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Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Davis Cemetery’s grateful dead

What brought Bob Bralove to Studio 1855 at the Davis Cemetery?

Before his show, dubbed by the studio as Cross Pollinating Music with Paint, Bralove was playing piano at the Chapel of the Chimes Crematorium’s Summer Solstice celebration, an annual event featuring simultaneous performances by famed composers and musicians.

His presence there was due to what he referred to as his “continuing association with the Dead” — not just those buried in the ground and ground up into ashes, but those that were soaring through the psychedelic ’60s: The Grateful Dead.

Before Davis, Oakland, Gualala and all his other solo shows, you could barely pin Bralove on a map, because he was playing Oz for the Grateful Dead as their resident “MIDI Wizard” keyboard man. Before that, he was collaborating on the score for the soundtrack for “The Twilight Zone.” And even before that, synthesizing and sound designing for Stevie Wonder.

But let’s pull things back to Davis.

Bralove was in town this past Sunday for the opening reception of his solo show, featuring works from three different series. Dressed in grey tones and a smart sports coat, there was a contrast between the artist as presented in person and as presented in his paintings. In his words, however, were revealed the tie-dye-colorful nature of the whole situation.

“The first one of these that I did where I was experimenting with the ink, it happened when I was on a 13-hour acid trip,” Bralove said, gesturing to the surrounding paintings. “And it’s much wilder, and it doesn’t have the kind of composed feeling that these do.”

The compositions of the pieces in question differed wildly from series to series. The strongest focus was on his Psychic Tattoo works; the first ones seen when walking in the door. They’re figure-focused, with human figures in the foreground and geometricities evoking buildings in the background.

“The idea that I was pursuing is, to some extent, is that all the curved lines are in the people, and the natural things,” Bralove said. “And all the right angles, they’re the manmade things that are empty.”

The fullness of the people can be found in their detail — each character is covered or made up of tens of tiny little beings, from cats to conjoined heads, all done in India Ink over the vibrant acrylic base.

“I think of all of our personalities as being made up of these creatures,” Bralove said, describing how they all function to create a flow, with a few resonating with individual observers based on their personal reflections.

“We usually just see the scars,” Bralove said. “But there are positive things also to make permanent impressions.”

According to Bralove, heavy impressions were also made on his series of color studies. Sets of close-ups made up of only three colors — call them wood, call them grass, call them hellfire, because Bralove sure as hell doesn’t know.

“They’re non-literal,” he said. “They’re not telling … what are they? You can’t even say what they are; there isn’t a word for them. They’re less literal in the literary sense of having words, and yet the people who respond to them really respond to them.”

Responses could also be seen in his “tubed texture” pieces, where one almost has to physically restrain their own hands from not reaching out to touch them. Similarly to Psychic Tattoo, these also have two layers, the base being acrylic. But the upper layer has less influence of the hand — it’s entirely controlled by the tube.

The texture pieces are painted-on spirals and swirls then overlaid with spikes of paint dropped directly from a paint tube.

“I bounce through extremes in all my work,” Bralove said. “I got to this kind of obsessive dimensionality and wanted to flip the coin. And so a piece of it is just letting go of the control.”

This surrender is just one of Bralove’s many inspirations, the others encompassing everything from a dichotomic self-control to “the way Louis Armstrong phrases a little trumpet line.”

“I’ve gotten to a place where I see what being an artist in this day and age means to me,” Bralove said. “And that is really just inspiration coupled with discipline.”

Yes, discipline is a virtue for this psychedelic figure. As so much of his work deals with technology, Bralove is acutely aware of the dangers of our electronic age.

“We are constantly struggling with the issues of convenience and surrender,” he said. “And ultimately, convenience means surrendering power. The only thing that really combats that is discipline. Like meditation discipline; some sort of discipline where it becomes about you.”

His meditation can be found in his paintings, which he “kind of trance[s] out on,” and in his keyboarding collaborations with another member of the Dead in their duo, Dose Hermanos. (Note that “dose” is not a misspelling of either Spanish number, rather, “dose” as in the English word. “Oh you’ve never had a dose?” was Bralove’s comment on my quasi-bilingual confusion).

For now though, Bralove needs a break.

“I’ve just been through a whole bunch of shows so I’m needing to ground now,” he said. However, he seems grounded enough — humble yet proud in the face of his achievements.

“I feel so lucky to have written a song that has lyrics by Bob Hunter … amazing. But to have been worked on a Stevie Wonder album is … phenomenal. To have done a Drums and Space event with the Grateful Dead where 60,000 people are breathing at the same time because you’ve done something … it’s phenomenal, I’ve been so lucky to work with these amazing people,” Bralove said. “But I want people to feel that I have an individual voice. That that voice is what attracted those other people. That they wanted to work with me as much as I wanted to work with them.”

Bralove’s voice can be heard through his musical work online, or in his artwork displayed throughout the month of February at Studio 1855 at the Davis Cemetery District on 820 Pole Line Road. For more information on the exhibit, go to daviscemetery.org, and to find out more about the man himself, visit bobbralove.com.

TANYA AZARI can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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