Photo Essays

From Domestic to Introspective, Highlights From Gowanus Open Studios 2019

While much of the work leaned heavily towards the commercial — from functional ceramics to jewelry and affordable prints — a group of standout artists investigated the personal by starting with the universal.

The studio of Hermann Mejia at Spaceworks during Gowanus Open Studios (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

This year’s Gowanus Open Studios was the place to be, as crowds of art-goers wandered the streets searching for the usual balloon-marked doorways on a crisp fall afternoon. There was a festive vibe in many of the buildings, despite the event ending at 6pm, and numerous families with school-aged children who seemed as interested in the artwork as their parents. Much of the work leaned heavily towards the commercial — from functional ceramics to jewelry and affordable prints — perhaps taking advantage of the current saleable appeal of the handmade. On the conceptual side, where an accessible aesthetic still prevailed, the standout artists were those who investigated the personal, as is often the case, from the confines of the universal.

Greg Griffith at Gowanus Creative Studios

I began the day with an early visit to Greg Griffith’s studio at Gowanus Creative Studios, where his minimalist, Katz-inspired interiors offered a nod to fatherhood and home life. Using bright, complimentary colors that bounced off each other, viewers encounter blank flat screens, artfully organized speakers and turntables, vacant double doors, or entryway knickknacks. Documenting his intimate surroundings, Griffith’s paintings shift between personal moments of respite and a future of tidy automation, as the promise of an AI connected home creates new visions of domesticity.

Yayoi Asoma at Site: Brooklyn Gallery

In a similar manner, the paintings and collages of Yayoi Asoma at Site: Brooklyn Gallery, subvert the trappings of traditional décor. In her collage works, furniture floats in space against a plain white background, cut and pasted like an AR app designed to visualize products in various rooms. In a series of colorful yet disorienting paintings, warped perspectives and oddly layered objects pile up in a mashup of commodities. Striped upholstery sits beside checks and florals, modernist furniture clashes with boho styles, and framed artwork floats nebulously throughout the room. Like trendy representations of a not so distant future, these paintings question the aesthetics of choice and the objects used to represent taste.

Stephanie Serpick, work in progress at TI Art Studios

Continuing the interior theme but shifting from the domestic to the introspective, the bedroom paintings of Stephanie Serpick at TI Art Studios turned white rumpled pillows and sheets into almost divine-inspired vestments, much like the religious robes she studied while painting them. Facing post-election blues, she explained, the bedroom became a place of sleep and solace. Painted in extreme chiaroscuro, the emptiness of bed sheets creased by an absent figure created a strong feeling of respite. Her carefully sanded surfaces gave the bedding a smooth, distant feel that was part dreamscape and part nightmare. The series, titled “It’s Always Darkest Before Dawn,” seemed to be a relatable reflection on solitary escapism and collective fear.

A video work by Hermann Mejia at Spaceworks

Confronting the fear and discord wrought by politicians with a sense of humor sums up the practice of Hermann Mejia, whose caricature paintings were inspired by the current happenings in his native Venezuela. His ambiguous characters, mimicking rabbit-like creatures, take on the humorous, selfish, and exaggerated personalities of many public figures. “I watched my friends change,” he explained, “once they began working in the government.” A small video displayed within a cramped box showed a suited man in a goofy mask pontificating, making grandiose statements like “So we can both, bit by bit, go hand in hand, developing my prosperity.” Rather than bluntly critique, Mejia’s works suggest how absurd and dismissible these figures are.

Denise Capuozzo at 168 7th Street

Also dealing with personal fears, were the medium-format, color photographs of Denise Capuozzo, shot decades ago, that were just now being printed and presented. Made originally to confront her wariness of the girls she went to high school with, theNew York-born artist explained with a sheepish grin how scared of other girls she’d been at that age, and how when she returned to her old haunts in her early 20s armed with a camera she’d realized there’d been nothing to fear. She’s currently working on a limited-edition artist book, featuring images that feel as relevant as ever; the timeless markers of youthful insecurities can be found in the faces, gestures, and defiant smiles the young women she captured. From the Bronx to Staten Island, the girls of the pre-selfie era surprisingly don’t seem all that different.

Denise Capuozzo at 168 7th Street

Gowanus Open Studios was held October 19-20 at various locations in Gowanus, Brooklyn. The annual event was organized by Arts Gowanus. 

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