I’ve come across the work of Fountain House artists at the Outsider Art Fair, and finally made it over to their gallery in Hell’s Kitchen for a talk about their latest exhibit, The Art of Fashion , which is closing August 9th. If you don’t know Fountain House Gallery, they work with artists who live with mental illnesses. I like their exhibits because it’s art I would be attracted to without knowing the artists’ backstories.
The first speaker was the curator, Kathy Battista, who chose the theme of fashion because fashion affects everyone, it can be looked at from several vantage points, and she wanted to do a fun show. Fashion is also her background – she teaches a class on Art & Fashion at Sotheby’s Institute. Kathy invited 7 mainstream contemporary artists to exhibit alongside the 37 Fountain House Gallery artists, creating a dialogue between their works. Once she selected the works to be shown, she then divided them into loose themes, such as celebrities, animals, the paradox of feminism, abstraction, street style, etc.
Next up was artist Alyson Vega, who spoke about her piece, If I Wore It, I Wore it With Jeans. She’s been making textile art from a young age, using recycled clothes or clothes from thrift stores. When Alyson was young, she had a pair of Peter Max for Wrangler hot pants that she couldn’t bear to part with, so she eventually turned them into a bag. For this work, Alyson started researching clothes from the 1970’s, ’80’s and early 90’s. The different fabrics – denim, lace, polyesters, flower print cottons – and some patches from those eras are incorporated in this piece. There are 6 panels in all, but the fabrics are not necessarily in chronological order – rather Alyson assembled pieces that she thought went together well, and then sewed them together. Measuring 3ft x 10ft, this is her largest work to date.
Elizabeth Bick was a dancer in her teens before turning to photography, which also has several of the same elements, such as light, performance, and movement. Seven years ago, when she moved to Bushwick, Elizabeth felt like an outsider, so she used her camera as a way of introducing herself, taking portraits of the neighborhood women. First she finds the background, one that won’t detract from her subjects, but where the light – she only uses natural light – is of a certain type. She noted that the women are often surprised that she wants to take their picture, as they feel invisible, especially the older ones. Elizabeth sees them as matriarchs of the neighborhood, and tries to portray them as archetypes, noting that the women have a specific way of expressing their femininity – their hair is done, their makeup is done, they’re well dressed, even when going to the store. You’ll notice that often her subjects are looking to the side – Elizabeth asks them not to look at the camera, so as to give them an iconic feeling. She’s taken several hundred photographs, and plans to continue this project until she moves out of the neighborhood.
Susan Spangenberg is a self-taught artist who spoke about how having a studio at Fountain House has made a difference to her life. Susan paints because she has to – she has something she needs to express – and now she has a place where her work can be seen. (She told the audience that when she was growing up, she thought calling herself an artist was pretentious.) Over the years, her work has changed; now she is trying to do less self-referential work and instead create pieces that address pop culture or that start a social-political dialogue. Her canvases in the show are a commentary not only on the celebrity-driven world we live in, but also on the way society views animals, especially dogs, as accessories to be discarded when they’re no longer useful.
Other works in this show which caught my eye:
The show is on only through August 9th.
So hurry over to Fountain House Gallery, 702 Ninth Avenue (at 48th Street).