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Art on their sleeves

They're not real record covers, but an exhibit that pays homage to the genre should please vintage vinyl buffs.

June 26, 2003|Susan Carpenter | Times Staff Writer

What's white and cardboard with a hole in its middle? To vinyl lovers, there's only one answer: a record sleeve. But to the 150 or so artists participating in "Up Our Sleeve: The Dublab Covers Project," it was a canvas to be painted, silk-screened, embroidered, collaged and shredded in whatever way they felt was appropriate for a medium with a missing center.

"It really clicks perfectly with what we do," said Mark McNeill, co-curator of Saturday's show and co-founder of Dublab, the online radio station sponsoring it. "Dublab is all about record nerds -- the kind of guys who go record-shopping and, on the car ride back, they've steamed off the labels and taken baby wipes and cleaned off the vinyl and put on their own plastic outer coverings."

Hard-core DJs like McNeill, 26, flip through hundreds of records each week in their hunt for obscure gems. Each year, they eyeball tens of thousands of albums. Whether they pull one from the bin or dismiss it in an instant is based almost entirely on the cover.

The Dublab Covers project plays on the power of the sleeve, though for the show the artists who designed them were freed of any association with specific music. The blank record sleeves they were given did not contain records. They did, however, come with a challenge: How do you decorate a canvas with a gaping hole?

There were several different tactics for dealing with the issue. Many drew or painted around it. Some incorporated the hole into their designs, including McNeill's brother, who used it as the tunnel for a model train track. Others decided not to deal with the hole at all. They ripped the sleeves apart, transforming them into a birdhouse, a stuffed animal and a miniature skate ramp.

Although a handful of designs were 3-D, participating artists represent all disciplines and include well-known graphic designers such as Geoff McFetridge and Mike Mills, street artists such as Buff Monster, and the musician and actor Jack Black.

All the sleeves will be displayed in a space that imitates the interior of a record store. There won't be any bins, but most of the art will be hung on pegboard.

"The [Dublab] guys are vinyl junkies. They just see a stack of records sitting there and they're like, 'What are those?' " said Brandy Flower, the graphic artist who conceptualized the show. "I just wanted the experience of what they do."

Flower, 32, has worked with McNeill on other events, coordinating art displays to complement DJ showcases at Temple Bar and Zanzibar, where Dublab DJs occasionally spin. Flower recognized that DJs aren't necessarily performers and that there was an opportunity to broaden the experience with visual arts.

Like those events, "Up Our Sleeve" marries the club and art scenes.

"I'm a big fan of live music and of clubs," said Jay Kelly, a collage artist contributing two works to Saturday's show. One is the image of a pair of headphones; the other a set of turntables. "I've always thought if you could combine the two somehow -- bring the energy of a live music venue to an art opening -- that would be amazing."

Saturday's event is both an art show and all-out party, with DJs spinning records late into the night. But unlike other gallery openings, which kick off an extended period of viewing, "Up Our Sleeve" will only be open to the public for one night. After that, it will be packed up and shipped out for similar events in San Francisco and New York.

Later in the summer, the sleeve designs will be auctioned off on the "Up Our Sleeve" Web site ( All proceeds will help support Dublab, the genre-defying online radio station that Web-casts from an apartment in Hollywood.

McNeill describes the station's format as "future roots," a mind-bender of a description for the iconoclastic mix of electronic, hip-hop, soul, jazz, dub, reggae, indie rock and pretty much any other genre imaginable. The radio collective went online 3 1/2 years ago. Currently, 100,000 international listeners log on each month, but McNeill is always game for more.

"A lot of what this show's about is getting people to experience the music," he said. "We want people to go to the show and listen online because that's really the heart and soul of what we do."


Up Our Sleeve: The Dublab Covers Project

Where: Inshallah Gallery, 244 S. Main St., Los Angeles

When: Saturday, 7 p.m.

Cost: $5 suggested donation


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