Kool Kats of the Week: A Romance by Design: Artists Caryn Grossman and Chris Buxbaum Collaborate in Life and at MODA

Posted on: Dec 7th, 2012 By:

Chris Buxbaum and Caryn Grossman.

By Torchy Taboo
Contributing Writer

Have you ever known two people from utterly separate times and places in your life, and then one day you learn that your worlds collided and they have become a couple, and it’s one of those rare “aha” moments? It happened right before my eyes. Caryn Grossman and Chris Buxbaum are two wonderfully creative and fascinating people. Then suddenly BANG! They are collaborating on an installation as part of “The South’s Next Wave: Design Challenge” at the Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA). The special exhibit  began November 11, 2012 and runs though March 31, 2013

The sum of Caryn’s and Chris’ creative energy is formidable, making them the perfect candidates for Kool Kats of the Week. So I took the opportunity to chat with them about their dynamic cross-pollination

Torchy Taboo/ATLRetro: Chris, when I first met you, you were a DJ with an amazing record collection and a lifelong David Bowie fan. Is there a fave Bowie period? How have his styles influenced you creatively?

Chris: If pushed, I would say my favorite period was the “Berlin Era” (Low/Heroes/The Idiot/Lust for Life) – all that angst and faded glamor. Other than the “lost decade” (most of the ’80s), I love all Bowie’s work. The fact that it varies wildly in sound and vision is what attracts me to it. And never sticking to one look or genre – borrowing like a magpie from a wild variety of sources, both high and low art, is the most important thing I took away from it.

I see Glam-rock influences in the MODA installation….

Chris: Everything I did as a young fashionista in London (glam/early punk/ club kid/fetish pioneer) informs what I do now – an obsession with androgyny and fluid identity being the main thing that carried into this project. The photos in the installation, from a yearlong collaboration with supermodel David Richardson, are actually from another project that is nearing completion called “Schizophrenic Photogenic.” We are in talks with some galleries with a view to presenting these early next year.

You’ve both been shop keepers and lived the retail life. Thoughts on that?

Caryn: I think we both really miss it – I know I do. There’s something about the hunt for a fantastic mix of things, and then watching and interacting as people come through. We’re about to open a little retail space in Paris on Ponce, and I can easily see it growing into something more.

Chris: What I learned from being a shopkeeper is that while I am very good at creating a “look” and an atmosphere, I am no business man.

Chris and Caryn's installation "Darkly Deeply Beautifully Blue" at MODA's South's Next Wave exhibition.

Chris, when did photography become part of your picture?

Chris: I have always carried a camera since i was a teen, but originally just to document what I was doing. It stemmed from having such a bad memory – just so I could remember where I had been. I only started getting “arty” about it when I had my Gallery “Boho Luxe.” The advent of digital really freed me up to experiment and learn -not so much for the ease of manipulation, but because you could now afford to make lots of mistakes and learn by trial and error, which is the only way for me. I don’t think I have ever read an instruction manual in my life. Meeting Caryn was the final ingredient. She pushes me to achieve and then is wonderful in helping me collate and publicize the work. She really is the magical final ingredient.

Caryn, tell us a little about how cross-pollinating your fantastic interior design skills with Chris’s photography. Talk to me about the mixing of your styles.

Caryn: On a job, there’s actually this wonderful synergistic flow; we both have an eye for color, shape and form, so the projects we do for our clients come together really easily – and beautifully. As far as a personal style, I love a sense of irony in design, a surprise tucked around a corner. It’s really evident in the MODA installation, and pretty much the same here at home.

My space is always a reflection of how I feel, and when I met Chris I was in a very melancholy, introspective kind of place. The loft I was living and working in really reflected that – lots of soft tones and heavy drapes to envelop me. Some things were overly lush, others were worn by time, but overall the space had a very soothing vibe, which was exactly what I needed it to be. I’d had a number of artists come through, so there was a lot of graffiti on the walls, so I think the sense of color and joy was there, it was just tucked away a bit more.

When Chris and I moved into our first loft together, the space was quite a bit smaller, and things had to condense. All of a sudden the graffiti wall was center-stage and Chris’ leopard bar was kind of integral to the mix. We still have a pretty soft surround, with the heavy drapes, but the space is much livelier, much more colorful, and much more in keeping with the boldness of Chris’ photos. I love it – it’s a happy space, really filled with a lot of laughter and love.

Caryn and David Richardson at MODA's opening night party.

I know that you are both versed in the organizing of unique events. It’s apparent that projects like this huge MODA event are second nature for you as a couple.

Chris: Before I discovered photography as an art form, I would say that putting together events, club nights, parties was my only talent – it’s like cooking – you have to have the right balance of ingredients and a pinch of magic. Caryn moved in very different circles from me, and she has a knack for publicity and finessing the right people. She can really write, and she has the education, technical skills and connections to make crazy ideas become reality. “Darkly Deeply Beautifully Blue” was a true collaboration in every sense of the word. We worked shoulder to shoulder for five months to make that happen. Then we called in all our amazingly talented friends to make it real:  Milford Earl Thomas to make the film, Timo Evon and James Hoback for their artisan skills.

Caryn: I’ve always believed a collaborative process is the best, so even when I was working alone I always had other artists in and out of the space. Sometimes we shared the space and produced events together, sometimes it was just me inviting an artist in to show or play. It always brought me joy, and I loved seeing the creative process of others. It’s what makes my own work thrive, so producing events just came naturally. For a number of years I did it quarterly, opening my space up for all kinds of works, and all kinds of people, and I know my own creativity grew exponentially.

Happy Blue Family Chris Buxbaum, Caryn Grossman and Henry Jack Buxbaum!

What exactly is the MODA event?

Caryn: The exhibit, called “The South’s Next Wave,” is actually a design contest:  each design group chose or was assigned a color (ours was blue) and then assigned an object.  Ours was cake.  The only directive the curators gave was to design a monochromatic setting for the object. I envisioned ours as a room.

I thought it’d be great for Chris and I to do the space together. Chris had the idea to have a silent film made so that the “set” would remain animated after the opening. The film was shot on black and white 8 mm with a handheld camera and then tinted blue, frame by frame.

There were actually three openings: one for the press, one black-tie for wealthy patrons, and then the grand opening night.  The first two were so serious we decided to go all out on the third night and have David in the space as Marie Antoinette.  People loved it – they went nuts!  The event was sold out.

And how did you get involved?

Caryn: Sixteen designers from across the Southeast were chosen by the curators, Tim Hobby and David Goodrowe of a firm called Goodrowe/Hobby.  They had put out a call for entries for the object designers, so I approached Tim Hobby and asked him how the set designers were going to be chosen. I knew Tim from some design work we had done together years ago. He said the designers were going to be individually selected based on innovative style and merit – I presented him with some of my more recent work, and we were in.

David Bowie and a young Chris Buxbaum.

Give us more of the juicy details and logistics about the MODA installation.

Caryn: Creating the space for MODA was an amazing process. I had a vision of something over-the-top, kind of an ironic play on Marie Antoinette, and Chris’ photos were just a natural fit. Glam, punk, drag and my vision for design all came together almost seamlessly. Chris’ work and aesthetic was the perfect irony and surprise I was looking for, and the rest of the project kind of rolled on from there. I’ll let Chris tell most of this one, as once the vision came together, he really took it that step further by assembling this amazing team that ultimately included a filmmaker, drag performer, artistic finisher, Chris’ photos of course, and some pretty over-the-top furnishings and these unbelievable cakes by a company called Couture Cakes Inc. The museum crowd went nuts over it, especially the second opening night, which was the night we had our own Marie Antoinette – all seven-plus feet of him in platform heels, in the space.

I guess MODA is the perfect example of how our styles mix, and how we work together. I’m hoping it’s the start of a lot of great things.

Chris: “Darkly Deeply Beautifully Blue” came together really organically. We went with blue because we were in the middle of a big project for CG CreativeInteriors [Caryn's interior design firm]. When we have a project, we cover the walls of the loft in paint chips, fabric samples, inspiring pictures, etc, so we literally have to look at it all day. Since we were loving the colors we had chosen for this residential project, we decided to pull them over into the MODA one. We decided to use my pics of David Richardson to pull it out of being just decorative and give it an edge (and also to get them a wider audience). When we learned that our featured product was to be high-end designer cakes, the Marie Antoinette theme seemed the obvious way to go. Caryn worked tirelessly to find fantastic furniture and architectural products – the floor alone took almost a month to sort out [and] our first two ideas (mirrorball tiles/glitter wall paper) would not come together. In the end she sourced 40,000 silver rose petals. We drained six whole wedding stores of their supplies.

Tell me more about your crew selection and how they fit together.

Chris: The final thing that helped separate us from the pack was having David in the vignette live on opening night. It’s hard to ignore seven-and-a-half feet of drag queen with a Marie Antoinette wig and a birdcage on her head. And the cake maker, Lisa Humphreys, of Couture Cakes Inc.,  did an amazing job – even those shoes are cake.

We were also very honored to have Milford Earl Thomas (CLAIRE: A SILENT MOVIE) make a short film for us also featuring David. It turned out so beautifully and was designed to hold the viewers’ attention when David himself was not in the installation. I would love to work with him again in the future.

Caryn Grossman.

Share your vision of the future five or 10 years from now.

Chris: Vision for the future: an April wedding on the rooftop of the Telephone Factory, a solo gallery show for “Schizophrenic Photogenic” early 2013;  a group show with Rose Riot at Cherrylion and, last but not least, to grow CG Creative into a flourishing modern design firm.

Caryn: Wow. I have no idea, expect I know it will include the two of us, and some amazing intriguing happenings going on. I can easily see what we created at MODA taking on a life of its own. Whatever it is, and wherever we’ll be, I’m sure it will be fascinating – and happy.

Visitors to MODA get to vote on their favorite vignette and object. Chris and Caryn’s installation, “Darkly Deeply Beautifully Blue” is #6. The voting ends February 15.  Each vignette is set up with the Skovr app, so that viewers can access facts and video about the designers while in the galleries or from home.  More info on the museum hours, etc., can be found at www.museumofdesign.org.

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Kool Kat of the Week: The Flaming Heart: A Tribute to Buster the Human Blowtorch, aka Todd Kelly, as The Chamber Holds a Second Reunion

Posted on: Nov 24th, 2012 By:

Todd Kelly and Torchy Taboo.

By Torchy Taboo
Contributing Writer

“Todd was a Fire God on stage blowing his Soul of Fire for the world to see.”- Bry-baby, Chamber regular

 Back by popular demand, Mon Cherie has put together Chamber Reunion II, another gathering of the misfits who frequented one of Atlanta’s most notorious nightclubs, on Sat. Nov. 24 in Hell at The Masquerade. [Ed. note: read our Kool Kat interview with Mon Cherie on her Chamber memories and the first reunion here] It just wouldn’t be The Chamber without the presence of its favorite fire-breathing clown. However, due to his previous dinner arrangements with P. T. Barnum, Gypsy Rose Lee and Freddie Mercury, Mr. Todd Kelly will not be on the bill. I thought a tribute was in order.

Todd “Buster the Human Blow Torch” Kelly walked into my world in 2000. He strolled up to me in the Star Bar and introduced himself. His face was familiar; he had been in the front row of most of my Dames Aflame shows wearing a bright yellow motorcycle jacket. It caught my eye. My roommate had been hanging out with him in the witching hours after the “legal hours of operation” of a variety of Atlanta bars…the tales of mischievous behavior (to say the least) had been numerous at that point. Diminutive of stature, yet a flamboyant and verbose one-man cult of personality, not unlike myself, we became immediately lifelong comrades. He spent the evening regaling me with the amazing details of his fiercely colorful life.

Todd worked as fire performer and pyrotechnician for a myriad of bands including My Life With The Trill Kill Kult, Glitterdome and Impotent Sea Snakes (iss) just to name a few. He traveled constantly and spent the better part of 2001 in California where he became engaged to another performer from iss. Alas love’s misfortune brought him back to Georgia by the beginning of 2002. We took up right where we left off. Neither of us the type to waste much time, within days of his return, we began dating. He set the tone for our story by showing up for our first date in a knee-length REAL snake-skin jacket. He took me to The Chamber and promptly changed into his stilts and 7-foot-long silver sequined pants, tailcoat and top hat.

When Todd was not on the road, he worked a regular gig at The Chamber, either on stilts or doing his fire act, which I assisted as “safety” waiting back-stage with his fire-box full of fire-extinguishing paraphernalia in case of mishap. He taught me how to blow fire, and since we were both known for our snake acts as well, we soon began performing together. He was the consummate showman, yet never minded if my skimpy costumes upstaged his signature leather pants. But that’s who he was with everyone.

“The first time I saw Todd perform was at The Chamber. When he strode onto stage to the anthemic, ‘Du Hast,’ the energy in the room elevated immediately and then hung, palpable and frozen, in mid air. The audience, knowingly or not, fed him their every expectation, desire, anxiety, and Todd took it all in and let it go in a wildly cathartic and decadent rush of fire – a fine mist of fuel over an open flame. His act, although straightforward, was a bold, arcane ritual, and Todd was the Magus, sans turban, clad only in tight, red leather pants. In that room, he was more than fire-breather. He harnessed the frenetic energy of the room and focused it outwards into blazing spectacle. He was the transformer.” - Aileen Loy, creative impresario.

“Long before joining up with the Impotent Sea Snakes and when I first moved to Atlanta, I met Todd Kelly. We were both fixtures at The Masquerade and part of the core family of friends that hung out and/or worked there. We enjoyed many times together. I adored him. I just did not realize how beloved he was (to others) until I signed up with the band. We traveled the U.S.A. and Canada – this close quarters living bonds people in ways that can never be broken. ” - Mon Cherie, Chamber performer and promoter, and organizer of The Chamber Reunions I and II

“I never had to give Todd much direction. I’d tell him the theme for the event, and he would deliver. He was a natural at sideshow.” – Howie Stepp, manager at The Chamber

“Todd was one of the kindest, gentlest souls I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. I got to know him through working with him at The Star Bar and in the band Greasepaint. He had an incredible gift for being empathetic and understanding while still being objective and non-judgmental. In the few years I had the honor of knowing him, he left a lasting impression. There are not many days that pass that I don’t think of him and miss him. The world would be a far richer place if Todd Kelly was still in it.” – Joel Burkhart, musician and fellow member of Greasepaint, co-founder of the band AM Gold.

Todd Kelly and Torchy Taboo.

“Todd had the soul of a rock star and helped me become one, in my own mind at least. He could steal the show and be totally humble in the same breath, blow you out of the water and totally supportive at the same time. I’ll never forget or be able to repay his support of my photography and my singing. If I listed the people he introduced me to or the doors he opened for me, you would think I was name dropping or bragging… or you knew him too.”  - Keith Martin, photographer, musician and singer/guitar for The Stumblers.

“Todd Kelly was a jack of all trades who mastered every trade he tried. He was willing to do anything to help a friend and was so well liked you felt like the ugly girl whenever you were out with him. A rock star who gave up the stage to help a brother, we hosted Yer 15 Fuckin’ Minutes karaoke together three nights a week and worked even longer hours together after our regular schedule. A gentle soul, he even took time out to stilt walk and breathe fire for my son’s 8th birthday. Little known fact, I stole the name ‘Blue Rat’ for a headshop I opened on Cheshire Bridge, the “R-A-T” stands for “Rotknee, Alex and Todd.” I promised him we’d open something we could put our name on. Rest in peace, brother, I finished what we started. Loved that man, still do.” - Rodney Leete, wild-man on the mic, musician and emcee, Atlanta’s Best Amateur Comedy, Yer 15 minutes of Fame Karaoke. 

Torchy Taboo and Todd Kelly.

My favorite story Todd ever told me was about how he’d injured his hands very badly while trying to rescue his 15-foot-python, Junior, from a burning tour bus. When he found that his injuries made it impossible to hold his fire torches a few days later at his next booked show, he duct-taped them to his wrists and went on. Ever a man of his word, the show must go on.

Even after parting ways, we remained fiercely loyal to one another, sharing responsibility for our pets during each of our extensive tour schedules and even working together a few more times. Todd Kelly left us in 2004. He is remembered dearly by everyone who ever knew him.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Jayne County Brings a Little Max’s Kansas City Down to the Little Five Points Halloween Festival

Posted on: Oct 20th, 2011 By:

The Little Five Points Halloween Parade and Festival may be chock full of the craziest costumes you’ll see in Atlanta during the spooky season, but zombies, vampires and Elvis impersonators don’t hold a candle to us compared to real ’70s rock star Jayne County who will be playing the Main Stage behind the Star Bar with her new band, the Electrick Queers, at 10 p.m. Every real American punk rocker knows that musical revolution didn’t start across the Pond with the Sex Pistols, but at a couple of smoky clubs in lower Manhattan called CBGB and Max’s Kansas City – and Jayne, formerly Wayne, County was at the audacious heart of that then-burgeoning scene along with the New York Dolls, Iggy & the Stooges, Patti Smith, the Ramones, Blondie, Television, Pere Ubu, Cherry Vanilla, the list goes on. As Andy Warhol said, “Max’s Kansas City was the exact place where pop art and pop life come together.”

Recently Jayne County, though, returned to her Georgia roots, and ATLRetro couldn’t resist making her this week’s Kool Kat especially since we caught up with her while she was making homemade chicken soup for her own ever-growing family of cats. Of course, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to find out what outrageous plans she has for Saturday night’s gig, her take on the scene in Atlanta in the ’60s and now, and what else she’s up to now, from her artwork to her passion for protecting homeless felines.

Back in New York in the late ‘60s/early‘70s, did you feel like you were at the start of something new – first hanging with Warhol and then glam and the punk rock? Or was it just the way things were?

We knew it was something new.  A lot of people didn’t think anything of it. I knew Glam was gonna loosen things up with fashion and all. Now you have metrosexuals… all the things that we were doing then were outrageous, but now they seem normal.  I knew what we were doing would eventually change things.

You’re born and raised in Dallas, Ga, and it’s easy to imagine why you’d leave and head to New York. Why did you decide to come back to Georgia?

I came back to Georgia because of tragedies in my family. My parents had been sick, my sister’s suicide and my brother’s murder made my mind up to come home and help the family as much as possible. Plus, I was sick to death of paying a fortune to live in a tiny, grimy shoe box in NYC. (laughs)

What do you think of the music and creative scene here in Atlanta and how does it compare to being here in the 1960s?

Well, the scene is a lot bigger, and then there’s more happening. It doesn’t compare to the ‘60s because it was totally radical. We were changing things. When I came back to Atlanta, I was pleasantly surprised at how much was going on and I wanted to be a part of it. I have Dick Richards to thank for that. He brought me back here in the ‘80s and ‘90s to places like Club Rio and Velvet.

Do you have a favorite memory of Atlanta back then? Maybe one that would surprise us?

That could go either way. Good memory or bad. One of my best memories was when they started having BE-INS and art shows in Piedmont Park. Seeing Atlanta’s own Diamond Lil perform for the first time at Miss Pea’s. Worst memory: there was a law that if you were male and your hair touched your ears you could be arrested for female impersonation. They used that to harass people and give them “free haircuts.” That memory sticks with me.

Coming back to the present, what did you enjoy most about playing the L5P Halloween Festival last year?

What I enjoyed most was having an opportunity to perform here, on my home ground, in Atlanta. All these years I concentrated on California, New York City and Europe, never concentrated on the South at all. I totally enjoyed letting people experience my own brand of musical mayhem and madness. Also, some people are still surprised to find out that Jayne County is actually from the state of Georgia and not New York City.

What’s the story behind your current band, the Electrick Queers, and who’s playing with you?

This goes back to doing things on my home ground. I’ve never had what you call a local band. I’ve always wanted to have an opportunity to work and record with a band from the South. I worked all over the world, but not here. I was asked to perform at the DebuTAUNT Ball, a benefit for PAWS Atlanta, and needed a band. I met my guitar player Jet [Terror] through close friends. He put together a lineup of homegrown musicians: Jet Prickett, Gary Yoxen and Rob Kirkland.

Will you be playing old favorites or are you throwing in some new material? Any other special plans for this year’s gig?

I will be performing mostly old favorites like: “Are You a Boy Or Are You a Girl,” “Max’s Kansas City,” “Man Enough To Be a Woman,” “Nighttime” and, of course, “Cream In My Jeans.” People tend to want to hear the songs that I’m most famous for performing. Every once in awhile we do throw in a few new ones. All of these songs are available on Youtube. People become excited at the chance of hearing and seeing them performed live.

You’re known for pushing the limits at being outrageous and audacious on stage. Is it challenging to keep up that reputation after all these years?

It is especially because simply being transgendered is no longer as outrageous as it was. I’m famous for using “street language” as well which is now commonly used in a lot of our pop culture. I just happen to be the best at doing all of these things.  I also consider myself a natural comedian. I enjoy making people laugh and giving them a good time.

If you had to describe your music to someone who’s never heard you play, what would you say?

I always considered my music to be my own special brand of Rock and Roll, really. You can try to classify it as Glam Rock, Punk Rock or Alternative, but to me it’s just basic raw Rock and Roll. I always thought that was what rock and roll music was. Rock and Roll is Rock and Roll and when I do it, it ROCKS. Although, I think my music transcends being categorized, a lot of people consider me a transgendered Punk Rock pioneer and I can live with that.

Do I recall correctly that your last album was AT THE TRUCKS in 2006? Any plans for recording with the new band?

My record company released my first three complete albums in CD form this year. In the past my music has been released as compilations. This is the first time the full albums are available as they were recorded: THE ELECTRIC CHAIRS, STORM THE GATES OF HEAVEN and THINGS YOUR MOTHER NEVER TOLD YOU. I’m really looking forward to recording with the Electrick Queers. It’s exciting for me to be creative in the same in the place I was born and raised.

Where can people find Jayne County merchandise online?

All my material can be found on iTunes, eMusic and loads of my material is available on Cherry Red Records.

You also are an artist. When did you start painting, what mediums do you work in and what inspired you to take up the brush?

I’ve been an artist since I was a little kid. I had stacks of coloring books. I’d usually color outside the lines. I’ve always been artistic. Since I’m basically retired from constant touring, I’ve been painting again. A lot of my art is starting to become known and people really like it. This makes me extremely happy. I very often can express more emotion and feeling in my art than in my music. It’s a lot easier on my body these days to paint than frantically jumping up and down, rolling around on stage!

What else are you up to?

I care for 20 cats. If anyone would like to adopt one, please call me asap! (*she giggles*) No, I’m enjoying my new house and being able to take care for abandoned animals. Helping animals is very important to me. My touring schedule never allowed for pets, so I’m really enjoying this time and the ability to help abused animals.

Please get your cats fixed!!  It makes me sick how people treat animals. It makes me so mad. I couldn’t bear the thought of these cats being euthanized, so I took them all in and had them fixed. People should not have animals they can’t take care of! It makes me so mad.

What question does no one ever ask you but you wish they did?

I always wondered why no one ever asked me, “Do you know the way to San Jose?”

Special thanks to Jennifer Belgard for her help with this article.

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