It seemed very fitting that my way to Gowanus Open Studios this weekend, I rode my bike over the Gowanus Canal, where I spotted a woman, paintbrush in hand, standing on the bridge with an easel and a canvas between her and the canal. Now that the infamously polluted waterway is getting cleaned up (maybe even swimmable?) and its neighborhood namesake gentrifies, it’s become worthy of a landscape painting.
Jessica Dalrymple, one of the more than 300 artists that participated in Open Studios, would likely agree. In her series of verdant panoramic paintings of Gowanus, she said she imagined a melding of the past, present, and future of the area.
Just upstairs from Dalrymple’s studio, Tamara Staples divulged the very personal story behind her installation of textiles, furniture, and pillows, all containing an at-times subtle design of pharmaceutical pills. When her sister—who suffered from bipolar disorder—died, the artist collected all of her leftover pills, creating designs she would then photograph and transfer onto fabric, using it to create otherworldly installations.
Speaking of otherworldly, I had a very unique experience literally sticking my head inside a work at Bobby Anspach’s studio. Laying down face-up on a mattress on the floor, my head surrounded by a half-dome of fuzzy crafting pompoms lit up and changing gradually colors, I listened to a calming composition while staring at my own eyes in a mirror hanging from the top of the dome. To say it was a surreal experience would be a great understatement.
On the opposite side of the Gowanus Canal, the art studios on the third floor of Treasure Island Storage—in what might technically be Red Hook—was a goldmine in artistic talent. (To be fair, with over 70 total, this was also the venue with the most artists in one place.)
There were a lot of great ceramicists throughout, but I was particularly struck by two sculptors, who share a studio space and both work with wood, Craig Kaths and Jacob Farber. While Kaths carves wooden replicas of music and recording studio equipment—complete with cords upon cords upon cords connecting everything—Farber has a giant roughly carved wooden hand hanging from his ceiling. He says he’s trying to figure out a way to transform it into a puppet, but it’s taking a while, as the mechanics of all the movements of a hand are much more complex than he had imagined.
Down the hall from Kaths and Farber, Kakyoung Lee creates thoughtful videos of the drawing process that reminded me of the works of William Kentridge. On the opposite side, Barry Rust makes fully functional ukuleles, banjos, and fiddles out of old coffee tins and cigar boxes. Across the wall from Rust, we come full circle with Janice McDonnell’s industrial landscape paintings of the Gowanus Canal. I’m sure it helps that she has a giant window facing it.
Gowanus Open Studios 2017, of which Hyperallergic is a media sponsor, took place October 21 and 22.