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This past weekend, hundreds of Brooklyn artists opened their studios to the public for GO Brooklyn Art, allowing visitors an intimate view of their work and processes. I headed to Fort Greene and Clinton Hill to see the how the neighborhoods’ artists, many of whom work out of converted domestic spaces tucked away in brownstones, behind the steel doors of former garages, and in the basements and dorm rooms of Pratt, live with their art.
My first stop was Marcy Rosenblat’s studio, which occupies the second floor of a spacious brownstone. The artist, who is also a professor at FIT, uses that most mundane of household objects, paper towels, to create patterns on large swaths of her square canvases. Magnified and rendered with varying densities of paint to play with a translucent effect, the paper towel patterns are ethereal from up close. When I took a few steps back, though, many of them looked like lace curtains, another quotidian household fixture.
Rosenblat tests out new forms and colors on small canvases because, as she admitted somewhat sheepishly, painting large canvases requires an embarrassing and expensive amount of paper towel rolls. She buys her paper towels by the carfull and stores them in a corner of her studio and downstairs in her apartment.
More studios hidden in brownstones awaited, so I walked a couple of blocks to the artist Leela Rupa’s apartment, where I found walls plastered with paintings of birds, whose shapes were drawn with delicate, almost spindly lines. Rupa gave visitors a peek into her process of experimentation with a large, rough sketch of a bird taking off into flight.
A similar bird became a floating motif in a watercolor illuminated by fluorescent tones.
A few houses down, large prints of the photographer Peter Angelo Simon’s mystical photographs of acrobats and dancers in motion greeted me as I made my way up to his studio on the third floor. He told me that the works in the hallway were part of a series he had put together especially for GO Brooklyn. For the series, he selected photographs taken years apart in both faraway locations and right down the street from his apartment that he could envision hanging on his walls forever.
Heading into Clinton Hill, I stopped at the home of Lawrence and Mary Rieser Heintjes. The artists, who are married to each other and live above their studio, displayed their work in what looked like a former garage. Set against the drab industrial walls, you could appreciate the lively lines — both the fluid ones of nature and the assertive architectural ones — and rich color in Mary’s oil paintings of neighborhood scenes.
Lawrence Heintjes’s workroom was a cabinet of curiosities. A few wonderfully imaginative works I found within: scaled-up wooden models of ants, insects made from colorful plastic bottles, three-dimensional paintings of a planet’s cratered surface, and dioramas of science-fictional vistas.
My last stop was Pratt, where MFA students displayed their work in dorm rooms doubling as studios. The artist Naroa Lizar, whose work is largely performance based, had explanations and photos on hand about her projects. One of her more incisive works entailed creating an e-commerce company that sold DIY kits with all the materials and instructions necessary to create copies of well-known contemporary art, like Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull, “For the Love of God.”
In the basement of one of Pratt’s main buildings, Sarah Shebaro manipulates the covers of vintage records for her mixed-media pieces, which have an attractive air of mystery. When she began teaching at Pratt, Shebaro, who is a printmaker, was assigned a darkroom as a studio. She kept its walls black and perceived a strong tenor of nostalgia in the space, which had witnessed the realization of countless photos. The history of the studio inspired her work.
Though it might seem obvious, the most striking thing about visiting these studios was seeing just how much the nature and location of the artists’ workspaces influenced the art produced in them. The themes, materials, and scale of many of the pieces were clearly inspired by the artists’ homes and neighborhoods, and the pleasures and puzzles of the everyday life that happen in their confines.
GO Brooklyn Open Studio Weekend was September 8 to 9, 2012.