The weeks before the Gowanus Open Studios found us tooling about town, as most everyone, taking in the fall season shows. We left the compiling of ‘must see’ lists to others. Generally because what we saw was big — big work in big spaces. You know we prefer the intimate encounter. And that’s what we found in Gowanus. Here are just a few of the artists who were kind enough to invite us into their studios.
We began at 543 Union. First we visited with Diane Bertolo and then in the adjacent studio Sasha Chavchavadze. We’re continually intrigued by the work of both artists. Ms. Bertolo for capturing a considered sense of nature’s fragility with the rhythmic use of black dots, cut circles, old paper, sticks and stones. Ms. Chavchavadze for a similar sense of the fleeting, articulated with the use of matches as her medium.
Ms. Chavchavadze is also the founder of Proteus Gowanus. A constant hive of activity, Proteus Gowanus is one of our favorite places (also located at 543). We’ve collaborated with PG and share an affinity with their approach to art and inquiry. This year they explore the theme of water. We reacquainted ourselves with some of their projects in residence (The Reanimation Library, The Hall of Gowanus, plus the newly named gallery, BKBX.) We were about to head out, but a postcard taped in the stairwell lured us up to the top floor. There we met Edwina White, who was as charming as her delicate, stylized portraits. Naturally I was ultimately complimented to have it hinted that I might be an appropriate subject.
We explored a few other buildings nearby and eventually landed at the Gowanus Arts Building on Douglas Street. We discovered Liz Sweibel’s tiny, wood sculptures. They average maybe an inch to 3 in size. These beautifully composed works retain an aura of history. The found wood fragments of which they’re sculpted are from earlier works the artist began in 2002. Each is a confounding presence considering their diminutive size. From her statement: “My practice matches my experience of the world as the accumulation and juxtaposition of small decisions and acts that seem simple but aren’t: they reveal us; define our relationships to each other, our histories, and our environment; and open to possibility, stasis, or pain.”
Most of our stops throughout the day were unplanned. However, we knew we wanted to see Karen Schiff at 112 2nd Ave. We had met Ms. Schiff earlier this year at a TSA Gallery reception for an exhibition curated by Vincent Como. She had described her interest in handwriting as a departure point for drawing as well as a series that explored illuminated manuscripts. We noted sympathetic themes at play in our work, so we were eager to see more. We were thrilled to see her ideas so exquisitely rendered. We also appreciated her ability to thoughtfully explain her approach and processes.
Just down the hall Carlton Scott Sturgill took what were essentially soft core, amateur porn shots from Craigslist personal ads and recreated them as paint chip sample mosaics. These works retain a bit of their lurid essence yet they’re painstakingly executed, elegant and amusing too.
We never expect to see a fraction of the studios that are open during these ever expanding studio tours. We also forgive ourselves the tendency to peek and dart when we start to reach our saturation point. We thank the artists mentioned here and the many others who offered their hospitality. If you missed the tour, or didn’t quite manage to see all 200 or so participating artists, you can still catch a glimpse of them online. You just won’t get cheese cubes.