Tag Archives: artist profile

Born for the Piano: An interview with resident artist Asher Raboy

By Becky St. Clair

Before joining the PUC faculty over a decade ago, he spent 20 years as music director of the Napa Valley Symphony. Today, as acting chair, he spends most of his time doing what department chairs do: Paperwork, teaching classes, advising students, paperwork, attending meetings, catching up with students and colleagues, and more paperwork. Somewhere in there, he fits in directing the college’s Symphonic Wind Ensemble and playing trombone in the orchestra. As a brilliant composer and a natural performer, Raboy is a joy to talk with and a hoot to watch onstage.

Today (literally), we caught him between virtual classes and a walk with his dog, and he told us some very entertaining (and true!) stories.

What was the first-ever piece you performed on stage, and how old were you?

 You forget that I am very, very old and can’t remember that far back. I started studying piano when I was five, so I certainly played in recitals before grade school. I remember playing in a trio with my brothers on the radio when I was in third grade, but I’ll be darned if I have any idea what the piece was. I conducted a summer festival band when I was in sixth grade (again, no idea of the piece). As for paying work, that came a little later. I was the music director and synth player for Godspell at age seventeen; that was probably the first.

Who would you name as one of your favorite composers, and what draws you to them? 

I was literally raised on Beethoven. My parents got me the recording and orchestra score to Beethoven’s seventh symphony when I was in third grade. I still love the music of that madman, but I can’t claim to completely understand it, even after all these years.

It was Puccini’s La Bohème that really reached me. I understood music intellectually and as a set of skills to master, but I really didn’t get the power of music, the emotional punch that it contains until I saw a production of that opera and was surprised to find tears in my eyes and my heart full. I have loved Puccini ever since. He taught me the real meaning of music.

Your career has allowed you to “rub elbows,” as they say, with some famous people. Who are some of those you’ve personally met?

 I’ve been very lucky in my performing career that I have gotten to work with some very big names. (This is not because I’m great, it’s simply the job. The Napa Valley Symphony hired well-known artists and it was my job to conduct the orchestra.) In the pops world, I worked with Wynona, Glen Campbell, Mel Torme, Pink Martini (all except Pink Martini are way before your time…). In the classical world, I’ve met Yo-Yo Ma, worked with André Watts, Sir James Galway, and so on. Maybe not household names, but in the music world, these guys are at the top.

But my favorite was Branford Marsalis, the saxophone player who used to conduct the Tonight Show band. He played three concertos with us, and then went out to a club to play jazz with a friend of his father’s. He was kind (although he wanted to put forward a rough edge), gifted, fun, spirited; we spent two days together and those are some of my fondest memories.

Let’s talk composing. How did you become interested in that aspect of creating music?

This is a dumb story, but it is 100 percent true. When I was in junior high school, Masterpiece Theater ran a limited series called “The Strauss Family.” Everybody was so excited because it was a story about musicians. I was a contrarian, so I hated the series. I thought it was just a soap opera, and besides, anyone can write waltzes. To prove it, I went to the piano in my living room and wrote one.

Before I continue, let me just say that Johann Strauss Jr. is a musical genius. Don’t judge me by my adolescence.

Nonetheless, my waltz turned out pretty good. My piano teacher asked for two more pieces so that three of my siblings could play a piece of mine in recital. I wrote for my family, trying to capture their personalities in each piece. It was a fun challenge that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

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What are you working on now?

I’m currently writing an opera. It is the story of a woman who has power, prestige, pleasure but gets dissatisfied. She looks for something more. The point of the opera is not her conclusions, but her search. It mirrors my own journeys, and it is time for me to write a piece that is truly personal. It is loosely based on some very old stories, but it has been updated. I’m writing both the libretto and the music.

I doubt it will ever be performed. I’m not convinced that many opera companies will survive our time of shelter in place. it’s an expensive art form and needs large groups to congregate to make it successful. Still, I feel I need to write it, and hopefully, some excerpts will bring people pleasure, solace, or at least thoughtfulness in the future.

If someone were to tell you the next instrument you touched would be the only one you could play for the rest of your life (and that you’d instantly become a master at it), which one would you choose, and why?

It would be my own instrument, the piano. I want to be able to play everything: bass, chords, and melody. I want to be able to work alone or with a group. I want to be able to be expressive and shape a phrase like a singer would. I was born for the piano, and I’ll stay with it. I’m loyal like a dog.

When we say “music department” here at PUC, we think classical, church, tradition. Why is it important to remember there are other genres and styles of music out there?

First, let’s look at the music of Europe and the Americas. What we call “classical music” wasn’t always classical music. Opera was a popular art form the way musicals are today. Mozart was a pop composer (although for a pretty wealthy class of people) and the romantics made their money on ticket sales, just as rock musicians do in our time. The whole concept of “classical music” is a fairly modern creation.

The energy in music has always rested in songs written for people, not for academics. This is true of the church music of the thirteenth century or the string quartets of the eighteenth. In our time, Paul McCartney is as good a songwriter (in my opinion) as Schubert. Movies are the new operas, and John Williams may be as important as Verdi. This “non-classical” music is the expression of our time, and we should value it. There is no room for snobbery.

Then, go to Asia (just as one example). There are long musical traditions in China, India, Japan, and so on. There is no reason to assume that these traditions are any less powerful or enduring than our Western music. Think of India. We don’t have to sit cross-legged listening to ragas to enjoy this music. Bollywood is full of it. And it is wonderful.

How are you taking care of your mental health during the COVID-19 crisis?

I am lucky. I have a dog, enough space in my house, food in my fridge, a large family I love, and a reclusive personality. Still, this isolation is a killer. Here’s what I do: I Zoom my family three or four times a week. My wife, daughter, and I cook together even though we are almost 3000 miles apart. I walk the Back 40, the front forty and every other forty with my dog. I exercise, I get up early, and have created a routine. I work, I eat, I listen to music. And I heartily enjoy my conversations with my students and my colleagues. For those of you who are suffering, I am thinking of you. This can be really, really hard.

How has your job/life changed since March 2020?

I feel a little like Rip Van Winkle. I went back East for a family affair. My wife and daughter stayed for a while and I flew home for concerts at PUC and elsewhere. I got the flu (blame it on the airplane. Why not?) and when I got out of bed, my nuclear family was trapped in North Carolina, students had been sent home, and no one was meeting. My hair was already too long, and my hairdresser was closed. My tuxedo was lying dirty on my dresser and my dry cleaner was closed. I gave concerts for a living, now I couldn’t gather to make music, hear music, or go to a movie. My dog needed walking and feeding, and I was his sole caregiver. Wow. But we can get used to anything. At least I have a family who loves me, a safe place to live, and open space. We all have a right to complain, but I am one of the very lucky ones. Yes, it feels like I woke up and I’m still in a dream. But every day I count my blessings. And part of those blessings are all the people who keep us safe, healthy, and supplied. All at personal risk. Thank you all!

Besides music, what are some of your hobbies? What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working or composing or practicing?

I love to cook. I hate to do dishes, so I don’t cook as much as I would like, but I truly love it. I would call golf a hobby, but it is more of an addiction. And I’m really bad at it. (But so is everyone else–don’t believe the stories you hear.) I love chess but find chess puzzles better than chess games (because they are shorter). Still, I’ll play with anyone who wants to! I read and belong to a book club. I hike; in slow motion when my dog is there, a little faster but not by much when I’m alone. And, when there are sports, I follow the San Francisco Giants and the San Francisco 49ers. No wonder I don’t practice as much as I should.

Okay, we have to ask about the dog, because it seems like he’s an important part of your life. Introduce us!

Bowie, named for David Bowie, is an old guy. My daughter thinks he’s 14, but I’m convinced he’s 12 because I choose to. He is two dogs long, half a dog high, with twisted legs that probably come from a basset hound, although perhaps a dachshund. He’s got a normal dog face like a Labrador, a narrow ruff (that shoots up at the sight of huskies) like a Ridgeback, and a loose neck like a Shar-Pei. To me, he is simply a loving dog, a lap dog, a stubborn dog, and truly a boy’s best friend.

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If you could swap places with Bowie, would you?

No, I wouldn’t trade places. He’s very happy and well cared for, and nothing troubles him except when he wants to go to the Back 40 and I am meeting with students.

But here’s the thing. I’ve always loved challenges. I can’t get out of bed if there isn’t a mountain to climb or something to conquer. That’s not a good thing, but it’s how I’m built, and it’s the way I’ve been since I was a little kid. Bowie is happy because there is nothing he has to accomplish. I am happy because there is always something that can be accomplished. We each have the life that fits our personality and scrapes along together very well.

 

A Moment in Time: Artist Davis Perkins Exhibits at PUC

By Becky St. Clair

Always drawing as a kid, Davis Perkins doesn’t remember a time when art wasn’t a part of his life. Perkins attended the University of Oregon, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, and he has now made art a career. He has original artwork in a permanent collection at the Smithsonian as well as in the Pentagon and has done one-man shows at the Alaska State Museum and the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum.

On Nov. 9, Perkins will host an opening reception and artist talk at 7 p.m. in the Rasmussen Art Gallery right here on campus. His exhibit, Landscapes: A Moment in Time, will be on display through December 8 (the gallery will be closed Nov. 23-Dec. 1 for Thanksgiving break). We caught up with Perkins and asked him a few questions to get to know him and his craft better. 

What first sparked your interest in painting?

I was always drawing as a kid. It was something for which I seemed to get a lot of “praise.” I was raised on a farm in rural Oregon and was always outside. It was during my three-year stint in the Army I really started to draw a lot, and when I got out of the service I attended college, initially studying history, but taking more and more drawing and painting classes. I had great support from my professors and they encouraged me to pursue painting seriously. I switched majors to art and began in earnest. I initially started in oil painting, and it’s what I love most to this day.

How did your career start?

While in college, I was a smokejumper (parachute firefighter), and I worked during the summer fire season. After graduation, I moved down to the Bay Area to paint during the winter, going back to Alaska to spend the summers jumping fires. It was a very seasonal lifestyle! When a professor advised me to start a series of paintings of my experiences as a smokejumper, I began jumping fires with a small sketchbook, documenting my work during the slow times. The series ended up being my senior thesis project. I had a lucky break with that final series; first, the Alaska State Museum gave me a one-man show of the work, and the next year, the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum gave me a one-year solo exhibition of my work. The Smithsonian has three of my paintings in their permanent collection. I also have a painting in the Pentagon with the Air Force Art Collection.

How does your environment play a role in your art-making?

As you will see in the exhibit at the Rasmussen, I consider myself a traditional landscape painter. Much of my life has been spent outdoors, and the wonders of nature are what inspire me, therefore much of my work is plein air. For larger studio pieces I always work outside for reference studies.

What is one of your favorite pieces you’ve created, and why?

Hmm … that’s a tough one! I’d say some of my favorite pieces are the quick studies done on location. They often seem the freshest and most spontaneous. I am constantly attempting to not overwork a piece; I try and limit an outdoor painting session to no more than two hours. By that time, the light has changed significantly. I will often start a painting in the morning and move on to another in the afternoon. If there’s more work that remains, I can return the next day.

Tell us about your studio. What kind of space have you created in order to be comfortable expressing yourself?

I’ve got a great studio! It’s located in downtown San Rafael and is part of a complex called The ArtWorks Downtown. There are about 35 studios in the building and it is a wonderful complex in which I have many good friends. I have a high ceiling studio with a skylight, as well as good artificial lights. I’ve been in ArtWorks Downtown for about 15 years. Come visit anytime!

What’s something you still want to learn about art-making, and what are you doing to acquire that knowledge?

A good question! I am obviously still learning and it is an ongoing ambition, but I’m focusing on the study of color primarily. For the past three years, I have been on the faculty of the annual Plein Air convention. The four-day convention attracts painters from all over the world, and individuals give wonderful lectures and demonstrations. I gain a great deal from attending these lectures and learning from some of the world’s top artists. I also try and take advantage of living in the Bay Area and travel to museums here as often as I can. We are so fortunate to have access to the de Young, the Oakland Museum, and others; they have wonderful collections!

large-Perkins_Doc's PondWhat makes oil painting different from other kinds of painting?

What is delightful about oil painting is the ability to alter your work: You simply wipe it off! Often when I’m painting a cloud, for example, I will decide to start again. During the process of wiping off the paint, a new shape will emerge that I like and will develop. I especially like the ability to glaze over the dried paint with a translucent layer of color. It’s a technique used by oil painters for hundreds of years. As I mentioned, I am constantly exploring and reading about mixing color. It is an ongoing process!

How do you start a new piece? 

A large white canvas staring you in the face can be intimidating. So I always start a painting with a thin wash, usually in an earth color. I then use a little darker, thin paint to start developing the composition. This is really the most fun time to paint; you’re exploring, wiping out, redrawing with thin paint. You can’t screw it up! I then start to develop the basic values–light and dark. When I’m satisfied I’m on to something, I’ll start applying heavier layers of paint. Then it’s, “Fingers crossed!” Ha!

Who is another artist you admire, and why?

I would have to say Richard Schmid is one of my greatest inspirations. He is nothing less than a National Treasure. I have had the pleasure of meeting him, and I own all of his books. He’s been an inspiration to hundreds of young artists.

 

Sensibilities: Douglas Sandquist at the Rasmussen Art Gallery

By Becky St. Clair

In the early 90s, Douglas Sandquist attended PUC as a bio-chem. Upon being accepted into dental school after his junior year, he left PUC and headed to dental school. He went on to become a dentist back in his hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada, where today he curates the unexpected combination of his dental career and photography. 

In 2016, a photo Sandquist took in Iceland with his iPhone and shared via Instagram was requested by Apple for use in a worldwide marketing campaign. This resulted in mega exposure for this Nevadan dentist-photographer. (More on this in the Q&A—keep reading!)

Some of Sandquist’s photographic art will be displayed in an exhibit in the Rasmussen Art Gallery beginning this Saturday, Oct. 12, with his opening reception at 7 p.m. He will present an artist talk and refreshments will be served. Before you go, though, you may want to learn a bit more about the artist himself. We did, so we asked him a few prodding questions. 

Introducing: Douglas Sandquist.

Where did you grow up, and how did that environment contribute to how you view the physical world? big-image-1

I was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s right in the middle of the Southwest part of the United States. California, Utah, and Arizona, along with their beaches, deserts, and National Parks, gave me the opportunity to get out and see what was out there. I’ve never stopped exploring.

 

 

What sparked your original interest in photography?

I actually dabbled with it even as a child. It wasn’t until I wanted to get better at taking photos for my day job as a dentist that I really started getting serious about it. I wanted to somehow be able to capture what I do. Most dental photography is macro photography, but it’s also portrait photography. I originally wanted to learn how to take better clinical photos, so I delved into learning how to better use a camera, how to compose a shot, and how to work with different lighting. One thing led to another, and I started to enjoy photography outside the office just as much as in it.

What was the first camera you used to start shooting artistic/intentional photography?

I bought a Canon 10D in 2004.

What camera is your instrument of choice now?

I currently use a Canon 5D Mark IV and, of course, an iPhone. 

Where do you learn your photography skills?

I’ve never taken a formal photography class. I am mostly self-taught, but I have also participated in workshops all over the world, and have engaged in online mentorship programs for over 10 years.

Okay, let’s talk about the Apple iPhone ads. (You knew it was coming!) How did this happen?

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Crazy as it sounds, I didn’t submit my photo to Apple. In January 2016 I took a photo with my iPhone and posted it on Instagram with a few hashtags—as you do—and a few months later, I was contacted by Apple and their advertising agency, requesting the use of my photo in a campaign. I agreed, and within a matter of months, my photo—taken with an iPhone 6S—was on billboards, in magazines, and on signs around the globe.

 

 

 

Where did your photo show up, that you know of? big-image-3

That photo appeared on over 30 billboards all around the world: L.A., San Francisco, Dallas, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Paris, India, six cities in China—including Shanghai—Korea, Thailand, Mexico, Tokyo, and Turkey, and on the back of magazines all over the world. 

 

What inspires you as a photographer?

I love challenging what I see and then attempting to capture it. It also means I get to get out there and go see the world. 

What are your favorite subjects to photograph?

I particularly enjoy capturing cold landscapes and the stars in the American Southwest. 

How do you think the desert of the American Southwest and the frozen tundra of Iceland are connected for you? What draws you to those environs to shoot? big-image-2

Both of these regions offer plenty of opportunities to ask, “How did this happen?” Whether it’s a massive arch-like Double Window in Arches National Park or the glacier ice that ends up on the black sand beaches of Iceland, there are always unique views and perspectives to capture and ponder. I also love the way the light transforms these elements. Different times of the day or year create different scenes that often catch me off-guard and illuminate my sensibilities.  

We have to ask one completely abstract question, so here goes: If the experience of taking the perfect photo had a color, what would it be? big-image

Sunset Orange 🙂