‘River Woman’ Celebrates the Intersection Between Art and the Environment

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’
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.

Formwork East River
Image: Fritz Horstman, Formwork for the East River, 2017, plywood, wood, hardware, 36 x 216 x 84 inches

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 Using historical documents, Kathleen Vance traced the tidal flow of the Super Fund creek from its tributaries – Dutch Kills, Whale Creek, Maspeth Creek and English Kills, and redirects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.

Blue North Painting
Ellen Kozak, Blue North, 2015, oil on panel, 27 x 30.5 x 2

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.

People gather to listen to Paul Gallay, President of Hudson Riverkeeper

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!

2. The 6th Annual Riverkeeper Sweep will be happening on May 6th. You can register to volunteer at one of over 90 Sweep projects across the Hudson Valley and New York City.  Learn more: https://www.riverkeeper.org/news-events/events/rvk-events/save-the-date-6th-annual-riverkeeper-sweep/

229 Cook Street in Bushwick, Brooklyn
Hours: Friday thru Sunday 1-6 pm, and by appointment.
“River Woman’ Is up until April 30th.


BOS Studio Visit: Julian Lorber

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

Julian Lorber 2

[AiB] What do you want me to know about your work?

[JL] I want you to know that it’s individual of the work next to it. This is not a gallery. Each piece has a story, and each piece is a about a larger theme that I’m interested in, which is environmental art and a little bit of science fiction.

[AiB] What is your process?

[JL] Usually when I come up with an idea that I want to work around—for this work it was soot catching on buildings—I create a larger architecture for each piece, because I was looking at buildings in Brooklyn, different skylines, and polluted cities. The color and the light look like Los Angeles and New York. Then I would create that matrix out of a material, and I add mediums and paint, different colors that I would mix using brushes, HVLP guns, and airbrushes. [I work to] emulate the way that materials are applied to buildings, whether it’s pollution or paint from street art. Just looking at how these things affect the buildings, that’s the culture we live in in the urban environment. I used to actually add soot to a lot of works to add texture.

Julian Lorber 1

I use graphite, mica, and sometimes nothing at all, and I can build up paint to get that effect using the controls on different tools. With an airbrush, you can actually enlarge the amount of paint so it dots up so you don’t actually need soot. For some of the sculptures I use actual desk fans, and then I use mediums and an airbrush to paint them the way I want them to look, based on a kind of horrendous effect that has befallen. it looks like it was in a factory at the bottom of the ocean.

When you think about environmental policy, how we approach it is, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, and we’ll learn from our mistakes.” It’s never about preemptive decisions to make sure nothing happens. A lot of this work was inspired by the urban environment, spills like Deepwater Horizon, and thinking about health and people I know who have asthma who’ve grown up in the urban environment. People flock to these places and architects build these glass fetish-y modern monoliths, and they just don’t address things like how the environment’s going to be affected. “Oh, well, we’ll let the rain take care of it.” It’s the same way economists think about how the environment will be taken care of; they lump all of that into the subject of “externalities.”

Julian Lorber 3

[AiB] How do you know when a piece is done?

[JL] A lot of it is going back and just making sure the image looks balanced. If I don’t want it to look balanced I have to think about why, and what I want people to take from that unbalanced look. Just think about image-making and painting in general. That’s essentially what tells me when it’s done—when it captures the light falling just right and the lines carry you in the direction that I want them to go, whether its horizontally or vertically.

Julian Lorber 4

[AiB] Anything else I should know about your work?

[JL] It has to be seen in person. It doesn’t always look so great online, on cell phones, or JPEGs. Light plays a huge role so it doesn’t photograph so well, and it has a lot of depth and texture. If you think you can see everything in a museum from a JPEG then you’re probably not looking correctly.



Julian Lorber‘s studio is located at 119 Ingraham Street