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Open Studios, Open Mind

Auction season has ended, museums are in full swing for the summer's tourism and galleries are overseas devising plans to display ( and sell) their artist's works. Meanwhile, artist's are taking full advantage to showcase their current projects during this break in art events. No matter what you're pursuing, you will hear from mentors, teachers or colleagues you must be familiar with what your contemporaries are doing. Going to exhibits or gallery openings are a big factor and good way of seeing pieces in the final state, but open studios are a totally different realm. You're meeting with the artist in her/his comfort zone, the place where all their problems, epiphanies and experimentations take place and are invited to discuss (and pose questions) to their creations. Now, a disclaimer...this is not a competition or comparison of Bushwick vs. Chelsea. Once you make it into a contest, the point becomes lost. I am merely giving the observations of what I saw to shred light on why these open studios are so impactful and important. First up...Bushwick.

When I grabbed the 80's retro-looking blue and pink guide book, I had no idea where to start! From the recommendation of my Juan, who came to the open studios with me, we started on 324 Ten Eyck Street. A lot of the studios are housed in refurbished warehouses where light filters in from the top and wise open layouts give the artist's range to work. Deborah Brown was one of the few painters in 324 and her paintings drew more psychological attributes than technique based contemplation. Her subjects are figures posed in profile or three quarter's view, evoking a traditional portrait painting motif, twisting the paint strokes covering the subject's faces or heads. The looping colors and scribbled lines reminded me of the "inner workings" behind each character's personas. It was almost as if you didn't need to see the subject's faces to understand how they were feeling or thinking, becoming tangled into the weave of thoughts, worries, or ideas that race through our heads. On our way to the next studio down the road, we happened to come across a street artist who seemed to be halfway through his piece. Migastroni's eye pierced its gaze to you, but not in a defensive way. More an acknowledgement that even though this "illegal art" isn't supposed to be on the walls, it will display its array of cool leaves ever more proudly. Juan and I ended up passing by the street later and the artist was still going at it; even had a companion right next to him conjuring up his own design.

The old warehouses weren't the only structures being converted for creativity, blocks and blocks of street walls were taken over by vibrantly colored murals. References of past icons and current music artists seemed to be the popular subject matter. One even had the Brooklyn native, Jay-Z, in front of a text which clearly was stating "Warhol" and "Basquiat". If that wasn't clear enough, then there was no mistaking Basquiat's signature hairstyle and iconic crown over Hova's head. Of course, the symbolic play could only reference Jay-Z's growing record empire, but real street royalty was standing right next door. Blek le Rat. Before there was Banksy, there was Blek le Rat who (also) used little rats as part of his tag creations, giving social commentary with simple black and white imagery. I could go on about the history behind Blek le Rat and how (assumingly) Banksy was influenced by this street artist...but I'll save that for another time. Regardless, to come across that was like accidentally stepping on a hundred dollar bill! Nearby an abandoned lot lay vacant with old furniture and household items, all spray painted in gold. This arrangement was purely thought out, but left unattended and with no name or even title as to what these pieces could mean. You're left with your own interpretation and acceptance as to whether these pieces are really trashed, worthless junk or now coveted treasures. One of my favorites from the day was Artcade. As an adult, you sometimes (or maybe even all the time) wish to go back in time when life seemed simple and all you could do was play outside or with your video games...well this space welcomed the inner kid in everyone. Not only was there a virtual museum where you put on a headset and earphones to walk through an invisible gallery, but there was even a board gam devoted to Bushwick's residents called "Are We There Yet?". The game resembled "Life" in layout and scheme; literally had spaces where you would land referencing actual scenarios that could happen in Bushwick. Most of the responses I found purely hilarious. If that didn't excite you, then a futuristic Tetris-like game was an option to play. By the time I left, there was a line of people waiting for their turn at the control.

On the other hand, Chelsea (a known mecca for contemporary art and artists) was on the opposite side of the spectrum for this past weekend's open studios. Music was seeping out of most of the artist's spaces, but not the hits that were instantly recognized from MTV or BET. Jazz seemed to the environment's voice. With doors ajar, I walked into the spaces and most of the time was welcomed by the artists themselves. I was able to talk to a majority of the artists that I visited and in doing so, got to have one on one conversations about their collection of work. One such artist, Gordon Sasaki, explained the hidden elements of his glow in the dark paintings (and sculpture) becoming different pieces once the lighting changed. The bold strokes first capture your attention, become swayed when the fine lines reveal a new face to his works. One thing I also noticed while walking through the Chelsea studios were the layouts and set up that the artists were housed in. No studio looked alike. Like the paintings, sculptures or installations, each one had its own signature. Some studios were more centrally open, allowing light to rain in, cast subtle shadows, and sculptural tricks of color like in Jon Nathanson's studio. Some of them, like Daniel Liss, even used the space beyond the studio for his work. By setting a camera outside his window, he combined a video feed of the street and used the movements of people passing by to select the words creating a newly realized poem.

One thing I appreciated more than anything from these artists was their willingness and genuine interest in sharing their work with visitors. Sometimes you can look at a piece and not immediately understand the symbolism (or technique) behind what was trying to be conveyed. Not all the time you get to interact with the artist and ask those questions that stump you. I had one such encounter with one of Scotto Mycklebust's prints that immediately caught my attention when I entered. Three figures, all outlined in red, had these letters above their heads, but I couldn't make out what it could reference. One of the figures was very reminiscent of Picasso's voluptuous nudes, which it turned out was an attribution to the artist. Mycklebust explained that he created the print as an exploration and personal interpretation of three of art history's masters: Durer, Rembrandt, and Picasso. It turned out I was right! Another artist I came across was Rodney Durso. He dove into full explanations behind not only the content, but way of working that he utilizes. Durso had a wall devoted to just the symbols or character-like images he used in his paintings. He explained that some are of nothing at all; others originated from Japanese wording and then twisted into a different unknown sign. The signs would reference known subject matter, such as a star constellation, projecting streaks of light balanced off soft galactic hues of brown, blue and purple.

Both of the open studios taught me something that simply going to a show can't naturally produce. Interaction amongst other artists and questions are a valid and necessary thing. Being curious in a piece isa virtue. By seeing other people's artwork and the dialogue between the creator and the viewer, it only fueled my energy to work on pieces of my own. And it isn't that the point? Isn't that what we preach every day-to share (and receive) creative expression, opening up our minds to new ideas or possibilities? It's not all the time about money, how many shows you can get into or how big your studio is. The point is to be inspired and inspire others. A give and take, something to be shared, not coveted or withheld. Overall, I was highly impressed by the content and context by these past two weekends and am only excited to see what will come next!

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