At times, walking down the street in Los Angeles may seem chaotic, filled with different personas, egos, and odd characters. But when we slow down to carefully observe those who stand out, we become aware of the art in one’s style. It resonates in the way they move, walk, speak, perform, or create. Over the past few months, I have been examining artists who have literally become the art themselves and have narrowed my analytical focus to four brilliant examples of people who evoke the idea of conceptual style on so many levels: Seraphime Angelis, Yasmine Kittles, Geneva Jacuzzi, and Michael Nhat.
The first time I met Miss Seraphime Angelis she was reading tarot at the Hive Gallery in Downtown Los Angeles. She was behind a table adorned with a crystal ball and an array of precious stones. Her outfit was a hybrid of a 1920’s flapper and a worldly gypsy, wearing an amber colored, crushed velvet hat and a silk kimono. Her eyes reminded me of midnight, painted black and with specks of scintillating sparkles. We became friends instantly and she was the inspiration that catapulted my idea about conceptual style. Seraphime is a professional tarot card reader, medium, astrologer, poet, and artist; a visual masterpiece of her own creation. She relates her fashion sense to her metaphysical practice, explaining that she aims for people to be so arrested by her aesthetic that they submit to her penetrating psychic force. Her clients become hypnotized in her presence, presumably because she looks like she has stepped out of a mystical realm of dreams. Seraphime finds herself being inspired by theatrical costumes, historical periods (particularly 1920’s, 1930’s, and renaissance era). Her complex mind, filled with virtually infinite zodiacal knowledge also adds to the creativity invested in her attire. Ultimately, Seraphime comes up with a theme when dressing herself. Sometimes it will be a character from a book, sometimes an enchanting goddess. Most recently, as an homage to the holiday season, she has been seen dressed up as a winter sprite in lush fabrics of red, gold, green, and white with a crown of poinsettias resting on her voluptuous wig of platinum blonde hair. Whatever costume she decides on, she always seems to be shimmering with intrigue. Key ingredients to her unique persona are: lots of wigs, faux eye-lashes that come in a rainbow gradient of hues, severe make-up to accentuate her pensive stare and warm smile and lots of elaborate thrift store pieces to compliment her ethereal aura.
Moving on, I would like to dive into the intense atmosphere created by the strong female force in the experimental Los Angeles band, Tearist, Yasmine Kittles. Just the sound of her name is ringing with mysterious cuteness. But don’t be fooled by the cute Kittles, her stage presence is magnetically violent and dark. She sings as if her vocal chords are pulling out the animal inside her, while she rhythmically strikes the stage with a metal pipe, complimenting the gothic minimal wave played by her band mate. She normally performs in all black and makes sure to have a fan on her at all times, which adds this element of 1980’s glamour, particularly found in the music videos of Kate Bush. I had originally thought the use of the fan was purely for creating a dramatic mood on stage. However, Yasmine uses the fan for more practical reasons. Because her performance is often so intense, she has actually fainted on stage from lack of air and overheating. So it turns out, the fan provides coolness of both temperature and aesthetics. Yasmine definitely views her performance as a serious art form, and has a background in theater. She often finds herself getting lost in moments of vulnerability on stage, aiming to tear away everything and everyone around her, including herself to a core level, hence the name of the band, Tearist. As an artist, Yasmine aims to remove people from their comfort zone and isn’t afraid to do so. I recently saw her at a goth bar in Hollywood dressed as Jesus Christ equipped with a crown of thorns and bloody hands. There is a point when an image is so over the top and shall I say, offensive, that becomes funny in its ridiculousness. But what’s even more interesting about Yasmine dressing up as Jesus is that she can pull it off in a beautiful way. Not only does Miss Kittles engage in acts of musical performance art, but she has starred in some interesting films such as Gretchen, written and directed by Steve Collins, and All American Orgy, written by Ted Beck and directed by Andrew Drazek, which recently premiered at the Downtown independent Theater. In American Orgy, Yasmine is playing a somewhat fictional version of herself, her character even having the same name. Her sassy, vibrant, and free personality translates really well in this off-beat, comedy that closely examines the characteristics of three couples who get together for a naughty adventure…
If there is anyone who can get your love caboose shakin’, it’s the bewitching, Geneva Jacuzzi. Her music makes you want to move, but her performance is hypnotizing. The audience is put in a position of awe, while being immersed in her interesting low-fi, dark, yet poppy songs. Geveva draws inspiration for her performance from an array of sources. She has cited Grace Jones and Boy George as major influences on her work, and has recently been very captivated by the art of mimes! Although she finds inspiration from those outside of herself, her performance style is extremely unique, often using severe stage make-up, and dancing with strobe-like movements. She intuitively makes decisions on how the performances are going to pan out quite close to the actual day of her shows. So on stage, Geneva and her back-up dancers emit a magical vibe rich with magic and surprise! Her incredible performance at the Eagle Rock Music Festival a few months ago was border-lining on improvisation. Geneva’s back up dancers wore all black and had on black masks, resembling shadows haunting the stage behind her, moving in perfect organic fluidity. Geneva stood center-stage, dressed as a witchy geisha, dancing with vicious conviction. There is something about her that demands a lot of attention that is beyond her costumes and peculiar dance moves. It is simply her essence of Geneva-ness that seems to drive everyone nuts. She considers herself both a performance artist and musician, playing and recording most of the instruments in her music ahead of time on an 8-track. Geneva is very visually inclined, which explains her talent in collage art pieces. A few years ago, when Geneva was making music under the name, Bubonic Plague, her record label, HumanEar, came out with a compilation CD in which she designed with original collages. Like her, the collages are quite interesting. If you are not already familiar with Geneva Jacuzzi, I would suggest watching some of her music videos, full of glitter and glitz!
Finally, I would like to address the man who has been falling down the bottomless pit for years, but still manages to do it in style, the prolific Micahel Nhat. He is a cynical Vietnamese- American rebel who raps like a punk, claims that one of his biggest influences at the moment is Fiona Apple, and proclaims his disinterest in modern hip-hop. He is direct and blunt and is inspired by French New Wave films. Micahel Nhat is truly original in every way. In fact, he can’t really be compared to anyone else in the underground music scene in Los Angeles. He aggressively raps and sings with throbbing passion. His shows range from high energy dance parties, to artsy performances. Last February, he played a show at The Echo in Echo Park, California, dressed in a tuxedo, with Snow White singing backup vocals, while creepy skeleton figures danced around them. Michael Nhat is the kind of artist who runs solo, but is no stranger to collaboration. Practically every close friend of his that plays music has collaborated on at least one song with him. In fact, he will be releasing an album with Los Angeles based rappers, Bizzart and Adam Weiss, entitled, Gentleman Prefer Brunettes, which is mostly freestyle, and has a lot of soul. In addition to making music and having that fiery stage performance, he has decided to write and direct a film, set to come out this Spring, entitled, Alice and Malice, staring himself, Barrie Rose, Meagan Boyd and Jennifer Ballesteros. This black and white film is executed with the impeccable cinematography of Steven A. Soria who seems to capture sweet and endearing aspects of human interaction with ease, and grace. Anything that comes from Micahel Nhat will be radiating with his dry, pessimistic sense of humor, and tragic beauty.
If you are an L.A. native, please be on the look-out for these amazing, beautiful artists. When you see them, you will know it. They are hard to miss.