‘Bushwick Tales’ Exhibits Urbanism through Art and Artifact

The group show Bushwick Tales exemplifies a Bushwick urbanism while conjuring up whimsical tales.

Bushwick Tales was a gallery show curated by artist and writer Etty Yaniv, a contributor to this blog, featuring sculptures, paintings, drawings, photographs, collages and a performance the night of the opening, which was opened at 117 Grattan Street over the weekend of Bushwick Open Studios and closed October 16, 2016.

Yaniv explained that since the show took place during BOS weekend, she decided to go with a large group and diverse work. After several conversations with various artists she selected artworks from Fanny Allié, Nancy Baker, Dasha Bazanova, Noa Charuvi, Jaynie Gillman Crimmins, Ashley Garrett, Michal Gavish, Peter Gynd, Liz Jaff, Amy Mahnick, Anki King, Eliot Markell, James Prez, Evan Reehl Ryer, Bob Seng, Patricia Satterlee, Natalie Simon, Fedele SpadaforaTrish Tillman, Jeanne Tremmel, Brian Wood, Mary Ivy Martin and included one of her own. All these artists are staples in the Bushwick arts community in some way. She said she wanted to avoid a salon style exhibition and made an attempt to provide each artist a distinct presence, “opting for a mélange of sculptural work and wall work to engage the whole space.” 

Attending the invitational exhibition reminded me of morning walks through the neighborhood. One of my favorite paths takes me past the small manufacturing district along Waterbury Street then over to Newtown Creek. When the metal garage doors are open I get a glimpse into the mysterious going-ons of each business. When the doors are rolled down, it’s the remnants along the curbs, the stains on the concrete and the things stuck in the gutters that provide hints about what happens inside. For me, this show captured the industrial-urban essence that surrounds Bushwick, through forms, choice of palettes and overall aesthetics.

For instance, in The Carrier Series, the silhouettes created with black plastic bags, hand-sewn on fabric by Fanny Allié, looked like the familiar and unfamiliar figures carrying their burdens along Morgan Avenue. As you stared at these figures the feelings oscillated between lonely and heroic and then each became dark compositions that engaged one’s sense of structure. Even though pieces were static, a lenticular approach also projected the quality of breathing.

James Prez showcased several sculptures from a larger body of work called Booktures. The artifacts from these artfully composed objects could have easily been taken out of a waste bin from one of the nearby toy distribution centers. Some are fastened atop old books. All of them strike your imagination and random narratives begin to build – or memories of familiar toys, like horses and ducks, quickly flash by. Unlike the narratives implied by Prez’s work, Amy Mahnick manipulates industrial found objects, like tissue boxes and egg cartons, for their design affect. How they are situated in space is also important.     

Fanny Allié, Woman Wheel (TheCarriers), plastic bag hand-stitched onto fabric, 2014-15, 14" x 19"
Fanny Allié, Woman Wheel (TheCarriers), plastic bag hand-stitched onto fabric, 2014-15, 14″ x 19″

 

James Prez, Composites from Booktures, 2016
James Prez, partial installation view
Amy Mahnick, Quatrefoil, carryout coffee tray, 2016, 7.5”x7.5”x2”
Amy Mahnick, Quatrefoil, carryout coffee tray, 2016, 7.5”x7.5”x2”

The little ceramic creature, Misunderstood, by Dasha Bazanova lives underneath the bridge at English Kills, between Morgan and Varick Avenues. It is kind and humble and it’s main job is to bless the tiny school of silver fish that swirl in the creek so that they eventually make their way to healthier waters. Go ahead, go out there one early morning and it might grace you with its presence. Not far from Misunderstood is Pompeii on Parade #1 skiing its way down Flushing Avenue in the winter. Elliot Markell creates imaginary characters from found objects. In this piece, the anthropomorphic shape is wonderfully executed with the use of concrete, rebar, paint, old gloves and found wood.

Michal Gavish goes weird science with Nano Portraiture, creating large petri dishes that capture the biological structures of the polluted creek or the composition  that can be found in the nearby oil refinery. That’s not really the case, but it is, when your imagination is walking through Bushwick.

The day of the opening, guests passed an old Christmas tree with two brown boots popping out of the end. At first glance it looked like a prank but then you realized there was a person embedded in the tree. Mary Ivy Martin stared straight up into the sky that night while people mistook her for trash. Her performance and subsequent documentation reflects on the blurred lines between people and nature in urban environments.

Yaniv explains, “She was lying motionless on the sidewalk outside the space in pouring rain, tucked in garbage bags and a Christmas tree. It was quite amazing to see how passersby were mostly ignoring her presence, at times even throwing garbage at her (accidentally I hope).”

16.Michal Gavish, Nano portrait 2 (Protein); acrylic on fabric and paper; 2015,12" diameter (20X20 framed)
Michal Gavish, Nano portrait 2 (Protein); acrylic on fabric and paper; 2015,12″ diameter (20X20 framed)
Noa Charuvi, Rocks and Drums, oil on canvas, 2016, 14”x18”
Noa Charuvi, Rocks and Drums, oil on canvas, 2016, 14”x18”

The paintings by Noa Charuvri capture construction details, material vignettes that are ever present as a result of the rapid reshaping of the urban landscape that is happening in Bushwick. Jeanne Tremel’s sculpture-installation, “Mindful / Landfill”, deals with displacement directly. According to Yaniv, “Jeanne’s ephemeral sculpture embodies, in a poetic way, the very essence of this Bushwick tale. It’s both sad and life affirming.” It was conceived in the artist’s old studio a few blocks away, dismantled and stored when she had to leave, then re-appeared at Venus Knitting Art Space. The sculpture-installation appears to be loosely constructed with a dense amount of debris, dirt, plant material and found objects woven in an empty mattress wire structure. This metal cloud of debris is propped up approximately 24″ from the floor. Scattered below is a light layer of dirt that seems to have fallen from the cloud. 

All these works captured a kind of Bushwick urbanism. Curator Etty Yaniv further explains, “I definitely wanted to establish an underlying sense of place in this show, particularly of urban spaces such as Bushwick. In my own work I am very drawn to the idea of place and time specificity, so that is inherently part of my thought process when I am curating as well.”  

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.