Avas Eyes


Ava Weinstein’s passion for life developed as quickly as a snapshot. As a legally blind photographer and digital artist, some may refer to her talents as a miracle, innate, or as a gift. But, to Weinstein, they come from a power that exists in us all.

“I believe if any person puts their mind to something—they can do it,” Weinstein says. Weinstein, a part-time resident of Palm Springs, believes any dream is possible because she was born with three different types of visual impairments: Albinism, to have little or no pigment in the eyes; Astigmatism, an irregular-shaped cornea; and Nystagmus, an involuntary rhythmic shaking or wobbling of the eyes.

What a normal sighted person would see clearly at 200 yards, Weinstein would have to be 20 yards to see. In her left eye, which she considers her “good eye,” she’s at the borderline of being legally blind. In the other eye, she is legally blind.

Despite her disability, Weinstein, 50, is now using her disadvantage to help encourage others. “I have moved to the next phase in my career,” she says. “I am now committed to helping people pursue their own dreams through motivational speaking.”

With a mother for a painter and a father for a photographer, Weinstein didn’t discover her own artistic talents until later in life. Armed with the painful truth etched in her heart that she would never see the world as others, Weinstein learned to see the “magic” in the world around her.

“It seemed as though everything I touched came natural for me,” Weinstein says. When she first touched a camera, her good friend, Jovi, a photographer, used a lot of her pictures from her G2 camera over the ones he had taken. “Jovi and his friend’s camera went ‘click, click, click,’ while mine went ‘click, click,’ and then it would pause,” she says. “I was shooting with an amateur camera then, but my pictures told a different story. I believe if you put a $5 guitar in someone’s hands, they’re still going to make beautiful music.”

Before pursuing her own natural talents, she worked two full-time jobs to make ends meet. During the day she managed several restaurant franchises and by night she taught court mandated classes as a counselor for the county of Los Angeles. These two jobs enabled her to retired at the age of 40, proving that her vision impairment didn’t determine her capabilities. This kind of unyielding passion and thirst for life made it possible to use her new pair of eyes—her camera and computer.

“I trust my camera,” Weinstein says. “It sees a hell of a lot more than I do!” She also trusts her computer.

Weinstein is also a digital painter. If she’s not using a snapshot she has taken to do a digital painting, she’s working on a digital oil painting from scratch. With over 200 pieces of her original artwork exhibited in shows and galleries in the greater Los Angeles, Weinstein feels she has come a long way from a little girl who wore bifocals the size of soda pop cans.

“The first time my work appeared in the Gallery Noir in Los Angeles, I didn’t tell them I had a problem with my eyes,” she says. “I got in as a solo artist in 2006, on the merit of my work alone … not too bad for a blind girl.”

Her show, “An Evening of 100 Unique Moments,” was originally intended for a one night only event, however, due to the overwhelming response she received from the Gallery Noir’s patrons, it continued.

In August 2008, Weinstein was chosen out of a pool of nearly 1,000 still photographers to shoot a music video for APL of the Black Eyed Peas. And in 2009, she had the pleasure of working with up and coming star Jasmine V. and shot the stills for her music video with Baby Bash.

Weinstein recently completed a portrait of the Queen of Swaziland Africa, commissioned by HRH Queen Ndwandwe. But, despite her many accomplishments, Weinstein says many of them wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for the inspiration she received from the teenagers she taught in the mandated classes in Los Angeles, her mother Rita, who now suffers from dementia, and her partner Tiffany, who passed away over a year ago.

“In many ways these people saved me from myself,” Weinstein says. “I have photographed my favorite band, weddings, celebrities, and I’ve been featured in major art galleries. As a motivational speaker, I can motivate people to see the world from my eyes. No matter what your situation may be, you can overcome any obstacle to go where you want to go.”

To arrange speaking engagements, or for a showing of Ava Weinstein’s work, please contact here through her website http://www.AvasEyes.com

Cosentino Winery


The Cosentino Winery motto “Never Enough Wines” pretty much sums up how I feel about wine as well and when I find a great label or two that I like, I can’t wait to share it with anyone and everyone. Some of my current favorites are from the Cosentino winery in Napa Valley. Cosentino has been steadily growing in quality and reputation over the last few years and are considered among many, myself included, to be some of the finest wines made in the world, and what I love even more is the winery’s distinctive Chicago connection.

It all began when Mitch Cosentino started making his first wines in the corner of a Wine Distribution warehouse in 1980, in Modesto, California. By 1981, his first vintage was released under the labels of “The Cosentino Wine Company” and “Crystal Valley Cellars”. The first several wines produced and released by Cosentino in the early 1980s were made from small lots of grapes that Mitch acquired from some of the leading growers of California’s North Coast counties such as Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake, and Sacramento Counties.

Cosentino rapidly gained recognition for his innovative wine making abilities and uniquely crafted wines. Mitch was a pioneer in introducing new varietals into the California wine market and became a leader in creating new wine blends that would eventually become commonplace in the industry.

It was in 1991, as Cosentino continued to produce multiple award winning and internationally recognized wines, that he met a young couple from Chicago who had just enjoyed a bottle of Cosentino wine, that meeting would soon change all three of their lives forever.

Native Chicagoan’s Edie and Larry Soldinger, were introduced to Cosentino Winery on a trip to Napa Valley in 1991 when they shared a bottle of Cosentino Winery’s “1986 Cabernet Franc”. They were so impressed with the wine that they sought out to find Mitch the very next day and to learn more about his winery.

Both Edie and Larry immediately recognized the potential of Cosentino Winery and they believed that they could provide an element that would help Cosentino Winery grow to keep up with its increasing demand and reputation. By 1992, a deep relationship had evolved and Mitch Cosentino became partners with Edie and Larry, and together they began to take Cosentino Winery to its next level.

Ever evolving, Cosentino enlisted former Chicago artists and designers Karen & Tony Barone to create a newly redesigned tasting room which has been called “the new standard for all future tasting room designs.” Due to the popularity of its tasting room Cosentino recently asked the Barones to design a new “Signature Room”, for special events & Ultra cool V.I.P. tasting. The room has large-scale classic figurative murals that the Barones created in warm Earth colored sepia tones of cut-out wood. In fact it was in these very tasting rooms that I had the opportunity to taste some of my first Cosentino wines. I recently had the opportunity to taste several Cosentino wines and want to share with you two of my current favorites, one red and one white.

Cosentino Winery has become widely recognized for its role in the development of California’s “Meritage” style wine, Bordeaux – inspired blend that has become a staple throughout the Napa Valley with the 1989 release of “The Poet” a 1986 vintage that became America’s first designated and licensed “Meritage” wine. Cosentino’s vintage 2005 Poet, a Meritage Red which was released in May of 2008, is one of my current favorites. This is a wonderfully deep ruby colored red with a hint of clove; it’s a bright balanced wine in both depth and richness and has a youthful tart cherry complexity of spice and currants. This wine is wonderful when paired with a lamb or veal chop and is an excellent red wine to accompany a hearty stew on cold Chicago winter nights or a favored snack of cheese, figs or walnuts.

The vintage 2007 Novelist is a wonderful, highly aromatic white blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. It was released in October of 2008 and has a fresh lemon blossom and honeydew melon bouquet, its tangerine and lime citrus flavors are well-balanced by the palate’s dried herb and creamy texture. There is a hint of blood orange and brioche that meld in a zesty and expansive finish. The Novelist would be a wonderful accompaniment to pastas in light cream sauces, herb rice and other grain-based dishes and is an excellent wine for snacking with apples, pears and a wonderful cheese.

 Both of the wines featured are in stock at your favorite Binny’s Beverage Depot or can be ordered online. You can visit Binny’s on the web at www.binnys.com for a location nearest you or by phone at 888.942.9463. For more information on Cosentino Winery you can find them on the web at www.cosentinowinery.com

LoveMonsters Aren’t Scary They’re Just Misunderstood


“LoveMonsters” unearthed in Rancho Mirage

Spending any amount of time with Rancho Mirage based and well known multimedia artists Karen & Tony Barone is to enjoy and be mesmerized by two individuals so creatively in sync and in love that it puts a broad smile on one’s face; and you understand in just a few minutes the reason behind the ongoing success of their diverse artistic careers. At the same time their home, which has art everywhere inside and out, is a warm, welcoming and comfortable space with working studio.

Brought together by a chance encounter on a Chicago commuter train amidst the Flower Power of the 70s (there are no coincidences you know), Karen and Tony have welded together a lifetime relationship based on talent, mutual respect and above all their ongoing love, which fires their talents, creativity and ongoing artistic adventures. Tony’s mind never seems to rest, always on the move thinking inside and outside the boxes he just created while you are frantically taking notes. Karen then compliments and enhances Tony’s ideas almost as if there is one thread connecting their minds (synchronicity anyone?). What a gift.

Both successful in their own right as well as together, the two have worked in fine art painting, ceramics, sculpture, architectural business design, cosmetics and more, traveling the world to work on projects and learn from the unknown and different cultures they have experienced and grown to love. At one point laughing, Karen makes reference to always feeling like the two are maybe five years or so ahead of the times, yet looking at the art all around their home, it all seems timeless and still topical. Their work exudes an exuberance, passion and fun that I have rarely experienced together in contemporary artworks.

 

One project near and dear to both their hearts has lain somewhat dormant now for nearly five years since its initial gallery debut in Los Angeles many years ago. We thought it was high time that this amazing amalgamation of their combined talents saw the light of today’s contemporary glass coffee tables, considering its hysterical, satirical, comic and political overtones, beautifully blended in an amazingly designed piece of published art that highlights Tony’s original and often twisted drawings and Karen and Tony’s simple though colorfully textured, entertaining narrative.

LoveMonsters aren’t scary –they’re just misunderstood has traveled a long road from Tony’s mind to the end of a pencil, to its finally published (2003), limited and signed edition printing that had its debut in LA.

Every spring for a number of years in the 90s, Karen and Tony traveled back and forth to Deruta, Italy, where they had been invited to work as guest artists designing ceramics for a new generation of Italians at the Umbaldo Grazia Ceramics Studios, a 500 plus year old family business that had its ceramic origins in Spain.

During one such spring trip there, the couple took one of their many side trips to explore the excavated ruins at Pompeii. While hiking through the ruins they came across a series of ancient black and white mosaic tiles that were etched with strange and haunting skeletal figures. Tony captured these unusual images in photographs, fascinated by their imagery just as any tourist might do. He kept those photographs close and accessible, knowing some day he would revisit them.

One year on a flight to or from Italy (Tony can’t remember which); his thoughts kept drifting back to those tiles and their skeletal images again and again. Always carrying a sketchbook and colored pencils, Tony pulled out his sketchbook and started drawing.

Those initial sketches eventually grew into a sort of Valentine card that Tony sketched and passed to Karen whenever the two were traveling. This ‘passion’ based pastime and fascination with those original images eventually produced over 200 original pieces of art. Strangely enough, each sketch began with a pun on words and out of that grew these “LoveMonsters” as the two now affectionately refer to them. Each had a heart shaped head again representing the love/valentine aspect that grew out of his original sketching and the imagination that took flight on that plane trip that year.

What is surprising is the vast territory that these puns ended up covering from the simple, straightforward “LoveMonster jamming w/ friends” to the naughty ones (as Karen refers to them) such as “LoveMonster feeding a line to a great looking chick with breast implants”. Now in all likelihood, your mind immediately conjured visual images to match these just mentioned titles, but beware -Tony’s mind is really out there. I can assure you that you’re not even close to what the actual accompanying cartoon images represent. Remember these are all based on puns – want to try that visualization again?

Suffice it to say LoveMonsters aren’t scary –they’re just misunderstood is a visual and auditory feast for the eyes and ears (if read aloud). Tony originally wanted to publish the pieces collectively as an art book but Karen lobbied for a narrative story line with a beginning, middle and end accompanied by the art.

The resulting compromise (“I prefer inspired piece”) is a vibrant, jump off the table book that is guaranteed to stimulate conversation and add laughs galore to any cocktail/dinner/pool party. Whether it is politics or sex, the LA lifestyle or religion, nothing is sacred or off limits with these two’s imaginations, sense of humor, artistic talents and love of life. In reference to Karen’s earlier comment about “Being five years or so ahead of the times”, this book is as topical and irreverent in today’s social and political climate, and maybe even more so, than when originally published in 2003.

Like all of us, LoveMonsters need a home and loving people to care for and appreciate them. Spending time with these imaginative characters and their not so unusual lives, everyone will come to have their “special friends” among the seventy of the original 200 plus represented in this fun filled and playful book. Be forewarned this book is not for young children but most definitely the child in you. To see more on LoveMonsters aren’t scary–they’re just misunderstood go to www.lovemonsters.com. To see more on the amazing and imaginative works of Karen and Tony Barone go to www.baroneart.com.

Lunch With Rancho Mirage Artist’s Karen & Tony Barone


 

 

 

Karen & Tony Barone were both born in Chicago – Chicago is where they met, fell in love, married, achieved their first successes and established themselves as a creative force. Leaving Chicago, they took a non sequitur route moving their high voltage creativity to the California desert. They “got their stripes” in New York City’s Soho; then moved west & worked from a hillside studio on their horse farm in East Tennessee.

They moved west again, this time to Los Angeles, where they became a powerful artistic presence while working out of their massive canal-side studio in the artist community of Venice Beach.

I recently sat down with the renowned wife & husband artist couple at their studio compound in Rancho Mirage, California to talk with them about  their Art Adoption Dalmatian Nation Initiative, the fabrication of their sculptures pieces and other projects currently underway.

It’s such a pleasure to be sitting here in paradise with you both at this beautiful studio, how are you both doing these days? Tony Barone: We’re fine, busy!  Karen Barone:  Hi Let me start by saying, I’m the verbal one, he’s the visual one!   (With a laugh) “That’s good to know.  So tell me about the Art Adoption program you’ve just initiated? TB: The Art Adoption program is a community collaboration initiative that seeks to put large-scale public art in front of fire-houses or town halls across the nation.

The playful dog sculptures are meant to honor the unique relationship between fire fighters and the role animals play in the line of duty.  For this concept, which we also call the Dalmatian Nation, the idea is for interested local citizens in every community to privately invest in and purchase the sculptures for their home community.

We decided to restrict purchase of the sculptures to private individuals who are willing to pay for and donate the steel or aluminum sculptures to their respective city fire departments.

The program is designed so there is no taxpayer cost for the public art.  We and our staff work to match individual donors with each sculpture in each town or city location, wherever there’s a fire hall, a town hall or an animal adoption center.How are the sculptures made?  TB: Technology has changed our enterprise.  Karen and I design the sculptures to be like architecture.  Right now,  I’m in the process of grinding a piece of aluminum to show a local arts committee a sample of a finish.

We do a design for a restaurant or a building and then take those drawings, convert them to CAD (computer-aided design) then take those drawings and convert then to a computer language that drives the cutting machinery. The pieces are so large now that we hardly touch them.

 

 

We get exactly what we draw as far the details. Then we take that same piece of steel, after its cut out and we start separating and forming it, because it’s still flat.  Whether we’re making a meatball or some other curved shape, it was flat at one point.  We had to find a place that we could spin out those forms, those hemispheres and then weld them together.  It’s intuitive engineering.

KB: Most of our design is not about hanging something on the wall. It ‘s about walking into an exciting, entertaining, art space.  TB: We don’t decorate!  KB: Or put up light fixtures!  It truly is walking into an entertaining exciting environment.

 How would you characterize your interiors business?  TB: We were the first people to use contemporary, landscape seating where the terrain was like a topographical map and you sat in different areas.  We did that in Chicago for Lettuce Entertain You.  The first restaurant we designed for them was The Brewery.   Another client was the Tango Restaurant Chain.  For them we designed a space that was like a gallery. 

Sometimes its creating an environment that receives art and when people walk in they become part of the scene, they embrace it, add to it. 

So your philosophy is? TB: Anything that we can use, anything, everything is an opportunity.

What are you working on for Fall of 2011?  Tony: We’ve just curated a show using eight artists who are all living along the San Andreas Fault.  Right now in the other room, we’ve got fans blowing on the canvases.  We’ll put in three pieces: an ice cream bar sculpture, then we’ve done a horizontal diptych.  Where most diptychs are two panels vertical, we ran the panels four by seven and a three by seven, which when put together become a 7-foot by-7 foot painting.

We’ve got another project which is an homage to Ernest Hemingway’s short story For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn.  We’re always stretching canvas.

Now Karen, I understand you were a celebrity host and videographer/filmmaker?  KB: Now what you must understand is that when I did films, it was really a whole another take, it was pure art. Tony: We used to do a magazine, kinda like today’s Facebook, but you’re talking in the 80s, 90s.  Wherever we traveled around the world, say France, Basel, Switzerland, Germany, wherever we went we would take pictures, then cut and paste them and make up this magazine called The Buzz.  It was a lot of fun!   KB:  Our greatest pleasure truly comes from….TB: Pleasure!   KB:   What we share and produce and put out there, we do together.

(At this point in the interview, Tony appears to be getting ready to cook.) TB: We bought this saffron in the harbor in Barcelona, they made us vegetarian paella. KB: It was marvelous!

TB: You know each thing is not only a creative thing, it’s a memory from a creative thing.  But anyway, back to Karen making video.  It just got to the point where she was doing a three-minute video every week.  How long did you do that?  KB: It was over a year. TB: And then the forum dried up!  The show wasn’t on any more, we didn’t have any place to do it.  Its’ like this painting we’re doing right now (the dipstych).  It’s an opportunity and we needed to paint. 

(He pauses for a moment) So the show comes up and boy we get to paint a piece for the show.  I mean it’s all in there, ready to come out anyhow and its kinda like love the one you’re with!  Right now we’re making love to canvas.  It’s not finished, we didn’t skip a beat.  We’re also working on a proposal for a commission for an animal shelter.

(He asks Karen to finish his thought …. again indicating how they are one being in so many ways) KB: I want to do a miniature.  TB: And then we’re doing a Mother dog in addition to the Dalmatian but its about the same scale, kinda like a golden retriever.  Its in this unitable technique where we interlock forms, that’s changed us!

How do children react to your work?  KB:  It’s really outstanding to watch any child approach our sculptures. TB: They’re not afraid to smile.  They’re very honest.  They’ll point.  You know as an adult you’re not allowed to point.  Kids will point for a while until their parents make them stop.  And then the forms that we’re using are very approachable.  We’re not just doing 6’3” dogs and cats — we’re doing toys.  These are toy like images! So kids really get it.   

The average child today is so overwhelmed by technology, its great for cities to include these in their public spaces. They can be touched and are truly appropriate subject matter for public art. TB: That’s a good observation.      

In terms of direction are you interested in pursuing more film? TB: The opportunity just isn’t there.  We created a character called the LoveMonster which is getting bigger and bigger and more important.  If you go on the the web to LoveMonster.com, you can see the animation.   

The current incarnation seems to be adult oriented? TB: One of my only regrets was that our book was not accessible to kids.  Kids gravitated to the images immediately. 

I kept having to say, you know this is an adult book.  Since then the LoveMonster has evolved.   He had those two appendages hanging down, but they were confusing people.  KB:  The LoveMonster was an androgynous character.

But people thought the drawings indicated something more, more male oriented.  TB: We edited the drawing and even gave him good dental work. The earlier version got in the way of the message.  The loveMonster is our alter-ego, especially me.

It’s my outlet to do what I want, say what I want.  Now in one painting, he’s about seven feet tall.  And he’s the one that’s saying to the Karen figure “what’s better?  Pasta or sex?”

I require any painting that I work on with Karen — that she be in the painting!  I just love painting her!   She keeps wanting me to be in the painting with her!   And when you’re as hot as Karen, as in the documentary of Monsieur Pompadour!  When I saw it, I went on a crash diet and shaved.  I stopped wearing my stone cutter jacket.

Now I am the LoveMonster in the painting.  Karen’s there, she’s standing next to me.  I’m staring at her, I’ve got buttons in my hand.  I’m trying to cajole her.  He has become me and I’ve become him.   You know with regard to film, we work from opportunity and so far it just hasn’t been there.

You’re a natural fit for a documentary. TB: We’re working all the time and we’re producing good work.   Film is very collaborative.  KB: It takes a great number of people to make a film.   TB: At our studio in Venice (CA), we had five or six working interns coming from around the world to work. The thing that’s changed, with our move to Rancho Mirage, CA, we whittled it down to just the two of us.    You’ve come full circle then from your youth, when you first met in Chicago? TB: The most important thing for me was to please Karen.  I wanted her to look at me in a favorable light.  So I guess if you look at our paintings and our sculpture today, they’re very finished, very clean, very few flaws, they’re articulate.

In the meantime, we have two paintings coming up, For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn.  The next one is also baby shoes, we thought of calling it Once Upon A Time.  It’s a giant, but I’m not sure yet, what’s under it.  It’ll have to wait.  The rest is still inside of us.

The thing about painting is you can empty yourself on to a canvas and that’s what we do.  We’ve been wanting to acknowledge Hemingway on canvas for a long time so we are.

There’s always a canvas being stretched in the studio.  We’re usually into five, six projects simultaneously.  At one point, life runs out before the ideas do.  

Is there such a thing as retirement for working artists? Tony: No, we’re working harder then we ever have.  KB: We’ve created the most perfect …. Utopia!  TB: Yes it is!

For more on Karen and Tony Barone, visit their website at Baroneart.com