Here’s a more recent portrait from this past Arts In Bushwick Youth Expo at Silent Barn in May that we took in their courtyard.
Here’s a more recent portrait from this past Youth Expo and Skillshare hosted by Educated Little Monsters and Arts in Bushwick at Silent Barn this past May. We took this shot in the courtyard with the staff from Mellow Pages whose library sits in a trailer there. The event, which featured local artists teaching their craft local to youngsters, was a wonderful opportunity to reach out to a community that I see mostly at nighttime in the company of adults. When taking my group portrait for their first expo two months previous, I gave a short lesson on how I gather folks together using at least two instant film cameras. Many of the kids seen here were present for the first one so tried to give a ‘201’ version of the talk I’d given before.
Starting with an announcement that the portrait would be taken in front of Mellow Pages’ trailer library, I proceeded to add signs, arrange staff members and feature surrounding art.
‘A good documentary photograph is loaded with information,’ I told them, ‘and the title sign of this library, the mural above and the participating artist’s logo on the stickers some of you hold will give future observers an accurate idea of where and when your were in Bushwick at this moment. And you guys are information as well. These future observers will be better able to determine what time of year it was is by your clothes, the clothes themselves can date the era and with so little contrast over your faces under our outdoor lighting they can correctly theorize that it was overcast day.’
Explaining the features of my medium to folks as diverse culturally as they were age-wise was a delight and its instruction coupled with practice makes the whole of my work worthwhile.
To participate in Nick’s next Arts in Bushwick group portrait please join us for Community Day on June 17 at House of YES, and be at the main stage by 3:15pm.
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
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
In the celebratory spirit of the 10th anniversary of Bushwick Open Studios, on October 1-2, 2016, Arts in Bushwick is producing its annual exhibition, Seeking Space, an open-call exhibition with the theme Making the Future.
Arts in Bushwick seeks to open a conversation about Bushwick’s future as a creative community, asking artists to consider, ‘What does our future look like? What can it look like? How can we manifest the future we want to experience?’
The show will open September 30, 6-10pm, and run through October 16, 2016 at DAVID&SCHWEITZER CONTEMPORARY, a new gallery launched by Michael David and Keith Schweitzer at the former Life on Mars space in the 56 Bogart building. The show is organized in collaboration with Arts in Bushwick and co-curated by David and Julie Torres. The space will host discussions and performances during, and the two weekends following, Bushwick Open Studios.
Arts in Bushwick will also launch its first publishing effort at the September 30 opening night. Making History Bushwick is a collaborative effort that showcases over four hundred artists living and working in Bushwick, alongside the organization’s history, and a discussion of gentrification and the arts. It will be available for sale at a discounted rate at the gallery during BOS.
David, who has arrived in Bushwick three years ago both as an artist and Life on Mars gallery director says that, “Bushwick is one of the last communities in New York where artists, and the galleries that support them, can still take risks, make mistakes, experiment, and let creativity flourish,” an unabashedly optimistic take on the show theme, Making the Future. Many changes have taken place in the Bushwick art scene throughout the past ten years, and there is a sense among many local artists, writers, and gallerists that this energetic art hub is at a crossing road.
While that might be true, the Bushwick of today is much different than it once was. Loren Munk is a writer and artist whose work Bushwick unfinished 2003-2014 (oil on linen, 84×72″, 2013-16) is the centerpiece of Seeking Space: Making the Future. He has always been interested in the future of art, artists, and how change happens and one day back in 2003 he pedaled out to the Morgan / Flushing nexus to take a look around.
“No one even knew what to call the area…various tags were tried, but Bushwick stuck,” he recalls. Monk says that Bushwick is facing the same pressures and potential over-development that have occurred in SOHO, the East Village, Chelsea and Williamsburg. He foresees larger, more commercial galleries moving in, and smaller, less commercial spaces moving elsewhere.
Shanna Maurizi, who has also been involved in the Bushwick art scene for the past thirteen years, expresses a similar view. Maurizi, an artist, experimental filmmaker and the founder of the artist-run collective space Songs for Presidents, observes that “most young artists can’t afford to live and work here.” She thinks that an art scene will remain, perhaps as a hub for mid-level galleries, but the artists will live and work somewhere else.
Rob de Oude, an artist and gallerist who has been involved with a few different spaces in the neighborhood since around 2008, including Parallel Art Space, and Transmitter, also sees escalating real estate prices as a crucial game changer.
“In the earlier days everyone would see each other at pretty much the same openings. Now several arts communities seem to be operating simultaneously, while at the same time being pressured to scatter due to increased real estate values,” he says.
With a more optimistic view, Paul D’Agostino, an artist, writer, translator, curator and educator who has been active in the Bushwick community even before opening Centotto, a gallery in his loft, in 2008, interprets the change that has occurred in the Bushwick art scene as a process of growth and maturity. “The consistent increase in the number of artists and art spaces in the area has proven to be advantageous for everyone involved, and it has resulted in an ever greater spotlight being cast on Bushwick as a reliably lively, energetic, and in many ways important art locus,” he says.
Lacey Fekishazy who has been involved in the Bushwick art community for the past ten years as artist and gallerist, also feels that “there is still a creative energy that can be tapped here.” After living in five different NYC neighborhoods, she finds that Bushwick by far gives her the biggest sense of belonging to a community. Fekishazy, an artist and founder of the gallery SARDINE, observes that when she started her space in 2011, there were about twenty art spaces, and now there are about sixty two. “My hope is that Bushwick will continue to be an inclusive community supportive of creative individuals who take risks,” she sums up with an open-ended glance at the future.
Whatever the future holds, join Arts in Bushwick at the opening night of Seeking Space: Making the Future on September 30, and Bushwick Open Studios, October 1-2, 2016 to join in this important conversation.
Seeking Space opening night & Making History Bushwick Book Launch September 30, 6-10pm, September 30 – October 16, 2016, in collaboration with David&Schweitzer Contemporary
56 BOGART, BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
OPEN THURSDAY THROUGH SUNDAY, 1:00—6:00 PM
Featured image courtesy of Loren Monk, Bushwick unfinished 2003-2014, oil on linen, 84×72″, 2013-16
For Ellen Hackl Fagan, ODETTA’s gallerist and curator, titling the current sculpture show Thomas Lendvai: 10 was a no-brainer. When artist Thomas Lendvai came up with the title “Ten,” which marks the first time in ten years that the sculptor has been given a chance to show his large-scale sculptures in a New York gallery, Hackl Fagan embraced it willingly. Serendipitously, it also marks the tenth show at ODETTA.
Hackl Fagan recalls how Lendvai, an artist who also works as a carpenter in a shop near the gallery, has been coming to ODETTA since it opened during Bushwick Open Studios in 2014. When she realized he worked with wood and had access to tools, she asked him to help with small projects, and ultimately last summer, she asked the artist for a studio visit. Seeing his work, Hackl Fagen made a mental note that Lendvai knew how to build large-scale sculpture. She notes, “I began to think that summer would be an ideal time to take bigger risks at the gallery and asked Tom to create a proposal.” Two months later, Lendvai showed her a scale model of the gallery with a sculpture placed inside the space.
After discussing different editing ideas, Lendvai came back to Hackl Fagan with a final 3D sketch of his proposal for the sculpture. “Close to installation time, I began panicking because I’d never worked with an artist from models, so I brought him back to pace the floors with me and demonstrate roughly how large it would be. That gave me renewed confidence that we wouldn’t have a redux of the Stonehenge debacle in the movie Spinal Tap!,” Hackl Fagan recalls with a wide smile. Having worked with the artist numerous times by then, Hackl Fagan felt she should trust him to use the space as his “residency” at ODETTA. With some help and fully at his own expense, Lendvai built the sculpture on site in two weeks.
The resulting form is striking and ambitious. Lendvai utilizes colossal and boldly tilted geometric forms to create a physically immersive site-responsive installation made of the same materials as compose the gallery walls: sheetrock and wooden beams. A huge structure in the form of a plus sign or the Roman numeral X, sections the gallery space into four quadrants, but upon entering the gallery, a viewer can perceive it only in fragments by walking and viewing it from different vantage points. In the process of navigating their way around the sculpture, visitors are constantly aware of their own body in relation to the structure and in relation to the gallery space at large. This experiential interaction with the work prompts meditation on the relationship between self, art, and architecture. Lendvai says that he wants the sculpture to be architectural but not architecture, a sculpture that references its surroundings: “Instead of a volume of mass, it’s more like a volume of space; it’s the negative space made visible,” he explains.
Influenced by the reductive aesthetics of Minimalism, X Never Marks the Spot plays with the constructs of space, time, and gravity, yet independent of any particular narrative. Its solid elegance is countered by a whimsical sense of suspended dance-like movement, echoing both an architectural form and a corporeal gesture. Lendvai notes that the internal structure is intentially visible underneath to allow the piece to “flip-flop between abstraction and representation.” This representational detail may read as a Dadaist wink but not exclusively. Lendvai adamantly says that he is searching for the meaning of art and concludes that he sees art as the experience that a visitor takes away after leaving a gallery. As she reflects on her successful experience with Lendvai’s site-specific project, Hackl Fagan is confident that she will offer other artists a similar opportunity in the future. As those who experienced Thomas Lendvai: 10 already know, visitors will benefit from her ambitious decision.
ODETTA, located at 229 Cook Street in Brooklyn, will reopen on 11 September 2015 with their eleventh show titled Seeing Sound to inaugurate the fall season
It began with a New York Times op-ed about cheap rent and plentiful space. A hashtag followed (#movetoDetroit), then billboards painting the Motor City as the next great Maker paradise. If the fix isn’t quite in, the idea has been planted that the Brooklyn Renaissance may be mature and ripe for relocation. It’s a sad tale, oft told, of artists being priced out of places they helped make cool.
In a new book Brooklyn Spaces: 50 Hubs of Culture and Creativity, writer and “hipstorian” Oriana Leckert chronicles some of the hottest venues that have made this scene unique. They range from the performance-based House of Yes to the North Brooklyn Boat Club, all built with DIY grit, boundless energy, and creativity that seems to have no limit. The book takes us inside fascinating post-industrial structures in various states of decay, but its true subject is how these spaces inspire art—a search for the soul that makes each setting sacred. Brick and mortar are the bones, imagination the spark that brings them to life.
Primarily gathering places, these venues engender “creativity, culture, and community” and are more than the sum of their re-purposed parts. Along with dynamic photographs, Leckert gives a brief history of each as well as a sense of what the creators went through to realize their vision. Far too often, it’s the familiar struggle of artists versus rising rents.
Before the possibility of Detroit being the next Brooklyn, however, Leckert’s interest was sparked when a friend drove her from Manhattan to a desolate stretch of north Brooklyn. It was 1998, she was a college sophomore, and Williamsburg was crime infested and forbidding. Yet, inside the Galapagos Art Space, Leckert discovered a vibrant world of avant-garde culture and performance art. It made a powerful impression, and she sensed that she had found her “tribe.”
Realizing that Brooklyn was going through “one of those moments,” when creative energy coalesces in a certain place at a certain time to produce a distinctive artistic era, Leckert decided to capture it. She began writing a blog called Brooklyn-Spaces, which was smart because it gave the world time to catch up to “Brooklyn cool” and let Leckert establish herself as a trustworthy source. Many of the places and productions she saw were not, in a manner of speaking, “up to code,” and organizers needed to be sure she wouldn’t rat them out.
Several Bushwick spaces have been featured in Brooklyn Spaces. Among them is Nyssa Frank’s Living Gallery, which Leckert admires for hosting a wide variety of events, including BYO art shows and Brooklyn Acts, a drama group dedicated to youth empowerment. Bushwick City Farm, though not an arts group, has also been spotlighted, having evolved out of the same can-do spirit. Begun in 2008 in an empty lot under the JMZ tracks, it moved in 2011 to a bigger lot with a darker history: gas station, apartment house, drug haven. Bushwick City Farm was granted the right to stay and now produces a huge variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers that it donates to the community. Welcoming and open, it’s a place where people can wander in to help or just sit and enjoy the scene.
Leckert believes that bonds between different people can be forged by bringing them together in one place at one time. All her selected Brooklyn spaces have come about through “luck and chance,” and all encourage people of various backgrounds, talents, and skills to mix. Such environments bring to mind the Moulin Rouge, the Parisian nightclub where artists such as Toulouse Lautrec intermingled with performers such as Jane Avril and La Goulue, with an audience of dandies, working men, and, on occasion, the Prince of Wales.
Combining a spirit of prior epochs with a recognition of our current age, Brooklyn Spaces is not only colorful and fun, but also an historic document by someone who knows the players and became one herself. It’s easy to see how. Leckert is young and outgoing, filled with an infectious excitement about Brooklyn as creative space. But she may also be a little worried.
A “hard year,” a “turning point” for many ventures, is how Leckert described 2014. Some venues closed, whereas others facing rent increases and loss of space have responded with bold second acts and the determination to proceed in a more sustainable way. Galapagos Art Space, site of Leckert’s epiphany, has moved to Detroit. According to its website: “The white-hot real estate market burning through affordable cultural habit is no longer a crisis, it’s a conclusion.” Artists are “no longer talking about the next show they hope to land. They’re talking about the next city they can land in once their current lease runs out.”
Today, a red windmill still turns atop the reinvented Moulin Rouge, but now it’s a tourist attraction, a “must-see” for visitors to Paris. There are shows and mementos, but the creative scene that sparkled during the Belle Époque has moved on. When we consider our own neighborhoods, this may make us wonder and despair: Whatever happens next, we’ll always have Brooklyn—and now this terrific book to remember it by.
After reading Lake Superior, a remarkable collection of poems and short essays by Lorine Niedecker based on a road trip she had taken through the upper Midwest, artist Catherine Haggarty knew that one day she would work with that text in some way, either as a curator or a painter. Besides its title poem, which reflects Niedecker’s impressions of the landscape she viewed through the window of her Buick in the summer of 1966, this posthumous collection (1903–1970) weaves together diverse genres such as poems, travelogue, journal, and essays to explore what constitutes a sense of place or landscape. In her recent curatorial debut at Proto gallery for the exhibition entitled We Are What the Seas Have Made Us, Haggarty asked the participating artists, many of whom are based in Bushwick, to reflect on Niedecker’s incisive description of beauty and decay in the American landscape.
All the paintings in We Are What the Seas Have Made Us hover between pure abstraction and suggestive landscape. Each artist’s departure point is different. Yet, they all manipulate surface and material to convey a particular light quality, narrative hint, or sense of tactility. “Perhaps while viewing this show, the viewer could imagine a road trip out to the Midwest like Niedecker so famously did. I would be just as pleased if people walked through the gallery and relished in the artists’ ability to use both color and landscape as viable subjects in painting,” says Haggarty.
Artist Alan Prazniak, who was raised on a horse farm in rural Pennsylvania, conveys luminous and familiar yet uncategorized patterns that change forms and meaning under the viewer’s gaze. At first, his paintings may read as vegetation such as corn fields, only to appear next as abstracted animal forms such as a flock of birds or a school of fish. Despite the natural allusions, the intense luminosity in his fuzzy pictorial fields is reminiscent of a light emitted from a screen rather than celestial sources. With humorous titles such as Soda Jerk and more literary ones such as Fish Icarus, Prazniak adds another layer to his poetic and whimsical painterly landscape puzzles.
By contrast, artist the mixed-media panels by Daniel John Gadd seem more process oriented with an emphasis on the painting as object. His pieces manifest bold materiality through richly layered mixed media and, at times, unexpected juxtapositions. In Rosemma IV, for example, Gadd creates a delightful dialogue between the framed transparent yellow Plexiglass rectangle at bottom and the almost frameless pink square on top. In a context of what can be read as pure abstraction, a small horizontal piece of frame conveys an odd narrative of absence or loss, whereas a linear curve and the pink string spilling down in front of a yellow bottom add humorous punctuation.
Providing a more direct reference to Niedecker’s discourse with the sea are the paintings by artist Dana James. The Swimmer, for example, conveys fluid shapes of cerulean rectangles with rhythmic dark stripes that become a prelude to a tempestuous symphony of blues, whites, and a delicate magenta. The juxtaposition between the flat graphic quality at bottom and the romantic narrative on top creates an intriguing tension, evading a simplistic read.
As Untitled, the paintings by artist Yevgeniya Baras exist both literally and metaphorically in this show. They exist as parallel entities to the text of Lake Superior, beginning where the words end. Equipped with an inventive and lyrical painterly language, Baras coalesces opposing shapes, colors, and textures into a fresh and enigmatic pictorial universe. In Untitled (2015), she challenges traditional notions of pictorial Dos and Don’ts such as marking the canvas dead center with cartoonish buttonlike or targetlike black circles. She further scrambles notions of foreground and background, flatness, and perspective by creating a frame within a frame. A horizontal thick dark line that divides the image in two charts the landscape: The top layered white pigment suggests a sky, and the bottom textured rich ochers with pulsating dark vertical lines suggest the earth. The generated middle border is broken at the center by an outlined rectangle, which can read as a car, a house with hints of a human body, or a framed picture. Whatever name is attached to the form, it encapsulates an intimate narrative within a larger story.
Overall, both the curator and the participating artists successfully utilize Lake Superior as an inspiring point of departure to reflect on notions of landscape, creating their own unique worlds. Within the gallery, the placement of the paintings further plays with diversity in scale and palette. Amidst realms of individual characteristics, the viewer is left to explore a fluid experience in the vast yet intimate Proto space.
We Are What the Seas Have Made Us is on view until 23 August 2015 at Proto gallery, located at 66 Willow Avenue, Hoboken, New Jersey; gallery is open to the public Wednesday to Saturday, 10AM–4PM, or by appointment
In paintings by the artist Avital Burg, paper-bag princesses and cardboard castles conjure the lavish magic of past worlds while evoking the immorality of excessive splendors in the present. All her paintings depict structures she has constructed out of humble materials such as cardboard, typically featured as main subjects, architectural models, or fashion accessories of young female characters. Whether depicting objects or figures, all of Burg’s paintings can read as portraits that convey her acute awareness of the Now while utilizing strong formal and narrative ties to the past, particularly through art history. The current exhibition titled Fancy Seeing You at Slag Gallery gives visitors an opportunity to experience first-hand these worlds created by Burg.
Recalling the inspiration for some of the work on display, Burg describes how an encounter with an exhibition of Early Renaissance portraits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art a couple of years ago transformed her notion of portrait painting. Burg’s vivid recount of her experience at the Met illustrates how art history informs her paintings. At the Early Renaissance portraiture exhibition, she was particularly moved by Andrea Mantegna’s Francesco Gonzaga, a profile of a young man wearing a big red hat. She was struck most by two notions: how the hat is as significant as the man’s features and the way Mantegna manages to evoke a strong sense of individuality without over-trying to depict likeness. On her way out, Burg stopped by the Fayum portraits from the first century CE: “Every time I read the label again with disbelief; they seem so fresh,” Burg noted. Finally, she could resist viewing what she described as one of her favorites: Balthus’s Nude Before a Mirror. “These painters from completely different times, all come together for me as one source of inspiration,” she summed up.
In some paintings at the current two-person show at Slag Gallery (works by artist Tina Schwarz compose the adjoining exhibit titled Involuntary Voyeurs), Burg references specific masterpieces. Portrait of Adi as Maria Portinari is based on Hans Memling’s double portrait that was commissioned for Maria’s wedding to Tommaso di Folco Portinari, a bank manager for the Medici family (she was 14, he was 38). “It is a dark painting both in terms of palette and subject,” Burg says. She focuses merely on the female side of the portrait, creating a light and larger than life portrait, which playfully juxtaposes Memling’s dark and tiny image. Maria Portinari’s elaborate gold necklace is replaced with a modest chain and the heavy velvet gown with brown butcher paper held together with binder clips and masking tape. Burg indicates that all this was done with great respect for art tradition, but with little respect to the social divisions that enabled such marriages and exaggerated splendor to exist and continue to exist today in different ways.
Each of Burg’s portraits evokes a distinct sense of staged theatrical drama, in which both the artist and her animate or inanimate models co-inhabit. She affirms that her models have to be people who are close to her, preferably women, and adds that dressing them up becomes like “a bond of two kids enraptured in a make-believe game.” In this choreographed play, building her cardboard props from found boxes is also significant. “Who knows where the box I find came from or what it carried. In a way, the cardboard almost looks like a person’s skin to me, with its different wrinkles, stamps, and tapes,” she explains. Burg, an Israeli-born artist who has lived in New York for the past five years, says that boxes and cardboard also allude to the instability of an immigrant’s life. For the viewer, these painted props readily read as vivid metaphors for the fragility and absurdity of the human comedy at large.
Although subject matter plays an important role when conceiving her paintings, formal elements such as composition and color drive Burg’s process. “I constantly look for good excuses to put paint on canvas, to play around with the endless tactile and tonal options that it offers, to make it exciting and moving for me and for other people to look at,” she elaborates. Burg paints with oil on canvas, from direct observation, and mostly in natural light. First she builds miniature structures made of simple materials such as cardboard, clay, and tape, depicting imagined or actual buildings or objects; then she paints them with or without a model.
In Shira as Saint Petronius of Booklyn, for example, Burg replaced the miniature model of Bologna held by the city patron with a cardboard model of Brooklyn that includes tiny versions of landmarks such as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Domino factory, and the Greenpoint water tower. In contrast to the way she paints, Burg builds her models completely out of memory. In this body of work, Burg ultimately creates a rich narrative world that hovers on the border between the very real and the really imagined.
Fancy Seeing You is on view at Slag Gallery, located at 56 Bogart Street, until August 9, 2015; gallery hours are Thursday–Sunday, 1–6PM
Alex Sewell, an artist and curator who has recently moved from Lynn, Massachusetts, to Bushwick, sees himself as a middleman between curators and artists. Ess Ef Eff, the recent curatorial project he co-founded with artist Alexander Giavis, is less of a traditional artist-collective and more of a conduit for curators and artists to exchange ideas and collaborate on events in geographical areas to which they typically might not have access. “Since we’re just starting out, we’ll most likely stay within the greater New England area,” says Sewell. Yet, their vision is expansive.
Sewell and Giavis aim to encourage as many artists as possible to be proactive in their communities as well as to facilitate a cross pollination of artists, spaces, and curators from different areas of the country. Regarding their curatorial process, the plan is to rotate roles within the group for each show with the intention of organizing one- to two-week events every three months. As such, Sewell curated Tread, a recent pop-up exhibition at The Living Gallery, and Giavis will curate an upcoming show in Boston for the second part of this inaugural series.
In Tread, Sewell featured thirteen artists from Massachusetts and New York. From New York were artists Ben Bertocci, Russel Cameron, Nicholas Cueva, Ashley Garrett, Alfred Rosenbluth, Elisa Soliven, Daniel Williams, JJ Manford, and Ted Mineo; from Massachusetts were artists Walker T. Roman, Michael Christie, Alexander Giavis, and Leann Davignon. Demonstrating a wide range of sensibilities, works included painting, sculpture, photography, film, and installation art.
With Weona, a lush oil painting by artist Ashley Garrett, a vibrant landscape evokes a sunny day out of town. Conjuring a breeze or a stream, a blue form flows from the top of the canvas in a diagonal gusto and intersects with a vibrant yellow foreground, which is dotted with rich and intricate green formations. Its linear moments, such as the red fence pattern in the back and the lonely red line at the edge of the bottom-right canvas, punctuate the space with admirable precision and delightful surprises.
Like an unwanted souvenir, Baby by artist Russel Cameron is reminiscent of something held over from a nightmare. This clay sculpture appears as a small effect that has been carried over into our world. Displayed as a specimen, Baby prompts morbid investigation from its clear acrylic box.
Pressing Symptom by artist Ted Mineo hovers somewhere between still life and an exotic life-form. This evocative archival inkjet print conjures two hybrid creatures that manifest both biological and technological attributes. Staged in a dark void, these creatures appear to float on top of a dense liquid or in some acidic air bubbles from an extraterrestrial planet.
As a curator, Sewell tries to see as much work as he can and to identify artists who are working hard in producing interesting art. “If I hear about someone working a job six days a week and who is also in the studio all the time, I’m instantly drawn to that; also it’s hard not to drink from your own well. I have a lot of very talented friends who I love to show,” he says. Overall, the structure of the group is still evolving and the two co-founders welcome committed people who wish to join.
After a weekend packed to the brim with trekking the Bushwick streets, exploring studios, exhibitions, parties, and all that comprises Bushwick Open Studios, nothing is better than kicking back on Sunday evening and watching an impeccable selection of short films spanning from experimental to classic narrative. Thoughtfully curated by filmmaker and creative technologist Mandy Mandelstein, CinemaSunday and the BOS 2015 Closing Party have provided this closing oasis for the past three years. This year’s program consisted of 19 films, no more than ten minutes in length, spanning the genres of documentary, experimental, and narrative film.
The first block of films consisted primarily of documentaries and experimental films. I Wrote a Story About You Without You, directed by Adam Gundersheimer and Vanessa Haddad, spliced together organic footage from around Bushwick and Google maps street view images and layered them over more intimate shots of the domestic–from plants to people lounging in bed with a cat. Paired with the haunting music of Jonah Parzen-Johnson, the film evokes the experience of living in New York–particularly in Brooklyn–and the feeling of being physically absorbed by the city, yet somehow remaining mentally separate from it.
Division Avenue, directed by Janna Kyllästinen, is an unconventionally beautiful examination of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The film feels somehow removed from the locality and basic functionality of the BQE, favoring extended shots of passersby, close-ups of nuts and bolts, and overhead views of hierarchical modes of transportation. The emphasis on line, shadow, and perspective in each shot called to mind the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico and Edward Hopper and placed them in a distinctly contemporary, utilitarian context. When portrayed in this manner, the architecture and design of the BQE takes on a paradoxically sublime, yet mundane, beauty that is so all-encompassing that the open, natural quality of the beach at the end of the film feels almost oppressive in its lack of structure. Division Avenue asks the viewer to question conventional beliefs about aesthetics and consider the role of designed space in the human experience of the urban sphere.
Narrative films and animation made up the bulk of the second block of programming. The narrative films presented all had a delightful touch of the absurd. Stray Dogs, directed by Minka Farthing Kohl, took the painfully mundane task of waiting for the bus in the thick of summer and hit it with a bizarre curve ball of drama, comedy, and mysticism. In just seven minutes, Farthing Kohl creates a world where magicians are mobsters and you might just find your soul mate by inexplicably getting turned into a dog. Horoscope takes the daily ritual of a teenage girl checking her horoscope and frames it into a hyper-relatable tale of developing a crush on cute boy that shares her commute and learning about indie rock for the first time–an experience most of us have hidden away somewhere in our teens and early twenties.
A reflective end to BOS2015, CinemaSunday ran the gamut of the aesthetic and emotional film. Several of the films had a distinctly Brooklyn point of view, but it was not a requirement for the programming and certainly not for the viewing experience. Those of us on the other side of the screen were presented with breathtaking experimental pieces, intriguing documentaries, and clever, original narratives.