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Arts and Entertainment

Igloo Tornado Show @ black maria Gallery Saturday, February 23; Also, An Interview.

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Igloo Tornado is an East Side based art collective (they actually call it a Fraternity, which when you account for their frequent references to beer, can probably be taken in both the Classical Greek and Collegiate meanings) featuring the work of Levon Jihanian, Tom Neely, Gin Steven and Scot Nobles.

They formed in 2004, had their first show as a group in 2006 and after a two year hiatus, they're back with an Eponymously titled event that opens tomorrow night at the black maria gallery in Atwater Village. I was invited to watch them set up the show last Wednesday, and after letting me mooch beer off of them, they were nice enough to submit to a poorly organized interview wherein they shared their thoughts on art, their shared sense of humor (and love of beer,) and the surprising influence of Dungeons & Dragons on the current show.


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LAIST: What's Your Age and Occupation?

Levon Jihanian: I'm thirty, and I have a job in computers creating web content for Disney.

Tom Neely: 32 today... 33 on Monday. Occupation: I like to say Cartoonist and Painter, but the day-job is freelance animator and part time metal-head.

Gin Steven: 32 years young - Work at world famous Contemporary Art Gallery (Patrick Painter Inc.)

Scot Nobles: 33 years young. Artist, duh.

LAIST: Home town?

LJ: I was born in Syria, but raised here in Pasadena, where I live now.

TN: Originally from Paris, TX

GS: Rolling Fork, Mississippi

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SN: Tulsa spelled backwards is Aslut.

LAIST: What's your Current LA neighborhood?

LJ: I live in the part of Pasadena where there's a big population of Lebanese Armenians. The Armenian dudes around here judge me because I'm married to an American, but they hit on my wife all the time. The ladies love me because I am a good boy.

TN: Atwater Village

GS: MacArthur Park / Pico Union Home to the Notorious Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13 gang. Side note - City of Los Angeles get your shit together and get those cameras
fixed in the park. Plus, what happened to all the patrols? How am I supposed to Gentrify the hood with no cops. Ever since the police beat down during the protest in the park, I see a lot less patrols. Thanks Mayor. (Jackass)

SN: Silver Lake; don't hate us cause we're beautiful.

LAIST: Tell us about Igloo Tornado. Specifically, where did the name come from?

LJ: I came up with the name. Originally it was called "Art Club" kind of like Fight Club but I pushed for an actual, non-lazy name. That said, it's based off an easy formula for coming up with names for any art club..sort of like a stripper name. First you think of a building of some sort... for example Castle, Mansion, Warehouse...then a natural disaster like Tornado, Earthquake, of my suggestions was Castle Avalanche... A good future art club name might be Warehouse 9/11.

TN: Levon thought of it. He's weird. I don't know where he gets these things. It's catchier than "dudes who drink lots of beer and occasionally make art."

GS: Igloo Tornado was conceived by Tom I think. I remember being drunk at The Bigfoot Lodge with him, He had said he was thinking about starting to meet a couple weeks a month with some other artist he knew and asked if I was down. Oh, the name I don't remember - I was drunk.

SN: I'm pretty sure that Levon was responsible for the name. My idea was to call us Complex Ruffians, luckily no one liked that one. Men of Muscle and Mirage also sounded good to me after 5 or 6 beers; but I've found that you can put together any 2 or so random words after drinking a 6 pack and they will sound good and have some sort of meaning to you.

LAIST: You all have very different styles. How has working with the collective affected yours?

LJ: Well we all influence each other, definitely. For example when we first got together, I just did oil paintings. I would show the guys my sketchbook and they'd tell me I should do drawings like that, but bigger. This was sort of a turning point in my work, because my sketchbook was always so much more natural for me than executing an oil painting. While I am an OK painter, it was like pulling teeth sometimes. Aside from that, we all came together after we'd established our own ways of working, so it was always more about bouncing ideas off of each other than establishing some sort of uniform style.

TN: Our goal is not to influence each others' individual talents, but rather help each other further develop our own artistic pursuits. I've grown enormously as an artist over the last 4 years, and it's because of the Igloo Tornado. I know I wouldn't be where I am without

GS: I was a little apprehensive at first because I done work well in groups but this has been such a blessing to meet Levon and Scot. All of us are so different in are approaches and I think you can see that in the show, but the amount of input I receive from all of the Igloo is helpful.

SN: I'm not sure that being around the others has affected my style. I love the fact that we all have very different styles. Being in the Igloo has forced me to make better art because I don't want to be the guy with the weakest work!

LAIST: What do you think about the LA art scene overall? How do you fit into it?

LJ: Frankly I love the LA art scene. I love how 10 years ago it was a joke and now NY is riding our jocks. Well, maybe not. But what I love about the scene is what I love about LA--It strives to entertain, and you can find anything if you're willing to drive a little bit.

TN: Personally, I've never felt like I fit into any of the art scenes going on. I often get lumped into the "low-brow" scene because I use cartoon-like imagery. But I never feel comfortable hanging in a group show next to a painting of some big-tittied, big-eyed, rock-a-billy
chick driving a hot-rod while sword-fighting a cigar-smoking, skeleton-pirate who's raping a tiki idol and shitting out merchandise on the side. I feel like my work aspires to be smarter than that.

On the other hand, the fine art world has become just as mindless, cold and boring as the stock market. The indie comics scene feels more like home to me, but I still have gallery aspirations and ideas that work better as paintings than comics.

So, I don't know where I fit in. But L.A. is a a growing art scene and it's exciting to be a part of
it. There are so many barely known artists around here that should all be the next big thing. 4 of them are in this show.

GS: I don't know. I just do my work and hope it reaches some people and that they learn something and enjoy it.

SN: Any scene that will support us is OK with me. I have no idea where we fit into the scene. I honestly haven't given it much thought.



LAIST: Your contribution is a series of abstract, simple graphic images of birds, trees and so forth. Is it meant to be a more pastoral theme or just something that you found pleasant to paint?

Scott Nobles: Birds are a recurring theme in my work. I like using birds because it offers people an instantly recognizable image to begin looking at the work. The work is intentionally ambiguous which allows the viewer to come up with their own interpretations, stories, etc...

LAIST: Which one of the paintings is your personal favorite; Why?

SN: My favorite would be the large painting of a bird with an intricate pattern of leaves coming from its mouth. I love the imagery, the scale of the piece, and the myriad of colors. I like the piece so much that I've produced a limited edition Giclee print of the painting that you can buy from my website.

LAIST: What materials did you use?

SN: I use a unique acrylic paint technique that I've been experimenting with for several years now. I paint on a slick surface and peel the paint up in a single layer. I then use the "back" side or smooth side of the paint layer and cut it up into shapes which I adhere to a canvas or paper.


LAIST: Your contribution is a series of scupltures of Elvis Presley. That's [expletive deleted] awesome. Why did you decide to base your contributions on the King?

Gin Steven: It was while I was revisiting photos on a trip to Graceland I did in 2005, the week before Katrina hit. I did two weeks by myself from New Orleans driving up the Mississippi to Memphis. As with a great deal of my work I write down or sketch ideas and may not work on those ideas right away and they may need to sit for a couple of years when I am in a space to deal with those issue's.

With Elvis it was the way that Graceland is an attraction all those people and the gift stores I couldn't get enough of it. And at the end of the tour people of all nationalities openly weeping at his grave I was blown away at the scope of his reach to people especially when he built that career on the backs of African American artists.

LAIST: You chose to portray young Elvis as a weeping virgin. Care to discuss how you came about that idea?

GS: One band and One song caused that idea. Nick Cave and the Bad Seed's "Tupelo". it's this ominous song about the town of Tupelo and all it's sorrows and ill's can only be rid of once the Savior is born. The song goes on about a child born on his brother's heels and that the first born is dead and the brother is the King. As we all know Elvis had a twin brother (Jesse Garron Presley) who did not survive the birth and Elvis did. Elvis is the King.

LAIST: [Earlier] You mentioned that one of the sculptures was inspired by Liberace - do you see a connection between Liberace and Elvis, beyond their flamboyant wardrobes?

GS: Both loved there mother's enormously and I guess being abandoned and left on the steps of a church I was always looking for my mother. So it was tie between the three of us.

LAIST: Is there a connection between music and your art? Was there anything in
particular you were listening to as you created these sculptures?

GS: Music always has a huge influence on my work. As for anything in particular, not really but I do love me some Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Its like being high but
without smoking the pot.


LAIST: Your contribution is a series of short 4 panel comics utilizing imagery familiar from your your graphic novel. Do these strips bear any relationship to the story?

Tom Neely: I started the series of comic strip poems as an experiment in freeing myself while working in a limited format. It's new and different from what I usually exhibit in art shows, but they still fit with the rest of my work. I'm really excited about them. It's allowing me to explore many different ideas while reducing them through minimalist story-telling methods. I intend this to be an ongoing series which I am running as a weekly comic strip on my blog every Wednesday.

The character from my book, The Blot, was originally created as sort of an "everyman" who I could use in whatever scenario I choose to explore through my paintings and my comics. So, even though it is the same character, it isn't necessarily a continuation or sequel to The Blot, it's just a continuation of the themes and ideas I've been exploring in my art for the last 4 years.

LAIST: [Earlier] you mentioned that they're more visual poetry than linear storytelling. Can you elaborate on that concept?

TN: I approach each piece as it's own idea with no constraints of having to relate to anything else in the series. I call them "comic strip poems" because I think I'm trying to do something similar to poetry - reducing image and text to a minimalist, lyrical, tonal impression, rather than telling one larger narrative. Each piece is a self-contained "poem", but recurring themes are sort of linking them together unconsciously, and a larger story may unfold as I continue.

But, I'm not placing any boundaries on what I do with these pieces, other than they have to work as a 4 panel comic strip.


LAIST: Your contribution is a series of limited color drawings inspired by, among other things, Dungeons & Dragons. Explain how Dungeons & Dragons become important enough to immortalize in pictures?

Levon Jihanian: I sort of had a childhood where nothing really was going on for me. I wasn't in any after school programs, or sports or anything, and I never saw my friends outside of school. I'm not complaining, but I was forced to entertain myself, which meant drawing and reading the same books over and over.

D&D is just one of those things that I've always loved. It was the first thing that made me want to be an artist. I spent hours flipping my brother's Monster Manual looking at monster drawings by David Sutherland III and David A. Trampier, imagining how the monsters lived, what their homes looked like, what their weaknesses were. I'm a little ashamed to say that to this day I don't really understand the stats that were provided for each monster. I'd just read their descriptions and look at the pictures.

LAIST: You also mentioned that some of them were inspired by a cartoon you're working on. Can you tell me anything about that? Did you imagine a story as you created these paintings?

LJ: 4 of the portraits are the main characters from a cartoon I'm working on called Giraffe Death Force. I was working on those drawings while plotting the first episode. It's a team loosely based on a cartoon from the late 80's called Defenders of the Earth, which was a teamup of Flash Gordon, The Phantom, and a magician guy named Mandrake. Giraffe Death Force is a team of Giraffe enthusiasts who met each other through a giraffe Internet message board.

I have a fascination with message boards. I love the strange, unstated power structures that form around them. Anyway, the characters have giraffe-themed skills and abilities, but I don't know how far I can go with that, so it's more about 4 people who are struggling to come up with a real reason for their relationship.

LAIST: Which one of the paintings is your personal favorite, and why?

LJ: I like the Borah drawing [NOTE: This is a Blue Furry Shark Cyclops), which is a monster I've drawn before in my comics. He's a character that embodies a base desire to love and be loved. In the comic he is sucker-punched by a robot monster, which stands for ego, self-doubt and insecurity. It's just a character I like; I like drawing his face, too.


LAIST: Last question: Rank the collective, including yourself, in order of lovableness, with 4 being best and 1 being worst. Explain your answers.

LJ: I think I'm the most lovable...I also think I'm the guy in the group that everyone else makes fun of, but I don't really have a problem with that.

TN: Levon: on a scale of 1 to 4, he gets a 29! Just look at him. The rest of us are assholes, so we don't get a ranking.

GS: Levon is a 10. because I think he is a genius. I would say I wish the world had millions of Levons but then Levon would just be Levon and not the most awesome artist I know.

SN: I can't wait to see how the others respond to this. I'm thinking that lovableness = cute in a Care Bears, My Little Pony way. If so, Gin and Levon would be at the top of the list, then me and Tom. If lovableness = has a beard, glasses, and likes to drink beer then we would have a 4 way tie. Any way you look at it you can't go wrong.

Igloo Tornado open tomorrow night at the Black Maria Gallery with a reception from 7:00-10:30 PM. For more information, visit Igloo Tornado's Website.

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