Painting Beauty for Inner Peace

By Steven Libowitz   |   November 16, 2017
The reception for "Alcohol Ink Paintings" is on canvas Friday, November 17, in Carpinteria

Back in 2015, Joanna Murphy was searching for an outlet in art to counter frightening medical issues she was suffering as a result of trauma when she came across alcohol-ink paintings on the social media site Pinterest. Drawn initially by the bright colors associated with the medium, Murphy found an even greater affinity once she took up the challenging process itself. Alcohol-ink painting requires near total concentration, a level of focused attention that worked to alleviate symptoms of agitation and distress and helped her to feel more calm.

Joanna Murphy and her work appears at Nutbelly in Carp

Now, fewer than three years later, Murphy is about to open her first-ever solo exhibition at Nutbelly in Carpinteria. The artist, who estimates she’s sold 30 to 40 works since she began painting, will show more than 20 new pieces at Nutbelly, the pizzeria and deli on Linden Avenue. The exhibition – largely comprised of large vibrant work exploding with color and movement – is both an artistic achievement and a statement about personal recovery.

“Art has been a key in my journey to health,” Murphy stated simply earlier this week. “The time I spend painting is a mindfulness practice, keeping me centered in the moment.”

That’s largely due to the difficulty of the technique. Unlike most paint, alcohol ink is remarkably “unpredictable and difficult to control, and hard to fix when there’s a problem,” she said. “You don’t have total control over what the ink decides to do, and it dries fast. When you try to change anything, you end up altering much more than you intend.”

That “issue” has also been a blessing, Murphy said. “What I start out intending to make always evolves and ends up being reliant on the process and the little decisions I make along the way about what I like. That helps me to tap into my intuition, and learn to trust myself more. I get totally absorbed in solving problems and making choices while trying to create something of beauty. That’s been really helpful with my perfectionist tendencies that can really get in the way of creativity.”

Once she got rolling in the medium, Murphy’s subject matter evolved quickly as she got more deeply connected, moving from nature scenes and, later, imaginary landscapes, to more abstract work.

“My paintings are meant to bring beauty and be an invitation to… connect with your heart. So, I like that people can find their own meaning in it, as opposed to me telling them how to interpret it,” Murphy said, adding that she sings the works on the back so the viewer can feel free to rotate a piece to a different orientation. “That makes the painting a collaboration between me and the viewer.”

(The opening reception for Alcohol Ink Paintings by Joanna Murphy takes place from 5 to 7:30 pm Friday night at Nutbelly, 915 Linden Ave. in Carpinteria. The show continues through mid-January. Twenty percent of sales will be donated to the Carpinteria Arts Center.)

Playing Fiery Guitar for Passion… and a Purpose

Santa Barbara first encountered the classical guitarist Pablo Sáinz Villegas when he played Elmer Bernstein’s famed guitar trio to conclude the Santa Barbara Symphony’s 2015-16 season. (That was around the same time he also performed on a floating stage on the Amazon River with Plácido Domingo, a concert that was live-streamed worldwide to millions). Barely 18 months later, Villegas is back in town to serve as the orchestra’s inaugural artist-in-residence, including a repeat engagement as soloist with the symphony, this time for Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez and Isaac Albéniz’s Souvenirs of Spain at the Granada Theatre on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon (the program also includes suites from Manuel de Falla’s ballet El Amor Brujo and Bizet’s music for Alphonse Daudet’s play L’arlésienne).

Villegas, who will also perform solo guitar pieces in recital this Thursday, November 19, at the Presidio in a special engagement, will return in January for an educational program, part of his ongoing efforts to communicate with young audiences and to inspire them with music. He spoke about the concerts and his desire to make the guitar an instrument of peace over the phone earlier this month. 

Q. How did you choose the pieces you will play in Santa Barbara, the Rodrigo concerto and Albéniz’s Souvenirs of Spain

A. The concerto is the most popular guitar piece ever written. It very much represents what culture in Spain is all about. It’s a profound piece, especially the second movement, which is an expression of the pain of when his wife had a miscarriage and they lost the baby. It’s a very painful conversation with God, with music that is so moving it always connects. The first movement is inspired by flamenco music in Bolivia, very passionate like the gypsies, and the third comes from the folk music of Spain. It’s playful and creates a beautiful balance with the drama that came before.

(The Albéniz) is a transcription for the guitar that describes three different regions, traditions and passions of Spain thru music, each with its own beautiful melodies and harmonies. The whole concert will be a journey through my homeland, an invitation to participate in my roots and the rich cultural heritage of Spain.

You often talk about wanting to use your music to eliminate borders and connect the world. How can one guitarist counteract our current polarization?

I know when I watch TV news and listen to media that a lot of people don’t believe we are all connected. But it’s my commitment, my job, and my purpose in this life to transmit the values of being connected, and to inspire people to be the best version of themselves that they can share. Music helps everyone connect to the most sensitive part of our emotions. We naturally develop empathy, and through that we can relate to each other, and help transform situations that are painful or cause suffering. I’m fortunate to have this opportunity to deliver this message through my music, and what I play projects what I believe.

Why is guitar the right instrument for that?

It’s the most democratic instrument, versatile and universal. It’s in classical, jazz, folk music, and rock music, the same instrument, with same strings and tunings. That versatility makes the guitar a powerful tool to create bridges of communication with all different profiles of people. For me, there was something very natural, and I connected very organically right from the beginning. Now, people come to see me all over the world even if they only love rock music, because they feel part of the six-string community through the guitar. I’m all about that inclusiveness. 

Classical Corner

The Altius String Quartet (ASQ), which makes its Santa Barbara debut at 7:30 pm Thursday, November 16, at Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s Mary Craig Auditorium, has only been around for half a dozen years. The foursome formed in 2011 at Southern Methodist University Meadows School of the Arts and soon claimed the grand prize in the Classics Alive Young Artists Competition, and has won prizes at many other important competitions. The quartet, whose name is derived from the Olympic motto “Citius, Altius, Fortius” (Latin for “Faster, Higher, Stronger”) and frequently appears in alternative venues such as jazz clubs, bars, and cafes, just released their debut album, Dress Code. The ASQ’s program includes Haydn’s Op. 76, No. 4; Mendelssohn’s F minor quartet, Op. 13; and Dvořák’s exceedingly popular American Quartet. Details and tickets at

Camerata Pacifica’s November concert comes on the heels of last weekend’s SpeakEasy at the Lexus showroom, where violinist Giora Schmidt, clarinet Bil Jackson, pianist Gilles Vonsattel, and cellist Ani Aznavoorian played and dissected Olivier Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps (“Quartet for the end of time”). There won’t be any big discussions when the foursome reprises the performance at Hahn Hall Friday night, paired with Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata in F Minor Op. 80, written in Russia at roughly the same time, played by Schmidt and Vonsattel. Info and tickets at 884-8410 or

On Saturday afternoon, Met Opera’s Live in HD presents the highly anticipated American premiere of The Exterminating Angel, fromThomas Adès, who was a composer-in-residence at the Music Academy of the West last summer. Adès, who conducts, collaborated on the libretto with Tom Carins, who also directs the opera inspired by the classic Luis Buñuel film of the same name, a surreal fantasy about a dinner party from which the guests can’t escape. Hailed as “stunningly innovative” (The New York Times), “a major cultural event” (Huffington Post) at its October 26 Met premiere, The Exterminating Angel won the composer a glittering review from New York Magazine, which enthused: “I can’t think of another living composer who can conjure fear, contentment, bitterness, disgust, and joy with a few quick measures.” The simulcast, which screens live at 12:30 pm on Saturday at the Metro 4 Cinema and will be repeated on Sunday, December 10, at Hahn Hall, will be hosted by Susan Graham. Details and tickets at

Saturday afternoon also brings together violinist Han Soo Kim, cellist Sang Yhee, and pianist Constantine Finehouse to perform piano trios by Dvořák’s (No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 90) and Shostakovich (No. 2 in E Minor, Op 67) at First United Methodist Church as part of the Santa Barbara Music Club’s series of free concerts. Info at

Full Circle: Ace Guitarist Drifts Home on CD

Daniel Zimmerman has been around Santa Barbara for a long, long time. His whole life, actually. The only time Zimmerman left town for any extended period was to spend a summer at the Berklee School of Music many years ago. The thing is, Zimmerman has also been involved in the Santa Barbara music scene for most of his 47 years on the planet, beginning back when he first took up the guitar at age 7 after a friend put Kiss’s album Love Gun on the turntable and Ace Frehley blew him away.

He’s played in bands of many stripes all over town since high school, then studied classical guitar at UCSB and jazz for that aforementioned summer in Boston. Ever since, Zimmerman has worked as a professional guitarist for nearly a quarter-century, performing, teaching, recording, and serving as a studio musician, laying down tracks and helping to shape songs for a bevy of musicians both local and beyond.

All of which makes it even more remarkable that he’s just now releasing his first solo recording, Drifting Home.

The reason, Zimmerman said, is simple.

“I never felt that I was ready to put out my own album. I was very comfortable playing guitar for other people, but I didn’t think I had enough of a distinctive voice.”

This despite forming the still IV-legendary jam-happy rock band Evil Farmer back in college, and playing in Common Ground with Bucket Baker, drummer for Kenny Logins and Michael Jackson, for years, and another band with Los Lobos percussionist Cougar Estrada – plus being asked to add his guitar licks to any number of recordings.

All that started to change about six years ago, though, when Zimmerman joined an old colleague, bassist Brendan Statom, in a new trio fronted by Luis Muñoz, the Costa Rica-born percussionist-composer who has been in Santa Barbara almost as long as Zimmerman.

“He led me into his music in the way that I enjoyed,” Zimmerman explained. “I developed a different style through working with him and came up with a way of playing that feels like something that I really like.”

Zimmerman feels so comfortable with the trio, which has recorded Muñoz’s two most recent CDs together, that he kept the same lineup for the core of his own project – even though Drifting Home is under his own name. “We have developed a musical language and a style that really works. We’re very used to each other’s playing, and to me that makes you play better because you can read each other’s minds about what they’re going to do.”

You can hear both the trio’s connection and influence of some of Zimmerman’s guitar heroes, including John Scofield, Eddie Van Halen, and Joe Pass (not to mention Frehley), as well as his early rock bands all over Drifting Home, even if the genres diverge. There’s the opening track, which has a Tex-Mex base, “a lonely-out-in-the-desert” feel, according to Zimmerman, who named the song “Hangman” because “it reminds me of the Old West.” “Mosquito” got its title because it was composed during a family camping trip. “It doesn’t sound like I’m annoyed, except during the middle section, where it’s pretty nervous.”

Zimmerman is particularly partial to Kim’s Song”, which he wrote for his future wife right after they met. “The funny thing is, when I played it for a friend, after I think I met the love of my life, and he said that it sounded like a tampon commercial. I still laugh when I think about that. It’s a really simple song, but it’s special to me.”

The album title itself is a mash-up of two tracks, “Drifting Away” and “Home”, chosen after Zimmerman realized his original moniker, The Big Bang, didn’t fit the “very calm” album he ended up making. “But it can also mean I’m drifting back to the music that I like to play the most after all these years.”

Indeed, the LP that’s laying across the rowboat seat on the front cover photograph is a copy of that same album that set Zimmerman on his path – Kiss’s Love Gun. “You can’t always tell from my music, but I still think of myself as 75-percent rock player, even though it’s all mixed into something else by now,” he explained.

Meanwhile, Drifting Home will finally be celebrated at Zimmerman’s CD-release party this Friday night at SOhO, where the guitarist will be backed by – who else? – Statom and Muñoz. The trio will play the album straight through, but it won’t be a simple reproduction of the disc.

“It’s the same music. But we’ve worked a lot on the arrangements, especially for songs that have overdubs,” he said, explaining the two-month gap between the album’s release and Friday’s concert. “They’re really two different entities.”

Callaways’s Cabaret Concert 

Tony nominees Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway bring their acclaimed cabaret show, Sibling Revelry, to Rubicon Theatre in Ventura as part of the Broadway Concert Series for three shows spanning Saturday and Sunday. The sisters offer duets and solos in a wide range of styles, from Broadway standards to jazz and pop, in a show they’ve performed across the country since debuting in New York in 1995. Songs include “Happy”, “Happy Days are Here Again”, “It’s Today”, “The Sweetest Sounds”, “Friendship”, and “Meadowlark”. Info and tickets at or 667-2900. 


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