Artist Spotlight: Spencer Merolla

spencer_merolla_headshotHow long have you worked in the Gowanus neighborhood?

I have worked in Gowanus for three years and was drawn to the area because of the great community… and unforgettable aromas.

About my work

My work is concerned with bereavement including the tension between public and private grief, social customs and the material culture of mourning as well as the objects as repositories of memory that retain and transmit meaning. I work with human hair, clothing, and found photographs.

Is there an aspect of Gowanus that inspires you?

I like the history of Gowanus and an interested in Gowanus as a marshland, a revolutionary war battle site, an industrial center, and a cautionary tale about environmental degradation.

Why should people visit your studio during Gowanus Open Studios 2016?

Visitors to GOS 2016 should visit my studio because it is always fun and also because my studio is in a building with so many other participating artists.

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What do you have on your walls at home?

At home, I have everything from small original works by artists that I love to antique wallpaper design sketches to matchboxes, souvenirs, bits of wood, and a countless list of other unexpected objects.

What is your secret talent?

My secret talent is that I enjoy memorizing Latin plant names.

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To see more of Spencer’s work, visit her website: www.spencermerolla.com

Artist Spotlight: Katie Hector

katie_hector_headshotHow long have you worked in the Gowanus neighborhood?

I have worked in Gowanus for one year.  I was motivated to establish my studio here because of the location and access to natural light.

Is there an aspect of Gowanus that inspires you?

The residential family-oriented environment is a calming respite from the bustle of Manhattan and other parts of Brooklyn.

Why should people visit your studio during Gowanus Open Studios 2016?

Over the past year, I have created work that references internet culture and technological interfaces. I will have glass work, drawings, and wall sculptures on display during GOS2016.

  

What do you have on your walls at home?

The artwork of close friends.

What is your secret talent?

I quilt!

  

To see more of Katie’s paintings, visit her website: katiehector.com

Artist Spotlight: Elsie Kagan

elsie_kagan_headshotHow long have you worked in the Gowanus neighborhood

Gowanus and the surrounding neighborhoods have been my home since I first moved to New York City in 2005. It is home sweet home to me.

About my work

My paintings fuse the formal tropes of traditional genres with an energetic emphasis on themedium’s materiality. Drawing from 17th century Northern European still life paintings, as well as live observation, my work harnesses the power of pictorial space and surface presence, testing the line between representation and abstraction. Often large in scale, the work is physically active, corresponding with my arm span and the movement of my body. I use a combination of oil paint and watercolor paint suspended in vinyl to achieve a drippy dynamic vibrancy. As a counterpoint to the large-scale work, I make smaller compositions with Flashe paint on panel—intimate sketches emphasizing drawing and gesture. Dramatic and exuberant, my floral paintings depict the delicate refraction of stems in water alongside gravity’s power to drag color down a surface, seeking that charged moment when paint is at once a smear and a cluster of blossoms.

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Which artists inspire or influence your work? Is there an aspect of Gowanus that inspires you?

I draw my influences from many different places and sources, both current and historic. My work often converses with a particular point in the history of painting, along with a moment-by-moment response to the qualities of paint, color, and live observation. There are times where the landscape of Gowanus has appeared directly in my work. I am also continually buoyed and excited by the work of other artists in this neighborhood.

Why should people visit your studio during Gowanus Open Studios 2016?

Visitors will have the opportunity to see a vibrant and exciting body of work that I finished this year including both large and small scale paintings that I call still-lives. Brand new work in a more embryonic stage will also be on view. I am beginning to address my experience of motherhood in my work.  It feels vulnerable to share work that is in the beginning stages, but that is what is exciting about an open studio.

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What do you have on your walls at home?

My own artwork at home is now often crowded out by the art created by my children. I have a small collection of artwork on my walls by (mostly local) artists that I admire. My most prized piece is by Stanley Whitney, who I was lucky to work with in Rome while at Tyler studying for my MFA.

What is your secret talent?

I love rhythm. I’ve studied some West African drumming in my time, and though I’m probably pretty rusty now, I used to be a pretty good tap dancer.

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To see more of Elsie’s paintings, visit her website: elsiekagan.net

Artist Spotlight: Carlos Torres Machado

How long has you studio been in Gowanus?

I have worked in Gowanus for two years.  For me, Gowanus is an art neighborhood, you can feel it.   I am seduced by the freedom of Gowanus.

About my work

My work is a cross between the pastiche of postmodernism and the romanticism of the 19th century. I reinvent and merge explored visual languages through the use of color and linguistic tools.

Which artists inspire or influence your work?

The artists that I admire the most are those that had the personality and courage to break the art paradigms of the time periods in which they lived.

Why should people visit you during Gowanus Open Studios ?

Visitors to my studio will discover a new experience of confronting color.  The interaction between human beings and technology in the age of the digital revolution interest me.

   

What is your secret talent?

I follow my inner voice.

To see more of Carlos’s work, visit his website: torresmachado.com

Artist Spotlight: JoAnne McFarland

How long have you worked in the Gowanus neighborhood?

I have worked in Gowanus since 1989 and was drawn to the neighborhood because of the abundance of light filled spaces at affordable prices.

Which artists inspire or influence your work?

Thomas Eakins inspires my technique, Edward Hopper inspires my mood, and there are a gazillion poets and writers that inspire my ideas.

Why should people visit your studio during Gowanus Open Studios 2016?

You won’t see kick ass paintings of Shirley Temple anywhere else! And my dress collages are weirdly cool.

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What do you have on your walls at home?

I collect work by women artists in particular and have, amazingly, more than 20 pieces up in my studio-size apartment!

What is your secret talent? 

I can get other people to risk more.

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To see more of JoAnn’s paintings, visit her website: joannemcfarland.com

Artist Spotlight: Martha Walker

Martha_Walker

How long have you worked in the Gowanus neighborhood?

I have worked in Gowanus since 2001 – more than 15 years. I lived in Park Slope and, when searching for studio space, it was a priority to find an industrial space where it was safe and legal to work with gas.

About my work

My work is sculptural and is described as abstract expressionist. The material that I most often work with is welded steel. Metal sculptures that are organic and fluid in form are created using a unique process called “puddling,” which is when steel is dripped like wax to build up form.

Which artists inspire or influence your work?

Theodore Roszak and Chakaia Booker inspire me. I am also inspired by Rodin and Michelangelo.  There is a language of classical composition in everything that I make.

Martha_Walker_Ectasy    Martha_Walker_HeartOfTheMatter

Why should people visit your studio during Gowanus Open Studios 2016?

I welcome visitors, both to have my work exposed to a greater audience, and because I welcome the interaction and discussion that this inspires. 

What is your secret talent?

Concentrating on the process instead of the product.

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 To see more of Martha’s sculptural work, visit her website: marthawalker.net

Artist Spotlight: Robin Roi

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How long have you worked in the Gowanus neighborhood?

I have lived in the Park Slope area for over 25 years. When my youngest son was 8, I heard about a wonderful ceramic teacher, Adrienne Yurick, who had clay classes for children at a studio called “3rd Avenue Clay”. I sent my son, Soren, there for a couple of years. He loved it and made some wonderful clay sculptures which I have kept to this day. At the time, I was working at Evergreene Architectural Arts where I was employed as Director of Decorative Painting for many years. Some years later, in a desire to revive my personal career as an artist, I decided to take a ceramic class at this same studio in the heart of Gowanus. That was probably about 15 years ago and I have never stopped working in ceramics as well as attending the 3rd Avenue Clay studio.

What motivated you to establish your studio here?

For part of the year, I also work in the ceramic studio at the Greenwich House Pottery in Manhattan. However, as I live now in Windsor Terrace, 3rd Avenue clay has always felt like my home studio. Now that I have become involved as a volunteer with the GOS, I am more excited than ever to have this great community of artists as a support and a resource. Being part of a more intimate community is especially important living in New York where it can be a daunting task to find one’s place.

Why should people visit your studio during Gowanus Open Studios 2016?

Robin_Roi_2Although I have been working at the 3rd Avenue pottery for over 15 years, I have never participated in the GOS as I did not have my own private studio and logistics were not convenient to open the studio up to the public. Finally, this year I decided to find a space in the Gowanus area where I could exhibit my pottery as well as offer the opportunity to other ceramic artists in the area to show their work. I have located a wonderful space called the “Shapeshifter Lab” on Whitwell Place. We will have over 15 ceramic artists as well as a few painters and photographers. I am calling it “Ceramic Central”. If anyone is interested in ceramics….this is the place to come!!

About my own work

My ceramic work is mostly functional but with a highly decorative flair, sometimes verging on sculpture or at least the “not so utilitarian”. Although the pieces I make can function as every day vessels, I believe their decorative surfaces and inventive forms give them a unique quality much like a piece of art. Pitchers are a favorite form of mine as they can be very playful and the slightest shift in the slant of a handle or spout can drastically change its personality. I love in equal parts the forming of the vessel and the decorative painting and glazing of surfaces. Sometimes I am amazed at how the simplest form can become an object of such beauty with the right glaze or surface design and likewise, a fabulous form without a wonderful surface is left wanting. Pattern and design have always been my passion and my gift. My ceramics show off the best of this talent.

Check out more of Robin’s work at her website: robroidesign.com

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Studio Visit Profile of Artist Caroline Wells Chandler

by: Miska Draskoczy

Caroline Wells Chandler is the latest studio visit of the series I’ve been doing leading up to the CURRENT: Gowanus show which opens tomorrow evening. I took a tour of Caroline’s studio and learned more about his work and techniques.

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Caroline uses vernacular materials such as polymer clay, crochet, resin, and foam along with decorative holiday and toy objects from craft stores. Caroline says he likes to work with materials that are more immediate and comfortable to him and this shows through in the work as a delightful explosion of material play. As a transgender artist, Caroline cites the influence of ‘a lot of drag in my work, how the materials are being used, a lot of things dressing up as something else’ and so we get wonderful effects like a peace sign made out of dollops of brown resin that evokes something between tanning bronzer and feces. In another series, Caroline channels the primal senses of taste and hunger with painted disks of spray foam that look like sugar frosting and candy, saying ‘one of my first experiences painting was icing cookies.’

A large wall installation of crocheted cats and foam pizza is described to me as a ‘contemporary cave painting’ and this idea captures the underlying spirit guiding the work. Caroline glues, casts and weaves an alchemic blend of modern elemental materials into totemic objects that refract back to us icons from our surrounding culture. Some of my favorite pieces are the large kitsch encrusted frames surrounding wilderness scenes printed on fabric and inset with various symbols. Caroline says he ‘thinks about painting and art as a devotional object’ and indeed these works are altar-like, opening up portals that transcend their commodity origins to access spiritual realms of personal mythology beyond.

Come see Caroline’s piece ‘Gathering’ in the CURRENT: Gowanus show this week and check out more of his work at http://carolinewellschandler.com/ . Thank you Caroline for the interesting chat. This is the last of the studio visit series for now as we head into the show, hope you’ve enjoyed them!

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Studio Visit Profile of Artist James Ewart

by: Miska Draskoczy

Today’s studio visit: James Ewart’s piece, ‘In and Out of Circulation’ is part of this week’s CURRENT: Gowanus show which opens on Wednesday. I stopped by James’ studio to discover more of his work and the motivations behind it.

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What I love about James’ work is that the pieces all start with very personal, honest experiences which he then extrudes into conceptual works elegant in their simplicity and wider cultural commentary. With ‘In and Out of Circulation’ James’ Swiss childhood and a presumed desire for precision drives the impulse to trim the edges of US currency to a perfectly uniform border. After recirculating the improved bills, the discarded trimmed edges are woven into secondary bills, blank and featureless, yet technically made up from the same volume of paper ‘bill’ as an original. Worthless as money, yet of value as an art object, it calls into question our definitions of currency and the power of printed symbols (or their absence) to assign value.

Of other pieces James says ‘I love spooning’ (who doesn’t?), ‘This is all the porn I watched when I was 27’ or ‘I love mayonnaise, so that was pretty much it’. They are direct motivations that mirror the simple object-ness of the works, and yet there is more to the story. A Concorde jet hugs a French high speed train in a consoling embrace of outdated technology, a grid of porno stills plays with our attraction to abstract form versus potential repulsion to literal content, and a jar of Hellmann’s Mayonaise rendered in stained glass converts the mass produced to a singular totem of endearing veneration. James pulls off an admirable feat in many of his works – delivering thought provoking conceptual art that forgoes a dry intellectualism in favor of warmth, humor, and soul.

Come see James’ piece in CURRENT: Gowanus this week and check out more of his work at http://www.jamesewart.com/ . Thanks James for taking the time to meet!

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Studio Visit Profile of Artist Meena Hasan

by: Miska Draskoczy

Today’s studio visit: Meena Hasan is one of the participating artists in next week’s CURRENT: Gowanus show with her painting ‘Taking Off Shoes 2’ (first picture). I had a chance to meet with Meena at her studio recently and learn more about her work.

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Drawn to photos of Meena’s paintings with their bright colors and dynamic compositions, I found that in person the effect is even more visceral and engaging. Inquiring about the source material for her images, Meena told me they are based on ‘everyday rituals of transition’ such as tying your shoes, putting on a scarf, or untangling iPhone earbuds. It’s an interesting starting point that captures the personal but in a moment of unconscious movement that perhaps reveals more than a traditionally composed portrait. Meena related that her work is both inspired by and a counterpoint to Impressionism, building on the colors and brush work but going in the opposite direction of a voyeuristic third person view of the figure. Meena instead works from a first person perspective that is wonderfully disorienting. In a way, it’s a truer form of ‘selfie’ that looks down introspectively from the eyes of the author, rather that setting up the contrived third person view of the typical extended arm portrait.

Meena works almost exclusively in acrylics and other plastic based mediums such as mylar, a nod to ‘the material condition of our culture’ she says. This contemporary sensibility is tempered though by the influence of a Bangladeshi family where ‘textiles were the first artworks I saw growing up, so they’re part of my visual vocabulary’. And indeed, in Meena’s latest works the paintings discard the constraints of the wooden frame, spilling into dresses and wrapping around into aprons, becoming as much sculptural as painterly.

Come see Meena’s painting in CURRENT: Gowanus next week and check out more of her work at http://meenahasan.com/ . Thanks Meena for sharing your work!

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