Denise Bibro, the gallery’s director, recently made a trip to Brooklyn to see the studios of two talented local artists. Read her text about the wonders and creativity that can be found on the streets of this borough.
Fortunately, despite all the effects of COVID, the divisiveness of the country, the perils of war, and the compromised economy, art prevails. New York is an example of that. There are healthy morsels of talent thriving in all the boroughs of the city, which our Art In The Boros exhibitions have illustrated. Brooklyn continues to be, despite the increased costs of rent, a hotbed of hidden opportunities to see wonderful creatives finding their way to continue their artistic practice.
My most recent studio visits were made to two artists that have studios in opposite corners of Brooklyn. Both of these people are a testament to the fact that art is an integral part of the fabric of life in New York, which reaffirmed my belief that it will persevere despite the odds. These artists come from very different backgrounds, age groups, education, and experience. Nevertheless, they share a passion and unfailing desire to create. Their art is reflective of their unique personal experiences and I was amazed at the variety that I saw in their process, materials, and visual language.
If one does not know, the L train in New York is certainly a highway that connects one to a multitude of local artistic talent. In the area of East Williamsburg, I found Joe Hicks in his studio. A young artist, at least from where I stand, who is a designer by day and a studio artist by night. He paints whenever he can find the time while designing pocketbooks and spending time with his wife and two children. When you first get there you are greeted with a wide smile, deep and engaging eyes, and a blazing dark mane of hair. It is a welcoming sign when you have made such a trek.
The studio is full of unframed, un-stretched canvases on the walls and the floor, kind of wanton without being trivialized. Much of his work is inspired by his precocious toddler daughter who is also an artist of sorts. His works are colorful and painted with a sense of exploration and immediacy. There is a sense of freedom and liberation in the work that is endearing. Some works have loosely identifiable subjects and characters, others are very organic and spontaneous. Some of his most recent works that engaged me, were the ones where Hicks goes beyond the quickly drawn compositions of paint to incorporate swaths of irregular repurposed paper and fabric. The reused materials give the work additional girth, volume, and depth. The lively drawings then suggest the interplay of time and circumstance involved in their creation. Hicks’ works always convey a sense of immediacy of the present and in his recent works, one can also sense a past. The viewer is left with a feeling that the artist still wants them to keep guessing and exploring the intricacies of his paintings.
Taking the F or G train to almost the very end will bring one to Ford Hamilton in Brooklyn, an area that I haven’t been much except for a number of visits to see an old veteran friend of mine at the VA hospital. The journey proves to be eventful and worth the effort. To get to artist Ronald Katz’s residence and studio one has to get off the train, walk a bit, go over a bridge with the wiz of the traffic underneath to find a cluster of prewar buildings on Ocean Parkway. It was invigorating to observe the old workings of city construction in play and see a once ethnically uniform community’s diversification reflected by the people that went by as I moved on. An added plus to the experience of getting there was a vendor selling collectible vintage comic books, whose graphics were colorful and dynamic even if you didn’t care about Superman, Spider-Man, or Captain America. Another heaven of art? After approximately an eight-block walk I reached the prewar walk-up where I would eventually find Ronald Katz. I proceeded to do the three-floor walk up which, if anyone has ever experienced any of these pre-war buildings without elevators, seemed like six flights! My total partial and total knee replacements had a real stress attack! Nevertheless, it proved to be very much worth it. Ronald Katz is one to contend with. He immediately had my attention and respect after this experience. For more than thirty years he has climbed those stairs, many times, with his bike, art, and art supplies in tow. I know many artists in their twenties who would never stand the challenge. He is resilient and does it with no sweat.
When you go through the door of his apartment and then later into his second apartment, which is his studio, you see the wealth of artistic experience and heritage of a skilled and energetic artist. In addition, you see the proof of the depth and investment of his knowledge of art: art books, music, bones, rocks, and other ephemera that have helped hone his studio practice. He lives and breaths his art. The two apartments, like Hicks’ studio, display the excitement of creative exploration. Katz’s practice is more studied and scholarly honed. Hick’s is wanton and free and more organic. Katz’s strength is in the tenets of his experience and refined drawing and painting skills. He is a realist and figurative painter, which makes sense for a man whose vocation was in the sciences such as physics and chemistry. His works are also often informed by his travels and reflect what he has seen and felt from the natural phenomena that he has experienced in one form or another. In a pieces like “WELLFLEET AFTERNOON” and “TROPICAL SCENE – ST. MARTIN” the painting conveys a story that only a person who knows the characters and their particular vignettes can portray. Where the magic is more in the augment and the culmination of interpreted experience, as well as the values, timbre, and setup of the composition, the feelings that it evokes.
These two artists, who are strikingly different in their art and inspiration, are both a testament to human content at its best. The experience of both encourages one to continue to explore more of what is outside your door.