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Arthur Peña Makes Some Noise In His Vice Palace
by Anne Bothwell 23 Apr 2015
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Arthur Peña. Photo: Jerome Weeks.

Painting is the most important thing to Arthur Peña. The Dallas artist has an MFA from Rhode Island School of Design and his work has been exhibited in galleries and museums including the Dallas Museum of Art and the Dallas Contemporary. But for the past year, Peña has also hosted a series of pop-up performances under the name Vice Palace.

What is Vice Palace?

APVice Palace is a DIY roving music venue that exists in spaces such as galleries, warehouses, established venues such as Texas Theater. Vice Palace is interested in cultivating new ideas, creative ways and experimentation within music performances, from musicians in this city. And on top of that say hey, let’s think of a way you can engage the audience differently. You don’t have to stand on the stage, let’s put you in the middle of the floor. Lets bring in one ton of sand and have some weird performance with dance groups and collaborators. Let’s think about how we can push this further. Those are the same questions I ask as a painter, that any artist in the city asks of their work.

This week’s first anniversary show features 6 bands and 2 fashion shows.

APLili Taylor is an amazing vocalist. Almost operatic, very dreamy. And with her husband Sean Miller’s projections on top of her, they are an act that really serves as an example of performance as art and music collapsed into one event.

AP$caduf is an interesting young talent who comes out of Pleasant Grove.  And Pleasant Grove is a place that can be rough. $caduff is part of that community and is born out of that. His lyrics, like on his song “40 Oz. And A Burger From Big B’s,” highlights his neighborhood as well as tells a story of who he is, the environment he comes from, and really, where he wants to go.” [Find the video here.] Others on the bill: Tony Q & Plain Jane; iill, Rat Rios. Fashion show by Charles Smith II and Jim Duran kicks off the show.
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$kaduf, from his video, “40 oz and Big B’s Burger”

Finding musicians and acts to work with.

API just go to shows.  I will say that I do have a bias, I am into a certain attitude with the work, a certain, I’d call it darkness, within the music. That may be because my own personal artwork is so embedded with this idea of temporality and the morbid.  Whether or not you get that from it, when I’m making those paintings, I’m thinking about dying all the time.

You seem like a happy, fun guy. So it’s interesting that you think about death when you’re painting.

APWell, it’s sort of more the idea of the absurd. I don’t know how to explain it. I’m super happy because I’m super happy to be here. I’m super happy to be alive. But every morning, every morning, I tell you Anne, I wake up and the first thing I think of is, Oh my God, one day it’s just all going to be gone. And there’s just nothing you can do about it. I just don’t know when or how it’s going to go down. But you know it will. That’s just the way it is. So in the meantime, I’m just here trying to do something cool, something that can maybe make a difference in someone’s life.

vice palace year one

API’m from Oak Cliff. I saw my first dead body when I was six years old. Somebody got murdered at my elementary school. It’s one of these things, very early early on, you understand the temporality of all this.  But also just the violence in the streets and growing up in this neighborhood and gangs. And all of the stuff that goes along with growing up in a violent neighborhood. And all the while, my family was there and taking care of me, and being nice.
APBut eventually, you know what happened, when I was in high school at Skyline, I got into graffitti. And started making artwork that way. And I started catching the bus every day, every summer when I  was 16, I started catching the bus to the DMA. I would get off downtown and walk to the DMA. Which was crazy because I had work at the DMA two years ago.
API saw art work, I saw my first Picasso. I knew that Picasso was important, I just didn’t know why. I would sort of go there and see a bunch of artwork. And come home and go to house parties at night, just regular house parties. And I think man, if there was something like Vice Palace when I was younger, that had a program that exposed me to really cool people and really awesome music and something weird, that I just wouldn’t have come across, maybe because of cultural borders or socio-economic borders….if there was something around when I was younger, you know, maybe I could have gotten into art a lot earlier. I could have done a lot more weird things a lot younger. I wouldn’t be in my 30s trying to catch up with these young people who are out there doing awesome awesome things and they’re like 21 years old.

On finding a balance between painting and music:

APThere really isn’t one. When I’m not working on Vice Palace shows, which honestly, don’t take that long to pull together – It’s a couple of emails, some  phone calls, and making sure things go right. My painting practice, it’s so much harder than anything else I will probably ever do. And I’d have to say, that if anything were to ever get in the way of my painting practice, even Vice Palace, I would have to stop. I don’t think about anything – other than death – more than painting.

On his musical talent:

APThe only instrument I ever played in my life was in middle school it was the trumpet. I played it for three years. And I quit. BUT me and my buddy Kevin Jacobs, who runs Oliver Francis Gallery, started this band called Tracy Yemen. Which is a play on  the British artist Tracey Emin. He’s on drums and he’s a phenomenal drummer. And I have a mini handheld tape recorder that I record different sounds on. During our performances, I’m just basically rolling around on the floor with this cassette player to the microphone, screaming and making noises, or crawling on top of audience members. And Kevin is playing these crazy double metal beats to this whole performance and it lasts about 10 to 15 minutes. We’ve performed about four times.

Sounds legendary.

APAnd we’re thinking about getting the band back together! It’s just fun times. And whenever I get a chance to perform in any way, I’ve noticed that I take it.
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