Visual Art Strikes a Chord with L.A. Punk Rocker

Punk rock singer Exene Cervenka of the band X is showing off a new exhibit of collages in Culver City. It traces her punk rock travels and her emotional trips. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez reports.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: In the late 1970s, L.A.'s homegrown punk rock scene was red hot. The band X, fronted by lead singer Exene Cervenka, climbed to the top of the heap with an amped up fusion of rock and roll and lyrical snapshots of L.A.

[Song: "Los Angeles" by X]

Guzman-Lopez: Cervenka and her three band-mates logged thousands of miles touring the country. Those and more recent family trips, she says, reaffirm her fascination with the United States.

Exene Cervenka: I think every state has its own beauty, every town has its own beauty, if you get off the highway, which you can't if you're touring, very often, you find some very amazing roadside attractions still. There's still some folk art, there's still some crazy stuff out there that's not lost yet.

Guzman-Lopez: The band is on hiatus now. For the last decade, Exene Cervenka's spent most of her creative energy creating collages about the size of a sheet of paper. That's where she fuses her interest in found objects, Americana, and evangelical religion. All that turns up in her piece "Man And His Symbols," named after a book by psychologist Carl Jung.

Cervenka: It's got a bunny rabbit in the middle, a unicorn, it's got playing cards, it's got mother, it's got Bible tracks, a lot of bible tracks in my stuff because I still collect those.

Guzman-Lopez: Cervenka says she yearns for the music, architecture, and unspoiled countryside of the 1950s. She calls it the "lost America." A cross-country road trip from Tallahassee brought her to L.A. more than 30 years ago. Her beacon was the city's vibrant music and art scene. She says that's also been lost.

Cervenka: The Venice that I loved, the Doors, the boardwalk, the old buildings and old Hollywood and all that got all torn down, and it got inundated with immigrants and people from all over the United States coming to make their fortune and became a hellish place to live.

Guzman-Lopez: Cervenka lives in Jefferson City, Missouri now. The band X, she says, isn't playing much anymore. But it will reunite soon. Cervenka savors the memory of the live shows and recordings that propelled the band and its fans into a well of shared emotions. She says her impulse to create, any way she can, remains strong.

Cervenka: I'm still the same person that sat down with a diary in my little apartment above Beyond Baroque and scrawled the words to "I'm Coming Over," which is probably the best song I ever wrote.

[Song: "I'm Coming Over" by X]

Guzman-Lopez: Cervenka says creativity is about staying fresh and spontaneous, whether you're penning the lyrics for a two-minute punk rock song or creating art from the objects of your life.

Note: Exene Cervenka's exhibit "A Fifth of Tomorrow" is on display at the Western Project art gallery in Culver City through July 14th, 2007.

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