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July 3, 2013

Area exhibit features both sights, sounds

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — ROXBURY — Ed Potokar straddles two worlds as an artist — music and sculpture — and so it shouldn’t be surprising that a visit to one of his shows turns out to be a feast for both the ears and the eyes.

A sampling of his novel stringed instruments and percussive room sculptures will go on exhibit beginning Friday evening at the Orphic Gallery at 53525 State Highway 30, Roxbury.

The exhibit — called “POTOPHONICS” — will run through Aug. 25.

For the opening celebration — scheduled to run from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday — Potokar will also perform with some members of the group Audio Artists and other musicians.

There will also be impromptu demonstrations of the unusual instruments he designs at his workshop in the Catskills.

Potokar said he began experimenting with instrument designs while he was an industrial design student at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Now 54, he is an accomplished musical producer n his own right. He founded MUSIC FOR TV in Manhattan in 1990 and went on to write the theme music for the MTV show “Unplugged.”

“I was part of the whole session scene,” he said. “I wrote music for television for many, many years.”

As for the eclectic instruments he creates, Potokar said, “I try to make them — for lack of a better term — works of art first. I’m very much into alternative sounds. I think we have enough guitars made in Mexico and China. It’s more of a quest for me to come up with something that sounds different. And then take on the aesthetic thing, which I sometimes find neglected. That’s kind of my directive - and, of course, having fun.”

When professional musicians pick up his instruments for the first time, he said, it doesn’t take them long to figure out how to get the sounds they want out of the devices. “They just have the tendency to be able to pick up anything and get something out of it,” he said. “They are just musical. I really like passing these things off to musicians and see what they do with it and how they become proficient on it.”

While he enjoys playing the instruments he creates, Potokar said he probably has even more fun crafting them. “That’s why I keep making them,” he said. “They are instruments, but I want them to be nice to look at and enjoy on another level.”

Indeed, some of his customers have adorned their walls with the musical wares made by Potokar.

An exhibit of his works held at a popular furniture gallery in the Soho section of Manhattan last January drew hundreds of visitors and gleaned rave press reviews. Orphic Gallery proprietor Phil Lenihan saw the buzz created by the Potokar exhibit and decided he wanted to line up his work for an exhibit at the Roxbury venue, which opened just a year ago in a building formerly known as the Roxbury Corner Store.

“Phil really has a good eye, and what I like is he is willing to take some risks,” said Potokar. “In the art world, that’s refreshing. What I do is a hybrid thing between art, sculpture and musical instruments. And the art world likes to have things spelled out.”

Potokar, the son of a Latin jazz and polka drummer, will also display a variety of stumpf fiddles. These are traditional stringed instruments that use percussive elements evolving from polka bands.

Joining Potokar for the musical performance Friday will be Alice Malloy, Frank Coelho, Mark Schaaf, Paul Badger, all founding members of his original ensemble from Cleveland. They will also be joined by Michael Suchorsky, who was the drummer for Lou Reed in the late 1970s, and Chris Butler of Tin Huey and The Waitresses acclaim.

The Orphic Gallery and Potokar will celebrate the closing weekend of POTOPHONICS with a workshop and concert at Spillian: A Place to Revel, a new retreat center at the former family estate in Fleischmanns. On Aug. 24, a hands-on workshop will be conducted for participants to create their own stumpf fiddle, followed by a concert featuring Potokar and several musical colleagues.