Trans-cen-der, a Salubrious Push in Bushwick

On Tuesday, January 31st, on a cold winter evening, the Temporary Storage Gallery space in Brooklyn Fireproof was heated up by a lively dialogue about art. Trans-cen-der Art Group launched their first meeting, featuring six speakers: Sharilyn Neidhardt, Christopher Stout, Cibele Vieira, Tim Gowan, Luis Martin, and Meer Musa. The second meeting will take place on Feb 28th at 7PM, featuring artists including Mary DeVincentis, Thomas Burr Dodd, Heidi King, Kurt Steger, Dan Romer, Susan Carr, among others.
AIB interviewed by email the three founders of this initiative: Meer Musa, Sharilyn Neidhardt, and Tim Gowan.

Cibele Vieira, part of the series "The Thread Has a Finger" , exhibits at "We need to talk.." at Petzel gallery until February 11
Cibele Vieira, part of the series “The Thread Has a Finger” , exhibits at “We need to talk..” at Petzel gallery until February 11

AIB: What is the genesis of Trans-cen-der Art Group?

SHARILYN: Christopher Stout ran a very similar group for three years called Bushwick Arts Critique Group. The three of us all attended and/or presented at some point and found it extremely enriching. When Christopher decided to focus on running a gallery, Bushwick Arts Critique Group stopped meeting. I started bugging Christopher about re-starting the group, and eventually he relented, so long as we called it something completely different. Christopher was ridiculously supportive in putting everything together. I quickly realized that I’d need help, and Christopher put me in touch with Meer and Tim, who had also asked about getting the group going again. I had met both Meer Musa and Tim Gowan before, through Arts in Bushwick and other arts-related events. We started meeting in November for a January launch.

TIM: I received an email from Christopher Stout announcing that he was turning over the reins of BACG to Sharilyn, and extended an invitation to me to be a part this great program. What I loved about BACG is that it a community event bringing artists and other like-minded people together.

AIB:  How long have you been in Bushwick / or associated with the neighborhood?

MEER: I have been living in Bushwick since 2010 and I have started to participate as soon as I was aware of the Bushwick Art Scene, which was the following summer during Bushwick Open Studios. My main medium is painting. I have shown my paintings in Storefront Ten Eyck, David and Schweitzer Contemporary, Studio 10 and, Parenthesis Space in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

SHARILYN: I’ve lived in East Williamsburg since 2008 and have had a studio (with Cibele Vieira) at Brooklyn Fireproof since 2015. I participated in Bushwick Open Studios from 2011 and served on the Arts in Bushwick core committee in 2016. I’m a painter who has shown with David & Schweitzer, Friday Studio Gallery, and Parenthesis, among others.

TIM: I was born in Queens, grew up on Long Island. In 1999 I decided to move within the City with the intention of moving to Astoria (affordable at one time).  But, as things should turn out, I unexpectedly moved to Ridgewood.

AIB: What are you aiming to achieve in these events ?

MEER: We are aiming to have artists share their work with other artists and curators, and speak about their works in front of a supporting crowd. It is a great opportunity for artists to expose their art work to a room full of audience, build an artist community, and support one another.

SHARILYN: It’s so easy for artists to get isolated, alone in a studio setting for hours at a time. My work transformed from an engrossing hobby to a serious practice once I started painting at Brooklyn Fireproof. Suddenly there were other artists in my space looking at my work, involving me in their projects, asking for my feedback. Feeling part of a community was not only healthier for me, but moved my work forward immeasurably. Now I just want to grow and enrich that community in any way I can, hopefully providing a similar salubrious push for other artists.

TIM: Community, community, community.  There’s nothing worse than walking into a gallery opening or social event where it appears that everyone knows each other except me…painfully awkward.  And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who’s ever felt that way.  So with Trans-cen-der, we want to foster community and create an environment that encourages social connection.  For example, at the end of the evening, we all go out to dinner and EVERYONE is not only welcome, but encouraged to join us.

Christopher Stout, upcoming solo at Lichtundfire Gallery in the Lower East Side April 2017
Christopher Stout, upcoming solo at Lichtundfire Gallery in the Lower East Side April 2017
Luis Martin, America Is My Sister, Collage 14 x 17 inches, 2016
Luis Martin, America Is My Sister, Collage 14 x 17 inches, 2016

AIB: Are you scheduling ahead?

MEER: The next slide presentation / Art Talk will take place on Tuesday, February 28th.

SHARILYN: Current plan is to meet the last Tuesday of the month for the foreseeable future. We are taking turns putting each evening together. In addition, we will be hosting smaller side-projects. I am hosting an informal chat session for artists who want to discuss the materials and techniques they use in their art practice, it’s scheduled for Thurs Feb 16.

TIM:  Meer will host this month (February), I will host next month (March), Sharilyn will host April, and then back to Meer for the month of May.

AIB: Can artists apply, is it invitational, or both?

MEER: Artist can apply. At the moment we may have a few space left. It will be eight artists maximum. If the space gets filled, we can keep them in mind for the following event.

SHARILYN: It’s both, and it’s up to the host of the evening to decide who presents.

TIM: We strongly encourage artists to apply, and not only local artist, but artists from all over are welcome to submit their work for consideration.

AIB:  What are your criteria for presenters?

MEER: Nine minutes talk and maximum 10 jpg (RGB) images from a series.  Images need to be 72 DPI at least 15” to 18” width and however in length. Artists can send JPGS to: transcenderartgroup@gmail.com   with WeTransfer or Dropbox storage space art file link.

SHARILYN: Currently we are considering only visual art that can be conveyed in still images. We can’t support video at the moment, but that’s something we are actively looking to change in the future. I don’t want to discourage video artists, but you might have to help us with the technical details!

AIB: I assume you are all artists? Tell me briefly about your own practice and if you are involved in community activity.

MEER: I am a painter, my other practices are drawings and photography.  Besides my involvement in Trans-cen-der Art Group I helped out during the Bushwick Open Studio opening events, set up and dismantle benefit art shows.

SHARILYN: I’m a painter and I also dabble in photography and printmaking.

TIM: I’m a painter and I also play with mixed media, street and guerilla art. Over the past three years, I have volunteered for numerous events associated with Arts In Bushwick, which includes Community Day, Open Studios, and other events where I am needed.

Meer Musa, ‘Indian Eyes’
Sharilyn Neidhardt ‘I Hit a Wall (Milwaukee)’ 2016, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 in
Tim Gowan (Untitled installation view)

AIB: Tell me about the first presenters: how did you put these artists together.

SHARILYN: I thought it would be easier to curate and invite other artists if we put ourselves through the process first. It became a way to practice putting the evening together and to focus our message. We included Christopher as the creative progenitor of Trans-cen-der, and he helped us get many details in place. Cibele Vieira and Luis Martin are supportive fellow travelers well-versed in creating and maintaining art communities.

MEER: Our first presenters included the team that started Trans-Cen-Der art group. We included Christopher Stout, who started Bushwick Art Crit, Sharilyn invited her studio mate Cibele Vieira, and I invited artist Luis Martin.

AIB: Anything I did not ask and you would love to share?

MEER: My sub group for “Artists who meditate” will soon have a place to meet and speak about how their practice helps them stay centered in order to make time for creativity.

SHARILYN: Our first night of presentations was an overwhelming success! I was excited by all the people who showed up not only to be supportive on a cold winter Tuesday, but also asked pointed questions, and were eager to participate. I’d also like to mention that we are indebted to Thomas Burr Dodd and Hazel Lee Santino of Brooklyn Fireproof for not only providing a space for us, but also for guiding our organizational process. We definitely could not be without their enthusiastic support.

TIM: I also want to thank Christopher Stout, Thomas Burr Dodd, and Hazel Lee Santino for their support.

Trans-cen-der Art Group

Temporary Storage Gallery space in Brooklyn Fireproof,  119 Ingraham Street Brooklyn, NY 11237

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‘Cracking Up, Breaking Down’ Alludes to Angst, Excess and Emptiness

Cracking Up, Breaking Down (December 11, 2016 through January 08, 2017) was a group show at The Parlour Bushwick located in south Bushwick on the border of Bedstuy. Featuring New York-based artists Ben Pederson, Jack Henry, Nicholas Cueva, and Alex Yudzon, this body of work alluded to themes of angst, excess and emptiness. The show, recently closed, was curated by Rachel Phillips and Janice Sloane, both of whom are artists. Phillips works in a Surrealistic style, allowing the unconscious to guide her practice. The shapes in her drawings and paintings oscillate between abstract and recognizable forms. Sloane utilizes photography, painting and found objects to construct works of art that suggests themes of aging, sexuality, and healing. 

Cozy couches lined a thoughtful selection of eccentric work dynamically arranged in two rooms on the first floor of a townhouse on Bushwick Avenue. Mirrors decorated the walls, and beautiful crown molding adorned the doorways, arches, and ceilings. This setting created an intimate and endearing atmosphere. Using diverse materials and divergent techniques, this body of work suggested a precariousness and unease that reflects the collective state of mind of our generation.

Ben Pederson’s colorful sculptures exude a frenetic quality because of his use of overlapping, bright and contrasting colors, the irrational placement of tiny dots, and the inclusion of uneven, tilted elements. When these elements are combined, they invoke the sensation of being on a precipice. Hollywood Nights is composed of cardboard, plaster gauze, and Epoxy clay. Pederson uses acrylic and vinyl paint to create the brightly colored base, which has solid black triangular structures that jut out from it. In Both Times at Once, it appears the sculpture is trapped inside another work. The surrounding bars are painted black at the bottom and vibrantly colored at the top. This work is more suggestive of architectural elements than of an otherworldly form, contrasting to Hollywood Nights. As viewers walk around these works, colors shift and forms re-shape as if they have caught them in a state of transformation or transition. Is it growing or shrinking, contracting or pulsating, transmuting or putrefying? The sculptures suggest organic and synthetic elements, something of this world yet far beyond it.

Ben Pederson, Junkfood Trees, 2015

Also on view by Pederson are tiny bronzes, dubbed Junkfood Trees. They have hand-painted pieces of food at the edges like pizza, chicken wings, ice cream and other fatty foods. These works suggest the success of the fast food market and the excessiveness in which we consume and unconsciously waste.

 

 

These themes also could be discerned in Jack Henry’s sculptures, column-like structures composed of rebar, Hydrocal, ink, and found objects. A contemporary scavenger, he collects items that are man-made from buildings, ripped billboards, and the side of the road. He collects cultural debris from the places on the peripheral—the places people see but never truly look at. By utilizing the discarded and banal, Henry’s work suggest issues of mass consumption and Post-Industrial America.

Jack Henry, Untitled, 2016

Henry’s sculptures appear to be in a state of deterioration akin to a dilapidated or abandoned building. For the works in this show, the artist assembled dried flowers, straw, plastic tarp, and other pieces of detritus to construct human-size monuments reminiscent of tombstones. The shape alludes to ancient Roman and Mesopotamian burial shrines, calling attention to how the past informs the present and how objects come to stand in for memories. The sculptures are described in Henry’s artist statement as “monuments or memorials to cultural disaffection.” A sublime beauty is found in the castaway, things that no longer serve a purpose but have a past akin to people.

Jack Henry, Sheer 1, 2016

Nicholas Cueva uses a traditional medium to express a contemporary mindset. His oil and acrylic paintings utilize gestural brushstrokes to create playful abstract shapes that contrast to the areas of raw, unpainted canvas. This technique refers to how we create our own narratives about situations and must fill in the gaps when missing information. Cueva often uses still life and portraiture as a departure point. In American Une, some objects can be discerned; for example, a bent hand in the upper left, a green parrot with a gold chain in the upper right and a glass of wine in the bottom right. An eye and a shape of a face appear to be at the center of the canvas, although the artist has scraped oil and acrylic paint off to make a large void at the focal point. It’s as if the face has been effaced by time like a torn advertisement on the street.

Nicholas Cueva, Pick Nick, 2016

The voids are important elements in Cueva’s work and function as psychological and emotionally charged spaces. In Pick Nick, the perimeter has recognizable objects like a bowl of fruit, bananas, glasses, a vase, a table, and the middle has been unpainted or erased. The scattered gaps in form and voids at the center become portals, allowing viewers to navigate through the surface of color. The paintings thus become a vehicle for contemplation. The breakdown of the picture plane into fractured shapes suggest the fragmented nature we perceive reality and recall memories—the splintered way we see the world, ourselves, and how we choose to remember it.

Alex Yudzon’s photographs are meticulously arranged and draw inspiration from Classical compositions by Old Masters. Yudzon studied painting and art history. The latter informed his artistic practice. He was most interested in iconography, 16th and 17th Old Master paintings and still life, particularly the vanitas paintings. The artist explains the genre “combined semi-rotting food with symbolic objects to emphasize the ephemerality of sensual experience.” He often stages fruit and objects, arranging them in front of a backdrop of hand-painted scenes or reproductions of works by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Lucas Cranach the Elder, and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. He then photographs the installations straight on. This juxtaposition of the present and past show how the two are inexplicably intertwined. Yudzon’s photograph is a contemporary work of art now—but in time they will be viewed as work of the past. His art will be situated within an art historical context and he will become part of a genealogy of artists. Unlike the human body, works of art and artists can be immortalized; they do not ossify and deteriorate with time.

Alex Yudzon, Papaya Mountain, 2016, Edition of 6

Yudzon creates centralized, triangular arrangements of objects in his photographs. In Campfire, burning candles are staged in the front of a woods scene. The dark, smoky background recalls the Renaissance technique of sfumato. In the foreground, the wax has melted into a sticky web that is repulsive yet mesmerizing. In Papaya Mountain, the semi-rotting fruit is arranged in a pile on a plate that sits on a brilliantly patterned cloth. It is displayed in front of a mountainous backdrop and the shape of the fruit mimics the form of the mountains. The vehement pink-orange color of the papaya contrasts to the subtle blues and grays in the background. He typically photographs an excess of objects as exemplified in Papaya Mountain and Campfire. The artist described his work as having “an anxiety of collapse through overabundance.” The excess thus becomes a means to the breakdown. In Cocktail, Yudzon places a lobster arm into a cup. In this work, he chose to focus on a static, singular object, instead of creating a mis-en-scene of objects in a transient state akin to the aforementioned photographs. Light dramatically shines on the lobster vase positioned in front of an endless, faded background. The objects the artist chooses are ephemeral or in a state of decay. The decomposition of the things alludes to the fragility of our body, the entropic nature of life, and the transience of each moment.

Cracking Up, Breaking Down is a stimulating show that touches on contemporary issues and collective anxieties related to an unstable American sociopolitical climate. Several galleries in the area, such as Underdonk’s Sister Outsider or Knockdown Center’s Nasty Women, have had exhibitions of work that directly allude to the uncertainty and vulnerability our community feels after the shock of the 2016 election results. Social trauma lingers–a term coined by Mary Kelly when discussing difficult experiences and feminism during the 1970s-80s; however, she had come to find a rupture in the continuity of feminism and the avant-garde. This chasm correlates to the social division that both Democratic and Republican parties face within their organizations. This show is particularly important because it a poignant reminder that only after things fall apart can we begin to build something new. The fractured pieces of ourselves will not be the same size nor fit in exactly the same place, but it will be come together and be more durable, stronger, and resilient. Some say there is beauty in the breakdown, but, as I see it, there is a greater beauty in what lies ahead—what we cannot foresee or fathom yet, what is just out of sight.

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Precarious Constructs – A Dance with the Maelstrom

American philosopher Marshall Berman rejected the notion of Postmodernism. He believed that we were still in the grips of an ever-growing capitalist system and its rolling ‘creative destruction’. The threads of what others call postmodern, according to Berman, was still firmly nested in his idea of being modern.

“To be modern, I said, is to experience personal and social life as a maelstrom, to find one’s world and oneself in perpetual disintegration and renewal, trouble and anguish, ambiguity and contradiction: to be part of a universe in which all that is solid melts into air… To be a modernist is to make oneself somehow at home in the maelstrom, to make its rhythms one’s own, to move within its currents in search of the forms of reality, of beauty, of freedom, of justice, that its fervid and perilous flow allows.”  – Marshall Berman

He critiqued the postmodern framework because he felt it produced a ‘dismal flattening out of social thought’ and suggested that as a result, “serious thinking of modern life was split between two sterile antitheses’: the idolatry of culture – think art star of the later part of the 20th century; or cultural despair, mostly referencing philosophers of the same period – essentially total downers.

The argument of postmodern versus modern is not what I find important here but rather the definition Berman presents. He calls for a kind of subversive festival in response to the tumultuous experience of modern life. It provides a compelling vocabulary to work with for those of us reeling from recent events of a presumably authoritarian regime taking power through unscrupulous means at best. In his book ‘All that is Solid Melts Into Air’ he looks at Paris, Russia and the Bronx as places where people have had to respond to the maelstrom and have done so with surprisingly new-found elation despite the despair. This is the tension Berman was fascinated with and one I am interested in. He saw it as an important way forward because he believed the inherent recursive rolling waves of creative destruction will continue to crash around us.

Subsequent, artist Uta Bekaia. Photo by JenJoy Roybal

This tension came to mind when I recently attended the second show at Venus Knitting Space titled Precarious Constructs, curated by Levan Mindiashvili and Etty Yaniv. As I walked into the room the first thing I saw was a women with long, thick, black hair, ripped in two. She wore very practical black walking shoes. Her hair was swirled across the concrete and she stared into the distance. It was disconcerting to say the least. Upon a closer look a rainbow of goo appeared to be pouring out of the torso and seemed suspended in time. The body was in a mid-melting state. The face painted with glittery gold and rainbow hashes; she just left the party. Her expression is as if she hasn’t realized that her body has been ripped apart or if that realization just passed and she’s now in a deep calm. The figure is beautifully ugly and poetic and sometimes stops, ceases to give –  but it still stays with you. Subsequent is the creation of artist Uta Bekaia. He explains that it represents that moment when you wake up but you are still caught in a dream and are trying to retain that dream somehow, but it escapes you. For me it embodied the morning-after for pantsuit nation.

Unintended Archeology, artist Levan Mindiashvili. Photo by the artist

The next thing that caught my eye was Levan Mindiashvili’s “Unintended Archeology,” a glowing pink sculpture hanging on the south wall. His constructs are derivatives of places he has lived – echos of the rooms and the structures he has come across. Mindiashvili is an artist that migrated from Georgia to Buenos Aires, and now resides in Brooklyn. In this piece beauty is captured with the pink light that delicately cascades up the side of the white pine rectangle and the concrete casting that sits inside. A black square is embedded in the casting as a placeholder for something yet to come – a window? A picture? a memory? That black square carries over into the composition of “Untitled,”  hanging to the right. This one has a veil, a cobalt blue plexiglass that obscures the architectural vignette, embedded in a grey architectural casting, which has  been carefully crafted to mimic found concrete. In our discussion something he said stuck with me, “these days the idea of place is more precisely identified as an idea of displacement”. I thought of his journey and of so many others past and present.

Parallel Topography 6, 2013-2016, Artist Etty Yaniv. Photo by JenJoy Roybal

The artworks adjacent to Mindiashvili are topographic sculptures made from discarded material  by Etty Yaniv. Here we get the chaotic wave that has found some kind of order in a snapshot, or moment in time. Part of the wave has dripped on the floor, scurried to the corner, and up the wall. It is a remnant of a larger body of work that is reminiscent of the plastic patches that are generated in the five gyres found across our oceans. There, large amounts of debris are accumulated through the movements of the currents, they shift and swirl entangling the world’s plastics. From afar they can be grotesquely beautiful, just like these sculptures. However, Yaniv’s work has other hidden treasures. As you get closer there are words and drawings that begin to strike the imagination and evoke narratives and memories from times past. This current whispers to you.

Detail, Parallel Topography 6, 2013-2016, Artist Etty Yaniv. Photo by JenJoy Roybal
Detail of Myofibril IV The Kiss / Qibla, by Alexandra Leyre Min. Photo by Levan Mindiashvili

The topographic-like sculptures continues with Alexandra Leyre Mein’s Myofibril IV The Kiss / Qibla. This artwork grows out of a wooden stool like two white stalagmites and is made of Hydrostone, mesh wire, cloth, metal, paint pigments and varnish. These forms take on a more sensual twists. They are hand built by the artist with material that dries quickly. She says she likes this quality of time as it keeps the unconscious forces closer to the surface. Where one would imagine the kiss to take place are two pristine flat surfaces facing each other. The organic sinewy shape falls short of an actual embrace but the romance is still there.

The most precarious of Precarious Structures are Liz Sweibel’s constructions. Her process is most telling: she builds, takes apart and rebuilds – using wooden material she found over fifteen years ago. She composes in situ. Gravity and balance play a role in the compositions. For one, a mysterious gale compresses the elements, and another looks like a makeshift rutter. The structures are dense with energy and pack a punch even in their small size. Sweibel includes drawings of ghostly, red dashed, rectangular boxes layered under mylar. Their silhouettes are inspired by the shipping containers that got thrown across the landscape like pick up sticks by the Tsunami that hit Japan in 2011. The trauma of disaster echoes throughout the select works.

Untitled works, artist Liz Sweibal. Photo by Levan Mindiashvili
When Businessmen Meet the Conversation Ends in a Conspiracy Against the People, 2010, artist Andrew Cornell Robinson. Photo provided by artist

Finally we have ceramic works from Andrew Cornell Robinson. The title of the first one says it all “When Businessmen Meet the Conversation Ends in a Conspiracy Against The People”. Created back in 2010,  six black glazed ceramic figures surround a red glazed ceramic pear.  Robinson is the anti-hero’s artist. He describes his work as an exploration of the secret lives of impotent radicals, social pariahs, and no-bodies whose stories fall out of the cultural and familial trees unremembered.

A final quote from Marshall Berman, “All form of modern art and thought have a dual character. They are at once expressions of and protest against the process of modernization.” This is no different in this show. We’ve entered into a maelstrom, our modern, our new chaos.

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Precarious Constructs
Venus Knitting Art Space
117 Grattan St. Brooklyn, NY 11237
December 9-18, 2016

 

Anki King and John Mitchell are Lone Wolves, Together

Anki King’s and John Mitchell’s living area has been steadily shrinking as their art making has increasingly taken up more of their shared Meserole Street apartment in Bushwick. “We work on either side of the space and live in the middle,” says King, pictured above, with her soft Norwegian accent and a wide smile.

Throughout the ten years of being together, the couple, both painters, have not only established an acute understanding of each other’s daily work rhythms but have also developed a keen awareness of each other’s needs as artists. King says that one of the main reasons their shared work-live situation works well is their awareness of a shared need to spend  time alone.

“We are both lone wolves in our work,” says Mitchell and King adds jokingly, “we get to live alone together.”

This awareness works well in daily life. When they are working on their art in their separate studio spaces for many hours, they can still occasionally find each other in the kitchen or when one of them “yells for help,” as King puts it.

Anki King, Connected, 37"x54", oil on canvas, 2015
Anki King, Connected, 37″x54″, oil on canvas, 2015

It is evident that King and Mitchell share a deep fascination with the figure but they are approaching  their work  in almost contrasting ways, leading to distinct and very different pictorial languages. “We think and work very differently,” says Mitchell.

He paints on stretched canvas. She stretches her canvas to the wall. He cleans his palette after every painting session. Her palette is crusty with layers of paint and seems like complete chaos to him. He does not splash paint around. She splashes paint all over. He makes intaglio prints. She has made a few but doesn’t have the patience for it. He draws in sketchbooks everywhere. Most of her art making happens in the studio.

Anki King, 54"x60", oil on canvas, 2015
Anki King, 54″x60″, oil on canvas, 2015

Indeed,  King’s process is intuitive and organic. Guided by her imagination, materials and drive to search for a still unknown image. She is thriving on surprises. Rather than being in control of a decided outcome, she wants to be in conversation with whatever she is creating. She says that one of her favorite quotes is by the painter Elaine De Kooning, “when you are dancing, you don’t stop to think: now I’ll take a step, you allow it to flow.”

This spontaneous mode manifests in King’s loose brushstrokes which coalesce into dense grayish layers. In many of her canvases she has managed to successfully capture an essence of the fleeting feeling she has been looking for, her linear forms resonate an elusive scent in the Nordic woods where she grew up,  conjuring  primal collective memories  beyond verbalization.

Anki King, One Below, 54"x56", oil on canvas, 2015
Anki King, One Below, 54″x56″, oil on canvas, 2015

Unlike King, who works without preplanning and from imagination, Mitchell works his compositions out before he starts painting and works from direct observation of people and places. He thinks of portrait painting as collaboration.

“The process of painting a portrait is all about spending quality time with the person and getting to know them,” he says.

He also spends time on-site for his landscapes. He started “Three Bridge Painting” for example, by drawing on-site for over two summers and he continues to paint it on-site as often as he can for as many years as it takes. Altogether, his planned compositions, meticulous drawings and long term investigations of his chosen subject, manifest in his canvases , prints and drawings alike. They are precise but not dry. While alluding to painters like Alice Neel and overall deeply rooted in the tradition of representational art, many of his artworks evoke the urgency of the moment, revealing the painter’s inquisitive mind.

John Mitchell, Three Bridge Drawing, graphite on linen, 2014-15
John Mitchell, Three Bridge Drawing, graphite on linen, 2014-15
John Mitchell, Kym Moon, 36x28", oil on linen, 2015-16
John Mitchell, Kym Moon, 36×28″, oil on linen, 2015-16
John Mitchell, Charlie, 30x25", oil on canvas, 2015-16
John Mitchell, Charlie, 30″x25″, oil on canvas, 2015-16

King and Mitchell’s mutual respect for their contrasting artistic sensibilities also translates into a warm support of each other’s work.

“One time I was so stuck with a work that I asked John to put some brush strokes on a piece to break it up,” says King.  They are having a constant dialogue about ways of making, seeing and thinking about art. Moreover, King says that sometimes aspects of each other’s work sneak in.

“For instance,” she says, “I have started making some figures that seem quite alien and John worked on an alien world for several years.” So despite their distinct differences, there is reason to believe that something has rubbed off a bit after all, she sums up.

 

Failure, Destruction, and The Responsibility of Privilege: gilf! and SHATTERING

Indefinite Isolation Abolished by Ann Lewis; image courtesy of A&O PR
Indefinite Isolation Abolished by Ann Lewis; image courtesy of A&O PR

SHATTERING, the recent show of activist artist Ann Lewis (aka gilf!) at Joseph Gross Gallery, was the second part of a three-part series of works that focuses on participatory art aimed at allowing members of the community to express their frustrations. SHATTERING incorporated Lewis’s nuanced yet powerful style of sculpture with an element of community participation. Guests were able to smash glass in a secluded section of the gallery and then step out and view the delicate and meaningful pieces in the show. Using acrylic, broken ceramic, and former police barricades, her work questions what is happening with and within the state of community across the country. After seeing the exhibition, Arts in Bushwick sat down with Lewis. The conversation shed light on her art and process.

 

[AiB] How did you get involved with using art to promote discussion of social issues and community change?

[gilf!] I started making street art in 2008. I had been trained as a fine artist but was focusing on other things at the time. I became super frustrated when trying to initiate meaningful conversations about the state of our world because everyone would shut down and changed the conversation. I turned to art as a means of expressing myself and as a way to create the dialogues I was longing for. Political topics were immediate in my stencil work from the Green Revolution in Iran to the torturing of prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison.

 

[AiB] What was the most interesting reaction to your art that you have experienced?

[gilf!] I was in the midst of my month-long Autoincarceration duration performance last fall when I had came upon a really interesting group of older men. The project entailed me spending an entire month in various orange prison jumpsuits to raise awareness about mass incarceration in this country. I spent the month creating art on the jumpsuits, researching, and discussing the problem with strangers on the street. This one group of guys was initially put off by me wearing this jumpsuit. Immediately charging that I was co-opting an issue that wasn’t mine the discussion got very interesting—many of them had been formerly incarcerated.

After I explained the project I invited them to a protest about mass incarceration to which I was en route. They declined and said “We can’t go to a protest. We’ll be the first ones arrested and they’ll send us right back upstate.” That statement really galvanized my practice. People often criticize me for fighting other people’s battles, and tell me I should focus on my own. When we have massive portions of the population literally unable to protest the conditions and the constructs that they must live within, I find it to be the responsibility of the artist and people of privilege to bring these topics to light when others lack the resources to do so.

 

[AiB] How have you seen your art transform throughout your career thus far?

[gilf!] It has changed tremendously, and often. I am always evolving and growing, and I tire of creating the same work over and over. I think since 2008 I’ve created at least five different bodies of work. While things change quickly, I am always working, so I suppose that’s just part of our very fast-paced, overworked world. It’s important to try new things and to fail. I’m always motivated to experiment with new materials and concepts.

 

[AiB] Can you explain your creative process?

[gilf!] I usually become outraged at some injustice and that sparks an idea. I then focus on the research which further fleshes out the concept. I have been focused on more process based work in the last year or so, and I find it imperative that I enjoy my process. So if it’s an awesome idea but it doesn’t sound like fun I don’t do it. That’s been super empowering. I spent years hating my process but never questioning it. That only produces madness.

 

[AiB] What are you hoping people will take away from seeing your work in SHATTERING?

[gilf!] I’m more concerned that they take away something from experiencing SHATTERING. I know not everyone will participate but the experience of intentionally breaking something—in a gallery—is incredibly powerful. We rarely have an opportunity to be destructive in this hyperconsuming, hyperconstructive world. It’s such a beautiful release. I think it helps reset people’s energy. Ultimately, I’d like people to reconsider the negative constructs around the ideas of destruction. Sometimes it’s important to destroy things so that new ideas can germinate.

 

[AiB] You’ve used barricades as a medium in some of your work. How did you acquire them? Do they have a backstory?

[gilf!] I can neither confirm nor deny that the barricades were salvaged from the streets of NYC.

 

[AiB] How did you choose the pieces of broken ceramic used in your acrylic wall sculptures?

[gilf!] They are all separated by type. I spread a mix of them out on my floor and see what stands out to me. I build from that stand out piece and specifically focus on the three-dimensional composition. A theme or an issue that I’ve been focused on tends to come to the surface of my mind and the piece develops from there.

 

[AiB] Do you have any advice for anyone that wants to get involved with helping to change the problems they see in their community?

[gilf!] Know your strengths, and focus them on a problem you want to see solved. Don’t scatter yourself with too many projects. Find a group or two you really resonate with and see how you can help.

 

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More works by gilf! will be on view in Towers of Power, an exhibition opening at the MoMA Design store in SoHo on 11 June, and in the simply titled WOMEN, on view at the Women’s League of Voters of the City of New York opening on 13 June

BOS2015 Day by Day: Saturday

also by Veronica Dakota

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Yoga in Maria Hernandez Park for Community Day 2014; all images by Willow Goldstein

Rise and shine, it’s time to get busy. Saturday is jam packed with block parties, talks, street art, and 600+ studios to visit. Start off on the right foot with yoga at Community Day in Maria Hernandez Park and then enjoy the park with a full day of interactive activities and art making including acrobatics, dance, performance art, music, and so much more!

If an AM tipple is more your style, head over to Norte Maar for their annual Maps-N-Mimosas from 11AM to 2PM. IDIO Gallery is also hosting a Pop-Up Brunch by Newtown cafe, 10AM-3PM. With belly satisfied, head into the gallery to view Circumstantial Evidence, their inaugural exhibit in collaboration with Flavorpill and curated by artist Jack Henry.

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In the studios of 17-17 Troutman

The giant art warehouse at 17-17 Troutman Street continues to be a mecca of the biggest variety the ‘hood has to offer. Bring an item for live silk screening at The Bushwick Print Lab from 3PM to 7PM and then wander the studios of Julia Sinelnikova, Sienna Reid, Dasha Bazanova, Alyssa Gorelick, and many, many others.

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Bushwick Collective Murals

The Bushwick Collective is helping to make our streets the living mural you get to walk through every day. Today they are also hosting their BOS 2015 Block Party. If you don’t know their work, check out the short film Born and Bred by Tribeca Films profiling their efforts and founder Joseph Ficalora. Then head over to Troutman Street, where DJs will keep the good vibes flowing throughout the day. Fun begins at 11AM and continues till midnight. We even hear House of Yes will be parading through the Bushwick Collective Block Party in the late afternoon.

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NEWD Art Show 2014

Does your academic side need stimulation? NEWD will be hosting two talks: Sort of Cyborg at 2PM and Market Is the Medium—‘Making It’ in the NYC Art World at 3:30PM. The Living Gallery will be hosting Bushwick & Broadway Ave: A Historian’s Perspective & Open Discussion at 4PM.

Streets still calling your name? Spread Art is also hosting the Grattan Street Performance Block Party, 12-6PM. Just what you’ll see is anyone’s guess, but with Pine Box Rock Shop and thingNY as co-hosts, plus food and drinks, it’s sure to be memorable. But if you’re still not sure where to go next: The  5 Must-See Studios and Artists at BOS 2015 composed by Bushwick Based may be helpful.

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Spread Art 2014

If all this looking is inspiring you to make something or maybe you just want to see cool things being made, head over to HQ at 430 Johnson Avenue, where The Smith Factory in collaboration with Ben Rosenblum Studio and Dutch East Design will be providing laser-cutting demos at 12-1:30PM and 3-5:30PM. Cross the street to 395 Johnson Avenue and you’ll find the studios of several compelling artists, including Sarah G. Sharp. The free drinks and snacks on offer may help you refuel for what comes next, which could include a trek across the neighborhood to 438 Bleecker Street, where Songs for Presidents is hosting their Benefit Show at their administrative villa, 12-7PM.

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The Jeffersonian 2014

Finally, as the sun sets, join Pine Box Rock Shop for Bushwick Open Soul, a free evening of funky, soulful, hip-hop. The festivities continue with Norte Maar’s BOS Rooftop Dance Party, 9PM-1AM, at The Vazquez, which during the day, 1-6PM, is also hosting the visit-worthy VCU Sculpture + Extended Media MFA Exhibition.

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Stay tuned here, as BOS2015 Day by Day will provide additional tips and updates to help navigate your BOS weekend. To create your own customizable “map,” be sure to download the official BOS app and check out the online BOS Directory. Official BOS Hubs throughout the neighborhood can serve as a gathering point, providing print guides, shade, and the much-needed restroom break

BOS Studio Visit: Petros Chrisostomou

by Nicole Durbin

BOS Studio Visit is an ongoing series that seeks to showcase the impressive spectrum of artistic expression on display during Bushwick Open Studios. All interviews were performed during the 2014 BOS weekend.

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[AiB] Can you tell me a little about your process?

[PC] I’m interested in sculpture. I studied sculpture originally, and when I would make large-scale installations, a lot of the time the sculptures would only exist through documentation. That’s also very true of famous artworks that we know—we live in an age now where images are very prevalent.

Even if you go to a museum and you see a piece of artwork, you might buy a postcard of it.  And if you don’t, if you have a beautiful experience then the image of that artwork lives on as a memory, which is kind of like an image beyond the physical experience that you had, if you’re thinking of it two or three weeks after that moment. So that’s the concept of my work, the idea of documenting the work and the document being the actual work.

[AiB] When you show your work, do you show the sculptures themselves or do you show photographs of them?

[PC] I show the photographs, but for the purpose of Bushwick Open Studios it’s kind of nice that people can come in here and see the process.

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[AiB] How would you say your work has evolved over time?

[PC] I think what I do is I build a history for myself, by building these environments. So as I continue to live, the different places that I live in, these pieces sort of evolve and are constructed through those scenarios that I find myself in. You can see a development.

[AiB] Could you tell me about a recent piece?

[PC] I’m working on this laundromat here. You can see that it’s in some very early stages. A laundromat is a very New York thing, I guess. So it probably references my time here, because I’m from London and it’s kind of a different culture I suppose. So, I’m interested to see how that goes.

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[AiB] When you start a new piece, how much is planned out in advance versus evolving organically?

[PC] I think it just depends on what I’m working on. Sometimes I have a very clear-cut idea of what I’m going to do, and I go through the motions and I make it. Other times I could be making something and I stop because I realize I’m not interested anymore, and then I just make something else, more organically.

[AiB] When you’re working on something, how do you know when you’re done?

[PC] I get it to a point when instinctually I feel comfortable enough to let it go. And then I know it’s time to photograph it.

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To see more work by Petros Chrisostomou, visit his website

Confronting Prejudice: Strategies for Women in the Arts

by Catherine Kirkpatrick

 

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Panelists (left to right) Anki King, Frida Kahlo of Guerrilla Girls, Jenn Dierdorf, Asha Cherian, and Anne Sherwood Pundy; all photos by Catherine Kirkpatrick unless otherwise noted

 

In a world where the new (however that may be defined on any given day) is often pursued like the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, it is striking how certain issues keep returning to the fore. On November 18, 2014, the Bushwick Art Crit Group sponsored a panel discussion called Marching Forward: Collective Strategies of Women in the Arts. Moderated by BACG Exhibitions Director, Kelsey Shwetz, it included artists Anki King, Jenn Dierdorf, Frida Kahlo of Guerrilla Girls, Asha Cherian, and Anne Sherwood Pundyk.

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Frida Kahlo of Guerrilla Girls

 

The first topic discussed was the need to redefine success in the art world. Frida Kahlo stated that the highest price paid for a work by a woman artist was less than 10% of the highest price paid for the work by a man artist, raising the question of whether money is always the best measure of success. Anki King wondered about the possibility of other systems of acquisition besides sales, noting perhaps trade. In response, moderator Kelsey Shwetz wondered if these two systems were
mutually exclusive. Thomas Burr Dodd, the owner of Bushwick Fire Proof
where the discussion was held, urged artists to focus less on the
“endgame” of selling and more on the rewards of the creative process and
interaction with their peers. Asha Cherian of Gender Casual talked about the need for women to be bold and think outside traditional boundaries, an ethos Guerrilla Girls, an organization founded by women artists in 1985, has embraced.

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Moderator Kelsey Shwetz

 

Through eye-catching posters, street projects, and books, Guerrilla Girls has presented hard facts and numbers about women’s lack of presence in the art world, always with a dose of humor. “If you make people laugh, they will listen,” said Frida Kahlo, who appeared in full guerrilla attire (members adopt names and masks as a way to “depersonalize” their message). For one of their projects, they counted the number of nudes of women at the Metropolitan Museum versus the number of paintings by women, and found, not surprisingly, that the former was very large, whereas the latter was very small.

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Asha Cherian (left) and Frida Kahlo (right) of Guerrilla Girls

 

So dedicated to their roles as “professional complainers,” the art critic Robert Hughes once invited Guerrilla Girls to participate in a documentary, then paid them to go away. But a few weeks later, Hughes publicly acknowledged that there were not enough women in the art
world. Their message had been received. That film also inspired Asha Cherian, who
saw Guerrilla Girls posters growing up. She urged women artists to keep thinking
boldly, saying: “If you can imagine it, sometimes it actually begins to
exist in the world.” Cherian and Pundyk,
who is also a writer, spoke about the importance of using language to
expand the dialogue and market in the art world, wondering if gender
blindness is as pervasive in that realm as race blindness is in life.

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(Left to right) Jenn Dierdorf, Asha Cherian, and Anne Sherwood Pundyk

 

Shwetz said that the creation of communities of women is very important, and a show of hands by the audience indicated that most women belonged
to such organizations. King said, “Women are very good about
supporting each other.” Dierdorf, who is Co-Director of Development
at the A.I.R. Gallery, the
first gallery run by and for women in the United States, discussed the
importance of such organizations in “perpetuating knowledge and
experience.” Cherian spoke of mentoring, citing the example of Leo Castelli
helping Larry Gagosian. “Networks would go a long way,” she said,
“toward creating an ‘abundance’ concept not a ‘scarcity’ concept.”

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(Left to right) Anki King, Frida Kahlo of Guerrilla Girls, and Jenn Dierdorf

 

On the topic of global outlook, Frida Kahlo spoke about the terrible
violence against women in many places, asking “Is it our responsibility to
deal with it?” Dierdorf, admitting to being a “pessimist,” said the art
world is a confined space with a limited audience, and prefers the
intimacy of studio visits as a way to exchange ideas. Power
dynamics were also touched upon, with King talking about working “extra
hard” during studio visits to keep things on a businesslike footing
with men. “The only solution I found,” she admitted, “is getting older.”

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Anki King (left) and Frida Kahlo (right) of Guerrilla Girls

 

All the panelists spoke with quiet passion, reminding us that women’s
rights are human rights. Their art speaks, not to a small niche, but
the entire world. Many perspectives were presented, and by including
Guerrilla Girls, an organization founded in 1985, the panel bridged
generations, especially important at a time when the relevance of feminism
itself is often questioned.

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Frida Kahlo of Guerrilla Girls

Building Blocks of the City: Zoning 101

by Aniela Coveleski

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While it may seem really overwhelming, zoning policies are something that every resident of Brooklyn (and all other places of the city) should know about. Luckily, there are various organizations that exist to help everyone understand city policies. During Exchange Rates, Generis held a hands-on workshop called “Zoning 101” at the Vazquez Building. The workshop discussed all of the different laws and rules of city zoning, and how it affects people living in artist-heavy communities. Our host, Susan Surface, really cares about fair treatment to those living in art communities with regards to real estate and zoning. Along with the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) and the Artist Studio Affordability project, we were able to work through different discussions and activities to broaden our knowledge on this topic.

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Mark Torrey from CUP lead the majority of the workshop by using a beautifully designed game board and building blocks. The Center for Urban Pedagogy’s mission is to use design and art to help the general public get more involved in civil laws and urban policy. They run workshops like this and have tons of educational material available on their website.

Since this workshop took place during Exchange Rates, there was a big focus on how these zoning laws impacted specifically art-based communities. The Artist Studio Affordability Project is an organization that is mainly focused on helping to preserve affordable art spaces for people working in the arts. At the workshop, we learned how zoning changes and building permits affect real estate prices, and ASAP helped to explain what rights you have as a person that already inhabits an art space. You can find more information about upcoming events, and how to get involved with ASAP on their website.

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When living in an urban environment, changes happen around you constantly.  Real estate markets change, demographics change, and city governments work to maximize the possibilities of each area for a number of different reasons. There are so many factors in each level of change that sometimes it’s hard to keep up. Workshops like the one put on by Generis are extremely helpful. The Center for Urban Pedagogy and The Artist Studio Affordability Project can help you understand your rights. Remember, you can also find all about zoning and your rights as a tenant in New York City by contacting the City Planning department of NYC.

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Exchange Rates was “an international exposition of artworks and art galleries in and around Bushwick, Brooklyn” that paired more than 16 Bushwick galleries and spaces with an extended list of galleries from the USA and abroad. The event was produced by Sluice__, a London-based art initiative, which joined with Bushwick locals Theodore:Art and Centrotto to bring the concept to life. The four-day event featured Beat Nite, the semi-annual late-night gallery event produced by Norte Maar, along with panel discussions, parties, and a performance art night.

A Chance to be Seen: Blick in Bushwick

by Etty Yaniv; all photos by Etty Yaniv

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Opening at ArtHelix

When Aaron Morrill, chairman of the board of Blick Art Materials, approached ArtHelix, a dynamic art gallery in Bushwick, he intended to use the space for a holiday party. Instead, after discussing the idea further they decided that there is no better way to show support for the Blick Art Materials employees than provide them with a sponsored art show at ArtHelix. “Blick’s business is made strong by the creative spirit of their employees, many of whom are themselves passionate and talented artists,” says Jackie Cantwell, the show curator. ArtHelix co-owner Peter Hopkins adds that the show both celebrates the Blick associates hard work and suggests that the company is sympathetic to their struggle of balancing a job with the hope of an art career.

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Peter Hopkins of ArtHelix and Aaron Morrill of Blick Art Materials

The curatorial process was straightforward: each associate was invited to submit as many works as they liked with the knowledge that only one piece would be accepted. Since Blick has never hosted a curated or professionally hung exhibition before, this initiative enabled the participating artists to experience the process of submission, curation, and presentation in a gallery setting. “It was a great opportunity to treat their work with the respect it deserves while also asking that it be presented and submitted professionally,” emphasizes Cantwell. She explains that work was chosen based on its quality, craftsmanship, presentation, and potential to create some kind of narrative with the other artworks in the show.

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ArtHelix curator Jackie Cantwell and gallery manager and assistant curator Wilson Duggan

Given the democratic nature of this group show as well as the wide range of work and media, Cantwell and assistant curator Wilson Duggan faced a substantial curatorial challenge. Their placement choices often result in a cohesive space with sufficient breathing space around individual artworks.

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Pata Llano, I Remember Pangea, 2014

For example, hanging Pata Llano’s white sculpture of linear cubes in the upper corner of the back room creates a subtle white on white effect, activating the tall ceiling, corner, and wall. Liano’s minimalistic sensibility is juxtaposed with Gavin Weir’s flair for the fantastic. With its vibrant colors and meticulous linear rendering, Weir’s imaginative drawing creates a convincing presence, while conveying a surprising dialogue with Liano’s white sculpture across the room.

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Gavin Weir, La Luz de Alante es la que Alunbra from 2014 (pencil, ink, watercolor on paper)

Similarly in the middle room, Megan Westgate’s two delicate, abstracted and intimately scaled mixed media drawings on paper bounce off Felix Caballero’s bold figurative canvas or Luan Gashi’s semi abstracted image.
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Megan Westgate, Filthy Rich from 2013 (mixed media)

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Felix Caballero, Notorious from 2012 (acrylic on canvas)

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Luan Gashi, Woman 2 from 2014 (acrylic on canvas)

Blick’s sponsored art exhibit initiative is in line with ArtHelix’ vision of showing work by groups of under or unrepresented artists. “The art world has an underside, made up of art handlers, art store employees, and many other sub-groups of those who toil in the art world, but seldom if ever get a chance to be seen as artists in their own right. It was amazing to see the joy and validation that came to the associates by doing this show. We are really proud to have hosted this,” says Hopkins.

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Sahdir Ellis, Batman: HUSH from 2009 (acrylic on leather)

At the entrance to the back room, a pair of painted sneakers titled Batman: HUSH dominate the space. They are placed on two shelves of slightly different heights. It takes me a minute to recognize Sahdir Ellis, the artist, who is conversing with Peter Hopkins and a group of viewers next to his artwork. “I helped you at the Blick store yesterday,” he reminds me with a smile.

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Blick in Bushwick is on view until December 21 at ArtHelix, Friday to Sunday from 12pm-6pm. ArtHelix is located at 299 Meserole Street.

Blick in Bushwick featured work by A. Demetrius Felder, Amanda Menezes, Andrew McCoy, Ann Marie Amick, Bryant Castro, Carlos Williams, Chris Gonzalez, Curtis Andrews, Daphane Love, Eleisia Richardson, Felix Caballero, Gavin Weir, James McDonough, Jose Londono, Josephine Tam, Julius Pearson, Karina Antigua, Katarra Peterson, Lance Laurie, Luan Gashi
Macey L. Brady, Mark Fionda, Megan Westgate, Melissa Tolve, Mustafa Allsop,
Pata Llano, Sahdir Ellis, Samantha Philbert, Sara Jean-Baptiste, and Whitney Meredith. The show was curated by Jackie Cantwell and Wilson Duggan.