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Artist Carolyn Ferris kicks off a Bacchanalian feast of art, music and wine

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If you are making a trip to Napa on a Sunday over the next few weeks, be sure to drop in at the “Wild Artist High Noon Deco Lounge Series” featuring art works of Bay Area rock poster artists such as Carolyn Ferris, Chris Shaw and John Seabury. Some of the Sunday events will also include live music and of course, free wine tastings of Capp Heritage Vineyard’s excellent cabernet sauvignon and merlot, among others.

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The heady event spearheaded by Ferris and sponsored by The Rock Poster Society kicked off with a solo show by Ferris of her limited edition metallic prints on Sun, March 31. Held at The Capps Heritage Vineyards Tasting Room, in downtown Napa, the show was accompanied by an acoustic set by Moonalice’s frontman, Roger McNamee. In between performing Moonalice favorites such as “Nick of Time" and "Last Chopper Out of Saigon", was Grateful Dead roadie, Steve Parish who sprinkled vivid stories of backstage lore about the likes of Jerry Garcia and Eric Clapton.

Artists such as Chuck Sperry, Chris Shaw and Alexander Fischer, as well as Jefferson Starship bassist, Pete Sears who now plays in Moonalice, also made an appearance.

Ferris is one of 23 poster artist that make up the Moonalice family – a distinguished though stylistically varied bunch that includes seminal poster artists of the ‘60s such as Stanley Mouse and Wes Wilson. Ferris has also worked alongside the iconoclastic ‘60s visionary and psychedelic psychologist, Timothy Leary who famously coined the slogan “Turn on, tune in, drop out”.

A rare set of 11 illustrations for Leary’s 1994 book, “Chaos and Cyberculture”, signed by Leary and Ferris, which featured subjects such as Aldous Huxley and William S Burroughs – recently sold on eBay for $1,850.

Ferris who now lives in Fairfax, has also done a slew of rock posters for the Fillmore. Her style is grounded in Hyperrealism, with different planes of reality and staircases that echo the works of MC Escher. Her psychedelic themes also see subjects taking trips into different worlds, realms and states of consciousness. As she works with a computer, her posters can be a patchwork. They conjure all kinds of surrealistic themes from the all seeing-eye, celestial and cosmic higher-callings as well as cartoonish characters.

She has also worked with legendary musician Carlos Santana and his ex-wife’s foundation designing posters and merchandise for their events. “If you are in Napa during the week, my artworks will still be on show here till May 4. The next artists to be featured in the series are John Seabury and Lee Conklin also on Sun, May 4 from noon to 6pm.”

In addition to showing his artworks, Seabury who plays in the band Psychotic Pineapple will also do an acoustic set. Ferris added in true Bay Area-style: “We are not your normal pretty flowers and mountain scenes group, so the wide-eyed quilt makers from Kansas stopping in for wine tasting may be in for refreshing twist.”

After the launch of her solo show, Ferris took some time out for an interview with the Examiner.com. She reveals more about this inspired pairing of art, wine and music; her tales of working with Leary; and how some artists are now experimenting with mounting their own shows rather than remaining tethered to a gallery-system.

How did this idea for the "Wild Artist High Noon Deco Lounge Series" come about?

I was having lunch with the GM of Capp Heritage Vineyard (Gary Koehler) and we were talking about the old shows he used to do at the Ledson Winery in 2000/2001. It was maybe three years in a row, and held at the vineyard itself. Every artist had their own Oak Tree. It was a lovely event and some of the artists did very well. So he invited me to perhaps do a show at the Capp Heritage showroom in downtown Napa. It was like a free parking space for my art. Gary suggested liaising with a few other poster artists to make it a bigger event involving the greater poster art community here in the Bay Area.

How did you get your start in poster art?

I had a painting hanging on the wall at a friend’s beauty shop and a lawyer with the Fillmore bought it and showed it to Fillmore’s Art Director, Arlene Owseichik who then asked to use it for The Prodigy poster at The Warfield. I was so new to poster art, Arlene had to do the lettering (the filigree lettering being a key design feature of Fillmore’s poster art). After that she gave me my first Fillmore poster for String Cheese Incident.

How did you meet and start working with Timothy Leary?

I was producing shows in the late '80s, early '90s, Timothy was one of my speakers on the circuit. I exhibited my art at one of the shows I'd produced in Ashland, and when he came into my booth, I told him I'd do a portrait of him. I was an abstract painter at the time, so this was a stretch. I called him in Beverly Hills a year later and said it's time for him to sign it, this was my first realistic portrait. He invited me down for a few days, and when I got there he looked at the painting and said, "This painting is not finished...." Then he rambled off all of the imagery he wanted within it. After living with this painting for a year, schlepping it across the US and back while perfecting it's realism, I was surprised by this response and said, "I'm not going to do that, if you want it done, you do it." And so he did, I stayed down there a few weeks while he began his work on it.

And you worked with him on the illustrations for his book, “Chaos and Cyberculture”?

I was the art director and main illustrator for this book. He would work on the background and I would do the foreground. He was always going off in different directions. But during that time, our work was everywhere - in Creem Magazine, Architecture Digest and Perry Farrell from Jane’s Addiction who started Lollapalooza bought some of my artworks.

It must have been a very exciting time? Were you living in LA at the time?

I never wanted to live down there, I needed breaks from the parties and constant interactions. Awe could not even begin to express the artistic community in LA. The artists I was introduced to were mostly only very accomplished. There was a constant flood of genius artists always around, actors, singers, movie producers, digital creators making eye popping psychedelic imagery to go with the beat of music videos. We did an art opening there in 1994. It was a show that also included (counter-culture punk-rock cartoonist) Robert Williams and (photographer) Cindy Horowitz among others – it seems that every time I have the opportunity to do a show, I like to get a couple of other artist involved too. But that show did very well, they were red dots everywhere and I was very happy.

It is quite different to now show and sell your art this way to go directly to the audience through a winery, rather than an art gallery?

I got tired of the expense of showing through the gallery system. You frame your art and the cost of the frame costs most than the art itself. Now that I am back doing limited edition specially-made pieces, there is not a need for them to be framed in the traditional manner. Years ago, when I showed at galleries, I had each image professionally photographed, making 4x5 transparencies and slides; this was an expensive endeavor for archival and publishing needs. Once we got computers, we were able to do a lot of these things on our own and so many of us have moved away from galleries. Also when you do a show at a gallery they take, 40% to 60% of the paintings sold. The other alternative is to be part of TRPS who puts on shows and exhibitions for artists, or the Moonalice poster community where you build your base through them and the music. And, we hope this new way that we are trying through the shows at Capp Heritage Vineyard will work too.

What does it mean to you to be part of the Moonalice group of artists?

Over the five years since I have joined them, I have also been able to fine-tune my art. I see myself getting better and faster, because I'm constantly producing my surreal scenes. Each poster I create is my baby then it leaves me and gets produced as this gorgeous poster and given away as an added treat for attending their awesome shows. Moonalice allows me also to have total artistic freedom. Unless I'm really in a bind and my poster is looking awful, I'm not asked to make changes. One year when my sister was dying and I was with her in Denver on a poster deadline, I had to ask Chris Shaw, the art director for help on the image. It was looking like mud. Chris talked to me and emailed endless suggestion paragraphs. There is also so much artist support and camaraderie among this poster pool, I feel really lucky to be a part of it.

This DIY ethic and sense of community around the Moonalice music bears all the hallmarks of The Grateful Dead’s followers back in the day but how do you reach out to new, younger would-be fans?

All you can do is get the word out best you can. I saw a post last week that "Chubby and Gail Barnes made Moonalice's page the most successful fan page on Facebook in terms of engagement. We have grown to 315k fans on FB, and our fans share at the highest rate on Facebook. This week, 487k people are talking about Moonalice on FB. It’s always reaching out to new people and as artists we do get enquiries about buying our work from the site. You also reach a new audience by doing shows like this one - with a combination of music, art and wine. We are still on the look-out for musicians to pair with the artists. This is something I learnt from Stanley Mouse, he uses it at all his shows – he always has in the background a musician playing the guitar.

To you, what is the most important aspect of your art?

When I create the characters, I make them with their own personality, and an expression of freedom. The animals that live on the posters are alive and connecting with the viewer. I like to make sure there is an energy. I try and do this also with body language, to make an image that looks relaxed, but in charge. I also like to have a sense of the eyes filled with soul.

How many limited edition pieces are on show and for sale at this exhibition?

There are 13 Limited Edition ($1,200 each) on demand images. These are more art pieces than a regular print collection. They are metallic paper sealed within a beautiful art form, and are ready to hang without framing. An artist friend of mine, Bruce Ricker taught me to make these at his studio near Carmel about 18 years ago. Oh my goodness, it was involved with a router, specially made tools, and rolling machines to seal in the prints; and often little bubbles from hell caught sealed in the process would smile at me upon my learning yet another was ruined. It's the art of these sealed images that adds to my art popping so perfectly with these pieces.

Carolyn Ferris

Where: Capps Heritage Wines (1245 1st Street at Randolph, Downtown Napa)

When: Till May 4, from 12noon to 6 pm

The schedule for "Wild Artist High Noon Art Deco Lounge Series"

May 4 John Seabury: Art & Acoustic Guitar, and Lee Conklin

May 11 Wendy Wright and John Mavroudis

May 18 Marcus Uzilevsky: Art & Acoustic Guitar, and Barbara Giles

May 25 Pat Ryan and Mark Henson

June 1 Alexandra Fischer and Chris Shaw

June 8 Sexy Sketch Party: Stanley Mouse, with Amy Connor and Dina Janel

June14 Laura Kudzinski and JD Wilson

Aug 2, 2015 Chuck Sperry

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