“I have an eyeball guy,” jeweler KT Ferris proudly proclaimed during Greenpoint Open Studios when she explained how she sourced the material for her signature jewelry, whose centerpieces consist of blinking dolls’ eyes. Ferris also had an eye-like cluster of balloons hanging from her studio window.
Greenpoint Open Studios (henceforth GOS) was rife with artists treading the line between childlike, creepy, abstract, and surrealist art, which catered to my undying penchant for nostalgia. Painter Zach Federbush, who greeted all visitors with “May I offer you some candy?” showed a series of four canvasses that celebrate water, fire, plants, and electricity. A meditation on elements found in nature? No, they are a throwback to the first-generation starter Pokémon. And, speaking of candy, Landon Bailey Higgins devoted an entire series of paintings to Gummy Bears: he rendered their texture with such precision that they looked like trompe l’oeil versions of Jeff Koons’s sculptures. Natsumi Goldfish, with her series “Half-Humans,” envisions a series that combines the upper bodies of elfin, female-presenting subjects with the lower bodies of wild animals — vaguely reminiscent of Disney’s Fantasia’s segment on centaurs. Kristyn Watterworth took this playful aesthetic outdoors, with a mural located outside the Java Studio that combines a depiction of children making art with an abstract and geometric background. Its color palette is iridescent: in her geometric fractals, yellow, orange, and pink subtly gave way to purple and turquoise. The inspiration? A tent made of holographic material in the studios’ backyard.
There were also quite a few artists celebrating the human figure. “I just paint from reality,” painter Robby Rose told me after showing me two versions of the same painting: a male figure, with his back to the viewer, partially immersed in a body of water with two different color schemes. One consists of cold light and the other extremely warm light that made the subject look like molten gold. Rami Baglio gave a fresh spin on very “academic” nudes, while Hannah Marie Finkbohner showcased a series of female faces wearing drag-like makeup that, thanks to the bold brushstrokes she employs, makes them look theatrically beautiful rather than grotesque. Paul Richard’s realistic, yet creative self-portraits went beyond the idea of toxic masculinity: in one, he is wearing an immaculate tutu; in another, he appears as if he had fallen from a wheelchair. Chilean artist Manuela Viera Gallo presented human bodies in bold hues and abstract shapes as, per her artist’s statement, “an allegorical, fantastical and darkly comical framework that allows her to take ownership of the subsequent transformation to analyze different processes of political and social instability.”
Live events and workshops rounded out the offerings. Visitors had the option to learn how to make a pierogi out of clay at Pierogi Project. They could be instructed by painter Matthew Mahler on how to create an abstract painting, which would then become part of his installation. Ceramicist Min Choi hosted a teapot demo. Catherine Ireland also lead a hands-on discussion on the notion of “ability” in the arts through meditation techniques and active exercises.
Unfortunately (and this is a mea culpa) with more than 300 artists showcasing their works in spaces located all the way from the East River waterfront to Morgan Avenue, it’s quite hard to survey all the galleries and studios in the span of one weekend, let alone try to experience both activities AND the exercise-intensive studio hopping. And, even though I decided to proceed geographically, using nothing but the GOS map to choose where to go, what stuck with me the most was art that aligned with my personal tastes (as uncouth as they might be) namely the human figure and pop-surrealism-adjacent work. (I take live art classes with nude models, and those who have read my previous work on this site are familiar with my penchant for kawaii and surrealist art)
It’s great how one can have a highly individual experience in the countless studio complexes that still exist in Greenpoint. While climbing the umpteenth flight of steep stairs, I thought about the words of writer Andrea Bartz, the author of the recent Bushwick Murder Mystery The Lost Night. “I was thinking of the McKibbin lofts in Bushwick, how it was the nerve-center for the scene,” she told me in an interview. “I have never lived there, but every time I entered, on any given Friday night, without any plans, you could basically do a choose-your-own-adventure.” It’s also plain nice to see how, in spite of the gleaming high-rises that started popping up in the neighborhood, spaces such as the Leviton Building, the Pencil Factory, and 67 West Street still foster vibrant artistic communities.
The Greenpoint Open Studios event took place between June 8th and June 9th throughout the Greenpoint neighborhood in Brooklyn.