” on Incus which I scored as an import while interning during the summer of 1970 at Westwood Village’s incredible Vogue Records. I bought it for the Dada-inspired cover collage, and my niggling curiosity as to what a guitar, saxophone, and percussion trio might sound like. It had to be even more experimental than King Crimson, right? After hearing that one, there was no going back!!!
JW: What is one of your most formative experiences that led you to start Arcana?
LK: I often recount the importance of my bibliophile grandfather hiring a youthful me to catalogue his extensive library on 5 x 7″ file cards one summer. A job I might add that I spectacularly failed to finish by the time school came back around in the Fall, setting the stage for many of my lifelong, poor organizational habits. However, my first real retail job was working between 1975 and 1981 at Rhino Records on Westwood Boulevard. In the words of Wildman Fisher, I was one the “nice people there who’d show you where the records are.” Well, maybe not so nice… 🙂 I had just taken what proved to be a permanent “quarter off” from UCLA, and Rhino turned out to be an amazing and liberating gig at a formative time surrounded by a host of idiosyncratic colleagues and customers. I am forever in gratitude to owner Richard Foos for giving our weird little family (that included the likes of Jeff Gold, Nels Cline, Gary Stewart, and myself) so much freedom and respect. When Richard sold the shop to focus on the record label and it became clear that it was time for me to move on and do something else, I decided to try applying my knowledge gathered at Rhino and transfer it to buying and selling books rather than records. Not too long after that I opened the first iteration of Arcana: Books on the Arts in a one bedroom apartment a little further south on Westwood. That was thirty-eight years ago, and somehow I keep showing up for work.
JW: Name three of your favorite albums of all time that you never tire of listening to.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Are You Experienced? – 1967
The Art Ensemble of Chicago: People in Sorrow – 1969
Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation – 1988
JW: What do you love the most about Los Angeles?
LK: Well, I’ve lived here all my life, and that becomes harder and harder to answer with the same degree of enthusiasm each passing year. I have always loved the mild climate and the quality of light, but as the seasons perpetually become hotter and less distinct from one another, that thrill is pretty much gone. That noted, culturally this city is truly blessed, so there’s that.
JW: What do you enjoy the most about running a bookstore?
LK: The fact that I do this in partnership with my wife – and the love of my life – Whitney; and that after more than twenty years of our working together, we still look forward to seeing one another at the shop each day. Also, there is still something uniquely satisfying about placing just the right book in the right person’s hands in the right moment. And most times getting paid for that!
Art and Sensuality in the Houses of Pompeii: I’ve always been enraptured by the gods of Greek and Roman mythology and what they symbolize. A new exhibition in Pompeii is showing 70 works of erotic art at the Pompeii Archaeological Park that includes a fresco of Leda and The Swan, a hedonistic depiction of the Greek god Zeus turning into a swan and seducing the Spartan Queen Leda. The exhibition “aims to illustrate and recount the extent and significance of sensual and erotic subjects in the domus and in the daily life of the ancient Pompeians.” How I wish I could see this in person.
Pucci: I live for summer, and these 1960s photos of Veruschka and Marisa Berenson covered in psychedelic Pucci prints are everything I’m feeling right now, getting me in the mood for an Italian getaway. No one did prints like Emilio Pucci, and I’ve been spending time with the Taschen book that pays tribute to one of the most iconic fashion brands – filled with archival photography and design sketches.
Pistol: I’m looking forward to watching the new Danny Boyle series about the Sex Pistols, based on the memories of the group’s founding member Steve Jones. While I’ve never been a huge Six Pistols fan, I’ve always appreciated what they stood for and more than anything, the aesthetics. Artists Jamie Reid and Malcolm McLaren along with fashion designer Vivienne Westwood were behind the Sex Pistols’ visuals, creating some of the most seminal images that became ingrained in punk (and popular) culture. Many of those designs will be up for auction at Sotheby’s at the end of the month, including a handwritten page of lyrics for the single, “Pretty Vacant.” This design in salmon pink and green is from their 1977 album, first released by Barclay Records in France before the actual U.K. release.
Brook Peridgon Textiles: My talented friend Brook Perdigon invited me to visit her textile studio this week to see her new Impressions floral collection, all hand drawn and hand screened in Los Angeles. I fell in love with the Tropics print in yellow ochre, inspired by her childhood paintings of her mother’s pansy garden. It has me fantasizing about a tropical surf shack, where I’d cover every single piece of furniture in this happy print.