Founder and creator, Hillary Mégroz, is a self-taught paper artist and design professional living in Brooklyn. Best known for her paper perennials, Hillary’s handmade paper creations tailor individual experiences’ that literally last a lifetime!
For the past 12-years, Hillary worked in the NYC media industry, beginning her career at Meredith Publishing, and has included executive marketing & creative roles at MTV, NBC, and DailyMail.com. Most recently, along with partner Charles Pastore, Hillary founded UNRULY Collective, a Bushwick-based art collective.
What are five hashtags that describe your work?
#creations #paper #flowers #handmade #nyc
What is your artist origin story?
I have always been a super creative person and lover of DIY, but the inspiration for my paper flowers came from a dream (TRUE story). At the time I was living in the East Village and dreamt I decorated Tompkins Square Park with giant paper flowers–prior to this, I had never made a paper flower in my life. When I woke up, I emailed everyone I knew and told them to start saving tissue paper for me, and the rest is history :).
What is your favorite medium right now and why do you love it?
I love working with paper- since there are SO many kinds of paper, as well as techniques I have yet to discover, the possibilities are endlessly enticing. Also, there are very few artists who specialize in paper flowers, so it’s exciting to be part of a small art movement where original innovation is still very possible.
What is on the horizon for your work in the next year?
I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by very talented artists, so I am really looking forward to upcoming collaborations. Whether its weaving my flowers into a performance at UNRULY or collaborating on a mossy paper-flower wall for a bedroom tree-house, I can only hope for great growth in my work.
How has being in Bushwick influenced your work?
It is especially inspiring to be surrounded by SO many artists in Bushwick! The street art is incredibly powerful and the vibrant colors are definitely reflected in my flowers.
What Bushwick artists do you admire and why?
Anton Vitkovskiy (Bushwick Artist, currently showing at UNRULY Collective)
I have never met an artist more dedicated and passionate about his craft- I have had the pleasure of working with Anton and watching him work and it’s truly magnificent. His incredibly huge body of work, combined with this raw talent and extreme dedication are truly something to admire and strive after.
Tell us your most memorable exchange during Bushwick Open Studios.
This is my first experience with Bushwick Open Studios, so I don’t have any memories, YET.
If you could have dinner with anyone living or dead, who would it be and why?
DEAD: Andy Warhol, Hill Rebay, Caravaggio
ALIVE: Lady Gaga, Barbra Walters, Hillary Clinton
Ideally, it would be a group dinner for both the living & the dead 🙂
In a parallel universe, if you weren’t doing what you are doing, what would you be doing?
Since I know so little about the finance world (I don’t have a numbers brain!), I always thought it would be fun, just for the day, to work at a big, shiny Wall Street firm- as a badass, designer pantsuit-wearing, stats & coding genius, eat-men-for-breakfast, super power-chick kind of way. I am sure this is the LEAST likely answer you will get to this question 🙂
Was there something you want to share that was not asked?
I am super excited to be participating for the first time and can’t wait to meet fellow artists, art lovers, and Bushwick neighbors!!!
Bushwick-born and Ridgewood-raised, Buzzi is a techno producer and turntablist. His techno compositions utilize analog and digital synthesizing technologies, while exploring the perceptual representation of space through sound, and mysterious innovative gates. His work mainly features vintage drum machine samples. Buzzi’s productions and performances have been related to a 90’s high tempo techno sound. He has been contributing to the underground techno music scene since 2013, performing at Bossa Nova Civic Club and Halycon In the course of 5 years, he has worked on musical projects with talented artists and respected labels, such as Kleinfeld, Krames, Tomas Kunkel, Afterwave Records, and Nervous Records.
Jose Buzzi’s production and performance display the dark, uplifting, playful, and hypnotizing side of his character. Listen to Black Waters produced by Afterwave Records:
What is your favorite medium right now and why do you love it?
Working on music. Techno is a futuristic, unknown, innovating, and fearless sound. As an art form, Techno can open and take your mind to places you’ve never been. Techno can make you look at architecture and your surroundings in a different way. It can alter your subway ride experience to work depending on how fast the subway is going. Speed is reflection of the sound because the sounds can be either hard and aggressive or lush and blissful. Techno is a spiritual experience; almost like participating in prayer at church or hearing Buddhist chants resonate through your chest. It allows you to release built up stress you might be carrying from your ordinary life; your stressful relationship; your mundane job. A techno-inspired “party” (whether solo, or in a club) is where you can share, release, and/or exchange those feelings through dance. The physical part is so important to this sound and is rudimentary.
What is on the horizon for your work in the next year?
I used to hate techno when I was younger because hip-hop music was mostly what I was exposed to. Growing up in Bushwick, I felt like techno music was uncool or not masculine enough. However, one day that sound made me feel free. I didn’t understand what I was feeling but I knew it felt right. Sort of like love. This was when I realized sound was much more than a sonic thing or an image thing.
What Bushwick artists do you admire and why?
Me. I didn’t end up in jail or dead.
Tell us your most memorable exchange during Bushwick Open Studios.
Watching the youth make music, create art, and exchange ideas.
If you could have dinner with anyone living or dead, who would it be and why?
My aunt. We would make each other laugh all the time.
In a parallel universe, if you weren’t doing what you are doing, what would you be doing?
Walking around naked and taking care of the planet.
Last Saturday was Earth Day, and people gathered in Washington, D.C. for the March for Science. This Saturday is the People’s Climate March. Both have been staged to promote environment and climate literacy. There is no better time to do some deep thinking about the state of the earth and climate change then right now. The exhibition ‘River Woman’ at ODETTA Gallery in Bushwick compliments this moment nicely. Curated by artist Ellen Hackl Fagan, the show includes works from artists Nancy Cohen, Ellen Kozak, Fritz Horstman and Kathleen Vance. It closes on April 30th so this is the last weekend to visit the gallery.
‘River Woman’ elemental universal sustaining beautiful dangerous the river and the woman merge and become one entity
At the center of the first room sits a large wooden formwork by Fritz Horstman. The gray cavity of the structure makes up the shape of the East River. Roosevelt Island stands out to help the viewer render the entirety of this salt-water tidal estuary, giving the body of water focused prominence. Also featured are two of his videos created from conversations and interactions done with river communities abroad.
Off to each side of Horstman’s installation, hanging on the walls, are two large handmade paper works by Nancy Cohen. One appears to capture debris caught at the river bank. The other, pulls out for an aerial view of a river bend. The undulating surface of the paper evoke the landscape they’re inspired by. It is fun to get up close to these pieces just to let the tactile quality wash over you. There is something ancient and present about their quality.
On the far wall of the first room are paintings by Ellen Kozak. They are expertly produced to create a semi-gloss finish of images that are inspired by natural phenomena, motion and light. Rows of color on one of them feels like ripples in a river. Since 1994, her studio has been perched just above the bank of the Hudson, she says she sees the river in all seasons and the works imbue that sensibility.
Moving towards the back of the gallery gurgling water can be heard. A large sinuous brown mass hugs the corner at torso level. It is a reimagined version of Newtown Creek. Using historical documents, Kathleen Vance traced the tidal flow of the Super Fund creek from its tributaries – Dutch Kills, Whale Creek, Maspeth Creek and English Kills, and redirects it. This new rendition is healed and unencumbered from the last few hundred years of industrialization. The water seems clean enough to drink, it is serene and peaceful.
In tandem with the show, Fagan, of ODETTA invited Paul Gallay, President of Hudson Riverkeeper to discuss the state of the Hudson River and its related tributaries this past Sunday, April 23rd. Riverkeeper is a member-supported watchdog organization committed to safeguarding the drinking water for millions of New Yorkers. This year It is celebrating its 50th anniversary. In January, Riverkeeper signed a landmark agreement with New York State and Entergy, the company that runs the controversial facility, to close Indian Point Nuclear Energy Center by 2021. This is a huge victory for Riverkeepers and the people of New York State.
Joining Gallay was NYC Water Quality Project Coordinator, Chrissy Remein. She shared stories about the many partners that work together to monitor and gather data. She invited attendees to participate in the upcoming visioning meeting for Newtown Creek which will happen in early June. The two took questions, which led to a passionate exchange by those attending. It was an inspiring conversation that connected the long-time efforts to improve the quality of water and environment along the Hudson River, to current struggles on policy and the ‘River Woman’ artwork surrounding us.
Can’t make it to the People’s Climate March in D.C.? Here are two ways you can take action:
1. ODETTA is having a silent online auction to benefit Riverkeeper. The auction is open until midnight April 30, the last day of the exhibition. The works in the gallery and in the flat files are available. All of the proceeds raised above the reserve price go directly to Hudson Riverkeeper. Support the artist while investing in our waterways!
Monica Lorraine Bernal, Heather Merckle and Sabrina Barrios, the three artists featured in Ground Control currently at No. 4 Studio through May 14, draw on physics, cosmology and symbolism to create three distinct bodies of work, which altogether pose engaging questions on the way we perceive reality.
Sabrina Barrios’ outstanding site specific installation “The Earth Experiment” consists of white strings of different thickness which are arranged in a web of geometric patterns, multiply in a mirrored backdrop and glow under ultraviolet light. Once you enter this linear maze, you are locked inside a convincing matrix which alludes to the cosmos and to the collective unconsciousness. Outside of this bubble, and totally out of our reach, floating linear hieroglyphics in a totem shape represent the forces beyond our control which are manipulating our perception. This linear totem may read as power, collective memory, or blind fate among other possible interpretations.
By utilizing relatively simple means like string, fishing wire, mirror, and light, Barrios creates an engaging experience of a parallel universe which is both hermetic and full of possibilities, evoking a Borges parable or Plato’s cave allegory. “I use visually simple symbols (sacred geometry) to tell a story. I like to compare it to a dream, in which you can’t always verbalize your experiences, but you often remember their feeling,” says the Brazilian born, Brooklyn based multimedia artist who moved to NYC eight years ago for an MFA at Pratt. Barrios says that traveling and spending longer periods of time in places like Southeast Asia and Europe inform her work in substantial ways. “I visit places of ancient ruins, pyramids, temples, tribes, to understand the knowledge that is passed from a generation to the next. I combine ancient knowledge with conspiracy theories,” says Barrios. She start her projects with research on quantum physics, mythology, and ancient civilizations like Mayan, Egyptian and Sumerian, along with internet pseudo news, overall aiming to create portals which are open to alternate realities and hidden dimensions.
Heather Merckle, who lives and works in Brooklyn, is also fascinated by the intersection between art and science, posing the question what happens when you give elusive ideas such as black holes, vacuums of space, and quantum fields a physical presence. In “This has no sensible dimensions” installation, a black matte canvas acts as the background for the exploration of multi-dimensional space. Merckle imagines the curvature of space and time, questioning “how it slows and sags, gravity and its presence, black holes and surface tension.” Using materials like polyester ribbon, acrylic cut-outs, foam, and paper, she created an installation that measures hundred forty two inches high, but feels monumental in scale.
On a smaller scale and with a more surreal bent, Monica Lorraine Bernal also references in her drawings cosmology and optics through playful and imaginative forms. Her white abstracted linear marks and abstracted forms on black surface evoke a sense of a microcosmic world with an enigmatic set of rules, vast and confined simultaneously. Bernal, who was born in Bogota, raised in Los Angeles, and moved to NYC in 2009 to earn an MFA from Parsons, explains that in these drawings she envisioned invisible light, referencing our evolutionary inability to see radio, infrared, ultraviolet, X-ray, and gamma-ray. “Here, invisible light and its color spectrum is reinvented and translated into a meditative, yet energetic imagination of an unearthly existence, whether brightening up a parallel universe, teetering on a black hole, or hazily shining through a planet’s moon. And this was a response to Heather’s black holes and Sabrina’s parallel worlds,” says Bernal. Overall, “Ground Control” builds an engaging thematic show which invites the viewer to reflect on the limitation of human perception and the uplifting possibilities in creative imagination.
Ground Control is open April 14th – May 14th at No.4 Studio
Exhibition hours are Friday through Sunday 1-6pm and by appointment
Liz Jaff is a Bushwick based artist who has rigorously explored the structural and aesthetic possibilities in ephemeral materials, specifically paper. AIB interviewed Jaff about her work process, her development as an artist, and the genesis of her current show at Robert Henry Contemporary.
AIB: Tell me about your affiliation to Bushwick.
Liz Jaff: I moved my studio to Bushwick early in 2014. I had been splitting my time between New York City and Southampton, NY and was beginning to prepare for a show with Robert Henry Contemporary. The gallery and I agreed it would work well to be close by. My studio is part of Brooklyn Brush studios, a supportive environment- clean and quiet- with the most exceptional people who run and maintain it.
AIB: “Wallflower”, your current show at Robert Henry Contemporary features a recent body of work. Altogether I see your drawings and installation in the gallery as a meditative space with dark undertones, as if the emotional undercurrents that have always existed in your work are gushing into the surface. This brings to my mind Freudian terms and some political context—are you thinking along these lines? Tell me about the relationship between this body of work and your previous work.
Liz Jaff: When I close the studio door, and am by myself, the freshest, most authentic place to go is inward. I would be happy if some of that feeling of contemplation carries over into how the work exists in the gallery. Most of what I do starts from a deeply personal place. I then set up a physical structure within which my thoughts and ideas can live in a physical one. With the Wallflower works, I have let some of the formality drop away. It was necessary here partially because of the less controlled process of making the Black Magic drawings. In my previous installations, I took my experience from one place and distilled it down to a simple unit or form which can then be repeated, installed, and used to create a new space. It is left to the viewer to interpret; to find their own experience. Having the opportunity to watch people interact with past works, I recognize that the objects or installations find their own unique relationship with the world. With “Wallflower”, I wanted the works to be performers of sorts, and I step away no longer a part of the party, so to speak. Showing the work is an opportunity to be generous and I hope it can offer a moment of reprieve from some of the anxiety and stress of recent events.
AIB: Tell me more about “Wallflower”. I am curious to know more about the dripping ink installation and how it relates to the drawings on the wall.
Liz Jaff: “Wallflower” includes a group of ink drawings called “Black Magic”, and an apparatus/sculptural object called “Heartbreaker”. The Black Magics are an evolution of a practice I have had in my studio for more than fifteen years. A lot of my work is slow and repetitive to make, but the ink on paper is fast and less predictable. The drawings have become larger and more high contrast than in the past and are influenced, among other things, by Flamenco and Butoh performance, which I enjoy quite a bit. The drawings feel as if something is recorded in motion and we do not know at what stage. Time is captured for an instance. Together the group references film strips or photographic contact sheets, and suggests documenting a larger motion or action. I wanted to combine these with something that could happen very slowly in the gallery, bringing together a record of something fast with that of something unraveling in front of you. These two notions of time suggest longing and a desire to remember and sustain certain moments.
AIB: You reference in your work ideas of love and sacrifice, commitment, time and space. Can you elaborate on that?
Liz Jaff: Love is so good. I think we all want to sustain it. Sacrifice and commitment are longer, slower ideas, which require a different kind of patience and time. I think it is important to find visual ways to talk about all of them, give a feeling of their own character and how we experience it. I think I could find a lot of ways to talk about this for a long time.
AIB: You are coming from painting (RISD). How do you see your work in relationship to painting?
Liz Jaff: I liked painting but I do not think I communicated well in paint. When I reached a place where I began to know what was important for me to talk about, I realized the language I was using was not working. So I changed it. When I speak with friends who are painters, there seems to be a relationship to how we talk about space and ideas, but not specifically to medium.
AIB: Where do you see your work in context of minimalists like Sol Lewitt and Agnes Martin?
Liz Jaff: Well, they both have simultaneously underlying and visible structures. For them it may often be a geometric grid. For me it is the circle used in repetition. I see Lewitt as being grounded to the floor and architecture, while Martin found all the spaces in between. I think I am looking for a balance of both. I am acutely aware of many of the lessons from other artists, and often like to reference these quietly in the work.
AIB: It seems that your preferred medium is paper. Tell me about the genesis of that fascination and how do you see it in relation to traditional origami?
Liz Jaff: Using paper came from necessity and realizing that the how and the what of the work needed to be the same. I wanted something that could exist as a two dimensional plane and also be manipulated to define three dimensional spaces. It needed to suggest something ephemeral and basic, or fundamental. Paper has a great range of structural and aesthetic possibilities. My first large scale installations were conceived first in a hotel room and then on a folding table in a small studio apartment. Paper was light weight and the forms could be folded and stored away easily. When some other material speaks more effectively, then I will use it. Origami has its own particular rules and complexities very different from my own. I purposely avoid it as to find my own way into using the materials.
AIB: Tell me about your process. (how do you come up with compositions, are you drawing on narrative-emotion-event, etc. your technique)
Liz Jaff: I often start with a basic feeling or sensation of something – an experience, a place, a person. I think about where it came from. It is pretty simple. This takes me on a daydream of storytelling, creating a kind of personal narrative. I then envision formally what I think would resonate with the viewer physically and visually. There is usually research at this point. The idea takes form and goes on a journey. I like to use fast and slow processes depending on my mindset balancing activities which require more quiet focus with those that are executed more immediately.
AIB: You have the most intriguing titles. I am curious to know if you see the title as a poetic counterpoint to your visual syntax; are they meant to be a challenging clue; or maybe both?
Liz Jaff: Language is a remarkable thing both visually and verbally. I like to play with the interaction of the two and titles are a great way to do this. Poets are so good at this. I like words with multiple meanings, which suggest an action or motion. Some titles are quite literal to my experience, while some are more encoded and less obvious. It is important to me to leave space for the viewer’s own interpretation. Titles are often a great opportunity for humor.
AIB: What are you working on now? Would you like to share upcoming projects?
Liz Jaff: I am in the planning phase of an outdoor project to be done in Boston in the early Fall of this year and will have a solo project in Maine after that. I am thinking about video….and sewing something for my mom.
AIB: Anything else art-related you would like me to ask?
Liz Jaff: You have asked quite a bit. I wish there were space and time for more conversation.
Liz Jaff: Wallflower, through April 9, 2017
Robert Henry Contemporary
56 Bogart St
Brooklyn, NY 11206
Ellen Hackl Fagan, the artist, gallerist and curator who runs ODETTA, is having a show at Real Art Ways in Hartford, CT. It is curated by David Borawski, and runs till Feb 19th. AIB interviewed her by email about her diverse roles, exhibitions, and overall vision.
AIB: How long have you been associated with Bushwick and in what forms?
EHF: I’ve been working in Bushwick since late May 2014. Prior to that I had my studio in Harlem, mainly in the barrio. From the moment I registered for Bushwick Open Studios, other artist/curator/gallerists have invited me to work with them, and we exchange opportunities often. There’s a strong sense of community here, about raising the quality of our galleries by supporting one another.
AIB: Tell me about the genesis of ODETTA.
EHF: I’ve been organizing, hanging, creating exhibitions of art since 1982. I’d been looking for the right space to both live and work, for several years. I wanted a gallery space where people could see the work from the street and then walk right in. Also, I was looking for a space that could handle exhibiting large-scale sculpture and painting. Finding that combined use space proved impossible in my price range. When I decided to look at leasing strictly commercial spaces instead, I walked into this building the very first day. My landlord loves the arts and had put in the glass front, hoping to attract a gallerist tenant. So I can’t live here, but it’s definitely where I’m getting some good work done.
3 ½ weeks after signing the lease, I designed and built out the space, incorporating my studio into the back of the gallery space, and opened ODETTA the day Bushwick Open Studios_2014 weekend started with a four-person show titled Opening Day. This featured the work of artist/gallerists Joe Amrhein, Rob de Oude, Enrico Gomez, and artist Marcus Linnenbrink. The place sang with color and artists and the culmination of 30 + years of art and practice was launched in its new home. That was one of the most fun evenings of my life. The neighborhood welcomed me completely.
AIB: You are an artist, gallerist, curator. How do these roles inform each other and how do you prioritize?
EHF: I think it’s difficult to prioritize, but these sides all support each other. I’d like to believe I’m an interesting curator because I see things from an artist’s perspective. If I’m working for myself, rather than the gallery, I try to give that some attention mid-week every week. Multiple roles have all always been a part of my overall practice. I’m one of 8 children, and married into a family of 12 kids, so I’m used to chaos.
AIB: You are having now a big exhibition in CT at Real Art Ways. What can you tell me about it ?
EHF: Since mid-November, Into the Blue Again, curated by artist David Borawski, has been running concurrently with Kurt Steger’s solo exhibition, Scribing the Void. Real Art Ways www.realartways.org, is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year. They’re a remarkable institution. Paving the way for interdisciplinary arts as early pioneers in experimental music and film, along with solo exhibitions of some of our best contemporary artists. David placed my works in a solo exhibition in one of their longer, narrow gallery spaces. My 9’ tall blue painting found its home on a singular wall that soars 18’ x 14 ‘ wide. I have experimented with the orientation of my blue paintings, sculpting them while drying in order to amplify their dynamic patterns and to create a humming sort of tension with them just lifted off the ground. Along with large works on paper, the viewer is immersed in this blue environment, creating a joyful space to connect in a full body experience with this gorgeous blue.
AIB: ODETTA is remarkable for incorporating poetry, performance and dance in dialogue with the visual art exhibitions. What is your vision for that in future programming?
EHF: I plan to continue introducing the community to innovative artists who want to share their talents with our enthusiastic audience. Expanding the programming into other genres builds the gallery’s audience. Coming up: Creative Tech Week in May brings the tech world into the gallery setting, integrated into an exhibition about healing systems created by Nature to restore and regenerate itself in the wake of human intervention.
AIB: What is your vision for the art exhibitions in 2017-18?
EHF: I plan to have some exhibitions revolve around major themes in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake like our next show, River Woman, featuring works by Nancy Cohen, Fritz Horstman, Ellen Kozak, and Kathleen Vance. A special guest event will an introduction/reception to Riverkeeper. Future exhibitions this year are mainly focused on healing. I feel we’re all in need of that. 2018 is the Year of Color for ODETTA. Programming is going to be all about my favorite topic, color.
AIB: Can you give an insight on how you pick the artists?
EHF: I think, in many ways, the artists pick me. Through studio visits and regular interactions, I get to know their work. If I see a high degree of craftsmanship and intention, and they seem easy to work with, then it’s a matter of how to fit their work into the puzzle. Right now, I’m still in the introductory phase of getting to know artists. I’m looking for quality, a subtle humor and intelligence, compassion, and beauty.
AIB: How does the change in the neighborhood affect the art scene and can you share any concerns and hopes for the near future?
EHF: I see the neighborhood as prime for becoming another extension of Williamsburg. As in other areas, artists and galleries will get pushed out ultimately to luxury brand stores. But artists have always challenged the wisdom of a business model in favor of experimentation. So, a constant migration to affordable space is part of the process. ODETTA is a project that can move around if necessary, and I will continue to develop satellite opportunities for artists’ works to be seen by wider audiences.
AIB: The country has gone through a political quake. Will that affect your art program or your own artwork?
EHF: For our current show, the elegant black works of Thomas Lendvai, Janet Passehl, and Esther Podemski transmit a funereal hush to the exhibition. Our upcoming show River Woman has a strong message of healing the earth and one another. As we continue through 2017, every exhibition is directly offering messages of hope and loss as the artists themselves experience the ramifications of this new administration’s tactics.
AIB: Where can we see your work next?
EHF: I will be showing my work at A.I.R. in an exhibition titled Space Craft, curated by Liz Surbeck Biddle, featuring works by Tomoko Abe, Liz Surbeck Biddle, Ellen Hackl Fagan, and Jackie Welsh. Opening reception Friday March 17, 6-8 pm. This exhibition runs thru April 16, 2017.
April 4- June 29, 2017, What Does Blue Sound Like?, solo exhibition featuring my web based phone app, The Reverse Color Organ, at the New York Public Library, Mid-Manhattan Library Windows. Artist dialogue with guest artists Joseph Celli and Hap Tivey, April 29, 2017 fromj 2:30-4:30 pm.
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.
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.
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: email@example.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.
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.
Underdonk started in 2013 as a small experimental project space and later evolved into a vibrant artist-run gallery located at 1329 Willoughby. Underdonk’s eleven members operate an ambitious exhibition program such as the notable 2015 exhibition “Paul Klee,” which featured work by twenty contemporary artists who referenced the 20th century modernist master. AIB interviewed Underdonk artists via email and they responded as a group:
AIB: How do you know each other?
Underdonk: Some of us are alumni of Hunter College, although at various times; a few of us met at openings or through other art channels.
AIB: How did you form the group?
Underdonk: Underdonk was founded in 2013 as a means to focus our separate curatorial interests into one sustainable project. Some of us were relatively fresh from graduate school and the gallery felt like a way to stay connected to the artistic community we had established there. Some of us have past experience working with artist- run gallery spaces, or have been otherwise involved in the Bushwick art scene. It started in the studios of some of our original Underdonk members at the 17-17 Troutman building as a small experimental project space and then later grew because of the enthusiasm that was started there into our larger space.
AIB: Where did the name come from?
Underdonk: It derives from the street name Onderdonk which is next to the Troutman building where we originated, and means under the hill in the Dutch. It’s catchy, and was the only name that stuck.
AIB: What made you chose Bushwick/Ridgewood as a hub?
Underdonk: Underdonk began at 1717 Troutman, where a few galleries like Regina Rex, and Ortega y Gassett, were also operating. Bushwick was attractive because of its open, industrial architecture, proximity to the L, and affordable rents. The last factor turned out to be unreliable, when in 2015 our landlords at 17-17 Troutman gave the boot to all of the galleries leasing space in the building. We moved to a temporary location in Williamsburg, while hunting for our current home at 1329 Willoughby. We have found a great landlord and are lucky to again be in the vicinity of other artist-run spaces such as Transmitter, TSA, and Microscope.
AIB: Tell me about your organization and mode of operation.
Underdonk: In curatorial and administrative matters we pride ourselves on our flexibility. We accommodate and respect one another’s individual interests and scheduling constraints. That said, we meet no less than once a month, and we email all the time. Keeping membership at eleven allows each of us to curate around one show a year, with room for our annual benefit auction. That is happening soon, in late February/early March, via Paddle8. We are also always happy to hear proposals for visiting curator exhibitions, performances, and readings.
AIB: How do you see Underdonk in context of other artist groups in the area?
Underdonk: We feel that professionalism is an important aspect of what we do. For instance, we recently acquired both fine art and liability insurance. We also believe, however, that in certain spaces, like our own, professionalism can be overemphasized, to the detriment of experimentation and openness. We hope to remain broad-minded and open to new ideas, regardless of any shifts in the character of the neighborhood and New York at large.
Osamu Kobayashi, “Woogie”, Solo Exhibition, Installation image, 2016
AIB: Do you share an aesthetic vision for your group and curatorial projects?
Underdonk: No, not officially! Members are unrestrained when it comes to organizing shows. Most of us turn to one another for feedback or suggestions on artists to include, so there ends up being a sense of continuity.
AIB: Do you do collaborative work?
Underdonk: We often co-curate shows, and we have participated in several exchanges with other galleries. We sometimes invite guest curators to put together shows in our space, without the exchange component. Whenever we organize large scale events, such as our annual auction, it is a huge group effort. All of this we consider as collaboration. On an individual level, many of us have collaborated with other artists outside of Underdonk.
AIB: What are your goals for the next few years?
Underdonk: One major goal is to bring more people living in the Bushwick neighborhood into the gallery, as viewers and as participating artists. We would love to be a community fixture, not just an insular art world fixture. We also hope to participate in more gallery exchanges and art fairs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
SRO GALLERY, a new exhibition space located in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, features works by Ashley Garrett and Zach Seeger, two artists with long ties to Bushwick. AIB interviewed the two artists before the upcoming opening of their exhibition.
AIB: How long have you been working in Bushwick?
Garrett: I joined Bushwick-based artist-run collective Underdonk in 2014, and I’ve been frequenting Bushwick often for shows and studio visits with Bushwick-based artists since 2013. I had a solo show and group shows around the neighborhood.
Seeger: Although I no longer work in Bushwick, the impetus of the current exhibition at SRO began at 117 Grattan, where I started using the eye motif a year ago. I have participated in shows in Bushwick and for BOS in 2013 I set up work on the street, and in my parked van in front of 117 Grattan. I also hung a fifteen foot un-stretched painting off the roof of the Active Space. There is a contagious energy for painting in Bushwick and I feel a kinship to many artists there.
AIB: What drew you to Bushwick?
Garrett: Bushwick was the first community of artists I got to know after I moved back to New York; everyone was welcoming and friendly. After graduating from SVA in 2008 I moved upstate, where I rode and trained horses professionally for three years. Bushwick helped orient me to my new situation. It was great to see and meet so many different kinds of artists with serious practices, from a variety of generations. I met there a lot of the friends I have now, and artists I respect.
Seeger: I was first drawn to Bushwick in 2010 when a friend moved to the neighborhood. I started visiting spaces, studios, and people and spent a lot of time at Wayfarers with the group of artists working there. In 2013 I was thrilled to be introduced to the community of artists at Life on Mars Gallery, where I felt an affinity and closeness to the painterly approaches, attitudes, and images.
AIB: What is the genesis of this two person show?
Garrett: It came out of the studio visits we did and our discussion of the relationship between my ribbon and Zach’s eye series of paintings. Zach was engaged in a practice of investigating eyes as I was in seeing and articulating the ribbons. At RISD, Zach installed this show as pairs of ribbons and eyes with lots of space around them. In SRO, Cecilia Whittaker-Doe and Don Doe’s unique space, we installed a kind of swirling constellation.
Seeger: The affinity to one another’s work was instantaneous. We read each other’s work with an intuitive eye, and understood what each other was trying to do in the work. It was a great pairing and we really didn’t need to talk much over; it was an obvious choice.
AIB: In this show each of you presents a distinct body of work which reads to me like a series with an underlying theme. Did you work on them with a mutual theme in mind?
Garrett: This series of paintings is based on ribbons I won at horse shows from when I was eight years old until recently. The ribbons represent judgments made by the world of a particular performance. However, the actual experience is less literal and more complex than the color of the ribbon: sometimes last place is a great accomplishment, while first place can be a disappointment. The ribbon paintings break down traditional understandings of winning and losing to see into the wealth of complex and often contradictory emotions within the specificities of remembering a particular place, time, and what happened there. Each ribbon may be a synecdoche or metaphor for the physical performance and the skill levels demonstrated through the struggle with and against oneself. They represent anxiety, hope, achievement, recognition, failure, loss, weakness, power, sensitivity, resignation, embarrassment, shame, joy, and love. I am interested in holding the memories of each ride, win and loss, as I make each painting, to see and feel the whole range of experience and being-in-emotion.
Seeger: The series of eyes I have been working on is a formal motif to frame images and forms within a peripheral context. The paintings are intended to be simultaneously read as interior and exterior; of the body and looking out through a body. I think of them as psychic objects clumsily camouflaged with paint.
AIB: What can you tell me about your thought process when you started working on these series?
Garrett: This is a body of work I began in the summer of 2014 in upstate New York. I was working on a previous body of work of small still life paintings based on Christmas ornaments that I had made as a child and I was looking for another form for that kind of personal object, related to individual qualities and emotions. When I saw these ribbons I had won hanging on the wall, I thought of the memories they evoked, an accumulation of years of practice, time and care. I began by painting the ribbons as objects with the experiences in mind. The more paintings I made, the less I looked at the actual ribbon and the more improvisation happened. These paintings are my way of exploring a variety of forms, feeling, intuitions, and situations in connection to both still life and landscape.
Seeger: These paintings are indebted to landscape and place. Many of them literally painted en plein air before applying the eye motif over the image. Painting is how I see; it is how I understand things; it is how I look at the world. I’m not sure if my work is evolving but I am constantly working. It’s like a nightmare where I find myself entering an apartment with bloodstains on the wall and a dead body on the floor. I check to see if the person is ok, but I get blood all over me. In a panic I try to distance myself from the body; I’m not guilty of this crime! But my bloody fingerprints are all over the victim, walls, and surfaces of the apartment. I try to clean up the mess thinking the police will think it is me who did this horror. It is a cycle of staining, smearing, smudging and scrubbing-in the end I make the scene presentable enough.
AIB: How do your paintings relate to each other and how do they differ?
Garrett: They both involve the reversal of inside and outside spaces within a limited range of formal parameters. Also both bodies of work are about different kinds of seeing coming from different points of view: Zach’s eye imagery is specific to his experience, and my ribbon images represent my memory of specific experiences as a young child up until a few years ago.
Seeger: The paintings relate to one another in scale and presence. They are rooted in looking. They are not intuitive expressions or descriptions of things, but rather bleak records of memory embedded in our own baroque sensitivities to paint and form. They are similar but arrive at their distinctive image by different modes of operation and paint application.
AIB: We live in time of transition-social, political, ecological. Do you relate to that in your paintings, and if so, in what way?
Garrett: I don’t think the political has to have a direct effect on work to have had an impact on an artist. I think a lot of artists are making work or are trying to make work with or in spite of their complex feelings about the drastic political changes ahead and that can express itself in a multitude of ways. Because of my focus on the landscape I have been thinking about landscape as it relates to climate change and how the landscape itself can and will become a kind of hostile actor against us pretty soon, and then our relationship to it will change drastically. I’m interested in how that transformation might express itself in my work as well as the work of other artists.
Seeger: I am not a political artist, but there probably isn’t anything more poignant than the real-time collapse of species and witnessing a complete transformation of the earth. I can say that I am not an expressionist; I am not reactionary. I am interested in the formal language of paint: recording and painting a formal reality that is my world. In that sense I am sharing, but my work is not about communicating some sort of emotional current. I think painting is a medium that allows a viewer to see the world on human terms through viewing of the work.
SRO Gallery 1144 Dean Street, Crown Heights, Brooklyn NY 11216