Local cultural centers, galleries, and businesses have been welcoming art enthusiasts into their establishments on the first Saturday of each month since June. The event is called the Bed-Stuy Art Walk, and it spans all the way from Nostrand Ave to Malcolm X Blvd. The initiative, launched by Joseph C. Grant, Jr., Ambassador of Arts & Culture at the office of Councilman Robert Cornegy, was conceived as a way of “keep[ing] the community engaged year round” and “revitalize[ing] the heritage of arts and culture” in the area.
Participation in the Art Walk has been growing since its inception. This month, there were a total of 11 participants, which included local independently run galleries, as well as Macon Library and The Bed-Stuy Museum of African Art.
Equipped with my notebook and pen, my photographer in tow, I set out on my first Bed-Stuy Art Walk last Saturday, August 1st. As a Bed-Stuy resident and local art enthusiast, I was already somewhat familiar with the galleries listed on the official Art Walk brochure, and was excited to engage with the owners and possibly the artists for the first time. Efficient almost to a fault, I had spent the last several days leading up to the event carefully plotting my route, with the intention of covering as much territory as I could before the mid-summer sun, in all its soporific glory, bade me homebound.
Much to my chagrin, and despite my calculations (and the gallery hours listed on their respective websites), more than one of the galleries was closed; assuming people were simply out to lunch, I pressed on, with the good intention of returning later. Alas, by the last stop on my route, I had collected enough valuable information to launch this blog, and so decided to forego a second attempt at visiting these two spots.
It turned out to be a good day after all, though; those who were around did indeed do just as the materials promised. In fact, not only did they open their doors to us, but they took the time to talk about the work on display and answer all of our questions.
Fedrecia Hartley of Zion Gallery gave us an especially warm welcome into her space on the ground floor of a Brownstone on MacDonough St. Hartley founded the gallery in 2005, and exhibits the work of both established and emerging artists.
Hartley’s own work is currently on display at Zion Gallery. Included in her collection is a series of small works done in paint and marker, with a single word clipped from a magazine embedded in the shapes, and then finished with a resin lacquer. Among these is the piece featured on the August brochure, entitled “Bliss” (2014):
The composition of some of her paintings is similar (see the one on the far right, for example, in the photo below):
In the painting in the top left (above), we ask about the absence of features or dimension in the four girls’ faces. Hartley explains that she intentionally left these out because she wanted “everybody to see themselves in the little girls”. We note the powerful expression of their gestures, especially the foot of the little girl on the far left. Gesture is also key to the impact of the piece in some of her other paintings:
On the opposite wall hangs the work of Hartley’s mentor, Bob Daniels. Daniels uses identifiable imagery like the African mask in his work, elements of which echo Picasso:
In her gift shop, Hartley has available small prints of the series done in resin lacquer (see “Bliss”, above), as well as shirts and jackets decorated with paint by herself and Daniels:
Hartley has just launched a fundraising initiative with the Chionesu Bakari Program for Young Men in East New York, Brooklyn. She has commissioned 20 community figures, or “apprentices” – including Councilman Robert Cornegy – to create a work of art that will be auctioned off as part of her next show, in November. Proceeds from the initiative, which Hartley calls “Painting It Forward”, will go to Chionesu Bakari to aid them in their work “to bridge the achievement and social gaps between young black males and society”.
Next up was Window Studio, where resident artist Leon Tillman was expecting us. The studio/gallery space offers 6-month residency programs and workshops for adults and children, and hosts exhibits and events. The space’s full-pane window storefront permits passerby to watch the artists as they work, and welcomes them into the studio itself to talk about the pieces on display and even make art themselves – the goal being to bring “art as an aesthetic experience and a social practice into the context of daily life”.
They certainly achieved this goal last Saturday, as Tillman was more than happy to show us around, tell us about what they did there, and discuss what he’s working on right now.
In the photos above, Tillman reflected on the controversy surrounding his work. His pieces, which are politically/history-driven, often depict imagery that invokes a very strong response – especially insofar as they are culturally relevant in the present day.
Tillman is at Window Studio as part of its Artist-in-Residence (AIR) program, which is designed to immerse artists in their studio practice while permitting them to share their process with the community. Emerging artists living and working in the Bedford-Stuyvesant community are given preference, but all New York City artists are welcome to apply. Residents artists will have a culminating exhibition in the Window Studio Gallery, curated by founder Anne LaFond.
LaFond, who opened Window Studio in 2012, is also actively involved in the day-to-day life of the studio, and is – along with Tillman, whom she met at the annual art fair Art on the Fence –.one of the artists in residence. Known for her work in portraiture, LaFond is also working on a series of paintings intended to raise awareness and stimulate discussion around the topic of social inequality and the crises in our country. The painting below, entitled “America”, is part of her series in development, and will be mounted at the studios’s next show:
The window is a common theme here at the studio, and one which LaFond revisits in another painting:
There are many ways to get involved at Window Studio. Residents can stop by during studio hours to meet the artists; register to join their artist-led open-level workshops held weekday evenings and Saturdays; or schedule a one-on-one Life Drawing & Painting class.
Just steps away was our last stop on the Art Walk, Welancora Gallery. The gallery is a gorgeous space occupying two levels of a brownstone on Jefferson Ave, and has a garden area in the back. The purpose of the gallery is to represent artists from around the world by mounting exhibits, publishing catalogs, and placing the work with museums and collectors. Currently on view at the gallery is Elements, a collection of recent paintings by Robergeau Duverger. Pictured below is the second level, which extends all the way to the back of the building:
Founder Ivy Nicole Jones was present to provide a brief tour of the space and answer our questions about Duverger's work.
While primarily a gallery space, Welancora often hosts events to help support their exhibits. This month, the gallery will hold two such events: Live Jazz with the Jeff King Band and a discussion with enthnomusicologist Fredara Hadley, and movie night with Sidney Poitier’s For Love of Ivy and tunes by DJ Monday Blue. Duverger himself will be in attendance to answer questions about the work on display and lend insights into his process.
Additionally, Artist Talks with each exhibiting artist and often other guest speakers are held to provide further insight into the artist's work. Most recently, I attended an Artist Talk with Duverger and publisher/curator Michael Valentine. Duverger discussed his trend toward what he dubs “Abstract Realism”, and its culmination in his body of work currently on display at Welancora. The works in the exhibit straddle the line between abstraction and realism, engaging us in a conversation and challenging our sensibilities.
Valentine, founder of the Valentine Museum of Art (VMoA) and proprietor of the publishing house Valentine New York, discussed the pieces on display and the business of art. He and Duverger have collaborated on many projects, including his publication Breuckelen Magazine – a by-invitation-only quarterly art publication celebrating art and culture in Brooklyn – for which Duverger does the print and web design.
Later this year, the VMoA satellite at Restoration Plaza in Bedford-Stuyvesant will mount pieces from Duverger’s new series, Trafficking, in a window-front display visible from the courtyard outside the building. This collection of work will later tour gallery spaces nationally and internationally, generating global awareness of the existence of human trafficking.
Indeed, Bed-Stuy is home to a thriving artistic community driven by purpose and a commitment to raising social awareness of the critical issues of the day. I encourage local residents and other NYC patrons to visit any of these galleries to learn more.
Catch the Bed-Stuy Art Walk on the first Saturday of each month through October. Visit the Art Walk’s Facebook page prior to the event for info and a map of participating galleries and cultural centers.
Original photos by Jason Wyrostek.