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ART @ Bushwick Open Studios, Brooklyn

June 9, 2010

For three days Arts in Bushwick opened their studios to the wandering public. Bushwick, in Brooklyn, not far past too cool for school Williamsburg, is a mass of graffitied warehouses, and hovers somewhere between looking like the most happening, yet abandoned, place in New York. Several studio filled warehouses participated, and you would have needed the three whole days to see them all. As it was I made it to only two, but it was enough to show me the lively teeming ideas of many, as these artists sat manning their studios, roasting in humidity with no ‘central air’, while people milled in and out, commenting, debating, admiring, drinking the wine that so many generous artists had on offer. The atmosphere was one of shared ideals and common, though varied, creativity: rooms full of art waiting to be discovered, hiding behind endless grey doors in cream corridors; the experience was surreal and infinitely intriguing.

The work on show ranged incredibly. To begin, we were confronted with the light flooded room of Cynthia Sparrenberger, her table of Rodin-like sculptures black and white silhouettes against the lattice window. Their texture, in bronze and plaster, was one of butter; mottled and feathered, it is expressive, carried by the dramatic sketch-like watercolours in greys that surround them. The studio had an ancient eclecticism about it, all heavy paged sketchbooks and experiments in miniature moulds; it was like walking into a time warp, held by a time evading obsession of the beauty and manipulability of the human form.

From this to the sharp realism of photography; Valentin & Marcondes’s work captures the abandoned concrete shell of a house in the hills. Dried and broken forest surrounding, slabs of uncompromising grey emerge only to be reflected in the pools of water that have collected beneath them, while a giant solar eclipse hovers in the colour drained air. Three doors along two girls laugh and joke in French, filling their studio with continental variation as they offer us chocolate wafer biscuits, rather than pretzels, while their photo booth shots of topless women in bearskins tower above us. Very British.

Doors to the studios are decorated and inviting: a flurry of gold spangly curtains hang in layers to greet us in one doorway, tangling people as they walk in and out. A couple of doors down little tables with shot glasses of dessert wine await, while in another wooden crates are positioned like obstacles; though a note tells us it’s just ‘the dog door’, really in this atmosphere who can tell. Upstairs pink and orange streamers pull a doorway into a perspective driven installation; we walk into the light, greeted by small square portraits of actors and musicians, their faces white and skeletal as if dead.

Many of the studios are shared, or at least for today’s display, with work spreading across the walls like a notice board. Sketches, photos, ink drawings, and paintings pinned postcard size migrate across the wall, miniature 3D pieces scattered between them: two plaster-cast broccoli trees on a wooden plinth, one red, one blue.

Next we wander into a room filled with what on first look appears to be an array of tribal masks and hangings. However, looking closer, these are the objects of Johannh Herr’s ‘rituals’, African inspired head-dresses and instruments made out of what lies scattered in our Western world: masks out of skunk tails, coloured rubber bands, fabric, phone chargers, buttons and brightly coloured, deliberately synthetic, acrylic. A harpsichord is made with a computer keyboard at one end, its bellows made from cardboard, and all this accompanied by photos of her installations: a giant paper mache cicada climbing a tree.

We next wander into the wonderful world of Art Guerra, who makes his own paint. Art (his real name) is both a painter and owns a shop, in order that he may pass on his paint-making secrets by selling the necessary ingredients to make them. He assures us its cheaper than buying readymade paint, and he certainly has an array of illustrious colours, pearls and glittering metallics. I plan to go. He then proceeds to tell us how he got into art, his original idea being to follow in his father’s footsteps and be a chemist. This being the plan, he was taking a huge amount of science courses when he received a visit (angry knock on the door) from a girlfriend telling him she was pregnant. Being “those days”, he tells us, his career looked to be replaced with early marriage, and he went into a quick and stunned hibernation. A couple of days later, another knock on the door, “I’m not pregnant”. Already being too behind to pick up his science classes, Art went to his tutor desperate to find something else to take. “Painting” came the answer and he’s never looked back. Art’s own paintings are amazing canvases of mottled fantastical colour, built-up they appear moss-like in their depth and texture, organically and darkly encompassing, though he tells us this texture his nothing but paint. No wonder the appearance is so intense; this is literal build up of colour.

From this painterly world of fantasy we wander past a shadowy room lit full of puppets; hung below spotlights, they glow eerily blue. Beckoning though they are, we walk past; it’s a bit creepy. Next to the studio of Johannah Herr. Here we find a room of eclecticism and preservation; stuffed birds and foliage framed in old but charming objects, a clock, a musical box and an ornate mirror frame, to name but a few. Homemade rosettes hang all over the walls, also resting on the pages of a gigantic book that sits in the middle of the room. They are lusciously coloured in luxurious ribbon, and feature small gold figurines in their centre: frogs, horses, dogs, insects, stars, a skull & cross bone – anything, I suspect, could be made to order. These are Herr’s ‘prizes’, making gifts rewards; indeed, she awards them herself, to the likes of Bjork and Lemony Snicket. Here we were offered not wine as usual but dill or lemon & ginger flavoured vodka, accompanied with homemade belinis topped with caviar for $3. Having not tried caviar before, I indulged – it was like tasty little fish bubbles, and so we moved on, suitably warmed by the vodka…

Next the studios take on a childhood theme, peanut portraits by Sam Simon (Mary Kate & Ashley Nut, Family Nuts etc) complete with a life size nut you can put your face in, me nut. Then Wink Wink Pony (that had been tantalising us in the corridors with its bright pink signs) appears, turning out to be faux brightly coloured lolly pops, shown by themselves or growing out of the fantastical scenes of rolling hills and climbing trees that grow three dimensionally out of the walls. Animals, owls mostly, also frequent this affair, poking their manga-like heads out of the tops of tree drunks, blushing dozily.

Next there’s a whole studio dedicated to creating art from Star Trek, complete with wall sized paintings and murals, technical drawings of space ships, and a life-size plaster cast of Patrick Stewart’s head. These artists are not so friendly, engrossed in complicated talk (about Star Trek). Moving on. Onto Maya’s studio which is an interesting mix of her latest pulled string sculptures, string pinned organically between wire frames, and her intriguing photography, a daisy being pinned to skin in a flesh beginning chain. She also covers sofas in paper patterns, small satisfying numbers with little red arrows direct us around the pattern pieces, a literal sketching of pieces of shape, they appear as a map of form. Next door is a giant screen printing machine; five printing windows are suspended from skateboard wheels, making the construction look like some sort of airship waiting to take off.


In a minimalist contrast to the clutter of previous studios Kyu Seok Oh’s is a huge room, flooded with light, containing three pieces only: a bed, a chair and a sheep. These, all white, are made out of reconstructed paper, pulp boiled down and put back together in its barest elements, aiming to produce sculptures of a pure simplicity, subtle and uncomplicated by material.

In a similarly organic vein Eric Lindvelt produces gigantic studies of tree bark and growths, blowing the intriguing textures and patterns up to more than twice their original size. His studio appears somewhere between a wall of installations and a biological lab, the pieces like scientific studies, oversized specimens hung for examination.

Our finishing studios are suitably psychedelic, with sea creatures and symbols painted in glow in the dark paint on shining black. These gleam luminous green in ultra violet light, like the fluorescent creatures of the deep sea bed. Next door Elizabeth Rabinovici has turned half her studio into a theatrical display of her contorted alien bodies. Back-lit and backdropped they are held twisting in front of us, their skeletal bodies based on the painfully drawn skin of anorexics. They appear as monsters, alien-like, but with this knowledge of their models (the photos cover the walls) there is a quiet sadness to their presence. Elizabeth gives us our last glass of wine, and we saunter into the setting sun to sit at the bar attached to the side of the warehouse, where live music plays along with the barbecued tacos.

Bushwick open studios has got to be one of the most creative atmospheres I’ve ever been in. Though the sheer amount of art is slightly overwhelming, there is such a range and diversity that you are never bored, and suitably fuelled with the artists’ generous offerings of booze and snacks. When people open their doors to you, inviting you to view their art, the dialogue is already begun; they are already showing you some of themselves and this openness was infectious. It was a unique experience and I’d definitely go back.

Watch out London warehouses, I feel a bit of a comparison coming on.

Check out art from Bushwick on postcardwall 162

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