Bronx Artists Residencies Exhibit

This summer, the Bronx Arts Space offered residencies (6 weeks studio space and a $500 stipend) to a group of six artists.  At the end of August, they held an exhibit of projects this inaugural group had worked on during their residencies. I had a chance to speak with three of the artists, and I definitely want to continue following their work.  Here’s why:

untitled, Alexis White, book pages and crayon

I was very attracted to Alexis White’s book-based work.  Against one wall were several works featuring  strong geometric patterns with vibrant colors – on closer inspection, these figures were drawn in crayon on the pages of a book.  Alexis began this series when her father, who works at a psychiatric facility, came home one day with a psychiatric book about “Children of Color.” 

Untitled, Alexis White, mixed paper and book collage

She also created a second collage series using pages from a found book (Les Etoiles by Alfonse Daudet), on which she pasted images cut from magazines.

Melissa Calderón’s embroidery art grabbed my attention immediately – it turns out her grandmother is a seamstress.  Melissa employs unconventional surfaces, such as wood, to create her sculptural embroidery pieces. Her work covers a variety of social issues, from the environment to housing. 

The Arctic Meltdown, Melissa Calderon, 1979-present, thread and wood

Against one wall is a series of 8 pieces, which show how the Arctic ice has been melting since 1979 and will continue to shrink through 2035, based on the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The Bronx Housing Court Monster, embroidery on linen, Melissa Calderón

I especially liked The Bronx Housing Court Monster – the title and the image say it all!

 

diarama of room in Harlem with videos of Shilo, OH by Erica Bailey

Erica Bailey’s dioramas deal with transience and impermanence.  She exhibited two rooms: one a recreation of her childhood room in Shilo Ohio, and the other, her first studio apartment in Harlem. As the artist noted, she wasn’t the first person to live in these spaces, and she won’t be the last.  In the “windows” of each room are street scenes from the other location, demonstrating their connection despite their differences.

I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next from these three!

Constructions of Cultural Identity at the Bronx Museum

Love Thy Neighbor, the last of the 3-part installation The Neighbors is on view at the Bronx Museum.  The exhibit, curated by Sofia Hernández Chong Cuy, explores “the stranger” versus “the neighbor”; by reinserting them into contexts that are familiar but unknown, the artists explore the roles that  “the other” plays in a community.  The three featured artists have created new works for the exhibition.

Image from Antisocial, 2017 by Ignacio González-Lang

Ignacio González-Lang has been working on his series Antisocial for 10 years.  He creates collages using police sketches of either missing persons or people who have committed crimes, then overlays them on photos of people who match those images, which he’s found on Instagram at #NYC.  With his I-phone he photographs these combined images and laser prints them on ceramics. 

Image from Antisocial, 2017 by Ignacio González-Lang

Mr. González-Lang told me that by recontextualizing these images, he’s asking, “How do you know who you’re looking for?” His project calls the notion of identity into question in a very powerful way. You may notice that the 135 photos are displayed at a lower height than normal; this was done so they can be accessible to the school children who take classes in this gallery.

From the series Requiem for a border crossing of my undocumented father, 2016, Irvin Morazan

Irvin Morazan’s work revolves around movement and agency, evoking his own immigration as a child, alone, to the U.S. from El Salvador.  Many of his works reproduce maps from the Historia Toteca Chichimeca (a 16th century manuscript diagramming Spain’s territories in what is now northern Mexico), on which he then superimposes imaginary immigration routes as well as sketches made by undocumented immigrants.  In several of these drawings you’ll find characters from the cartoon series “The Flintstones,”  which his father drew as a young man.

Border Crossing Headdress, Irvin Morazan

A recurrent theme is that of El Coyote, the agents who help people cross the border.  When I attended the Museum’s Open House, Mr. Morazan performed “Volver, Volver”  (Return, Return) employing this Border Crossing Headdress, which is also in the exhibition.

Firelei Báez has two pieces in completely different styles, but that both investigate identity, especially Caribbean identity.

Untitled, Firelei Báez, acrylic on paper

Her large scale acrylic on paper started with two figures that are in  a struggle or an embrace; once she decided on the shape, then she chose the colors.  For the artist, the  struggle or embrace is beyond those two individuals – it involves society as a whole.  Ms. Báez told me that the idea for this piece  came from a wilding video on the Internet, in which girls are being encouraged to fight by  a parental figure (who, according to usual societal strictures should be discouraging them).  She then took apart the idea of having those two girls in the midst of an embrace/struggle, to see what comes out of it.  The wall label also notes that in her new paintings, Ms. Báez reinterprets the old fable of pollination between a wasp and an orchid, on which French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari based their theories of identity.

Untitled (Daccessioned Book Pages), Firelei Báez, acrylic, ink and chine collé on found paper

This piece was created on a page from a deaccessioned book.  The woman wears a headdress that Ms. Báez based on masks of the Dogon people of Mali, with their intricate patterning and complex cosmology creating  a way of seeing yourself as being beyond your physical self. 

When Ms. Báez was a student at Cooper Union she learned that libraries all over the country deaccession books.  She sees this as not just a physical but also a conceptual clean up – observing that the figures she gathers on the Internet would have been excluded from the histories embodied by the books.  Ms. Báez also learned medieval bookbinding at the Center for Book Arts.  She noted how in miniature Persian books, the artists could put what they wanted to in the margins,  but not in the central figures because of history and cultural restrictions.  She observed that “Bringing the marginalia of current society to the forefront is reforming how we think of ourselves and what we consider proper.   What’s going on now could be a sensory overload or it could be a treasure trove”.

You’ll want to see Love Thy Neighbor before it closes on June 11th.  The Bronx Museum is at 1040 Grand Concourse (165th Street) in the Bronx.

Noir in the Bronx : Capturing the Melodrama

Red Sin, Boo Lynn Walsh, digital photograph 2016

It really didn’t take much to get a reaction – once I said “noir” it all tumbled out of her, like the lock of blonde hair that obscured her right eye:  cynical detectives, cheap hotels, lonely dames, traitors, tough gumshoes running down dark, rainy streets, chasing after clues that proved as elusive as the Yeti…

Noir as a genre elicits visceral responses: a certain frisson … a hint of danger … the thrill of trying to figure out whodunnit …  fathoming why …  It immediately conjures up that distinct iconography of grittiness, isolation and strict social roles embodied in classic films such as Double Indemnity, or the stories of Raymond Chandler.  Back in September, Longwood Arts Gallery issued a call for artworks that define noir, and the results are on display in Noir: Defining the Melodrama. The exhibit of almost 40 works contains primarily photographs and oil paintings, but you’ll also find some in ink, graphite and video.  Below are  highlights.

Alyssa Clear with her digital photograph, How I Dissolved My Marriage No. 8, 2016

Alyssa Clear plays the pin up girls and femme fatales who populate her photo scenarios  based on  true crime stories, giving them a voyeuristic, glamorized view.  You can find more of her work on her Instagram feed, Arsenous Apple Pie 

Nikki Johnson with The Pursuit of Happine$$, 2014, C-print on metal

Photographer Nikki Johnson is a fan of film and literary noir, especially Alfred Hitchcock and James Ellroy.  For her, it starts with the concept of a plan, where something goes awry, so she often shoots street scenes at night.  Her piece, the Pursuit of Happine$$, speaks to sex, intrigue and proposition…

Rasheed Humphrey with Woman at the Bar, 2014 digital print

Detective and the Dame, Rasheed Humphrey, chalk pastel on paper, 2016

Rasheed Humphrey was inspired by old films he was watching; he made sketches, then worked out the lighting, scanned the drawings, then painted over in chalk pastel.  The technique he employs as a comic book artist clearly suffuses his work, with its clean lines and bright colors.

Prospect Station, Daniel Hauben, oil on canvas, 1994

I liked Daniel Hauben’s use of  strong, directional brush strokes and the way he layered the paint to convey the grittiness of the sidewalk in his oil painting of Prospect Station.

In the exhibit you’ll also find Jeanette May’s humorous photos of toys murdered by pets that are a sly commentary on how TV cop shows have anesthetized our view of death;  Carey Clark’s photos of a set design she did 2 years ago  in Poland for a stage production of Goodbye My Lovely, which was cancelled 3 days before it was to open; and Néstor Daniel Pérez Molière’s  photographs of the folds of his body.  There’s also a video screen looping excerpts from classic noir films such as M, The Maltese Falcon and The Postman Always Rings Twice. And there’s more art.

On Wednesday, March 1st, at 6:30pm, Longwood Arts Gallery will host a discussion with visual artists Carey Clark, Jayson Keeling, Jeanette May and Jaimie Permuth, who will talk about the stories behind their photos and how they relate to the overall theme of the show. 

The show continues on through May 3rd, at the Longwood Art Gallery @ Hostos, 450 Grand Concourse (149th Street) in the Bronx.

Edgar Allan Poe’s Bronx Inspiration

Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe, artist unknown

Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe, artist unknown

Perhaps no other American author is as associated with Halloween as Edgar Allan Poe: lyric poet, inventor of the modern detective story, and master of the macabre.  Born in Boston in 1809, he was an orphan by the age of 3, subsequently living in many places: Scotland, England, Richmond, VA and Baltimore, MD, among others – but it was during his stay in the Bronx that he penned some of his best-known works:  The Bells, Annabelle Lee, and The Cask of Amontillado.  You can visit his former home, Poe Cottage, on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx (it was originally at Kingsbridge Road, some 450 feet south).  Poe moved there in 1846 with his wife, Virginia, and his mother-in-law (and aunt) Maria Clemm, when the area was known as Fordham Village, in the hopes that by living in the “country”  Virginia’s  tuberculosis would be cured.  Alas, this was not to be – Virginia died there in January, 1847.  Poe lived in the cottage for almost another two years during which he used the library at my alma mater, Fordham University, which was then St. John’s College.  It’s been claimed that The Bells was inspired by the chimes from Fordham’s chapel??  Poe died on  October 7, 1849 in Baltimore – to this day, the cause of his death is still unknown. 

Poe Cottage, Grand Concourse, the Bronx

Poe Cottage, Grand Concourse, the Bronx

Poe Cottage is a lovely one and a half story white wooden frame farmhouse, built by the Valentine family for one of their farmhands.  Even back then, it was like many homes in today’s NYC – not enough space. 

Sitting room/living room Poe Cottage

Sitting room/living room Poe Cottage

And it also has very low ceilings.  On the ground floor you’ll find a kitchen, a living/sitting room with fireplace, as well as the very small room where Virginia lay bedridden for some six months.

Virginia's Bedroom, Poe Cottage

Virginia’s Bedroom, Poe Cottage

The house was known for being sparsely furnished, and a few of the original furnishings are on this floor. The small space upstairs had a bedroom and Poe’s study.  I took a guided tour, and had a great time.  Even if you don’t make it to Poe’s Cottage for Halloween, get up to see it another time!  The Cottage is owned by the NYC Parks Department, which has more information on its website  ; the Bronx Historical Society administers the Cottage and there’s more information on its website.

Theatre Poster for "The Raven"

Theatre Poster for “The Raven”

On Saturday, October 29th, from noon until 3:00 pm, From Poe’s Porch  will feature poets who will read from The Cottage’s porch from 12:00-1:10 P.M. This will be followed by special workshops and panel discussions in the adjacent Poe Park Visitor Center, from 1:30-3:00 P.M., just steps away from the historic house landmark. Tours of The Cottage will be available and both programs are free. More information here  

If you can find Hal Willner’s Closed on Account of Rabies, a record featuring actors and musicians such as Christopher Walken and Marianne Faithfull reading works by Poe, grab it!   You can find bits and pieces on-line at Open Culture – Iggy Pop’s rendition of The Tell Tale Heart is not to be missed!  

Latin American Art in the Bronx

The Longwood Art Gallery @ Hostos is once again hosting a terrific exhibit, the 5th Bronx Latin American Art Bienal/Biennial.  Featuring about 20 works by artists from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Cuba,Venezuela and Peru, this compact show offers a variety of styles and media.  Let me give you a few of my favorites:

The Dog House by Sandra Mack-Valencia

The Dog House by Sandra Mack-Valencia

Sandra Mack-Valencia, who hails from Colombia, has three paintings on wood panels which revolve around the theme of “home”, especially the American dream of home ownership vs. the reality, so in all three pieces you’ll find homes floating in a cloud-like atmosphere.  In the foreground of The Dog House, a stack of gold and red houses run up the middle – underneath the top house, there’s a small picture of an elderly couple –  and in the background small doghouses are scattered about. While the painting could be a riff on the expression, “to be in the doghouse” the artist told me that perhaps something else is going on – she wants the viewer to make their own interpretation.

El Creador, by Freddy Rodriguez

El Creador, by Freddy Rodriguez

Freddy Rodriguez,   who hails from the Dominican Republic, is showing two pieces, both acrylic on canvas.  In El Creador, vibrant patches of bright aqua, yellow and white burst from a black background, on which he’s painted, in Spanish, a quote from the Argentinean writer Julio Cortazar (Hopscotch) “The Creator is always forging himself” which mirrors Rodriguez’ own philosophy that work always needs to change, whether in technique or subject matter. “And,” Freddy added, “it should have a sense of humor”.

Theories of Freedom: Golden Landscape, by Scherezade Garcia

Theories of Freedom: Golden Landscape, by Scherezade Garcia

Theories of Freedom: Golden Landscape by Scherezade Garcia (Dominican Republic)   is a powerful wall installation composed of inner tubes painted gold and blue, some bearing airline luggage identification tags (often decorated with an image of the Statue of Liberty) and tied together with plastic safety ties, that speaks clearly to migration – both historic and current – by those fortunate enough to fly and those forced to flee on rubber rafts, as well as the enslaved people who were bound and forced to migrate.

Puente / Socorro by Jose Morales

Puente / Socorro by Jose Morales

The rear space of the gallery is given over to Puerto Rican artist Jose Morales’ commanding installation, Puente/Socorro (which means Bridge/Help), which is in two parts:  the above structure and…

Puente / Socorro by Jose Morales

Puente / Socorro by Jose Morales

on the walls, a series of cross-hatched panels, each with one letter of the word Socorro inscribed on their surface, recalling the scratches that prisoners leave on their cell walls.

You can find more images of the show on my Instagram feed.  Better yet, be sure to get up to the Longwood Art Gallery@Hostos before this fabulous show closes on December 7th!

Happy Times in the Bronx – book review

Prof. Mark Naison, Liz Daly and Bob Gumbs (l-r) Photo by Trevon Blondet, Black Blonde Images

Prof. Mark Naison, Liz Daly and Bob Gumbs (l-r) Photo by Trevon Blondet, Black Blonde Images

Too often, when people think of the Bronx, they think of abandoned houses, empty lots, gangs, drugs and fires.  While that description certainly applied to a large portion of the borough for many years, today you’ll find vibrant communities in previously devastated areas, as well as neighborhoods that are rebuilding themselves.  Developers are now actively pursuing projects in locations they wouldn’t have dared walk through 20 years ago.

But before the Bronx burned, it was a largely middle-class, prosperous place, even in areas that were later ravished by drugs and abandonment, such as Morrisania, which is profiled in a new book, Before the Fires: An Oral History of African American Life in the Bronx from the 1930s to the 1960s .  I recently attended a talk by the book’s authors, Mark Naison, a professor at Fordham University and Bob Gumbs, a graphic designer, artist and author.  Having grown up in the Bronx, in Hunts Point and later in the Castle Hill projects, to me this book is a much needed corrective to the popular image of the borough.  As a Fordham alum, I’m proud that they’ve created the project that inspired this book, and published it. Through the voices of seventeen people, who grew up in one neighborhood, Morrisania, the story of the Bronx comes alive, and provides a vantage point from which to consider the effects of private market practices (especially in real estate) but also public policy.

The book had its genesis in an oral history program, the Bronx African American History (BAAH) project,  that Fordham University started 14 years ago, with an interview with Victoria Archibald-Good, the sister of the basketball great, Tiny Archibald,  who recounted her happy recollections of growing up in the Patterson Houses, which, at that time, was a multi-racial, middle class neighborhood with great schools.  Then Bob Gumbs got involved with the BAAH and over time more community members told their stories.

Between the 1930s and 1960s, blacks from Harlem, the South and the Caribbean settled in the Morrisania section of the Bronx – in contrast to other neighborhoods, they were welcomed there, by landlords trying to fill apartments that had been vacated by tenants who had been evicted or had moved to the suburbs.  Through the recollections of individuals who grew up there, the book provides a snapshot of a stable community – which also had its problems – that provided the foundation for the success achieved by many of its residents.  The neighborhood’s history is told by residents who went on to become teachers, musicians, public servants, a theologian, an architect and sports journalist.  A strong work ethic was central:  many of the families had fathers who had steady employment as Pullman porters, mail carriers, tailors, and some who had second jobs.  Neighbors watched out for each other’s children, and didn’t hesitate to tell them when they were misbehaving.  The churches were also integral to peoples lives, providing not only spiritual nourishment, but also community, youth activities, and a link to larger forces, such as the civil rights movement.  The book’s participants speak about attending schools that were racially integrated; caring teachers; after school programs that went on until 9:00 pm; and community centers that provided activities which kept them away from gangs. The Police Athletic League offered community programs led by police officers, allowing for friendly contacts between NYPD and local youth.   But it’s music that permeates this chronicle: public school music programs that let students take instruments home for practice, providing training for a future musical career (Jimmie Owens, Joe Orange, Arthur Crier), and mentorship and camaraderie for the kids.  There were  also plenty of opportunities to mingle with neighbors from the area’s diverse populations and musical traditions: salsa, soul, doo-wop, jazz, rock…. In the local clubs you could listen to Herbie Hancock, Edddie Palmieri, Valerie Simpson, the Chantals, some of whom grew up in the area.

Before the Fires also raises the question of how Morrisania, and so many other stable neighborhoods fell apart. Through the individual stories, it becomes clear that drugs, especially heroin, were a major culprit, as were  the loss of decent paying jobs, especially in manufacturing, the disinvestment in cities by the Federal government, and worst of all, in my estimation, the disinterest and neglect by the City of it’s public housing stock, and its public schools, especially the defunding of music and arts programs, as well as after school activities. 

The voices and stories in Before the Fires  are not only authentic, but engaging – if you’re interested in urban history, this book is a must read.

The Bronx African American oral history project continues at Fordham:  to find out more, or to listen to some of the stories, click here 

Impressions in the Garden

Ideal Violets at the New York Botanical Gardens

Ideal Violets at the New York Botanical Gardens

This heat has gotten to your intrepid blogger, so with some friends I headed up to the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx to see the current exhibit, Impressionism:  American Gardens on Canvas, a small but well-curated exhibit of paintings by American Impressionist artists active at the turn of the twentieth century.  Influenced by their French counterparts, the work of the Americans shares many of the same characteristics; an emphasis on the overall composition; capturing the ephemeral quality of light; thick, rapid brushstrokes and scant attention to detail. Outdoor subjects were particularly well suited for this impressionistic style.

The exhibit, in the Mertz Library, is divided into about half a dozen sections, each with 3 to 5 paintings, by both noted artists as such as Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase and John Singer Sargent, as well as lesser-known painters like Maria Oakey Dewing and David Putnam Brinley.

As cities became more crowded, dirty and industrialized, the late 1800’s saw the rise of the urban beautification movement, with the construction of large rambling parks such as Central Park and Prospect Park (both by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux), built to provide green lungs for city dwellers who couldn’t escape to large private estates far outside the city such as those owned by John Rockefeller (Pocantico) and James Deering (Vizcaya) – take a look at John Singer Sargent’s watercolors of the fountains on their grounds. In the suburbs and cities, homeowners with land began employing a a simplified domestic garden style inspired by the informal dooryard gardens of the colonial era.  Plantings would change with the season; depending on the time of year, you’d find  crocuses, daffodils, pansies, violets, poppies, hollyhocks, roses, sweet peas, morning glories or sunflowers.  I lingered over  Maria Oakey Dewing’s Rose Garden, a 1901 oil which hearkens back to the Old Master’s in its realism and technique.

Celia Thaxter's Garden 1890 by Childe Hassam via Wikicommons

Celia Thaxter’s Garden 1890 by Childe Hassam via Wikicommons

During this period, artists colonies started becoming popular, not only as places to work without the distractions of the metropolis, but also as retreats where artists could meet each other to exchange ideas and gossip. Two were especially noteworthy:  in Old Lyme, Connecticut,  Florence Griswold operated a boarding house at her home that became known as the “American Giverny,” while  on Maine’s Appledore Island, many artists stayed at the hotel owned by the family of writer Celia Thaxter – her home on the Island was noted for it’s garden as well as for the salon she hosted.  Two of my favorite pieces in the show were painted there, both by Childe Hassam:  Celia Thaxter’s Garden 1890, with it’s view of the sea from the garden; and Summer Sea, Isles of Shoals, a1902 oil depicting the coast line at Appledore Island, with an especially brilliant blue sea.

Because this is a small exhibit, you’ll have the luxury of being able to take the time to look at all the works closely – they’re all lovely.

After the show, you might want to take a leisurely stroll over to the Conservatory, where you’ll find an interpretation of Celia Thaxter’s old-fashioned, cottage-style garden, evocative of the smaller gardens often depicted by the American Impressionists. 

If you’ve worked up an appetite, I can recommend Hudson Garden Grill, close by on the Garden’s grounds, which serves a tasty lunch in a delightful setting.

Impressify version of my photos of daisies

Impressify version of my photos of daisies

Two last things:  before you go, read the on-line exhibition guide  which will give you a good overview of what you’ll see. And try Impressify,  the Garden’s on-line tool that allows you to upload a photo and transform it into an impressionist painting either as a still image or a moving one (GIF).  It’s a lot of fun! You can see my transformed daisies on the left.

The exhibit runs through September 11.

Fibre Art With a Message in the Bronx

Modren-Graves Russian Tiger, hand-knit by Ruth Marshall

Modren-Graves Russian Tiger, hand-knit by Ruth Marshall

I got to Charm & Vinegar at the Bronx Arts Space  just before it closed last week.  Featuring works  of various styles – soft sculptures, embroidery, knit textiles and dolls – by four artists, this exhibit wore it’s title well.  Two of the artists were at the gallery, and I was able to talk with them about their work. 

Ruth Marshall  hails from the state of Victoria in Australia, and even though she’s been living in the Bronx since the 1990’s, the broad vowels of her homeland still pepper her speech.   She came to New York to study art at Pratt Institute, after which she made sculptures in steel and resin.   But it was her work at the Bronx Zoo that impelled her change to fibre art – as a means of raising awareness of endangered species, and raising knitting from a craft to a fine art.  At the Zoo, she worked by the snow leopards, and fell in love with them.  Through her job, she had access to the storage areas of the Museum of Natural History, where she could see animal pelts up close.  And that’s where she realized she wanted to talk about the animals in her art.  Ruth’s mother and aunt taught her how to knit as a child, but she put it aside for a number of years.  It was on a trip back to Australia that she took it up again, knitting socks for her family members in an Estonian style, with lots of color and patterns. 

Detail, Ocelot #6, hand knit by Ruth Marshall

Detail, Ocelot #6, hand knit by Ruth Marshall

Which, in many ways, gave her the skills to make the intricate, detailed stitches needed to render endangered animals in knitted textiles. Starting around 2005, in the back rooms of the Museum, she would make drawings from the specimens, which she used to create a chart she could knit from.  Ruth spends about three months on the larger animals.  Her attention to detail is striking, and is easy to see in animals with distinct markings or contrasting colors, such as the siberian tiger, or the possum, or the numbat.  It really hits you with the animals that are seemingly one color; for example, when you look at the black jaguar from far away, he appears to be made from one shade of black yarn;  get closer, and you’ll see she’s used two shades of black, and recreated the rosette patterns found in the jaguar’s fur in nature. Each of her pieces are unique, even though she may do a series of one animal (i.e., 4 ocelots).  Ruth has also knit a series of 70 species of coral snakes, whose images she found in a reference book on reptiles.

Je ne sais quoi, by Cinnamon Wilis

Je ne sais quoi, by Cinnamon Wilis

Cinnamon Willis peopled the room with Melandollies  –  art dolls that are sad, melancholic… As an only child, Cinnamon would often get dolls, which she noted,  were all smiley, happy … not always the way she felt.  So Cinnamon decided to create dolls that expressed our other, darker feelings – she also likes horror movies – and around 2010 started making them from paper clay, with wire armature, wild hairdos and hand-made costumes.  Some of the dolls are based on actual people – one is based on an Instagram musician.  Her emphasis is on the face of her dolls (and busts) – you can really feel their individual personalities.   

Also in the show is a larger sculptural piece that Cinnamon created in response to the loss of neighborhood identity which often accompanies gentrification – in an attempt to create a new “identity” for neighborhoods that have seemingly negative connotations, realtors and developers will

Sculpture by Cinnamon Willis

Sculpture by Cinnamon Willis

propose new names (i.e., the “Piano District” for part of the South Bronx, “Bedwick” where Bushwick and Bedford Stuyvesant meet) or attempt to have cultural markers erased (apparently there was an attempt to have “Ave. of Puerto Rico” removed from some of the “Graham Avenue” street signs in Williamsburg.)  I’ll be interested to see how her art develops in this vein.

Crocodile, embroidery by Edith Isaac Rose

Crocodile, embroidery by Edith Isaac Rose

The show also featured embroideries by Edith Isaac Rose,  whose images revolving around war and power are not easy to decipher, but her masterful stitching – wolves and weapons juxtaposed with delicate flowers – creates haunting works. 

The Peruvian artist Liliana Avalos Mendoza  had several soft sculptures, some incorporating indigenous Peruvian imagery on original silk-screened fabric.  Her household appliances were enhanced by her beautiful embroidery.

Escudo 4 by Liliana Avalo Mendoza

Escudo 4 by Liliana Avalo Mendoza

Even though this show has closed, take a look at the work these artists are doing.  I’d also recommend that you get up to see the new work at the Bronx Art Space  which showcases emerging and underrepresented artists, and often hosts talks with the artists.  Every Saturday through August 13th, they are having spoken word workshops, led by Bobby Gonzalez, that are free and open to the public – ages 14 through senior!

Catch Michelle Stuart’s Photo Exhibit Before It Closes

Earth Memory Seekers by Michelle Stuart

Earth Memory Seekers by Michelle Stuart

This is the last weekend to catch a great show at the Bronx Museum:  Michelle Stuart, Theatre of Memory, Photographic Works. 

Michelle Stuart is widely known for her nature-based art, but this exhibit showcases her photography, assembling 12 large-scale works made since 2008 plus some from  her earlier “Codex” series, all related to her interested in ethnography, archaeology and natural history.  Each composition consists of photos arranged in a grid format, so the eye can move in several directions across the grid.  She also uses this format to construct a theme – our personal involvement with nature, history, and the cosmos –  around which the viewer can create their own story.  In her work, Stuart also struggles with the question of why are we here, and what can the artist say about that.  Since her work combines so many different types of images, it can be difficult to describe, so forgive me if sometimes my descriptions sound like a jumble… but there is a certain coherence amidst the chaos, and this is a format that provokes questioning, searching.

The artist’s engagement with nature is especially pronounced in the first two works, Sayreville Quarry, NJ, and Uxmal, Yucatan, Mexico, dating from 1980-81, and clearly derived from the artist’s Land Art works; each canvas is a piece of muslin rubbed with the earth of the respective location, creating a large lovely brown square framed by small square color photos of that site, mostly in blues and browns, enhancing the earthly feel. This combination of photographs and rubbed-in earth contribute to each site’s unique and specific appearance.   Right next to them is the Sacred Solstice Alignment (1981-2014) twenty-four black & white photographs of Machu Picchu and the adjacent mountain, whose dreamy, meditative quality, captures the feeling of that site.  I especially enjoyed this series, since I didn’t have my camera with me when I visited Machu Picchu some years ago, having left it in my hotel in Lima. 

Several of Stuart’s works revolve around history, particularly that of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific, combining photos she’s made with vintage and found images, which she often alters, causing us to question what we really know as “history,” and  to wonder about the stories we’ve never heard. The Ring of Fire (2008-09/10) is composed of photos of the native peoples of Australia and New Zealand as well as butterflies, iguanas, mountains, flowers, old photographs of ocean liners, masted ships, black & white print diagrams of the constellations of Jupiter, Libra, and Aquarius.  Earth Memory Seekers (2011) are 60 photos (some vintage) of fauna & flora from remote locations, specimens, hunters and indigenous people.  In Time Recaptured (2013) she returns again to this area, but with photos of her ancestors, family members, as well as animals, landscapes and sea animals. 

Night Over Alice Springs, by Michelle Stuart

Night Over Alice Springs, by Michelle Stuart

Stuart’s exploration of our relationship with the cosmos finds its expression in Hear the Mermaids Sing (2013) an assemblage of 70 black & white photos of  the moon, the stars, clusters, clouds, space craft and boats punctuated by a recurring image of a man in a hat.   Night Over Alice Springs (2013) has the artist again turning her gaze to the sky, capturing not only planets, stars and the moon, but also moths and mirrors.

The Ambiguities (2015) are all black & white photographs (but one) of landscapes, seascapes, objects and faces, many wind-swept, giving it the feeling of a very old photograph, as if you had stumbled on someone’s secret album in an attic..  it’s not only her story, or Herman Melville’s story (it’s his title), but what the viewer brings to it.

My Still Life (2015-16) is a large grid of 40 color “still lifes”: images of real objects that the artist owns, along with fictive images, vintage personal photos, photos of collages and 3-D dioramas she’s constructed, many containing vintage photos, and others with the night-time sky as a background. Each image is a vignette, pulling you in to decipher the mystery it seems to hold.

The Carousel, and now the china elephant comes 'round by Michelle Stuart

The Carousel, and now the china elephant comes ’round by Michelle Stuart

My two favorites are works that have more urban themes (I am a city girl): The Carousel, and now the china elephant comes round (2013) a series of black & white photos of carousels in motion, in the middle of which is a portrait of a young woman wearing a fez, and other photos which could be movie stills… capturing the magical feel of the carousel  (the title comes from a Rainer Maria Rilke poem, The Carousel); and Rue Cart (2013-14) twenty-eight black & white photos of Parisian streets, buildings, specific objects (a watch, a pitcher, a stamp on an envelope) which has the overall feeling of old photos seen through the rain.

The last day to catch this exhibit is Sunday, June 26th – take yourself up to the Bronx to see it.   

Bronx Artists – On Display and Getting Their Due

Adam and Eve on a Raft, by Heidi Johnson, oil on canvas

Adam and Eve on a Raft, by Heidi Johnson, oil on canvas

Made it up to the Longwood Art Gallery @ Hostos for the 2016 BRIO  (Bronx Recognizes Its Own) grantees ceremony.  BRIO provides direct support, in the form of $3,000 grants, to 25 individual Bronx artists who create literary, media, visual, and performing works of art.  BRIO award winners are required to complete a one-time public service activity within the one-year period of their award.

In addition to the ceremony, there was also an exhibition BRIO VI – Material, Culture + Conditions featuring 2014- 2015 BRIO grantees in Visual Arts & Media.  The artwork covered a wide range of media including, collage, monotypes, paintings, photography, sculpture, textile/fiber art, and video.

Day #45, #3, by Ruth Marshall, 2015 hand knit yarn, canvas and t-pins

Day #45, #3, by Ruth Marshall, 2015 hand knit yarn, canvas and t-pins

There was much to like in this show of almost 30 works.  Being an embroiderer, I was especially drawn to the two pieces by Ruth Marshall, composed of hand-knit yarn, canvas and paint.   Three oil paintings caught my eye – two by Lisa Lebofsky of Melting Icebergs in Greenland (oil on aluminum), and Heidi Johnson’s Adam and Eve on a Raft whose bright colors and sea creatures are a sly commentary on how we’ve polluted our waterways.  Agnes Murray’s three monotypes were lovely, and I also enjoyed Boringuen Gallo’s Heaven Wheels Above You, fashioned from found wheel rims.

I got to speak a bit with Amy Pryor, who has 6 pieces in the show.  Her background is in both landscapes (traditional and abstract) and sculpture.   She is concerned with how materials function, about how ordinary materials are used, especially images from advertising.

Like a red morn that ever yet betokened, by Amy Pryor, 2016 collage on panel with ink, offset, envelopes, magazine paper and acrylic

Like a red morn that ever yet betokened, by Amy Pryor, 2016 collage on panel with ink, offset, envelopes, magazine paper and acrylic

Her mixed media collages depict the intersection of landscape, abstraction and economics, so it will come as no surprise that a recurring motif is price tags – which she either cuts out from print ads, or gets from on-line publications, or uses the price stickers you find in the supermarket.

Amy’s work also explores how one orients oneself amid a consumer barrage, so you’ll notice that there are many near disasters – an avalanche, an eruption – in her pictures.  You can find out more about Amy on her website.

BRIO VI runs through August 3rd, at the Longwood Art Gallery @ Hostos, 450 Grand Concourse, the Bronx.  There are more images from the show on my Instagram feed.

I also got the chance to speak with two of this year’s BRIO awardees. 

Assisi III, by Agnes Murray, 1982, ink wash on Asian paper

Assisi III, by Agnes Murray, 1982, ink wash on Asian paper

Sarah Stern has been writing poetry since she was 12 years old – she wrote her first poem with her mom, when she was graduating elementary school.  What a great way to launch a career!  Sarah got another push at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where one of her professors told her to keep on writing poetry.  Which she did, taking workshops at the 92nd Street Y, learning about revision and about taking herself seriously as a poet.  She also discovered that other people were struggling with the same writing issues she was.

This is Sara’s 5th BRIO award – the first one, she said “was magic”.  Sarah has published a chap book Another Word for Home as well as a full book of her poems, But Today is Different.  Throughout her career, she’s had “many, many rejections – you need patience when you write poetry.”  You can find more information about Sarah and her work on her website

Heaven Wheels Above You, by Boringuen Gallo, 2016 found rim, cast bondo auto filler and spray paint

Heaven Wheels Above You, by Boringuen Gallo, 2016 found rim, cast bondo auto filler and spray paint

Rock Wilk, BRIO winner for acting, was in the music business for many years, both as a producer and a performer (he sings and plays several instruments).  A few years ago he cut his own album, but didn’t feel that music was the right fit for him.  However, that was the beginning of his journey as a playwright – he turned his album Broke Wide Open into a performance piece of the same name, which was performed in several festivals and ran for over 3 months at the New Theatre Off Broadway.

The end of June will see two performances of his new play, Brooklyn Quartet.  Inspired by the 2006 shooting of Sean Bell by NYC police, BQ is a fictional tale of three kids (2 boys and one girl) who are best friends growing up in Bed-Stuy, but wind up almost destroying one another.   The play will be directed by Reg E Gaines, the author/ lyricist of the Tony Award winning musical, Bring In Da Noise/ Bring In Da Funk.  You can catch BQ on June 24th and 25th at the Pregones Theatre in the Bronx.  You can find more information about the play and about Rock at his website  

You can find more information about the other BRIO winners here.    

CONGRATULATIONS to all!