Artists “Transform” Spaces All Over Town

Lucy Gellman PhotosIn the front room of a brand new home on Winthrop Avenue, Ivan Tirado was working intently, applying his last careful coat of paint of the early afternoon.

Upstairs, in a room that still smelled piney new and unlived in, José Oyola was explaining to a handful of New Haveners that his best ideas came to him in the shower.

Outside, Project Storefronts’ Elinor Slomba introduced photographer Mark Monk to curious visitors. 

They were hard at work, but not on the house. Yale School of Architecture (YSOA) students finished building the house earlier this month. On Saturday the artists had a different task: transporting viewers from everyday New Haven to a collaborative space where wild things could happen: body painting and photography in a mock “showroom” downstairs; Liz Antle O’Donnell’s bathroom-turned-installation and Oyola’s full-blown soundscapes in English and Spanish one floor up.

A collaboration between the YSOA First Year Building Project, New Horizons NeighborWorks, and Artspace, for which Slomba is a guest curator, the new property at 193 Winthrop Ave. was one of a number of locations “transformed” Saturday through Sunday for City Wide Open Studios’ “Transported” weekend, the second of three in October. (Read about last weekend’s activities at the Goffe St. Armory here and here.)

Unlike the first and third weekends of the event, held at the Goffe Street Armory and Erector Square Studios respectively, this past weekend celebrated individual artists across the city, who opened their studios for the event. The free-flowing, spaced-apart spirit of the weekend was a double-edged sword: fun once you’d arrived at studios, but nothing like the Armory’s walk through a lucid dream because it was so spread out.

The valiant attempt to bridge the city’s neighborhoods and celebrate its creatives overlooked a few things. Like the logistics of schlepping to and fro for a car-less artist or viewer (even curator-led tours required cars). Or having a collaborative, fully curated show-house that didn’t totally engage the block on which it found itself.

The best artists of the bunch, however — and there were many, many, more than this article gets to — took the theme to heart, making viewers forget where they were, what time it was, and whether or not they had some place to speed off to next. 

Like Tirado (pictured above), whose inventive body painting had an entire room transfixed by 2 p.m. on Saturday, as sunlight flooded the new house. Or muralist Giada Crispiels, who worked with home buyer Jan Lewis to create a lasting work for the home. Or the one-third of the artists at 193 Winthrop found through working with neighborhood organizers at the West River Neighborhood Association and New Horizons NeighborWorks.

... or Keith Johnston, exhibiting at Kehler Liddell Gallery on Whalley Ave. His series of inventive, conceptually tight digital photocollages — “if Jackson Pollock was a photographer,” as he called them — transported viewers to Paris’ Pont des Arts, its sides sagging with the weight of locks upon locks upon locks; Seattle’s Pike Place Market; and a lake he had photographed over 10 years, sea and sky changing in each shot.

Or take Luke Hanscomb, co-founder of what is slowly becoming Lotta Studio in Westville. While the space itself transported — and continues to transport — viewers from the banal to the community-based artistic sublime, his traditional photographs were a standout to the weekend, catapulting them back in time.

Half digitally rendered and half contact printed with the Van Dyke method on 19th century book paper, Hanscomb’s photographs are a mix spectral enough to please William Mumler and his jittery cohort of spirit photographers while remaining delightfully current.

There were also artists like Gar Waterman, tucked away in an ivy-covered studio beside Lyric Hall. The son of America’s first diving instructor, Waterman brought visitors under the sea and into the grass and treetops at the same time. Beside a wood-burning stove and array of tools emerged extraordinary creations in streaked onyx and still-lustrous scrap metal, sea squids and glittering arachnids, nudibranchs and crackly-backed insects caught mid-sway.

“Like so many things with nature, the closer you look the more extraordinary they become. You turn a horseshoe crab over and you have this bizarre, fabulous landscape that appears. A lot of my things are going in that direction of looking more closely at nature. The more layers you peel off, the more cool stuff is revealed,” Waterman said.

Miles away on East Street, the same idea itself had been transformed and transported to new matter and new media. Just down the hall from Stephen Grossman’s fantastical, pop-esque paintings and meticulous shoebox-sized sculptures, Guimi You transported viewers outside their own bodies, pushing them to think about “body malfunction” with a painting and multimedia installation. The mother to a five-month-old baby boy, Yu knows the kind of transported, transforming feeling that follows some women as their bodies recover and repair from childbirth. She says it is what started her on the project, which now includes large canvases, medical piping, and lots of light green paint. 

“I had had to provide my milk — I felt that I was like a cow or rabbit,” she said.

While sculptor Silas Finch, just two studios down, took the transported theme literally, displaying two transport-oriented projects — a lifeboat-and-giant-squid sculpture he is finishing up for Miya’s Bun Lai and a video of a boat-themed nature installation he did late last December — around a number of sculptures he is working on, singular for their use of no more than two elements.

Finch also summed up the theme of the weekend. Ten years ago, he said, City Wide Open Studios was a messy madhouse, full of visitors who rushed through each studio on their way to the next.

Now, “they come because they want to be here,” he said. 

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posted by: eslomba on October 21, 2015  9:18pm

As guest curator wish to pass along a comment I received from an artist who responded to a Call to Artists put out early on in coordination with the West River Neighborhood Services Corporation:

“Thank you for your great efforts curating 193 Winthrop.  I appreciate your outreach to us in West River, I, and friends who came, very much enjoyed the show.  A great mix of media that enlivened the house. I hope we’ll have a chance to collaborate again.” - Ann T. Greene

I’m glad she felt that we engaged with the neighborhood.

posted by: Dr Ivan Tirado on October 22, 2015  8:12am

Thank you for the privilege! I am honored! Please, come see more Saturday, October 24 at our temporary open studio space at 23 Temple St. The Reception starts at 6pm. All Welcome. I’ll be there body painting starting at 11am. Join us!

posted by: John Fitzpatrick on October 22, 2015  8:50am

That sentence initially read “didn’t engage the neighborhood in which it found itself,” and as a resident of the neighborhood, I can tell you that’s flat out wrong. It’s been revised to say, “didn’t totally engage the block on which it found itself,” and I don’t even know what that means.