Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Prince Influence and the Hollywood IMPROV

Budd Friedman and I

© By Ramon Shiloh

Developing my artistic voice has been erratic and intense, though never forced. I’ve experienced paralyzing fear and frustrations, encountered numerous disappointments and setbacks, yet I’ve always felt compelled to share my creative strengths with an audience in the hopes of receiving positive feedback. I create for the love of art itself, but I also aspire to produce powerful messages that will win, scare, or lose the hearts of those who encounter my work.

My compulsion to create is a direct result of the influence that my mother, June LeGrand, had in my life. As a noted storyteller, artist, and activist in the Filipino-Native American community, she could weave a tale so rich in detail that at times I felt as if I were physically and emotionally connected to the worlds she created through her words. Her impact on my artistic upbringing inspired my creative journey, which I often find to be an addicting, thought-provoking escape from the realities of everyday life.
The greatest gift my mother gave me was the tools to harness my creativity so that I could release it for the world to see. Discovering letter art was like capturing my very own lightning bolt in a bottle and I became consumed with sharing the beauty and joy of this genre with anyone willing to let me.

It all started in 1982, when Mom took me to a record store to purchase my first album. Overwhelmed, I stumbled confusingly down the aisles, unsure of how to choose just one album from the thousands staring back at me. Time was running out and, much too soon, Mom called out that it was time to go. Refusing to leave empty-handed, I frantically seized a royal purple album covered in funky, graffiti-like letters. It was “Prince 1999” and it changed my life forever.

For two weeks, I was fixated on the art, discovering something new in the colorful letters each time I held it in my hands. I’m not sure I even listened to the music that much. Instead, I pulled out a stack of paper and pencils and obsessively began copying the artwork, drawing out my own name over and over again.

Once I was satisfied that I had mastered the technique, I sketched the names of every person I knew. Through my journey, I’ve discovered that I most enjoy illustrating the personality, character, mannerisms, and life experiences within the structure of a person’s name. Because I’m inspired by the struggle and perseverance of the journey, negative experiences may be present in the artwork, but only as a means of highlighting their quests, and, hopefully, their triumphs. I have never felt compelled to illustrate a person’s faults or provoke controversy in their name. The few negative personalities I have sketched ultimately left me feeling empty. Illustrating controversy is more exhausting than sketching out a balanced take on someone’s life.
Throughout most of my creative journey, I’ve feared losing control of my artistic vision and managerial ownership of my work, which has led me to make poor decisions in relation to the betterment of my career. Foolishly, I’ve publicly showcased artwork that was not copyrighted and I’ve doubted opportune moments that could have catapulted me to the next level. Yet, while these moments of blurred judgment hindered my success, each experience ultimately helped me understand that I need to release my ego so that I can take risks in my art and that I must stay consistent in my practice, always creating, no matter the price.

Despite the setbacks in my career, I’ve always believed in my heart that one day my art would make an impact somehow, somewhere. I finally received the chance of a lifetime when the legendary Budd Friedman sponsored and allowed me to host a collection of my letter art at the Improv Comedy Club in Hollywood, California. At the time, I was employed in the club’s kitchen, where I spent most of my nights avidly listening to aspiring comedians who were desperately seeking the approval of that night’s audience.

Though my niche wasn’t comedy, I deeply identified with every artist who bravely stepped upon that stage. Whatever personal and professional triumphs or failures were achieved that night, as each comic left the stage I could imagine their struggles, empathize with their need for acceptance; but, mostly, I just admired their courage to release their bolt of lightning for the world to see.

As a result, the Improv’s plentiful cornucopia of clever comics became a rich source of inspiration for my creativity. It was like one big dysfunctional family and I felt at home with the chaos. In 2002, I met a comedian by the name of Anthony Clark (CBS-Yes Dear), a great performer with an infectious, disturbing personality and an appreciation for art. His interest in my work encouraged me to see the beauty and magnificence of what I had begun to create. The inspiring journeys of Anthony, Nick Swardson, Sarah Silverman, Craig Robinson, Natasha Leggero and many, many other brilliant comedians flipped on the light switch in my head and reenergized me.

When I wasn’t working in the kitchen, I was sketching out the names of comics I had recently seen, exposing their internal journey for the world to observe. Finding my voice and understanding my place in this industry didn’t come easy. For six years, I chased, coaxed, and generally pestered the comics I came in contact with, zealously seeking their trust. During this time, my goal was to sketch more than 200 drawings depicting the journeys of the comedians that I most admired and respected.

Finally, on April 4, 2007, my determination and perseverance paid off when I became the first artist in more than 25 years to host an art gallery on the walls of the historic club. And, for the first time in my life, I truly felt as if the gift I had to share with the world was finally appreciated.
My place in this industry was not earned in stage time, but rather on the walls where some of the greatest performers of our time weren’t afraid to fail or succeed. In this first volume of The Art of Comedy Collection, I have carefully chosen thirty comics who have floored me to tears, evoked an understanding of myself, and challenged society to take a hard look at the beliefs we hold. These are comedians I admire, am inspired by, and am honored to call friends. It is my sincere hope that you, too, will be moved and motivated by their journeys.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Weird and Awesome with Emmett Montgomery

Sunday April 3rd, I participated in a variety show at the beloved Annex Theater in Seattle. The show was called "Weird and Awesome with Emmett Montgomery" A variety show of skits, musical acts and serious monologues. 
Emmett has a way of distorting the absurd thru humor and I love that. 

Collective acts were: Rick Taylor, Derek Sheen, Rodney Sherwood, Barbara Holm, Travis Vogt, Kevin Clarke and Paul West .

My performance was a monologue from my “Guidance Through an Illustrative Alphabet” book. 
A PowerPoint slideshow of each letter in 15 minutes. 
Two of my fav Seattle Musicians to accompanied my spoken word: Lbd Blkknight on Bass and David Levin on Cajon. I couldn’t have asked for a better duo to support my segment of the show.
It was awesome. And already, I’m planning a one-man show in the near future. Check out the Annex Theater @