Spotlight on Canada

Photograph taken by Jared Grove (Phobophile) with a Nicon Coolpix 3200. (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

July 1st marks the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation as “one Dominion under the Name of Canada” – whereby the colonies – Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Canada (later to become Ontario and Québec) – were unified per the British North America Act of 1867.

The sesquicentennial got off to a great start earlier this year when Canada was named The Best Place to Visit in 2017 by The New York Times.   On a personal note, one of my favorite vacations was a 2001 cross-country trip where I returned to NYC via Canada, going from Vancouver to Toronto via train.  The Canadian Rockies were absolutely magnificent (photo below), as were the skies over Alberta.

Canadian Rockies August 2001, photo by ER Daly

The good news kept coming this spring when the critically acclaimed musical Come From Away  went on to win a tony for Best Direction.  It’s still playing at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre – if you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to – you can find my review here.

The evening of July 1st, the Empire State Building will be lit in red and white to mark Canada Day, and other festivities include:

Canada Day Cookout  at Dirt Candy, 86 Allen Street from 5:30pm to 11:59pm

Joe’s Pub will host the 15th Annual New York Rocks the Great Canadian Songbook,    once again produced and emcee’d by Jeff Breithaupt and featuring an all-star line-up of singers backed by Don Breithaupt and the WORKIN’ FOR THE WEEKEND HOOSE BAND, no Canadian hit song will be safe from (northern) exposure. This year’s all-star line-up includes: Marissa Mulder, Ophira Eisenberg, J’Sun, Carolyn Leonhart, Jamie Leonhart, Jeremy Kushnier, Christina Bianco, Alyson Palmer, Tyley Ross, Greg Naughton, Shelley McPherson, Michael Halling, PJ Griffith, Victoria Lecta Cave, Amy Cervini and The Breithaupt Brothers.  7:00pm, Joe’s Pub at the Public Theatre, 425 Lafayette Street.

The festivities aren’t limited to just one day.  During the entire month of July, you’ll be able to see a diverse collection of Canada’s finest theatre, literary and musical artists, when the Soulpepper Theatre of Toronto will be in the Big Apple with a full company of artists to present a month-long festival  at The Pershing Square Signature Center on 42nd Street, performing their adaptations of classics such as On Human Bondage and Spoon River, as well as ensemble creations such as Cage and Alligator Pie, no to mention a concert series and forums on innovations in the performing arts.  Every evening there will be a free cabaret performance in the Signature Cafe and Bar (check the schedule for show times;  most start between 8:30pm and 9:30pm).

If you’re looking for more information on Canadian events in NYC, check out the Canadian Association of NY (CANY)  a member-run organization that has been the focal point for the Canadian community in the NYC area since 1864.  CANY hosts social, cultural and business events throughout the year;  on their website you can fin a list of Canada Day 150 events. 

You can find more information on Canada, and Canada in NYC on the Consulate General’s Facebook page  and their Twitter feed .

This year also marks Montréal’s 375th birthday – Fort Ville-Marie was founded in 1642.  You’ll find more information about Québec and Québec in NYC on the Facebook page of the Québec Government Office in New York  and also on their Twitter feed .


Celebrating the 4th

Statue of Liberty, photo by ER Daly

While July 4th fills one’s head with visions of fireworks, since those don’t happen until the evening, if you’re spending the day in town, it might be a good opportunity to explore some of NYC’s history, which is very bound up with that of the United States.  Each of the five boroughs has its own historical society;  three of them will be open that day:

New York Historical Society  170 Central Park West (77th St)

Queens Historical Society  143-35 37th Avenue, Flushing, New York 11354

Historic Richmond Town   441 Clarke Avenue, Staten Island

Native Americans have played important, if under-appreciated roles in all the wars the U.S. has fought, serving at a higher rate in proportion to their population than any other ethnic group.  Patriot Nations: Native Americans in Our Nation’s Armed Forces , a special week-long exhibit explores their contributions.  June 29th – July 6th, National Museum of the American Indian,  One Bowling Green

July 4th fireworks from the Brooklyn Bridge, photo by ER Daly

If you want to catch the Macy’s fireworks, they’ll be displaying along the East River from 23rd Street to 59th Street.  Find more information on times and viewing sites here  


Sculptors Guild on Governor’s Island

This year the Sculptors Guild is celebrating its 80th anniversary with an exhibit in Nolan Park on Governor’s Island. Featuring works by 36 sculptors, this wonderful show is a testament to their skill in transforming materials – steel, aluminum, glass, fabric – into works of art.  Take a look at the on-line exhibit catalogue which gives you insight into the artists, then go see the show.  Here are my highlights:

Plow-Warrior Figure, Eric David Laxman, welded and forged steel, granite, found objects

Eric David Laxman’s Plow-Warrior Figure has presence, not only due to it’s size – 6ft tall – but also the way in which he’s combined stone, steel and found objects, especially the base, which contributes to the Figure’s energy and sense of movement.

detail, Blowing in the Wind or the Invasion of Industry, Lucy Hodgson, concrete, steel pipe, antler, wire mesh

Lucy Hodgson’s  Blowing in the Wind, or the Invasion of Industry refers to the destruction of the natural environment by industrialization. The head of the piece, above, rests on a skeletal frame of steel pipes, giving it a bird-like quality.

Magic Carpet Ride, Thea Lanzisero, steel

When seen from afar, Thea Lanzisero’s Magic Carpet Ride looks charcoal black; however, the closer you get, the more you see the underlying reds and blues, which my camera’s flash has made pop.  I like how she used screws for the fringe.

ZigZags, Janet Goldner, steel

Janet Goldner’s steel ZigZags are part of an ongoing series, influenced by her work in Mali (for over two decades), and reflecting her deep interest in African art.

Counter Action, Conrad Levenson, iron and steel

I especially liked the sense of fun in Conrad Levenson’s Counter Action as well as his use of weathered, rusted steel and iron.  Although I didn’t try to set it in motion, if you do, the saw blades and the disc will move at different speeds, creating tension among them.

Rising Tide, Eve Ingalls, bronze, photographs

I was attracted to the delicate metal overlay of Eve Ingalls Rising Tide, which I had thought was copper, but is in fact, bronze.  The photos are of a game field the artist created on a beach in Costa Rica. She made the shells in the photo from paper, because there aren’t any real shells left.  At the bottom, you’ll find a human shadow…

Knight, Emil Silberman, metal, wood, found objects

Before I knew the title of Emil Silberman’s Knight, my first thought was Don Quixote.  And my first reaction was a smile.  A really fun piece, with ingenious use of found objects.

There’s lots more to see in the Sculptors Guild’s exhibit, and you’ll find art throughout Governor’s Island, so be sure to leave yourself enough time to explore!   This exhibit will be up until July 16th.  It’s lots of fun, so put it on your TO DO list!

Approaching Governor’s Island on the Ferry

Text and Image

There’s a great show at Site: Brooklyn on word-based art, juried by Edith Newhall, the art critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Featuring the work of some 50-odd artists, the  exhibit highlights the intersection of text and image, in many ingenious ways.

History of Flight One, Ian Campbell, mixed media

The title of Ian Campbell’s piece, History of Flight One, is the title of a book whose images form the basis of this collaged piece.  Campbell cut each lithograph, over which he laid one or more pieces of polyester film, and then wrote on them, repeating this process several times. By layering and tiering the lithographs, he’s created an image that has a lot of depth. 

Rorschach, Annette Barbier, modified book

Annette Barbier has chosen to use a book – Breakout, by Martin Russ, about a battle in Korea by the US Marines) as a sculptural material – which could explain the way the figures seem to be trying to escape from the book, as well as the piece’s title.

Is it Working?, Kara Dunne, screenprint on fan

For Kara Dunne, it’s important that her art be seen and that it be affordable, so she often screenprints her work on low-cost items.  She got the idea for Is It Working? from an old hand fan which was filled with patriotic imagery. Dunne updated the image of the woman, putting her in a suit, to reflect that today women work, and changed the houses in the background to a row of brownstones. Dunne also added the words “working away from” after the words “The American Dream”, reflecting her view that this ideal is no longer attainable.

RichardGabriele_Palimpsest_Blue_No3 (image courtesy of the artist)

Richard Gabriele’s inspiration for his work came from two books: “The Lotos Eaters” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and the Odyssey by Homer.  In order to “flood the plane with calligraphy,” he painted successive layers of different colors, starting with the background, for which he used watercolors.   Then, using egg tempera, he overlayed it with rows of Greek letters, then turned the paper 90º and wrote in cursive English. I love the way the colors bleed onto the edges of the paper.

Expecto Pantronum, Brooke Jana (image courtesy of the artist)

Brooke Jana created this stag from strips which each contain a spell from the Harry Potter series, and took the work’s title, Expecto Patronum from the spell that he uses to conjure the stag.

Murmuring House, Jung Eun Park, embroidery thread, pencil, paper collage on Korean paper

I’d love to see the front of this piece to hear what the house is murmuring ….  On her website, the artist Jung Eun Park says that these works “are simply the record of my intimate life, but also imply the psychological narratives of human being living in a new environment.”  I was drawn to this piece by it’s simplicity, and the embroidery.

Guns and Roses, Francine Gintoff, oil pastel on paper

Francine Gintoff’s work is primarily large format drawing, combined with oil pastel in pink and indigo, evoking vintage tattoos.  She always includes the title of the work directly in it, seeing it as integral to the piece.  The images have personal significance to the artist, creating her own visual poetry.

Letters from Home, Dare Boles, collage

Dare Bole’s piece links the African and African-American families in this collage, not only through the letters which join both halves of the canvas, but also through her depiction of the role of women in both communities, and the red and white dresses in one half that play on the brick pattern in the other.

L.B.D., Andrew Neumann, vinyl letters, wood and paint

I found this piece, L.B.D. by Andrew Neumann to be lots of fun.

Do see the show before it closes on July 16th.  Site: Brooklyn is in the Gowanus neighborhood, at 165 Seventh Street.

Art Opportunity – Call to Artists

Site: Brooklyn has issued a call to artists for submissions for their next exhibit on Hand Pulled Prints which will take place September 22nd – October 22nd, 2017.  The show will be juried by Master Printer Marina Ancona, Founder of 10 Grand Press, an independent print shop that specializes in fine art printing processes and techniques.

This exhibition will reflect the ambitious, innovative and contemporary in printmaking today. Highlighting traditional printmaking processes in any combination of serigraphy, letterpress, collagraphy, etching, woodcut, lithography, linocut, drypoint, mezzotint, monoprint and solar plates. Digital and photographic elements may be used only as a supporting element.

Final submission deadline is August 10, 2017  More information here 

Family Stories at Muriel Guépin

It’s always fun seeing the work of a friend and neighbor.  I’ve known Iviva Olenick  for several years, but her show at the Muriel Guépin Gallery on the Lower East Side made me realize how much I don’t know about her. 

Selfie as Modern Matriarch, Iviva Olenick, beading and hand embroidery on fabric

Most of Iviva’s work is embroidered – very often on vintage fabrics – in a freehand narrative style, illustrating things she’s doing or issues she’s concerned about.  A central theme of her work is relationships – not only hers, but other people’s.  Several years ago, she put out a call for poems about relationships, which she then embroidered.  Iviva also examines the relationships between people and places, especially for people who migrate from one place to another, whether or not voluntarily.  

Portrait as my Grandmother, Iviva Olenick, beading and appliqué on fabric

This show, however, is focused on her family; her pride in being part of their gene pool shines through, especially in this piece, entitled, Portrait as my Grandmother, with it’s elaborate beadwork.  Her work here is more intricate, with more adornments than I’ve seen in her previous embroideries.

Great Grandma Sonja, Iviva Olenick, hand embroidery on fabric

You’ll also find a piece about her great grandmother Sonja, whose escape from Russia to England is embroidered into a lace-like collar.  That’s one feature I really like about Iviva’s work – her ability to incorporate words as structural and decorative elements, while still allowing them to function as words.

wall with embroideries telling her father’s story, Iviva Olenick, embroidery and collage on fabrics

But this show isn’t only about the matrilineal side of the family – against one wall, Iviva has placed 8 small collaged embroideries about her father,  Monte. 

The Story of Monte Olenick, Iviva Olenick, embroidery and collage on fabric

I liked this piece for it’s simplicity and use of white space, which convey the starkness of the Depression, without being maudlin; I thought the red and green Manischewitz’ logo adds a bright, hopeful note. The other embroideries recount Monte’s life: he served in the Army, became a librarian, retired, then, for over a decade, led walks  of senior citizens through Central Park (for which he won a Presidential Volunteer Service Award).  He’s also a very good poet (we read on the same program some years ago)!

Beach, Melissa Zexter, sivler gelatin print, thread

The gallery is also showing work by another Brooklyn-based artist, Melissa Zexter , who overlays embroidery on her photographs, often very subtly – once you look closely, you realize that many of the delicate lines are in fact thread.  She also often scratches the surface of her pictures, creating delicate white lines that add depth to her images.

Lake, Melissa Zexter, C-print and thread

Overall, her work has a textural feel, not often found in photographs.  There’s a family connection too: Zexter’s children often appear in her photographs.

Be sure to see these shows before they close on June 24th!  Muriel Guépin Gallery is located at 83 Orchard Street.

Bodies Electric at Cavin Morris

detail, Untitled, Anna Zemánková, pastel, ball point pen, embroidery, 1970’s

I have seen exhibits of the embroidered works by self-taught artist Anna Zemánková, but was unfamiliar with her body of drawings, so I’m glad I saw the lovely exhibit of her pastels from the 1960’s and 70’s at the Cavin Morris Gallery in Chelsea.

Untitled, Anna Zemánková, pastel, 1960’s

This show of about a dozen works features mainly large pastels and oil pastels on paper (approx. 2ft x 3ft), but  also a group of smaller ones, all with with Zemánková’s singular biological and organic motifs.

Untitled, Anna Zemánková, pastel, 1960’s

Born in Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic) in 1908, Zemánková drew as a child, but despite showing talent, she was discouraged from pursuing a career as an artist.  Instead she worked as a dental technician;  after she married, she stopped working and raised four children. 

detail, Untitled, Anna Zemánková, pastel, early 1960’s

It wasn’t until Zemánková was in her 50’s that she returned to art, when her son Bohumil, a sculptor, made her a table and gave her art supplies, as a way of helping Zemánková cope with her depression.  She would create fantastical, imaginary plants and flowers in the early hours of the morning, while listening to classical music.  I could sit in her “gardens” for hours.  Having been featured in the Venice Biennale in 2013, I’m sure we’ll see more of her work.

detail, Corpus Linguae, Luboš Plný, ink, acrylic, collage on paper

Cavin Morris is also featuring the work of another Czech artist, Luboš Plný (b. 1961), who began studying medical and psychiatric texts as a way of understanding the diagnosis of schizophrenia simplex he had been given during his military service.  Plný has created collaged, intricate hand-drawn illustrations of the body, layering skin, muscle, bone, veins, cells, one over the other, creating anatomical images that are simultaneously very dense, yet clear, as if you’re looking at someone through a very, very powerful microscope, sometimes from the inside out. 

detail, Double Bind, Luboš Plný, ink, acrylic, collage on paper

Often you’ll find faces in his works, which have been cut out from magazines and then painted over, mask-like, as well as random body parts floating in the background.  Plný’s work is in the current Venice Biennale.

Be sure to see these shows before they close on July 29th. 

Cavin Morris  is located at 210 Eleventh Avenue, Suite 201.

Bigger, Bolder, Better in Brooklyn

There’s a great group show  Bigger, Bolder, Better  at 470 Vanderbilt Avenue in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.  Sponsored by Chashama, which organizes exhibits in unoccupied spaces in buildings around the City, the show – inspired by January’s Women’s Marches – features the work of 16 women artists whose large-scale works take advantage of this cavernous space.  The show closes on June 17th.  Here are some of my picks – in no particular order:

detail, Spill, Jaanika Peerna, site specific – pigment & water on hand cut mylar

Jaanika Peerna‘s site-specific piece, Spill, is in two parts – this detail shows the lower half of her flowing work created from hand-cut mylar that was pigmented.  Walk around it to see how this graceful sculpture changes – you’ll notice something new every time.

Halfway, Suzan Shutan, site specific – tar roofing paper, hand-made color paper, industrial glue, plexi rods and fish line

Suzan Shutan has created a site-specific piece, Halfway, from tar roofing paper with a delicate feel and the graceful quality of a gymnast.

Accumulations #4, Jaynie Crimmins, 2016, 12” x 12” x 12”D, shredded household mail over armature, mounted on wood

Jaynie Crimmins has three ingenious pieces which she made by shredding household mail, rolling up the strips and sewing them onto a backing, transforming junk mail, which often can’t be recycled, into lovely sculptures, which for me, evoked flowers and sea creatures.

Paper Dragons, Elizabeth Riley, ink jet video stills of Dragons of Iceland videos, and video images

Elizabeth Riley has taken several images from her video Icelandic Dragons, and printed them on large sheets which she’s rolled and assembled into Paper Dragons. You can contrast them with the images on the video screens at several points inside the installation.

Breaking Patterns 4, Christina Massey, acrylic, enamel, oil & water color on canvas, linen & paper with zippers, patterns and yarn

Christina Massey‘s  large (approx. 5ft x 4ft) textile piece, Breaking Patterns 4, incorporates zippers among the woven fabric strips, set against a partially painted background of canvas, linen and paper.

On the Horizon 1-45, Etty Yaniv, acrylic ink, film, paper, cable on cavases

Etty Yaniv showed On the Horizon, 45 small collages, each one a delicate, impressionistic slice of life.

From the Outskirts, Alyse Rosner, site specific – graphite & colored pencil on yupo and raw canvas

Alyse Rosner  used graphite and colored pencils on yupo, a synthetic Japanese paper made of polypropylene, to make From the Outskirts, rubbings of sycamore leaves from her yard. There are several strips of rubbings, each over six feet long.  These are very different from the work you’ll find on her website.

Bigger, Bolder, Better closes this Saturday, June 17th, so put it on your list of things to do!

Chronicling the Rebuilding of the World Trade Center: A Conversation With the Artist Marcus Robinson

I recently met Marcus Robinson, an artist who hails from Belfast, Northern Ireland. For the last 11 years he has been documenting the rebuilding of the World Trade Center, not only through drawings and paintings, but also with Rebuilding the World Trade Center a documentary he made that was shown on the History Channel in 2014. A few weeks ago I went to his studio on the 66th floor of 4 WTC to find out more about his work on this project, and his art practice in general. Below are excerpts from our interview.

Artist and filmmaker Marcus Robinson working on his epic paintings of the World Trade Center construction in his studio (photo by Allan Tannenbaum/Polaris)

Liz Daly: I’m interested in your journey, first of all as an artist – where and how you learned to draw. I see you’ve got sketches, watercolors, lithographs…

Marcus Robinson: From my earliest age I knew I wanted to be an artist. And somehow I got bad teachers when I was at school who blocked that flow. So then I started trying to do photography as a replacement for painting. In my early days in Paris – I was there for 16 years – I worked as a photographer, although the desire to draw and paint was always there. It was actually my sister – she’s an amazing artist – she gave me an art lesson around 1999 that re-inspired me and got me going again. I worked with a very celebrated Irish painter, Martin Mooney, who taught me a lot about the technique of oil painting, in the tradition of plein air landscape painting.

When I lived in Paris, I used to have a little drawing book, and draw in cafes and at industrial scenes. And with large format cameras I would create things that very often looked like painting, by using torches (lights) with colored gels. I would do long night-time exposures where I would paint the edges of figures with light, using photography as a medium to try to do paintings.

Liz: Here at the WTC, what inspires you?

Marcus: The marks that are everywhere on the site, the little splashes of paint, or an area where someone will have written a series of figures and maybe someone will have drawn a face, a funny graffiti face on the site … the weird language of random marks and how random marks come together… anything I find like that I take photos of and they inspire me… bit by bit I have things I can include in some of these big paintings.

Liz: I get that, I take lots of photos of peeling paint on the subways…

Marcus: I love exactly that sort of thing – where nature and time and decay, and then – modernity – fluorescent spray paint and things like that – [how] the disintegration of different layers of activity incorporate themselves.

And then I have drawn from life a lot on the site. How can that act of drawing, and my experience filming on the site, and then my human experience of connecting with the men and women who are doing the rebuilding, come together and crystalize and be created into these bigger paintings? That’s an on-going, inspiring challenge that I’m working on.

Sketch of WTC rebuilding by Marcus Robinson

Liz: Let’s keep on that theme and talk about how all these layers came together when you decided to come here and document the rebuilding of the World Trade Center.

Marcus: I had been living in London and doing films about urban transformation, [including one] about the making of the London Eye. So when the events of 9/11 happened, I was already in the mindset of filming urban transformation, but from a positive and more spiritual point of view. I worked with some producers at the start who were based in London [but] it seemed like there was no way of getting funding… then, bit by bit, I took the reins myself, phoned Daniel Liebeskind’s office and spoke to his wife, Nina. She invited us over and we met with Daniel and her. She kindly opened some doors to people at the Port Authority and to Larry Silverstein. One of the key people I met is a guy called Dara McQuillan, who is the Chief Marketing Officer for Silverstein Properties.

It literally took me 4-1/2 years to find a way to film here, being continually told, ”You don’t know” or not being responded to…

Liz: And were you based in London?

Marcus: I was based in London, shuttling to and fro across the Atlantic, meeting people, going through a labyrinth…  and I had more or less given up, because I knew the site was starting to be rebuilt… I [went to] the south of France [to paint] when the phone rang, and it was Dara saying, “You won’t believe this, but the people have changed their mind, they’re going to let you start filming.” That was a miracle, so I beat it back up to London, got packed up and flew over with my cameras and literally within a week I was starting to film the bedrock.

Benediction, Marcus Robinson, oil on canvas (photo by Marcus Robinson)

And this painting, which is called Benediction, that’s the sort of scene I was greeted with, and that profoundly moved me: huge expanses of bedrock being laid bare, this idea that soul of New York City, this thing that defines the structure, this incredible substrata on which it’s built, this beautiful inner sanctum of the city being laid bare and reshaped to create this new building… And I was meeting these amazing guys on the site, who, I learned through time, were the descendants of many of the men and women and families who had built and shaped the skyline of New York City.

Liz: That’s a wonderful connection.

Marcus: There’s this spearhead of energy going through time, of different generations through the years. That was one of the key things I was inspired by on the site, that many of the men and women are connected to people whose great grandfathers maybe built the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building and then whose fathers have maybe worked on the original Twin Towers. I talk about that quite a lot in the film, there’s a whole section about lineage and family and heritage.

It’s the idea of working people being at the cutting edge of shaping this city that everyone knows and everyone loves.

And I hope this work … that these paintings, long after I’m dead and gone, can define this sense of place and time, while also being timeless and incarnating something about the spirit of humanity, the spirit of people trying to pull through adversity, and… the diversity of New York City, which I think is amazing. That’s one of the things I think this site stands for, the beauty of people working together for a common goal, and the complete interdependence of everything.

Liz: Are you here by yourself, or is there a crew that came with you?

Marcus: By myself, it’s a solitary thing. That part of it is huge, and I’ve had to fund it mostly all the time myself – obviously some money from Channel 4(UK) and the History Channel, and an amazing contractor company called Roger & Sons, they helped keep the project going.

When it came to editing the film, I have an amazing editor, Leo Cullen who’s also a friend – he and two assistant editors. We have a story producer and an executive producer in London with a company called Lion Television.

Big Man in the Sky, Marcus Robinson, oil on canvas

Liz: Tell me about your engagement with the workers here – I would image that when you first showed up they were saying “Who is this guy?”

Marcus: It’s like everything – things take time. Partly it’s the dedication of an artist being there day after day after day: they see that you’re there with them, in all weathers, in all conditions, and you’re there at their coffee break, so there’s a sort of osmosis… and then I’m telling them why I’m here, what I want to do, what I believe in, so they get inspired that their work is being honored and reflected and celebrated by a third eye. Being aware that there’s a big arcing narrative… I think they got inspired by that.

Liz: Now as I understand it, you have something like a dozen cameras on site?

Marcus: I made a time-lapse film about Larnaca Airport in Cyprus being built. When that was finished I brought those 13 cameras here, and at one point I had them in different buildings around the site. Some of them had to be dismantled – I’d say I’ve had 5 or 6 cameras here for a long time. But most of the work that I was doing was with a 35mm film camera, that I would take down onto the site with me and film different things happening on a day-to-day basis. And then with a different camera, a video camera, I would film moments of live action and sound and people talking. So the final film is a mix of quite a lot of different ingredients: 35 mil film time lapse, then digital stills in locked off boxes that go through a period of years, then animated paintings, then interviews that we shot over a specific period of time with some of the guys who had become my friends through the years.

There’s a sort of overlap with all the things I love: drawing, painting, music, photography, filmmaking; [they] all came together in [this] one work. Within it there are lots of animated paintings that come to life, then dissolve into film frames that are all cut to the music. I really love the interplay between music, painting and film. (To see a bit of the film click here)

Liz: So you’ve been on the site now for about a dozen years?

Marcus: Since 2006, it’s coming up on 12 years now and before that, four and a half years of to-ing and fro-ing to develop the idea so it’s been quite a big adventure.

Liz: I think in many ways you’ve been incredibly lucky to be able to do this, to a large degree, on your own terms.

Marcus: This would have been a very different thing if at the start someone had said, “Here’s 5 million dollars make this film,” and defined what it would be. The fact that this is a journey, quite a difficult and challenging journey, means that the whole genesis and organic creation of this film has come from that place of being receptive and trying to learn as your edges are knocked off by the experience. I care about that as being a fundamental aspect.

Liz: And you’re planning to stay here until the end?

Marcus: Yes, I’d like to. Obviously it’s a huge challenge to keep the work funded. One of the things we’re doing now is looking for a patron, someone who’d like to have their name associated with this permanent, ongoing project, as well as having a permanent space in one of the buildings so there would be a living studio, a collection of work, and the film that would celebrate the rebuilding in a place where it could be shared with school children and other groups… that’s already what we do here at a small level, but I think as an on-going activity it could be amazing. We have school children and a lot of visitors from Ireland through the Northern Ireland Bureau and the British Council. Some of the UN Ambassadors have been up here ….

Liz: In addition to this project, what else are you doing?

Marcus: I’m about to shoot a film in Paris that’s an homage to a very famous Irish engineer, Peter Rice, who is the brains behind the Pompidou Center and the pyramid at the Louvre, and the Lloyds Building in London. He worked with some of the world’s top architects, translating their visionary ideas into engineering [support] structures. He’s very well known in the architectural world. I shot a trailer a couple of years ago and I’m shooting the film this summer. [If you’d like to see the trailer, click here – the password is RICE ]

Jardin des Tuileries, Marcus Robinson

I’m working on a number of different paintings – a series of the bridges of Paris.   And there’s a whole body of work I’d like to do inspired by Matisse’s last painting of the view from his window on the Quai St. Michel. So those are some of the plans for this summer. And then there’s a much bigger series of paintings and drawings on things that are inspiring about life in New York City. I do a lot of drawing at the Village Vanguard and at diners – I love New York diners, and because they’re disappearing, I’m trying to draw as many of them as I can… and the maritime life around New York… and the subway… I’ve proposed a film about the subway that I’d really like to make because I think the New York subway is brilliantly unique.

Sketch of the Landmark Diner by Marcus Robinson

Liz: How has your relationship to New York evolved – is it now home for you? Is anyplace home for you?

Marcus: New York really feels like home; I’ve always felt totally at peace here. I absolutely love New York City, I love the people and even the intensity and the madness and the occasional abrasiveness of the city, even sometimes feeling drained by the city. Whatever it is I just sort of thrive on it.

Sketch of Halsey and Stuyvesant Streets, by Marcus Robinson

My family home, the one we grew up in is still there, just outside Belfast, I still love it – that’s my original home. But I feel at home in many places: Paris, London, Ireland. I love Bed-Stuy Brooklyn, which is where I’m living at the moment. I absolutely love this beautiful mix of different people living together in this incredible area and the urban layout – the occasional moments of dilapidation and other moments of grandeur and a whole range of different people so that inspires me – I feel that that is the spirit of New York.

Liz: That’s the great thing about the subway – everyone rides it. That’s true of our parks and that’s also true of our beaches, like Coney Island.

Marcus: That’s what I was going to say – I’ve been starting a series of Coney Island drawings – I want to do this scale (large) painting because I think having an urban beach, a real city beach, where everybody is there – those combinations of populations you’ve just described – I love that – the different shapes, completely crazy shapes, sizes, colors of New Yorkers.

Sketch of the Village Vanguard by Marcus Robinson

Liz:   I’d like to flip it around and talk about music for two reasons: the first one is that when I came in you were playing the piano, so I’d like to know about your musical education; and secondly, you filmed Van Morrison, who I absolutely adore.

Marcus: I think that music is the most powerful art form in the sense that [when you’re] listening to music, [it] enters your soul and takes you to a place that no other art form can take you to. As a child, I learned classical piano – I started when I was 4… We always had music on in our house. My mother and father listened to Radio 3 which is the classical music station. My dad lived in Montreal from 1947 to 1958, so he had a really beautiful collection of old vinyl jazz records that I used to listen to as a child – he even had some 78rpm records… Then I played drums when I was at college and later got into what you call EDM (electronic dance music) but in the UK, it’s a wide ranging scene with all different types of music like deep house and neo-soul and hip hop… Some of the early films I made used those types of music, creating non-verbal films, where music and film worked together to tell a story.

And about the Van Morrison project, I was invited to make a film by Tourism Ireland – who had already been helpful in promoting my work – that would celebrate Belfast as a destination by filming Van Morrison’s 70th birthday concert on Cyprus Avenue. I shot a lot of the footage, time-lapse footage, we had fixed cameras which filmed the whole creation of the stage, the crowd arriving, and disappearing, and I filmed a lot with my 35 mil camera setting the scene, and other shots of the city of Belfast, and then we were very kindly allowed to use some footage that was shot by the BBC actually of his concert, so it’s a combination of those … The film is on Van’s site .

Liz: I understand you may have to move soon?

Marcus: Well these floors have been rented, so I need to find another location at the site. And if I can find a patron, I will be filming right until the end.

You can find more information about Marcus and his work on his website.

The Awakening, Marcus Robinson, oil on canvas, 8′ X 4′ (photo by Marcus Robinson)

Art of the Incarcerated at Andrew Freedman Home

On the Grand Concourse at about 166th Street, you’ll find a very large Renaissance-style villa, with expansive grounds and a wrought iron gate.  Built in the 1920‘s by financier Andrew Freedman as a home for the elderly, this incongruous, imposing landmarked structure – the Andrew Freedman Home, now hosts artists’ residencies, as well as a bed and breakfast.

The current exhibits are by other artists. State Goods: Art in the Era of Mass Incarceration, features  works made by people who are either currently in prison, or who had previously served time.   Displayed in both the Executive Room Gallery and in the corridor, these 50 works are a powerful testimony to the skill and ingenuity of the artists, who often repurposed materials – cigarette boxes, newspapers, prison uniforms – owing to a lack of art supplies.  The show highlights the wide variety  of art made in prisons: paintings, drawings, mixed media pieces and sculptures.  Most of the pieces stand on their own; their backstory adds an appreciation for the obstacles the artists faced to make these works.   Here are my picks:

Elapisum- master & Helm, Jared Owens, mixed media on wood panels, Triptych, 34 x 48 in

middle panel, Elapisum: master & Helm, Jared Owens, mixed media on wood panels, Triptych, 34 x 48 in

In Elapisum:  master & Helm, Jared Owens started with the blueprint of the Fairton Federal Institution, where he was incarcerated for over a decade, then superimposed an image of a slave ship over it, abstracting them – and the people they confined – out across the panels, giving them the feel of an ancient Egyptian ruin.  This piece grabs you, even before you know what it’s about.

Prototype, Russell Craig, Pastel and paper collage on canvas, 41-5/8 x 24 in.

Russell Craig made this pastel self portrait assembled on his prison documents, entitled Prototype.  He later created a larger version, entitled Self-Portrait (which is in the collection of Hill  Harper).

Chain Gang, Eddie Kates, graphite on paper

Eddie Kates specializes in detailed graphite illustrations, three of which are on display, and show a highly developed technical facility, and empathy for his subjects.  He was a student in J.D. McGuire’s college level art courses at New Jersey State prisons. 

Freedom, Lisette Oblitas-Cruz, colored pencil, wter color and gel pen on Bristol board

Lisette Oblitas-Cruz was imprisoned for four and a half years for causing a car accident in which another woman died.  Art was her way of coping with prison hardships, and carrying responsibility for the death of another.

Spiz’ Bait Shop, Dean Gilespie, tablet backs, wood strips, cardboard, chipboard and cassette tape cases

Dean Gillispie has created several dioramas in the show, each a small slice of rural life.  In this one,Spiz’ Bait Shop, he used cassette tape cases to make the windows, cardboard and wood chips for the shop, and he fashioned the signs using advertisements he cut from magazines.  Gillispie was released from prison after serving 20 years for crimes he did not commit, and now serves on the Board of the Ohio Innocence Project.

An Institutional Nightmare, Gilberto Rivera, Federal prison uniform floor wax, prison documents, newspaper and acrylic paint.

Gilberto Rivera formed a collective with Jared Owens and Jessie Krimes, during the time he was incarcerated with them.  An Institutional Nightmare reflects this time, not only in the uniform that identified him as a “federal inmate” but also by the use of Rivera’s sentencing and release papers.

Still Unconquered, Gilberto Rivera, graphite on paper

A year after he was released, Rivera was working on a construction site when a machine cut off his left hand.  Undaunted, he trained himself to make art with only one hand.  This drawing, Still Unconquered, was made after he lost his hand.

The Andrew Freedman home is also hosting a concurrent exhibit of photographs by the 10 winners of En Foco’s  Photography Fellowships.  There are many excellent works here, so be sure to pay a visit to this show as well.

These exhibits are up only until June 16th.  See them before they close.  The Andrew Freedman Home  is located at 1125 Grand Concourse, the Bronx.