To tie down a painter-sketcher-filmmaker-unicyclist-music-and-dance-enthusiast at the opening reception of his own art show to the tune of his two favorite local bands is next to impossible. It indeed proved to be the biggest challenge at Thursday, May 5’s Paint&Pen at Jitters Coffee, which featured not only Jess Riegel’s recent works but also five hours of live music by Whiskey Piss, a folk-stomp blues duo and Fungk Shway, a five-man jam whose specialty lies in “fungky jazz.”
Around 5 p.m., the coffee spot began to buzz with a combination of friends of the artist and musicians and 1st-Thursday frequenters lured in by the twang of the guitar and down-home boot stomps. The complementary wine, veggies, and hummus (not to mention the secret friends-only stash of cookies baked by none other than Mrs. Riegel, Jess Riegel’s mother) didn’t hurt either.
Paint&Pen featured 16 paintings and 33 drawings by Riegel, many of which are portraits of friends and family. They range in medium from vibrant and colorful oil paint to black and white, almost cartoon-like pen sketches. It took only a glance from the walls to the crowd to see that many of the artist’s subjects, including some of the performing musicians, were in attendance. Riegel sold a total of eight pieces throughout the evening. Through May 30, his work will remain on Jitters’ “big beautiful brick walls that beg for art”, in Riegel’s own words.
Paint&Pen showed only a fraction of Riegel’s myriad works. Of the selection process, he said, “I think that I just kind of knew which ones were juicy.” But he also asked his family — a family of artists. “My mother is an art teacher, my dad is a retired art teacher at CSU Sacramento, and my sister is an artist and designer… if I ever need creative input it’s pretty convenient — I just go to my mom or my dad or my sister and I get a good piece of advice from them — good input.
“I almost wanted to have the art show so that I could have a show with music,” said Riegel of his motivation behind organizing Paint&Pen. “I think music is my biggest creative influence, and the two bands… they are my favorite bands in the Santa Barbara area. So yeah, I knew I wanted to have live music at the show,” said Riegel, struggling to sit still in the lull between when Whiskey Piss packed up and Fungk Shway started their set. Even Fungk Shway’s warm up had the painter/sketcher wriggling in his seat upstairs at Jitters — he wanted only to return to the dance floor and support the preliminary tunes.
Riegel graduated with a degree in Art from UCSB in 2009. He knows Fungk Shway, which is comprised of August Estabrook (guitar), Joe Moffit (keys), Joe Masinter (“saxamaphone”), Eric Wolff (bass, vocals), and Michael Toomey (drums), from his days there. “When I was at UCSB I used to have Fungk Shway play at my house probably, toward the end, every other month. Whiskey piss is a newer band… and I share a studio space with them.” Whiskey Piss includes Ben Markham (guitar, harmonica, vocals) and Brian Coe (drums). Riegel’s studio is on the same property in the Mountains as Whiskey Piss’s home and rehearsal ground.
Through his artwork, Riegel aims to communicate that everybody should draw. “What appears to me in drawing and painting all the time is raw, spontaneous, immediate; you could even go so far as to say it’s childlike.” He would know, since he works with kids at Wilderness Youth Project, Santa Barbara’s nature based mentoring program that aims to connect children to nature through outdoor exploration.
Before graduating in 2009, Riegel manifested his ideas about drawing and spontaneity in a weekly Isla Vista Sketchcrawl that he organized. “It was about coming together and drawing in sketchbooks. We sketched our way through the parks and sidewalks of I.V., always starting at the Food Co-op.” His sketches continue to reflect Riegel’s respect for raw art and his love for drawing what (or whom) he knows.
Riegel is a man of many talents, and while he is not painting or sketching, he’s likely making award-winning films or unicycling around the world. His recent film “Eat Local Man” won Viewers Choice Award at the SB Green Shorts Film Festival. (See work at vimeo.com/jessriegel.) As for his unicycling career, Riegel has been to unicycling world championships in Japan, Switzerland, and Denmark. “We have some awesome mountain unicycling trails here in Santa Barbara,” he added. “I also ride beach bike-paths frequently with my 36” touring uni.”
When Fungk Shway began their first song, Riegel said, “My message, actually, is to get out and dance and make some music or make some art” before impulsively descending to the dance floor. For information on upcoming events, visit jessriegel.com.