Devendra Banhart at the MOMA

Categories: Music

(Devendra Banhart's "Banded King Snake and Thunder Maiden")

Devendra Banhart'
s new album, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, has my tag for record of the year -- or maybe I should say it's at least in the top 5 (it’s still only September). I liked his music before but also thought it was a bit too precious; It didn’t have big enough cojones where it counts. Smokey is worlds beyond his previous output, working up into a Doors-like frenzy, cooling into romantic Spanish and Portuguese balladry, playfully joking about a cross-culture love affair, and spiraling out into tropicalia. It’s an compellingly diverse and textured record.

For those who missed out on hearing Smokey performed live a couple weekends back, there’s another way to experience Banhart in a public arena. A couple of his Paul Klee-inpired drawings are on display at the SF MOMA for a show titled “Abstract Rhythms: Paul Klee and Devendra Banhart.”

The full press release follows. – Jennifer Maerz

"Music was a consistent source of inspiration for Paul Klee (1879–1940), spanning the arc of his career and informing much of his practice. He came from a family of musicians, and prior to turning his attention to painting, drawing, and printmaking he was an accomplished violinist who performed regularly in concerts. He was also known to frequent the opera, and these experiences often influenced his work (Hoffmannesque Fairy Tale Scene [1921], for example, was inspired by Jacques Offenbach’s opera The Tales of Hoffmann). As a foundational aspect of Klee’s life, music is central to many of his works, explicitly referenced in his titles, the linear movement and rhythmic structure of his compositions, and as overt pictorial themes. Moreover, Klee wrote extensively on the relationship between graphic arts and music, and he devised elaborate techniques to marry the two forms in his practice. Some excerpts from his writings are paired here with selected works.

"Also featured in this exhibition are new drawings by Devendra Banhart (born 1981), a musician known for his folk songs with a surrealist inflection and visual artist who, like many figures working today, considers Klee an important creative touchstone. These works on paper were made in conjunction with his fifth and most recent album, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon. Both the drawings and the album spring from a personal narrative developed around a fictional protagonist named Smokey—an archetype of a person Banhart frequently encounters while on tour. Smokey is pictured here in a sombrero, with a pointed goatee and mustache. Banhart’s otherworldly drawings are further populated by fantastical characters that seem to float in an undefined pictorial space, recalling some of Klee’s surrealist works.

"Banhart’s relationship to music, like Klee’s, is coextensive with his visual art practice. 'I sing what I can’t draw and draw what I can’t sing,' he states. Though they were born a century apart, both artists oscillate between abstraction and figuration—a pendulum enlivened by each one’s own invisible rhythmic pulse." By Jennifer Maerz

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