A big sign at the entrance to Studio I greeted visitors there for City-Wide Open Studios’ Erector Square weekend. “Welcome,” it read. “We invite you to interact with our visual explorations into the topics of change and empaths.” Inside, artists Jennifer Rae and Christine Kane, who share the studio space, chatted with people eager to do just that.
“Talk about change,” Rae joked. “You should have seen the studio last week.”
Kane and Rae were two of dozens of artists with studio space in Erector Square — from painters and photographers to sculptors and cartoonists — who threw their doors open on Saturday and Sunday to give the public a chance to see how their various art practices were going.
Erector Square weekend kicked off the first full weekend of Artspace’s City-Wide Open Studios. Next weekend, Oct. 13 and 14, will focus on Westville and the scores of private studios scattered around the city, and the weekend after that, Oct. 26, 27, and 28, will find dozens of artists taking over Yale’s West Campus for Alternative Space Weekend. (Click here for a full listing of CWOS events.)
Kane and Rae have been friends for 10 years. Two years ago, they both found themselves “complaining that our art didn’t fit in our homes anymore,” Kane said. Kane’s pieces were heading more toward installations, while Rae was working on ever-larger canvases. In January 2017 they moved into a their studio space in Erector Square, using it for their own artistic pursuits and to host events for others, ranging from workshops and screenings to yoga and critiques.
“Great ideas in a room actually brings about great art,” Kane said.
Kane and Rae’s installation for Erector Square weekend showed how their work has come together. “People think about change as before and after,” Kane said. She took up the idea of getting into the process of change. A first part of the installation invited the visitor to walk through a part of the studio given over to black flooring and black curtains that were made from gardening materials, overseen by one of Rae’s paintings about “having to keep a face toward the public but then feeling deep emotion.”
The word “alone” appeared in that part of the exhibit. But when the visitor turned a corner, they walked into a gauzy, misty corner of the room dominated by the word “lone.”
“Coming out of the darkness of change, things still aren’t always clear,” Kane said. But drop another letter, and “lone” became “one” — the word for the final part of Kane’s installation. For Kane, the word “one” was “the beginning of everything. It’s where things grow.” The vines hanging from the ceiling were fashioned from 360 feet of hand-painted paper, because “green paper is expensive,” she said with a smile, and because “a little bit of texture in there is nice.”
How was it to hand-paint all those vines?
“You could say it was monotonous,” Kane said, but “also meditative.”
Kane’s idea of change worked with Rae’s ongoing project of doing portraits of empaths. Next to Kane’s vines was a portrait of Ruth. “I asked her if she would be willing to be videoed” as “she spent 20 minutes reliving something from this year,” Rae said. Ruth agreed, and that video footage revealed a full range of emotions flickering across Ruth’s face.
“Some of those emotions are not her own,” Rae said. Part of Ruth’s portrait shows her in a resting state; her “consumed by someone else’s feelings”; and “her trying to sort them out.”
That in some sense dictated how large a portrait Rae wanted to make of Ruth. She wanted viewers to be consumed by it as well. “It was such a vulnerable experience” for Ruth, Rae said, “so it’s cool that she allowed me into that.”
Throughout the Erector Square complex, possible patrons milled about among the artists and their artwork…
...while a quartet of Music Haven students regaled passersby.
Across the hall from Rae and Kane, artist Julie Fraenkel was holding what she described as an attic sale of older pieces. But it was also a chance to explore the craft of an artist who has had the same studio space for going on 14 years.
“I’m always making crowds,” Fraenkel said, gesturing toward the groups of small figures she had on tabletops and lining shelves. But at the same time, she conceives of many of them as singular individuals, alone.
In her latest, paired groups of sculptures, she understood “one as a person and one as not quite a person,” but instead “a thought, a memory, a feeling.” Perhaps nostalgia. Perhaps pain. Perhaps something else entirely.
Fraenkel let the work itself guide her, one step at a time, in completing each piece. Ideas also come to her when she’s not in the studio — “first thing in the morning, or in the middle of the night,” she said. “Or when I’m looking at anything else in the world — a color, or something on the edges of something, might spark me.”
She described how over the years she has grabbed onto different ideas and run with them for a time. The paired sculptures started off as drawings. Deliberately, she thought, “I’m not going to do one person alone.” But as the project took shape and she envisioned one of the people in the pairs as the embodiment of something abstract, she realized “I ended up doing one person alone,” she said with a laugh.
As the pieces develop over time, how does she know when they’re done? In some cases, she has deemed a piece done because it’s conveying the feeling, the message she wants it to convey — even, she pointed out wryly, if the figure in question doesn’t have hands and feet.
But in other cases, pieces that she began several years ago and then put away before she finished them can get a second life. She pointed out a figure on a bed that she said was now a few years old. She hadn’t known how to finish it, but with the pair work underway, maybe now she does.
“I guess that’s the best thing about having a studio space where you can just pile things up, because you never know,” she said.