Winter solstice is Tuesday, December 21st, marking the Northern Hemisphere’s shortest dose of daylight from the sun and the beginning of winter.

Because the earth is tilted relative to its rotation around the sun, the Northern Hemisphere receives less direct sunlight (creating winter) while the Southern Hemisphere receives more direct sunlight (creating summer) on December 21st. Earth rituals and celebrations of various types centered on the solstices have been occurring since Neolithic times.

A number of local celebrations are planned invoking the memory, lore and spirit of solstice celebrations of ancient days.

Circle of Color

The opening celebration of Circle of Color, an art and music winter solstice show, is scheduled from 4 p.m. to midnight Saturday, December 18th, at Sponto Gallery, 7 Dudley Ave., Venice. Admission is free. The artworks remain on display through Monday, December 27th, when a closing party will feature an auction of artworks, proceeds from which will go to fight new restrictions placed on Venice Beach boardwalk performers that were recently passed by the Los Angeles City Council.

Circle of Color’s lineup of artists includes Ibrahim and Diane Butler, Leland Auslender, Lani Ware, Ra, Bill Attaway, Christine Inman and others.

Live musical acts include Suzy Williams & Friends, Venice Beach Drummers (including African drumming and a drum jam), Sea Monkey Tetrad, Al Cummings & Co., guitarist Eric Sullivan, Ibrahim and Diane Butler and others.

CELESTIAL BODY PAINT —Photographer Auslender was inspired by the thriving counterculture, Beatnik literary scene and art culture in Venice in the early 1960s and has spent the decades since developing his Bohemian repertoire of photography and film. He made experimental avant-garde films in the 1960s, including The Birth of Aphrodite, which won a Silver Phoenix award for “Best Experimental Film” in 1971 and was the beginning of Auslender’s use of distorting mirrors and warped imagery.

Auslender’s images, which he calls “celestial images,” have been a recurring highlight of the last few Circle of Color shows. Auslender uses custom lenses and mirrors to form distortions and add the appearance of mystical energy flow to his photo compositions.

This year, Auslender focused on body paintings, which he photographed and put through his unique “celestialization” process.

At Circle of Color, he will exhibit a series of photographs titled Woman as Art, featuring women clothed solely in paint.

“Primitive tribes practiced the art of body painting in pre-Christian days, before the invention of drawing paper,” says Auslender.

Each body takes about three or four hours to paint, but the painting can then be washed away in a matter of seconds.

Auslender seeks to create lasting works of art out of the body paintings by photographing them.

He then “celestializes” the image through his non-digital photographic process, “creating a heavenly glow to the images, creating a mystical vision,” says Auslender.

Auslender’s photos are often drenched in kaleidoscopic color.

Artist Michael Spezialy did much of the actual body paintings, leaving Auslender to pose and photograph the models.

“Painting a woman’s body is a unique experience, beyond words,” says Spezialy. “As people are painted, a metamorphosis seems to take place as the models change from their own personality to the personality of the painting, or meet somewhere in between. The finished work becomes animated through movement and seems to take on a living, breathing life of its own.”

One of the painted models, Venice resident Phaedre Suriyai Christ, said she felt surprisingly comfortable during the experience as numerous artists added to the paintings.

“When the body painting was finished, I walked around the studio wearing only paint, and I somehow didn’t feel naked at all,” says Christ. “My body was glowing. And the black light in the studio made it feel even more otherworldly.”

BOARDWALK OUTRAGE —Many of the artists and musicians who take part in the Circle of Color solstice events are Venice Beach boardwalk artists or performers, or have some strong connection to Venice. Typically, show organizer Ibrahim Butler dedicates the event to celebrating the free spirit that Venice is world-famous for.

But this year, actions by the Los Angeles City Council have threatened that spirit, says Gerry Fialka, who performs in and helps organize free Venice events, including Circle of Color.

So this year the closing party of Circle of Color will be an art auction dedicated to raising legal funds to fight the new legislation which mandates assigned spaces for performers, a one-time fee and possibly waiting periods. Outraged at the city’s attempts to legislate what was once a free-for-all for the performers, the Circle of Color artists want to see the law struck down in court as a violation of First Amendment rights.

“They want to create the disease and offer the cure,” says Fialka about the Los Angeles City Council. Fialka is a Venice resident who organizes film events, talks and performances in the Venice area.

“You don’t pay the government $25 to hire guys with billy clubs to come down and say ‘You stand here, you stand here.’ We don’t need more laws. Government and laws do not train people,” says Fialka, echoing the sentiments of many longtime Venice street performers.

A documentary film, Battle for the Boardwalk, by Aaron Waugh, will also be screened at the event tackling the issue of government control over artists.

Information, (310) 399-2078.

Adam Rudolph’s Winter Solstice Offering for Peace

After a year that included performances in Morocco and Brazil and a European tour, world percussionist Adam Rudolph will give a rare performance at home in Venice with his multicultural percussion group Vashti.

Vashti was a group originally commissioned to perform at the Los Angeles Festival in 1994. Later, Rudolph re-formed the group to play once yearly winter solstice concerts at the Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice.

Showtimes are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, December 17th and 18th. Tickets are $20.

To Rudolph, the winter solstice has a special significance as a time for mankind to transcend differences in religions, cultures and ethnic backgrounds and all live in peace. This view is also a musical theme and concept of the Vashti ensemble.

“At this time of year when people are celebrating the holidays or ‘holy days’, we want to do something that transcends the religious aspect of the season,” says Rudolph. “Winter solstice is important in all cultures.

“It’s the shortest day, a special moment in the earth’s relation to the sun. It’s a time to connect with our humanity that’s older than religion.

“It brings to light the cosmic perspective that we’re all just tiny dust specks circling the sun in a gigantic universe, and perhaps reflecting on that can help people think about ways of getting along as brothers and sisters.”

Rudolph has spent his entire musical career getting along with musicians of different cultures.

He’s primarily a touring performer and has, for the last three decades, appeared at festivals and concerts throughout North and South America, Europe, Africa and Japan. The Venice resident is one of the early innovators of what is now known as world music.

In 1988, Rudolph began an association with legendary world musician Dr. Yusef Lateef, with whom Rudolph recorded 14 albums. Rudolph has been leading his own performing ensemble, Adam Rudolph’s Moving Pictures, featuring fellow hand drummers Hamid Drake and Ralph Jones, in collaboration with Venice butoh dancer Oguri.

He also leads the Go: Organic Orchestra, a 22-piece woodwind and percussion ensemble and has premiered The Dreamer, an opera based on Friedrich Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy.

With Vashti, Rudolph acts as artistic director and makes sense out of a seemingly implausible combination of numerous musical cultures with their varying forms of rhythm.

“Each culture has its own distinct rhythmic forms,” explains Rudolph. “But there are also three universal aspects of rhythm — language, dance and mathematics.”

By language, Rudolph refers to the distinctions between instruments of different cultures, and how the drums and sounds are shaped to reflect the aesthetic values of a culture. By dance, he means that much of traditional drumming has evolved with a culture’s dance forms and movements. Mathematics refers to meter and time signatures.

In studying and combining these similarities, Rudolph is able to create musical harmony among cultures.

“It’s important especially nowadays that in our creative endeavors we bridge the gap between cultures,” says Rudolph. “In Vashti, each individual drummer is able to shine as an ambassador of his/her culture, but it’s also a collective endeavor. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you support.”

Rudolph’s earliest musical roots are in Chicago jazz, a style that inherently lends itself to improvisation and fusing in the music of different cultures.

Vashti combines world-class professional touring percussionists, most of whom happen to live in Los Angeles.

Two musicians that will join Vashti on stage this time around are coming from out of the area.

Indian drummer Poovalur Sriji is traveling from Houston and Moroccan drummer Brahim Fribgane is flying in from New York.

Rudolph says he is especially excited to hear Fribgane’s Berber rhythms, an indigenous Moroccan rhythm form that Fribgane specializes in. Rudolph performed with Fribgane in Morocco earlier this year.

Other musicians in the ensemble will include Randy Gloss, who will play the frame drums, riq, pandeiro, kanjira and various hand percussion; Munyungo Jackson who will play the congas, shekere, surdo, talking drum, marimbula and udu; Houman Pourmehdi, an Iranian drummer who will play the tonbak, daf, cajon, zarabe-zoorkhaneh, and ney and will also add vocals; and I Nyomen Wenten, who specializes in the traditional rhythms of Bali and will play the kendang, pemade, gender, suling and chang-chang.

Vashti is primarily a percussion ensemble, but two non-percussion instruments will be used to add melody to the performances. Pourmehdi will play the ney (a bamboo flute), and Fribgane will play the oud, a Middle Eastern stringed instrument in the guitar family.

“Most musicians come to grasp an understanding of music in terms of style — such as the predominant style of music of the 1960s,” says Rudolph.

“When you look underneath style, you see more basic components, like rhythm and harmony. But at an even more essential level there is music as vibration; and I think this is the deepest level of understanding we can pursue.”

Information, (310) 823-0710.