Gowanus

Gowanus Open Studios 2016 wows art lovers

October 19, 2016 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Welcome to Gowanus Open Studios 2016. Here's one of the 350-plus participating artists, Dale Williams, with some of his thought-provoking charcoal drawings. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan

Love that dirty water.

Art flourishes along the banks of the Gowanus, Brooklyn’s thoroughly toxic and much-loved canal.

All over the neighborhood that shares the filthy canal’s name, repurposed industrial buildings house art studios that throw their doors open to the public once a year.

During Gowanus Open Studios 2016, which took place on Oct. 15 and 16, more than 350 painters, printmakers, portraitists, sculptors, furniture makers and other artists showed off their work — and their work spaces — to an estimated 5,000-plus visitors.

The gritty-chic neighborhood looked its early-autumn best, with cerulean skies overhead and the canal waters glittering in the sunlight and appearing less ominous than usual.
Gowanus Open Studios was organized by Arts Gowanus, a nonprofit.

The annual event began in 1998, said artist Dale Williams. He recalled that in 1999, the first year he participated, there were only about 25 artists involved.

Here are some of the intriguing artists who made this year’s weekend art blowout a memorable one.

Dale Williams

Showing art to the public during Gowanus Open Studios is an energizing exercise.

“I like the challenge of having to explain to people who may not be part of the art community what I’m involved in,” Dale Williams said.

An arresting painting he exhibited, “Green is the Color of the Hope that You Hold,” is “obliquely about the Syrian refugee crisis,” he said.

It depicts a gigantic green insect with two human heads and one set of wings.

He showed his work at 280 Nevins St. because his own studio a few blocks away is under construction.

Williams, who was brought up in suburban Baltimore, has been making pictures since a nun at the Catholic school where he was a seventh grader taught his class how to work with oil pastels. After winning honorable mention in a school-wide exhibition for a work called “My Grave,” he was hooked on art.

According to online biographical material, three artists he has nicknamed “the three Gs” are his most important role models: Matthias Grünewald, Francisco Goya and Philip Guston.

Williams has had a studio in Gowanus for 20 years.

Everyman Works

This is furniture with an enchanted touch.

It’s decorated with marquetry depicting Mardi Gras musicians or a thin gentleman named Katman, who wears a bowler hat and appears in the company of mischievous felines.

These small tables and cabinets are meant to bring “little moments of joy” to their owners, said Alexandra Miller.

She and her husband Michael Miller are a design duo. They call their handcrafted furniture collaboration Everyman Works.

They exhibited their furniture at 280 Nevins St., but their work space is in Carroll Gardens.
The couple met at Central School of Art and Design in London. They were textile designers for 25 years before Michael Miller became a skilled carpenter.

Diana Ho

The coffee maker on the shelf in the corner of Diana Ho’s art studio at 543 Union St. is real but the birthday cake is not — though it looks good enough to eat.

It’s one of the artist’s “soft sculptures,” which are works made of fabric.

Ho, who has had her studio in the Union Street artists’ building since 2010, also exhibited some of her paintings during Gowanus Open Studios 2016. And she set up a pop-up gift shop called From Here to Sunday that she stocked with items she and other artists designed.

One item was a “Lavender Lake cookie” she designed especially for the studio weekend. Lavender Lake is a nickname for the dangerously polluted Gowanus Canal. The cookies were also sold at nearby Gowanus Souvenir Shop at 567 Union St.  

Joelle Shallon

Joelle Shallon’s paintings, which she exhibited at her art studio at 543 Union St., are inspired by Persian carpet patterns, Indian textiles and Islamic architecture.

“Those are the starting points,” said Shallon, who grew up in India and Iran as the American child of immigrants from the Middle East.

Shallon, who studied painting at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon, has had an art studio in Gowanus for 20 years.

“Painting serves as an expression of my deeply personal experience of life in the world in the first decades of the 21st century,” she wrote in an artist’s statement she shared with visitors to her studio.

Wendy Stefanelli

Wendy Stefanelli is happy to take part in Gowanus Open Studios.

“I like meeting people who like art,” she said. “It’s good to get feedback.”

The artist is currently focused on monotype printmaking — her studio walls were covered with abstract works that are refined and subtle — and digital photography.

“Process is more important to me than a preconceived outcome, so taking risks is key to my approach,” she wrote in an artist’s statement posted on artsicle.com.

Stefanelli, who earned a bachelor of fine arts from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, now divides her time between Brooklyn and upstate Woodstock.

For three years, she has had her studio at 543 Union St. in a space with west-facing windows.

“The sunset is amazing here,” she said.

Wayne Fields

Oh, that big, beautiful Brooklyn Bridge.

It’s one of painter Wayne Fields’ favorite subjects.

He got an eyeful of it one day when a trick of the light turned it a muted burnt sienna.

That sight fired up his imagination, and has inspired him to paint the bridge in bold color schemes.

Sometimes he depicts the East River beneath the bridge and the sky above it in shades of red, sometimes orange, sometimes violet.

Other Brooklyn locations also serve as subject matter for his work. For instance, he has done paintings of swimmers based on sketches he made in Brighton Beach.

Fields lives in Carroll Gardens, just a short bike ride away from his studio at 543 Union St.

Kate Fauvell

Kate Fauvell’s art installation, “Archived Memories,” is a shrine of sorts that honors the home her beloved grandparents shared in Whitestone, Queens.

“The house was a place where I felt safe,” said Fauvell — who created the installation by taking photos of countless details inside it and assembling the pictures into artful wall-sized collages.

She included found objects such as a dishtowel and an old-fashioned telephone to add touches of three-dimensional realism to the collages.  

When you see the installation in her studio at Spaceworks on 540 President St., you get the feeling you’re inside a comfortable and comforting place.   

Fauvell has a master’s degree from Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Numerous artist residencies she has held in recent years include a 2015 stint at the Studios at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts.   

Micaela Kramer

The corpse-like artwork on the floor of Micaela Kramer’s studio is covered in asphalt and gravel.

The life-size figure, laid out on top of upholstery fabric, is a disturbing and brilliant meditation on mortality.

When Kramer set out to create the work, she wasn’t focused on death. She was thinking about using gravel to make art.

“I wanted to pay attention to material we take for granted,” she said. “I wanted to treat it like a semi-precious stone.”

But her thoughts took a morbid turn — and the piece, called “She Gravels, She Bewilders,” was the result.

Kramer’s workspace is in Square Dot Plus Studio at 540 President St.

Martha Walker

Martha Walker wields an oxy-acetylene torch with a flame so hot that it makes steel drip like wax.

“It’s like molten lava,” she said.

This is a dramatic method for making sculptures, and her finished works are dramatic as well.

During the Gowanus art lovers’ weekend, Walker displayed several of the pieces at her studio at 168 7th St., which has been her workplace for the past decade.

Her works are in Pratt Institute Sculpture Park, Old Lyme, Connecticut’s Studio 80 + Sculpture Grounds, Rutgers University’s Zimmerli Art Museum and the Anne Frank Center USA in Lower Manhattan.

Walker’s sculptures appeared in episodes of the hit TV series “Gossip Girl” and a film, “The Art of Love,” in which they are supposed to be the work of an artist played by Olympia Dukakis.  

Walker has a master’s degree from Pratt Institute.

Alba Acevedo

I’ve just seen a face/ I can’t forget the time or place/ Where we just met.

Actually, it was a wall covered by faces — in the form of finely wrought portraits — which brought that Beatles lyric to mind.

Portraitist Alba Acevedo showed these luminous portraits in her studio located in Brooklyn Art Space at 168 7th St.

“This is the real estate I’m interested in,” Acevedo said, holding one hand at the top of her forehead and the other at her chin to frame her face.

“Sketching gives me permission to stare for hours at a time,” said Acevedo, who is also a courtroom sketch artist and the writer and illustrator of the Brooklyn Eagle’s “Sketches of Court” stories.

While she’s drawing her portraits, she feels empathy for her subjects grow.

“I used to find myself mimicking their expressions,” she said.

Cindy Zaglin

The past is powerfully present in Cindy Zaglin’s paintings.

They are based on old family photos that had been in her mother’s keeping. Zaglin wound up with them after her mother passed away three years ago.

They have become a treasure trove of inspiration for the artist. The semi-abstract figures in her paintings have nearly featureless faces. But Zaglin knows who’s who.

For instance, the girl depicted in “Pretty Ballerina” is her sister. When they were little kids, the two siblings attended Miss Ricky’s Dance School in Flatbush, where they grew up.

“We were ballerinas for about a minute,” recalled Zaglin, who has had a studio located in Brooklyn Art Space at 168 7th St. for five years.

At Gowanus Open Studios, Zaglin also exhibited vibrantly colored paintings she calls “abstract florals” that were inspired by the flowers at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Deborah Czeresko

Deborah Czeresko’s charming Chihuahua sculpture was far more complicated to create than you might imagine.

The Gowanus-based artist, who does glass sculpting and glass blowing, traveled to the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington, to make the 14-inch-high, solid glass artwork.

She and five other people did an exhausting stint in the “hot shop,” as the museum’s art-making space is called. One team worked on the dog’s head and another team worked on its body.

“Glass is very demanding technically,” said Czeresko, who was trained by the masters of Renaissance Venetian glass-making techniques and also got a master’s degree from Tulane.

The artist, whose studio is located at Brooklyn Glass at 142 13th St., is contemplating a switch in subject matter. She has been making plans for what she calls a “fantasy” project.

It’s a chandelier.

But instead of using flowers as the inspiration for its glass decorations, which is a design tradition, she said “encased meat” is her inspiration. As in sausages and salami. Buon appetito!