Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Mediated Mug

Cup of the Day #9
India ink on white cardboard cups
by Gwyneth Leech, 2008 & 2009

Throughout the month of March there was an ongoing forum down at Edward Winkleman Gallery in Chelsea on artists' relationship to the art market. This was the brainchild of Jennifer Dalton and William Powhida whose drawings filled a rear room "market place".  In the main gallery the walls had become chalkboards, tables and chairs filled the space and people gathered every day for classes run by artists, gallerists, writers, bloggers and others about topics of pressing interest. The project was called Hashtagclass after the hashtag symbol ( (# ) used to precede words on Twitter in order to find and follow live discussions. Remote participants were a feature of the month with the talks viewable live via webcam and people using text and Twitter to send in questions during classes.

One afternoon last week I was there for Social Media #Class run by artists  Zachary Adam Cohen and Mark Philip Venema  streaming in from Canada as a disembodied head on a screen on the wall directly behind Zachary. The room was full of artists, bloggers, a critic or two and a dealer or two - all known to me through the media of Facebook but many of the faces I was seeing in the flesh for the first time.

The talk covered Facebook, Twitter and blogging with Zachary reading a prepared text and the jovial head making sardonic interjections. The discussion boiled down to several points - social media has a great leveling effect and is creating new communities in the art world. We all agreed. But what do those communities mean? Are they real relationships? Do they exist outside the web? Do they create real access and opportunities?

A key component of community was identified as trust and a call went out to name critical elements of trust relationships. Zachary asked for Twitter questions and flying fingers in the room passed along the message via IPhones and Blackberries.

I was feeling pretty dry as the talking and texting went on. Bottles of wine had appeared and been circulated but that was of no interest to me. Suddenly on the large screen, a woman and child entered the room and handed something to the Canadian artist. Moments later he was lifting it to his lips - a large steaming mug of a hot drink! My mouth watered. "What are you drinking?" I called out to him via microphone across the digital void. "Tea with milk, in a mug from the dollar store",  he replied, taking another big swig.

Now here is the crux of it - in this mediated world he can be in the room with us and in a foreign country at the same time, but we can't pour each other a cup of real tea!

At the end of the talk I made it a point to go around the room and meet all those mediated people, all those facebook friends and Tweeters and shake their flesh and blood hands. I am grateful to Edward, Jennifer and William for making a big step towards getting that community off their computers, out of their offices and studios and face to face in the real world. And I hope somehow to drink real tea with Mark Philip Venema before too long.

#class Purchase Application 
by William Powhida and Jennifer Dalton
Pencil and colored pencil on paper
14" x 11" ( 35.5 x 28 cm)
#class exhibition, Winkleman Gallery

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Comfort Cup

 Cup of the Day #8
India ink on cardboard cup
 by Gwyneth Leech, 2010

On a recent weekday morning I am headed to the studio to paint. First, I run down to Lab Middle school in Chelsea, where my elder daughter Megan is an eighth grader, to attend a parents' "coffee chat" called advocating for your child with special needs. Megan, who is a general-ed student and a high achiever, is headed for Stuyvesant High School next year. I am at the meeting with my six year old daughter Grace in mind. She has Down Syndrome and is only in first grade but I want to know what lies ahead.

The boxed brew on the table is from Amys' Bread in Chelsea Market and it tastes very good today. As the meeting goes on and the leader talks about parents' rights, LSE, IEP, SETS, team meetings, mediation, arbitration, bumping down and schools trying to pass your hot potato child out of the the system I drain my cup and draw all over it. It helps me concentrate and makes me feel better.

The parents around me are full of anxiety and questions. They are facing middle school and high school issues. But the leader is full of sage advice and helpful strategies, chief among them is to identity early on what your child's passion is and steer him or her that way through the education system, because children will excel where they are most engaged.

Hey, that's why I am an artist! I wasn't a competent reader until 3rd grade and drawing was always where I shone at school and at home. Grace is the same way and scores above grade level in art and music (as opposed to her reading and math level which I rather not mention). I recently did a collage sketchbook combining her drawings from the past several years with mine. It is currently on tour with the Art House Coop Sketchbook Project. I believe Grace has a bright future with her art skills. As for her outstanding skills with a hula hoop, we are not sure yet where that might lead.

 Sketchbook Collaboration
Grace Wilson and Gwyneth Leech
Ink and collage, 2009

 Grace Hula Hooping in Central Park
3/21 - World Down Syndrome Day

Friday, March 19, 2010


Cup of Day #8
India ink brush pens on white cardboard cup
by Gwyneth Leech, 2008

At 9:45 AM this morning, Friday March 19th, my husband David Wilson forswore allegiance to any foreign prince or potentate and along with 172 people from 54 countries became a newly minted citizen of the United States. Being a good (ex)Scot he says he will be glad never to sing "God Save the Queen" again. During the oath of allegiance I note that they are all swearing to perform armed service should they be required by law. Hmm. Did we know about that part?

My 14 year old daughter Megan is there too, making her late for school - but what better lesson in civics for her humanities class? She is a dual citizen - U.S. and U. K. And my sister Kitty, ever ready with costume details, supplies a flag lapel pin.

After the brief ceremony and the handing out of those critical naturalization certificates we emerge into Federal Plaza in downtown Manhattan looking for sustenance. We find an excellent breakfast spot at Jerry's Cafe on Chambers Street a few blocks away and drink Americano coffee with our bacon and eggs.

Finally, we can breathe a sigh of relief and get over the nagging fear that in this post 9-11 world, somehow, someday our resident alien spouse and father could be deported without right of return. Now he is a citizen that can't happen, right? Next, make sure we get the U.S. passport in hand.

David becomes a U.S. citizen
March 19th, 2010

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

An Irish Brew

 Cup of the Day #7
Filigree Cup by Gwyneth Leech
White-out pen on green cardboard cup, 2009

My painting studio is on 39th Street, eight blocks down 9th Avenue from my apartment and a walk to work invariably full of incident. This morning, getting underway rather late, I am surprised by the volume of foot traffic until at Amy's Bread, the soda bread and paper shamrocks in the window plus the line out the door of people in green remind me that it is Saint Patrick's day.

I wait my turn in the amiable crush and order a scone and coffee to go. They serve excellent Illy espresso at Amy's and one of favorite breakfasts in Manhattan is to sit in here for a large bowl of Cafe au lait with french bread and butter, but I don't have time today. I get the Oran's decaf coffee on tap and am then am disappointed to find it extremely bitter when I taste it on my way down the street.

The Saint Patrick's Day Parade is already underway several blocks East and green-clad bar-flies are smoking their breakfasts outside the bars all the way down to 42nd Street. I dump my decaf in a trash can and go into Empire Tea and Coffee at 41st and 9th. This no-frills shop carries a great range of whole beans which the owner has roasted upstate. Their tea selection is also excellent - boxes at the front, loose leaf in glass jars at the back. And they sell a full menu of hot drinks to go, including outstanding espresso drinks at great prices.

I have been coming to Empire for years and always enjoy the personable baristas who seem to be drawn from a never-ending pool of aspiring jazz and pop musicians. The clientele includes artists, people heading to offices, construction workers from the burgeoning high rises in the neighborhood and postal employees from the depot on 42nd Street. There used to be a steady stream of musicians carrying instruments and headed for rehearsal studios on 41st, but that building was torn down to make way for a skyscraper a few years ago.

I order a Barry's Irish tea to mark the day. Barry's is Empire's house tea and it is a vigorous black brew which I drink strong with milk, no sugar. I like it almost as much as Brooke Bond's Scottish Blend. I lived in Scotland for 15 years and we swore by Scottish Blend, an unpretentious, full-bodied black tea sold in super markets at a modest price. When I moved to New York 10 years ago I persuaded Empire to order it for me and it is always stocked, and quite popular - despite the New York price tag.

By 4 PM I am heading back up 9th Avenue after a productive day painting. I didn't go to the parade. My ancestors are Irish, English, Scottish and Welsh in pretty equal parts so I choose not to celebrate any of the historically warring factions. The green revelers are more numerous now, and some are staggering. Here are some green wigs, there a green torso, lots of green trinkets. Outside Rudy's Bar and Grill at 44th Street I pause to admire the Swine on Nine. Today he is wearing a kilt!

 A reveler celebrating with the Swine on Nine
Saint Patrick's Day, NYC, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

By the spoonful

 Cup of the Day #6
Midtown Cup by Gwyneth Leech
India Ink brush pen on cardboard cup

 At last, I was back in the studio painting yesterday. However, I had to break off early to collect my six year old daughter from school and take her in a taxi back to the Garment District to meet my sister for a photo shoot. Kitty Leech is a costume designer and illustrator. She lives in Brooklyn, teaches at NYU and designs off-Broadway shows. Some years ago we had the thrill of going to London to see her costumes in the West End production of "Gross Indecency - the Three Trials of Oscar Wilde".

On the domestic front, Kitty has for years done a phenomenal job of creating lavish costumes for my girls for Halloween. Megan, my eldest, has worn a long series of royal costumes including Marie Antoinette, Cleopatra, Queen Victoria at her coronation, the Snow Queen and 2009's ethereal Queen of the Night.

Last Halloween, Grace, now six, was Mary Poppins and Kitty wants a studio portrait for the archives. So here we are in Midtown in the studio of Barry Burns, photographer. Grace submits to full make up and costume. But the giant steam radiator is hissing and we are all melting when Grace finally gets in front of the lights with carpet bag and parrot-head umbrella lifted high while Barry shoots away, lights flashing. Five - yes 5! - minutes later Grace says "all done" and starts getting out of her costume as fast as she can. Persuasion, entreaties and bribes are useless.

 Sister Kitty dressing Grace as Mary Poppins
for Halloween, 2009

But Barry has got some great shots. And all is not quite over. Grace insists on doing MY hair and makeup and then we go in front of the camera together. One more round with me and my sister, under Grace's direction - two parrot head umbrellas this time - and in all we have a great photo shoot.

While waiting for proofs Kitty recollects the genesis of her coffee habit. When she was three years old, she would sit on the lap of our adored, white-haired Great Aunt Martha, who would feed her black coffee sweetened with sugar from a silver spoon. Kitty was hooked for life.  She says I drank the same elixir, but I don't remember it. I swear I never drank coffee until college.

Kitty is a Starbucks gal and has saved a very large quantity of cups for me to draw on. But she indulges my taste when we emerge into the neighborhood of button shops and fabric emporia. We sample New York Lunchbox on 36th between 7th and 8th, a Kosher family business open less than a year. We admire the green glass wall tiles and the dark blue ceiling and Grace enjoys two orders of Sushi, but the espresso machine is broken  and the brewed Lavazza coffee tepid.

We try again closer to home, turning in at New York Gourmet Marketplace on the corner of 43rd and 8th (no website!). Grace sits down in the window right next to a man in MTA uniform. He is wearing the largest digital wristwatch I have ever seen and is diligently writing numbers in a notebook as he  checks the time-keeping of buses going up 8th avenue. Grace is fascinated by the crackle from his two way radio.

This spotless eatery is another family-run business, open since September, and caters largely to Times Square tourists.  My decaf latte comes from one of those pre-programmed machines which the New York Times coffee article decried, but it is delicious to me at the end of a complicated afternoon. Grace wants to know how my coffee is. I consider giving her a taste. Instead I try the frozen yogurt which she is offering me on a plastic spoon.

Guest Cup of the Day
Rose Teacup Fairy by Kitty Leech
Gouache on paper

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Coming Up for Air

 Cup of the Day #5
Cloud cups by Gwyneth Leech 
Sidetable, Studio on A Bed
Gouache and india ink on cardboard cups
2008 and 2010

Still recuperating from the frenzied art fair week and sorting through the final tally of 150 drawings of family done in my Studio on a Bed in room 490 at the Gershwin Hotel as part of the Pool Art Fair. I am still unpacking - literally and psychologically - but planning to post the drawings in a gallery on my website soon.

Meanwhile, the New York times has today printed an excellent article on the surge of specialty coffee bars opening around New York City - 40 in the last two years. Clearly I have my work cut out for me if I am going to sample them all on my art perambulations around the city! The article includes a full list of the writer's top picks as well as an interactive map. 

I was pleased to see that one of my own favorites is on the list - Birch Coffee opened by Paul Schlader and Jeremy Lyman just four months ago. As well as commendable coffee, they offer an excellent selection of Eco Primer loose leaf teas crafted into tea bags when you order, as well as outrageously tasty grilled paninis which kept us going during an arduous weekend. Birch may be reason enough for Pool Art Fair to return to the Gershwin Hotel next year!

 Latte art at Third Rail
Ashley Gilbertson for The New York Times

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Family Gathering

 Cup of the Day #4  by Gwyneth Leech
Greek Drinking Cup
Acrylic on cardboard cup
Painted in the studio 

The cups have had their first  public outing as part of my exhibition in room 940 at the Pool Art Fair. People have been full of admiration and puzzlement in equal measure. But they are here to make people feel comfortable about drawing. As visitors enter the room they are invited to sit on the bed and make a drawing. The theme is family. The public has responded with gusto. 80 have accepted the invitation so far.  You can see the album by clicking here. The drawings are going into the bathroom gallery and I will post photos of the results soon.

The fun resumes at the Gershiwn Hotel 7 East 27th Street, today and Sunday  3 - 10PM. 60 artists work to see on 8th, 9th and 10 th floor. If the elevator is slow fee free to walk up.

By the way, the Gershwin Hotel  has an awesome coffee bar just off the lobby called Birch. Fair trade teas and coffees. Beautiful selection of loose leaf teas, good eats, free WiFI and a library. It rocks, as does the Gerwhin hotel itself.

 Studio on a Bed
Room 940 at the Pool Art Fair
Gershwin Hotel
March 5, 6 & 7
Drawn cups in the background

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Flying Coffee Pots

 Cup of the Day #3
Brush pens on white cups
from Amy's Bread
(English Breakfast Tea with milk)
Drawn in the studio

Broke off my preparations for showing at Pool Art Fair to swing by the Armory Show preview at piers 92 and 94 last night. Much big hair and eventful outfits in the festive throng. Some art leaving the building in bubble wrap - a good omen. Went round every inch in my high heels. Could hardly walk this morning. I never wear heels. Now I remember why.

Here's my shopping list: Both of those tiny works on paper by Antony Gormley and the photo of Marina Abramovic's gold flecked face, both at Sean Kelly gallery, and a Nick Cave suit from Jack Shainman gallery. Over on the secondary market pier I will take several of the Morandi paintings and all three Emile Nolde water colors. Nice to see Callum Innes' immaculate half color-field reductive paintings in several of the contemporary galleries (a shout-out to Callum. We did our graduate studies together at Edinburgh College some years back) but too big for my New York apartment, I fear. And that blue Anish Kapoor is a dream but I can just see my six year old literally falling into it.

But never mind the art. Let's talk about something we can afford. The coffee they are selling on site won't kill you, and the small selections of teas aren't Lipton, but really you should venture off campus. Sure the immediate environs are a desert, but boldly walk East on 52 Street to 10th and try the delightful La Bergamote Patisserie for a gleaming espresso machine and eye-popping french pastry. Even better,  go one more block south and hit Cafe Forant on 51st between 10th and 9th. Great coffee, small selection of nice tea. Chef Lea Forant's brunch is out this world (yes to the Croque Madame) as is Carolyn Montogomery's conversation. In her own right, Carolyn is a splendid cabaret artist and a person to know. Oh, and they serve lavander lemonade all year round. An awesome concoction.

From Armory to MOMA at 9 PM for the benefit party. A press of multicultural glitterati in mostly black. Our ears were assaulted by dirge-like music from several art bands (what was that all about?) but our eyes dazzled by Sean Capone's gignatic projections of slowly morphing floral fields on the walls of the atrium.

MOMA has awesome coffee and great tea in any one of its cafes, but last night all were closed. Refreshment was provided by several huge open bars but the only coffee on offer was in the William Kentridge exhibition where to my delight the artist draws with coffee in several short films and in the grand finale of another sends his cafetiere as a rocket ship to the moon.



Guest Cup of the Day #1
Stills from William Kentridge's
7 Short Films for George Melies 
February 24 - May 17, 2010

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Stopped by the Pulse Art Fair launch party at the Thor hotel on the Lower East Side last night around 9:30 PM. French was being spoken all around me as a crowd of art fair visitors converged on the entrance. Inside everything was monochrome - white folk dressed in black, in a black and white interior. Cruised through the crowd enjoying the scene of packed sardines for awhile but realized my heart wasn't in it.

Stepped out into the fresh air and busy night of Rivington street and headed West towards the F train. Turned up Allen street and saw a sight which cheered me - the brightly lit windows of an old fashioned book store where studious, coffee-drinking people sat at small tables reading books and working at laptops, doors open to 11 PM.

Make mine a chamomile from the selection of loose teas in glass jars behind the counter. Perused the volumes on politics, activism, culture and gender issues. Found a seat and drank my tea, book in hand, while overhearing an animated conversation about the Verge Art Fair between a girl with dread-locks and a young man in Doc Martins eating Vegan noodle soup.

Bluestockings, 17 Allen Street. Great tea, interesting books, long hours, right in the heart of Lower East side gallery district. I'm heading back there soon.

Cup of the Day : Gwyneth Leech
India ink on white cardboard cup
Drawn at Artists Meeting, NYC
October 2008
Size small

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Art and Coffee Cups

I am a painter living in New York City. Oil paint and canvas are my primary media but I also make videos and I draw rather compulsively on a wide variety of surfaces.

My drawing surface of choice since 2007 is the cardboard coffee cup. The slightly off-white, matte surface of a sturdy unadorned cardboard cup takes beautifully the jet-black India ink of my Rotring art pen and the earthy permanent colors of the Faber and Castelli brush pens that I favor.

This coffee cup thing started at my part-time job three or four years ago when Styrofoam coffee cups were gone, replaced by these pristine white cardboard cups. Am idle moment, a sharpened #2 pencil  and the obsession was born.

A stint of jury duty in the City some months later led to the elaboration of my technique with art pen and brush pens. I now save the cups from the drinks I buy and occasionally collect them from other artists with whom I meet for tea or coffee around town. I wash and dry them and record on the bottom the date, place and occasion, as well as the drink that was consumed, thus capturing the social moment just passed.

White cups are still my preference, but my eyes have been opened to the possibilities of colored surfaces and odd printed designs that I alter with ink drawing or sometimes paint over with gouache or oils, letting the cup color show through the finished piece.

In this blog I am documenting the intersection of art-making and art-seeing, daily life in New York City and cardboard coffee cups. I am especially interested in where to get a great cup of tea or coffee around town and include info about independent coffee shops, coffee bars and tea rooms. In a recession when a lot of my favorite small haunts are struggling I want to get the word out, so you won’t be hearing much about Starbucks here, but about places like Empire Tea and Coffee on 9th Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen, Royale and Ciao for Now on 10th Street and 6th Avenue in the Village, Ferrera in Central Park at Columbus Circles and other excellent places to grab a caffeine in a cardboard cup and be on the go.

Cup of the Day : Gwyneth Leech
India ink on white cardboard cups
Drawn at Artists Meeting, NYC
 2008 and 2009
Size small