Wednesday, April 28, 2010

How to Find A Great Cup of Coffee on 10th Avenue

 Cup of the Day #19
by Gwyneth Leech, 2010
Sumi ink and white-out pen on green printed cup

"Excuse me, is there a Starbucks on 10th Avenue?" This question from a bearded young man on the corner of 10th Avenue and 46th Street. Now that I think about it, I do not believe there is a Starbucks between 14th Street and 70th Street, practically the whole length of the Avenue. I direct him to several on 9th, but he is not satisfied with the need to leave 10th.

"Why don't you try Bis.Co. Latte?", I suggest. It is a half block from where we stand. Run by Holly DeSantis who lives right across the street from her shop, it has a full espresso bar serving Illy coffee and she bakes a wildly original selection of biscotti on the premises.  It isn't cheap, but neither is Starbucks. Plus, they serve the coffee in a china cup. If it's tea you want, they serve it in an attractive tea pot and matching cup.

"But is it a good place to read?"  Read! they have a bookshelf and magazine rack. You can read all day.

We parted ways and I walked two blocks to collect my daughter from school. On our way past Bis.Co. Latte a half hour later he was there seated at a table, coffee cup at his elbow, engrossed in a book.

We went to the playground to join the tumult of after school play. Grace ran off to swing on the monkey bars and I sat down next to my friend, Carolyn Montgomery - cabaret singer, mom, raconteur and woman with her finger on the pulse. She and her wife Lea have an excellent little bistro on 51st Street called Café Forant which I wrote about in a earlier post here.
We chatted about life, art, elementary school, the weather. It was a gray day of drifting petals from the flowering trees.
"You know,' she  said, "it was such a chilly day, I brought a bag of lattes with me to the playground".
I reacted in surprise. "Starbucks?"
"No, from the cafe. I just made up four lattes and brought them in a bag in case someone wanted a latte. Sometimes it's just nice to be able to say, do you want a latte?"
"And are they all gone?" I asked, laughing.
"Of course, I knew there would be at least four sleep-deprived mothers here."
How right she always is!

So if you are looking for good coffee on 10th in Hell's Kitchen, there is Bis.Co. Latte, Cafe Lali (for a great Spanish coffee), La Bergamote and Café Forant, to get you started. But, don't forget to check the playground at 10th and 47th. You might get lucky, especially if you look tired.

 Spring morning in Hell's Kitchen
April 2010

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Chelsea Transverse

Cup of the Day #18
Ochre Cup, Verso by Gwyneth Leech
India ink on ochre colored cup, 2010

It started with the decision to go see Jacob Kedzierski's photos in a show at Baboo photo Lab on 20th Street between 5th and 6th. I had heard about his large scale photo-collage using a shot of every street sign in New York City and I wanted to see it for myself.

I was on 5th Avenue where by chance I had come across a butter yellow Van Leeuwen's Ice Cream and Espresso Truck parked at 15th Street. Known for an impressive array of organic ice cream flavors, their coffee also rocks. They use Intelligentsia, a fair trade coffee, the beans roasted in Chicago.  One of their five vans is parked at this location Monday to Friday and they Tweet their movements here.

I tried an Affogato - vanilla ice cream (beans from Papua New Guinea) drenched with a shot of hair-raising espresso. Wow! Highly animated after this, I was ready to walk straight across Chelsea on 20th Street from 5th Avenue to the West Side Highway.

First stop, Baboo at #37. Jacob's piece was a satisfying crazy quilt of street signs and traffic signs arranged into a kaleidoscopic cityscape - the product of months of shooting and many hours of photoshop.

From there I strode west and was met with a panoply of unexpected treasures, including:
- A Chinese import shop, ancient-looking chests lurking in darkened recesses and knock-offs of contemporary Chinese paintings hung by the door.
- At 7th Avenue a tiny girl in a starched primrose frock and red hair bow, joyfully new to walking, rounding the corner with an attentive nanny right behind.
- One, two three amazing coffee shops in a row: Spoon, Cafe Grumpy and the original La Bergamote.
- The modest brownstone at #347 where 98 year old sculptor Louise Bourgeois still lives, bringing back the recollection of several tea salons there (a good story for another occasion!).
- A cascade of wisteria in bloom, hanging over the wall of the General Theological Seminary at 9th Avenue, abuzz with bees.
 - Finally, the Renegade Accordianist sitting by the steps leading up to the Highline Park just past 10th Avenue. Sporting a cardboard Centurion helmet, he was playing rather doleful tunes but was cheerful when I engaged him in conversation. A student at City College, he is training to be an engineer and is excited to be starting an internship with the MTA next week. I dropped a dollar in his box and continued along the final block of the transverse.

Wisteria in Chelsea, NYC
April, 2010

My ostensible destination was Elizabeth Dee Gallery at the corner of 20th and the Westside Highway, where Ryan McNamara was giving a running commentary on his life to all comers over the course of four days. When I got there he was still in good voice, explaining the multifarious stages of his colorful career as dancer, curator, painter, performance artist and prankster, illustrated by a gallery-full of photos and videos. His taste for theatrical wounds was interesting. (The question I didn't get to ask - is that a real black eye he sports in the studio photo taken when he was about two?)

However, it was at Kim Foster Gallery nearby that I made coffee landfall again. In John Kirchner's solo show, sadly just closed, "Reflections on the Process of Assimilation" was a standout installation. A man's white dress shirt hangs suspended in mid-air. The lower part of the sleeves and shirt tails are coffee-stained and the brown color appears to be draining down from the shirt in thin streams into three cups of real coffee sitting on the ground directly below. Or perhaps the color is wicking upwards, turning the shirt from white to brown? When I was there the installation was still available for purchase at $10,000, refills not included.
Reflections on the Process of Assimilation
By John Kirchner
from A Short History of America and Its Peoples
Photo courtesy of Kim Foster Gallery

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Minding Your Beeswax

Cup of the day #17
Drip Cup by Gwyneth Leech, 2009
Color India ink on white cardboard cup

A lot of discussion has been going on recently amongst artists and critics - again, still - about the handmade art object versus conceptual art (in which the idea is perceived as being more important than the actual artwork). During the Spring art fair week last month, a fair in Chelsea called Independent showcased a group of international galleries interested in both. Ideas were balanced by well-made art objects and there was much attention given to thought-provoking installation. Independent was the brain child of Chelsea art dealer Elizabeth Dee who has a consistently interesting gallery program along these lines in her Chelsea space. Visit the upcoming program here.

Independent was held on four floors of a huge gallery building on 22nd Street just off the West Side Highway. On the ground floor, art and concept married to create some terrific sandwiches at the Farmcart table, a business started by an artist and manned by artists during the fair. The food and the Illy coffee were amazing, although the artists on shift were remarkably grumpy. Perhaps sandwiches are better served in New York by actors than by painters?

Upstairs, among the galleries, hands down my favorite piece was a voluptuous crimson vase displayed in a bell jar at Moss Gallery. It was rather off-center and a little lumpy but of the most exquisite delicacy. Its rare and extraordinary craftsmanship was in the fact the work of bees! Tomáš Gabzdil Libertiny, a Slovakian-born designer based in the Netherlands, makes a form which goes into a hive and the bees build the honey comb over and around it. The crimson comes from a dye dripped into the hive, ingested by the bees and secreted in their wax. This detail reminds me that Charles Darwin used the same dye technique 150 years ago to study how bees build their cells, a pleasing cross-reference.

The dealer added another interesting twist. Once the bees have made a vessel in this way, industriously building it around the form, that particular hive refuses to do it again. They are busy but apparently they aren't stupid! Well, it isn't exactly handmade, but that's what I call one of a kind.

Crimson Vase, Made by Bees
Studio Libertiny at

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Quick Cuppa

 Cup of the day #16
Red Venti, Verso
By Gwyneth Leech. 2009
White-out pen and India ink on red cup

Overheard in the elevator at my studio building, two women talking:

"See, this is perfect timing. We'll take a cab home and we'll grab a Starbucks."
"You'll grab a Starbucks."
"I'll grab a Starbucks?"
"I don't like Starbucks."
"You don't like Starbucks?? Then what do you like?"

Sadly they exited the elevator and the doors closed before I could find out!

 Guest Cup of the Day
Styro Skirt by Mark Philip Venema
Photography, digital pigment print on cotton paper, 12" x 10"
2005, Westmount and Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Friday, April 16, 2010

Sunday Afternoon Tea in the Park

Cup of the Day #15
Topiary cup by Gwyneth Leech
Colored India ink on white cardboard cup, 2009

I am in a cranky mood. Everyone is in Central Park on this particular day and one can hardly turn around. It is the first warm Sunday of the year, just a few short weeks ago. Buds are bursting as if before our very eyes and the feeling of an impromptu party which I get in this park on any day, in any season is especially strong.

We came up to the 72nd street entrance on the East side to watch the model sailboats in the boat pond and climb on the Alice in Wonderland statue. The latter is possible but the pond is to be a gravel bed for two weeks more. A family stands by the rim of the ugly, empty concrete pond, sail boat held disconsolately under the father's arm.

Over at the Alice in Wonderland statue there is a veritable scrum on the polished bronze surface. Grace is making her way over the top, sticking her tongue out and occasionally giving another child a shove. This is not attractive behavior and I have had to reprimand her several times.

I am now sitting on a bench with a cup of tea my older daughter Megan has thoughtfully bought me from the Kerbs Boathouse refreshment stand, a favorite stopping off point. I love the thought but I hate the tea. It is Earl Grey. I have tried to love Earl Grey and Lady Grey for years, but I just can't do it. It is the Bergamot - a pungent flower that infuses this blend with, to my nose, a noxious perfume. I don't hide my distaste and both Megan and husband David are hurt.

 Alice in Wonderland Statue
Central Park, 2010

I am remorseful and drink the whole cupful. Then I look at the cup. It is covered in ads for Chock Full of Nuts and useless for my purposes - polished, printed and Styrofoam. The bright colors mock me from the shiny surface. And the black lid is a complex feat of engineering, involving a separate tab that folds back and locks into place. When this thing goes into the trash it will be there for a long, long time.

Not so the cardboard cups I collect and draw on? It turns out that there is not much difference. They all currently go for landfill, not recycling because the cardboard cups have a thin plastic lining. Read about it here. Who knew? I am now determined to carry on and reuse all the cups I buy or am given this year. I have over 100 since January. They are stacked in teetering towers in the corner of my studio behind a folding screen. Can I keep up and draw on them all? Hope springs eternal in the minds of men.

We shall see.

Signs of Spring - Living Statues
Central Park, 2010

Monday, April 12, 2010

How to Juggle Art and Life: A Day Out with Barbara Ellmann

 Cup of the Day #14
Red Sienna Cup by Gwyneth Leech
India ink on white cardboard cup, 2009

Lipton tea company has upped its game. I am in the cafeteria at Adelphi University in Garden City, Long Island. I note a rack of Lipton tea bags in a variety of new and promising flavors. I try the chai black and it is actually strong and full of flavor. A change from the floor sweepings that make up their usual tea bags!

I am out here today with New York artists Ellen Stavistsky and Barbara Ellmann because Barbara has a solo show on in the Ruth S. Harley University Center Gallery, called Foreign Affairs and other Abstractions. The exhibition features three densely hung groups of her accomplished and colorful encaustic paintings.

The largest series, double hung, comprises compositions based on ethnic fabrics from around the world and the eye plays across a riot of patterns, creating new relationships along the way. The cool greens and blues of a second series evoke topography and were done after a recent artist residency in Florida.

The final group, of 50 waxed drawings hung in a grid, had me mesmerized. A product of daily practice, and using Parcheesi boards as a long-ago starting point, each pattern and color arrangement is different, as are the subtle tones of the Japanese paper she works on. The longer one looks the more one sees as each image relates without repeating.

Waxed Drawings installation
by Barbara Ellmann
Adelphi University 
 March 30th - April 15th, 2010

Barbara never ceases to amaze me. Not only is she in her studio painting regularly, she works as a museum educator at MOMA and with Lincoln Center Institute. She teaches encaustic workshops for R&F,  the encaustic paint manufacturers, and she devotes a good chunk of her time on a monthly basis to leading and galvanizing a large number of New York City artists into sharing business information amongst themselves. Her living principal is the more you give out the more comes back. On top of this, she has raised and launched a son, now at art school himself in California. She is an inspiration!

Foreign Affairs and other Abstractions is on through this Thursday, April 15th, open every day 11Am - 8PM. If you don't catch it there you can travel out to Brooklyn to see her commissioned glass panels at the Van Siclen Avenue subway stop (an MTA Arts for Transit commission), or the permanent installation of her encaustic panel paintings at the Cambria Heights Branch Library in Queens. Even better, take an encaustic workshop with her, bookable here through R&F. It looks like there is one coming up in June.

Encaustic Panel
by Barbara Ellmann
Adelphi University 
March 30th - April 15th, 2010

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Artist is Present - Proceed with caution

 Cup of the Day #13
Bone Cup by Gwyneth Leech
India ink and white-out pen 
on white cardboard cup, 2010

There is a lot of pain and suffering going on right now at the Museum of Modern Art.

First, there was the excruciating crush of people waiting to get into the galleries first thing in the morning, most drawn by Marina Abramovic's show the Artist is Present. Then there was the gray and stricken face of Marina herself, in only her second face-off with a visitor that day, locking eyes across the hard wooden table in the atrium where she is sitting on a chair for 70 days, motionless, all day long. She is almost a month into the show and this is clearly a monumental feat of endurance.

I am there with my daughter Grace, age six, and we are cross-legged on the floor just outside the white tape which delineates a large empty space around Marina and her table and chairs. Grace is absorbed in the view of Marina. "I want to touch it" she says. Is it a statue? I explain she can't touch.
The visitor's chair is now free. "I want to sit in the chair". I explain she can't. There is already a long line of people who want to sit and silently communicate with Marina.

Grace stands up abruptly "I don't like that lady", she says as she marches off.

We go up to the 6th floor. A docent warns us about the nudity in the Abramovic show. But the sound, not the nudity is the problem. At the doorway of the first gallery we listen to the moaning, groaning, rasping and slapping sounds emanating from a roomful of early videos playing simultaneously. U turn.

We try the final rooms of the exhibit, walking quickly by the slow-mo videos and light box shots of Marina's punished and bleeding torso from a recent re-performance, and go round a corner. I am briefly startled by the incredibly high resolution of the image of a completely naked woman seemingly suspended on the wall until I realize it is in fact a flesh and blood naked woman precariously balanced on a tiny saddle, in mid-air. It is such a large sight that Grace doesn't seem to see it at all. At that moment she says loudly, "I want a snack!". Definitely times for a another U turn. There is just no way I can explain any of this to her!

After a welcome interlude in the 2nd floor cafe - cinnamon crisp and a delightful latte with an elegantly patterned topping of foam - we spend several hours watching giant projections of William Kentridge movies in the exhibition of his work which is on until May 13th. She is completely taken with the flow of collage and drawn images, watching every film to the end and some twice. (I count at least four cafetieres.) She seems undisturbed by images of torture and destruction scattered through the Anti-Apartheid animations from the 1990s . Finally she announces, "I love this show" and "I want to draw, right now".

Fortunately, MOMA has provided a Shape Lab in the education wing with many great hands-on activities and art materials for kids of all ages to respond to what they see in the galleries and make their own art, open through August 30th.  However, if you loved the Abramovic show and want to find a place to hurt yourself in a meditative fashion, I am afraid you have to go somewhere else.

 MOMA Latte
April 2010

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Pulse Rate

 Cup of the Day #12
by Gwyneth Leech, 2009
India ink on ochre colored cup

The Street Sweets truck was back on 9th Avenue yesterday. This peripatetic, self-contained bakery has a full espresso bar tucked away inside its flamboyant and instantly recognizable graphics-covered exterior. They use beans from Coffee Labs Roasters in Tarrytown and Samira Mahboubian, one of the co-owners will chat with you amiably and knowledgeably about coffee. They also serve great soup and excellent pastries.You can follow their locations on their website or on Twitter here.

I have seen Street Sweets around the city in a few different places. The first time, back in Early March, it was a welcome discovery parked on Hudson Street in the West Village. It was lunchtime and I was walking East from the Pulse Art Fair which was held this year in an old industrial building on West Street and the West Side highway, in yet another culinary desert.

The art fair itself boasted two cafes which served pretty decent coffee, but my gourmande desires had not been met. On the other hand, there were several satisfying art + coffee surprises at Pulse that day. First of all, I was there with my artist friend, Linda Stillman and she reminded me of some gorgeous artworks she has done with used coffee filters! Then it was she who spotted the used 7-11 coffee cup in the trash can at  Michael Rosenthal Gallery. No ordinary cup this. It was part of an installation called Color Work Station by Megan Whitmarsh and like everything in this brightly colored sprawling sculpture it was sewn in 3-D.

7-11 cup and trash 
Detail from Color Work Station 
by Megan Wittmarsh
Pulse Art Fair 2010

It was a further pleasure to meet Megan Whitmarsh herself, in from California. Her two small daughters were there too, busy drawing in a corner under the watchful eye of their father.

It turned out to be a day of daughters. A little further on we bumped into the energetic and skillful artist Orly Cogan with her gorgeous new baby, then just a few moths old. Orly is well-known for turning the intimate details of her life into startling embroidered drawings and has many examples on her website here. But at that moment, she was in a baby moon and lamenting the pressure she feels from some quarters to be making art again right away. This coupled with the difficulties of finding affordable childcare was creating some unwanted stress.

Finally, by chance Linda and I were sitting at a table in the coffee bar with the artist/writer/editor Claudia Schwalb and her poised, well-spoken daughter Heather. Claudia is working on a Youtube art project for which Heather does the videotaping. They work as a team, Heather still only a sophomore at Bard High School.

Take note then, artist parents of small children. Parenthood changes artists in wonderful and unpredictable ways. Those babies that go everywhere to art shows and seem to take so much time away from studio practice can turn into your inspiration and your most valuable allies in the blink of an eye. I have an amazing teen daughter of my own, Megan who helped me in innumerable ways through the Pool Art Fair and who has started doing her own coffee cup drawings.

So keep the faith Orly, enjoy breastfeeding and when you are ready, we can't wait to see what new artwork you come up with.

Guest Cup of the Day
"Good Morning" by Linda Stillman
coffee filters and acrylic medium
28 x 28 inches, 2008
 image courtesy of

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Cloud Cup by Gwyneth Leech
Gouache on white cardboard cup, 2007

I bumped into my friend Eve Suter yesterday afternoon under the cherry trees that edge the Hell's Kitchen playground on 10th Avenue. The trees are in astonishing full bloom and we stood looking up at the pink white blossoms crisscrossed against a brilliant blue sky. Eve is an inspiring and inventive floral designer with sculptural tendencies and it is always a pleasure to look at and talk flowers in her company. I recall the pleasure of a walk across Central Park with her last year where we wandered off the paths repeatedly to savor the scent of different varieties of lilac bushes in bloom.

Eve is one of my playground artist/mom friends. We meet there by chance and she always has photos of interesting recent projects to show me on her I-Phone. Beautiful examples of her artwork are on her website, which you can see here.  Eve is headed to the playground now with her son Booker, age 7. Both are sipping icies, those fluorescent-colored frozen treats in Dixie cups that are sold from wagons  around the city from the first hint of warm weather.

I am finishing a large cafe latte which I have carried all the way across town from Dishes on Park Avenue at 54th Street. This elegant food bar, catering to Park Avenue office workers, opened just a few days ago and I fully appreciated the tall arrangements of Spring flowers in glass vases which soften the bright white interior. The coffee is Masterblend and my latte was crafted with care by an efficient but friendly barista.

Park Avenue was a festival of flowering trees and daffodils. In fact, all the way across town the city is transformed by blossoms. Mostly these are of the flowering pear, a fruitless ornamental tree dense with white blossoms in Spring. I just learned that it is a tree resistant to pollution and drought and attractive to birds, making it an excellent choice for the urban street. But today everything is out all at once - cherry and Magnolia as well as pear, with daffodils, hyacinths and tulips all bursting from beds and planters. City Spring on fast forward.

Spring Arrangement by Eve Suter, 2010

Friday, April 2, 2010

With Sugar

 Cup of the Day #10
Red Venti by Gwyneth Leech
India ink and white-out pen on 
cardboard cup.

One afternoon back in early March, when I was spending long days at the Gershwin Hotel doing the Studio on a Bed project during the Pool Art Fair, I was delighted to see my friend Elisa Jimenez enter the room. Elisa is an awesome maker of art and fashion known to many from Season Four of Project Runway. She and I met in  Hell's Kitchen some ten years ago when our daughters were romping on the jungle gyms in the "Train Playground" on 45th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues and became friends on the spot.

In part, Studio on a Bed was inspired by the studio/bedroom Elisa had in her walk-up apartment on 9th Avenue, around the corner from where I live on West 47th Street. Many a time I sat on Elisa's bed as she cut and sewed garments by hand for a runway show or store order. Years ago she gave me some glittery blue picnic cloths which I used at the Gershwin to cover the bed in my installation, as well as a gorgeous length of diaphanous cloth that shifts from sky blue to pink. I draped it across the head-board to make it more celestial.

Family drawing by Moe Nadel
Studio on a Bed,
Pool Art Fair, March 2010
Elisa moved to Santa Fe a few years ago but is now back in the NY area, living in Nyack with her daughter and her partner Moe Nadel, creator off MeanderWare Bags. So here she and Moe are now, coming into the room with a giant Chai latte which has been carried all the way from Café Mocha on 2nd Avenue at 6th street. My bad. I had sent out an e-mail with the wrong address for the Pool Art Fair and she didn't get the correction. But in true Elisa fashion she did not give up until she found the hotel, and to boot, carried that cup of tea for 20 blocks.

I take a sip - sweetened with sugar! This takes me back. In her Hell's Kitchen days, Elisa used to sleep for a few hours in the evenings when her daughter Calliope went to bed, then get up and work through the small hours, carrying off an astonishing workload for a virtually single mom. The next morning, rising early to take her daughter to school, she would start her day with a Venti tea from Starbucks - stirring in at least five sugars!

Many an afternoon into the evening, Elisa and I would drink tea in my kitchen and cover every conceivable topic pertaining to art and life while our little girls played in the next room. The girls are headed for high school next year and with luck, Elisa will be back living in the NYC and creating her magic blend of art and fashion with a higher profile here than has always been possible from further afield. In anticipation, I am keeping my sugar bowl stocked.

"Family" by Elisa Jimenez
Studio on A Bed,
Pool Art Fair, March 2010