Saturday, December 31, 2011

Raising a Cup to a Full Year

What an extraordinary year it has been!
Eighteen months ago, an exhibition of my artwork on upcycled paper coffee cups was just an idea I was brainstorming in my notebooks in the studio. This almost accidental art form had become my principal means of expression and stacks of cups covered in drawings and paintings were mounting up in the studio. But the how, where, when and why of an exhibit of drawings on coffee cups were all question marks. 

Cup drawings in the studio, January 2011

In October of 2010, Jerry Scupp, director of the New York Fashion Center, saw my cups in my art studio during the annual NYC Fashion District Festival and was smitten. I told him I had a vision for a window exhibition in the neighborhood. He said he had just the window and urged me to apply.

In December a selection of my cup drawings was exhibited for the first  time, in a show called Eat Art at Atlantic Gallery in Midtown.

By January 2011, the details of a window exhibition in the Garment District had fallen into place and it opened in the Window Space for Public Art on West 38th Street in February, presented by the New York Fashion Center and Cheryl McGinnis Projects. Then in the summer, it made a brief re-appearance at Buck House on the Upper East Side. In August, a smaller installation of cups was included in a drawing group show in Cheryl McGinnis Gallery on 8th Avenue.

March 2011

 Hypergraphia at Buck House, July 2011

Cheryl McGinnis Gallery, July/August 2011

Now, over three months has flown by in the Sprint Prow Artspace at the Flatiron Building, with fifty more days to go in 2012. Sprint tell me that 350,000 people see the cup drawing exhibition from the sidewalks and surrounding streets - every week. 

  Views of, and from the Flatiron Prow, October 2011

Articles and reviews have appeared in a dozen languages on over a hundred web-publications and blogs. Videos and innumerable photos have been posted on every conceivable photo sharing site. There have been impromptu salons in the Prow almost every day with New Yorkers of all professions, visitors from around the world, and eager young people from neighborhood schools and colleges who talk, draw with us and get a brief taste of the unearthly serenity inside the prow, of what it feels like to make art in the midst of this installation as the world swirls by outside.

  A late afternoon drawing session in the Prow
December, 2011

An artist friend sent me an e-mail recently which she has allowed me to share:

"Though at a regrettable distance, I'm closely following the Saga of the Coffee Cups with awe and admiration. It's really a story of what happens when one is obsessed with a marvelous, preposterous idea and, despite all logic and reason, doggedly follows it through to its impossible, unattainable conclusion. If someone had said, several years ago when I sat across from you at the NYAC meeting, watching you cover a cup with beautiful lines and shapes, that you would be exhibiting such things in NYC and have write-ups and videos made of the resulting artwork, I would have wondered what hallucinating drug they were on."

Marjorie, I know exactly what you mean. Whoever would have thunk it?!

Hanging more cups, December 2011. Photo by Fran Beallor

 A short rest in the studio corner, December 2011. 
Photo by Fran Beallor

So with a nod to the improbable possible, the Full Brew wishes everyone a happy and prosperous 2012, and no end of unexpected wonders around every corner.

ROTC lined up to march, Veterans Day, November 2011

Unexpected smiles and a secret coffee cup, Veterans Day, 2011

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Season's Greetings from DVF and the Full Brew

"Where on earth did you get that dress??" I exclaimed the minute Rachel walked through the door for rehearsal a few weeks ago. She was wearing an exquisitely cut, sleeveless cocktail dress in Sienna brown, patterned with bright white brushmarks, each with a dropped shadow beneath. If one of my painted cups had walked through the door, this is how it would look.

 Rachel Farrar in the Flatiron window, December 2011
Photos by Gwyneth Leech

"Diane Von Furstenberg, 2010," she replied with a smile. "Great dress, right?"

Absolutely perfect!

Rachel Farrar is one of my all time favorite people; a collegial choral singer, wonderful soloist, fun person with a terrific eye for fashion. She is making her way in New York City as an extra for film and television and has great tales to tell of location shoots, actors and directors. She is a self-proclaimed  "proud member of the Screen Actors' Guild". Beyond all that, she has successfully helped me shop for clothes, which makes her a very special person. I am a famously poor shopper; I just have no stamina.

"You have to come to the Flatiron and wander through the cup installation wearing that!" I told her. She agreed to stop by.

In a pleasing turn of the circle, I was in Soho recently on my way to see my friend, Yvette Cohen's exhibition of shaped paintings at Cassina on Wooster Street. Right next door I was stopped in my tracks by a window full of inverted coffee cups, arranged into a Chrismas tree. A nice effect. DVF? Diane Von Furstenberg again! Art, coffee cups, fashion. It's official - paper coffee cups are cool!

DVF window, Wooster Street, December 2011 

DVF finally "met" my hand painted coffee cups a few days ago when Rachel did make it to the Flatiron Prow on her way to a Christmas party, wearing That Dress. She threaded her way happily in and out of the cup strands while I took photos from every conceivable angle, from both inside and out, having a high fashion New York moment which was shared by at least a dozen photographers who clustered round the windows. I wonder where those shots will turn up?

When I got home there was an e-mail from another friend attaching a photo of Diane Von Furstenberg's 57th Street window. The coffee cup Christmas tree again.
"DVF meets coffee", she wrote. "Have you seen this?"

"Yes," I replied. "And better yet, I've lived it."

The Full Brew wishes everyone a Merry Christmas. I will be back drawing in the window Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 am - 2 pm, from December 27th until February 18th, 2012.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sailing Past the Median in the Flatiron Prow

Cups of the Day #94
Fire Escapes by Gwyneth Leech
Colored India Ink on white, upcycled coffee cups.

I am surprised that it has passed already - the halfway point on my journey in Sprint's Prow Artspace at the Flatiron Building! Favorable winds of goodwill have buoyed us along since September 20th, and the exhibit has been extended until February 18th, 2012. 

I must admit, my first day drawing inside a sweltering triangle of glass seemed endless. I paced and peered out the windows in all directions. How was I going to manage this? But a routine took shape and my temporary studio has become an enjoyable and productive place to be five days a week. When I am not there, I think of drawings I would like to do, gestures and patterns to explore.
The artist at work
Photo by Trish Mayo
View from Fifth Avenue, December 2011

I top up the cup stacks daily with my own beverages from the many coffee bars and delis nearby. In addition, friends have donated stacks of their own used cups, each one with name and date on the bottom, and the place they drank the coffee, expanding the record of social moments.  I love to take lucky dip and see what color or text comes up from a coffee bar in deepest Brooklyn or Queens that I haven't yet had the good fortune to visit!

Rainy Day window
November 2011

Orchids from Eve and orchid cup
Colored India ink on white paper coffee cup
October 2011

Looking back over the first half of the journey, there are so many highlights: cups reflected in umbrellas during torrential rains, twins in brilliantly patterned rain coats smiling in at me, my hot dog cart so hard to draw, the tricky fire escapes on the buildings across 5th Avenue. Then there was the Bicycle Barber who came to call and gave me and the exhibit's curator, Cheryl McGinnis haircuts, the freakish blizzard that engulfed the Prow before the end of October, and Eve Suter who brightened a dark afternoon with a bouquet of coffee colored orchids in a tall white cup.  Not to mention the many great conversations with old friends, and new ones from around the world.

Hot Dog Cart Cup
White-out pen and colored ink on
Maroon printed paper cup
September 2011

Summer styles have given way to winter coats. I spy Santa hats, Christmas trees and giant bags of shopping these days. The trees in Madison Square Park changed to gold and are now a tracery of black branches against the pale stone buildings beyond. The sweltering heat of late summer sun turned to chill breezes inside the Prow. For awhile I sat bundled in coat and sweaters. Finally, the heat kicked on in the ancient radiators, sending the cups spinning in waves of convection.

Freak blizzard at the Prow
October 2011

Nights come early now and more and more photos are posted online, documenting the windows in all weathers and times of day.

Fortified by stacks of coffee cups, ample art pens from Faber Castell, the never ending flow of visual stimuli on the streets outside and the promise of many interesting social moments yet to come, I am looking forward to the rest of the crossing. February 18th will be here before we know it!

Night Photographers, November 2011
to view a Flickr album of other people's photos
of Hypergraphia at the Flatiron click here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Drawn to Coffee Cups: the Complexities of Keeping it Simple

Cup of the Day #93
by Gwyneth Leech
White ink and colored India ink 
on green upcycled paper coffee cup

Numerous people have remarked at how simple the idea of Hypergraphia is - drawing on paper cups and hanging them up. My reply is, "it has taken me 30 years to get this simple!"

Hypergraphia is not my first go round with upcycling - I was doing it as a young artist living in Scotland. Then it involved collecting truck loads of plastic detritus from beaches and making them into sculpture. (That was in the days before digital photos. Where the heck did I store those slides?)

Now the paper coffee cup says it all. But how did I get there?

Aerial salt marsh views painted on
paper coffee cups
Stacked in the studio, October 2010

In 1999 I moved to New York City. Let's face it, New York can be a tough town for artists. There is so much stimulation, so many museums and art exhibts to see, so many other artists working here, not to mention the roiling sea of the art market that can buffet a person every which way. In the midst of all that it is easy to lose your sense of self and your visual compass.

To counter these currents I decided years ago to keep it local and keep it simple. I would paint portraits of my friends and their families. I did this happily until the complexities of commissions and the fraught politics of representation began to wear. Family portraits were not straightforward after all!

Wall of painted coffee cups
6 feet by  6 feet
In the studio, January 2011

I became interested in a local landscape, of tidal salt marshes along the coast of New Jersey, utterly familar to me from years of summers at the shore. It is the aerial view that intrigues me, first seen via Google Earth. The meandering streams and waterways look elemental, like the circulatory system of the body. Google Earth wasn't enough. I had to see it up close - first from boats, then planes. But it is not so easy to cage a lift on a small plane. Then back in the studio I struggled to get it down on large canvases, my ideas outstripping my time, my resources and my storage space.

Cup Collection
in museum display box with mirrored back
July 2011 

Finally, I started to pay close attention to my coffee cups which, in a casual way, had become the locus of an ever expanding lexicon of drawing and painting ideas, including abstractions based on those salt marshes. Started at meetings some four years ago, when paper replaced styrofoam, my image-making-on-cups habit had grown and grown, from stacks in my studio to a small window exhibit on 38th Street, and now to the Prow of the Flatiron Building where I will be drawing and adding new cups to the installation through February 18th, 2012.
I may even have 1000 drawn cups by then!

Hypergraphia Cup Installation
Sprint Artspace, Flatiron Prow
Interior view, December 2011

The exhibiting of the cups has presented its own complexities. I recently found pages of notes brainstorming the installation. I imagined elaborate ways of weighting the cups involving collections of personal items, household objects and even playground sand. Display ideas discussed were shelves, racks, pedestals. Finally the exhibit's curator, Cheryl McGinnis said she saw the cups "hanging every which way" which led to the breakthrough solution - loops on a line. Many different kinds of materials later, I alighted on the perfect weight of mono-filament and just the right kind of loop, reliably knotted yet imprecise enough to orient the cups pleasingly in all directions. 

Thus, after many meanders and through a process of trial and error, the seemingly uncomplicated and organic Hypergraphia installation came into being.

Hypergraphia Cup Installation
Sprint Artspace, Flatiron Prow
View from 23rd and Broadway
December 2011

Recently I calculated that Hypergraphia, the Cup Installation has been featured on over 75 web publications and blogs, including articles in Japanese, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Russian, Turkish, French, Arabic and Macedonian!

All this from the simple paper coffee cup held in the palm of my hand!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bathed in Gold: Madison Square Park Goes Autumnal

Cup of the Day #92
Golden Network by Gwyneth Leech, November 2011
White-out pen and India ink on blue coffee cup

From my studio corner of the Flatiron Prow I have been watching for days as the trees in Madison Square Park turn color and spread a back drop of shimmering gold behind my suspended cups. 

View from the Prow Artspace
Flatiron Building, November 2011
Photo by Gwyneth leech

I draw the trees every few days and hang the cups so that inside and outside play against each other kaleidoscopically. Add in yellow traffic light boxes and the constant parade of yellow cabs until I feel enveloped in gold. 

 View from the Prow Artspace
Flatiron Building, November 2011
Photo by Gwyneth leech

Now the leaves are falling and I can see further into Madison Square. From my chair I can just make out one of Alison Saar's sculptures perched in the high fork of a London Plane tree, a glimpse that draws me into the park at the end of my drawing session.

Alison Saar Sculpture, Madison Square Park, 
through December 31st, 2011

There balances the black figure, head bowed, hair falling forward, covered with gun-metal butterflies. In an adjacent tree, an arborist on ropes is checking the canopy after a brutal, early snow storm damaged thousands of trees across the city. All seems safe and sound in the high branches and leaves drift down peacefully on Saar's totemic sculptures scattered through the park.

 Checking the tree canopy
Arborist in Madison Square Park
Photo by Gwyneth Leech 

Circling back towards the Flatiron Prow I bump into my friend Minouche Waring, a painter and glass designer, who lives on 6th Avenue at 26th Street. We go up to her loft to look at her latest glass pieces and drink Pu-erh tea with hot soy milk and Cardamom. My husband and I sublet her loft in 1993 while she traveled in India, our first experience living in New York City. Back then we recall, Madison Square was rat-infested and neglected. Concerted efforts by the Madison Square Conservancy have turned the park around and made it a brilliant showcase for public art presented by Mad. Sq. Art. It is my pleasure that Alison Saar's sculptures will be keeping me company until the end of the year, and that I will see more of them from my perch in the Prow Artspace as the trees go bare.

Alison Saar Sculpture, Madison Square Park, 
through December 31st, 2011
Photo by Gwyneth Leech

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Art, Cups, NYC

evagolightly, Statigram, 9.31 pm, 10/23/11

que_serasera, 14PC, 8.39 am, 9/24/1

I knew when I hung my cup art installation in the Flatiron Prow that a lot of people would see it, situated as it is on a major intersection at the very heart of New York City.  However, I hadn't really thought about how the current multi-tasking, hyper-connected, mobile public looks at art.

petra_mckenzie, Statigram, 11/11

Typical encounters with my cups go like this: Pedestrians are striding purposefully by, cuppa in hand, ear buds in, talking on their cell phones. They are brought to a halt in surprise by the hundreds of suspended cup drawings scintillating and turning in the windows of the Prow Artspace. They promptly get off their calls, take photos with their phones, apply some filters and load them to the internet right away.

Rula, Statigram, 10/11

A few keywords - #cups #flatiron #nyc- and the photos join a growing online archive on Statigram, Flickr, Tumblr, Tweetpics, Google+, Facebook and other photo blogs of the way each individual sees the installation.

They are consuming their art and making some of their own on the fly!

Selen, 14PC, 10/11

In an essay called Lessons from Social Media, Nick Martin writes:

"Here’s a description of the process Leech goes through with each cup and why:
“Leech saves cups from her drinks — and occasionally from other artists she meets for tea or coffee — washes, dries them and records on the bottom the date, place, occasion, and drink it held, thus documenting the social moment.”

Catch that last part? Each cup documents a “social moment”. Every single cup suspended so delicately in midair symbolizes a personal interaction, an exchange of stories or ideas, a connection with another human being. All of these social moments are then made into art, and displayed to hundreds of onlookers sparking new social moments, ideas, stories, and connections."

Danielle_B, Facebook, 11/7/1

It is exactly as he says! And just as each cup is different, each viewer's photos are unique, sparking their own text-based responses and conversations.

"I love how simple yet magnificent and intricate this is all at once!"
 chrysanthacakes, Statigram, 11.49 am, 10/21/11
Where will it all end up? Where will all this connectedness take us? I have no idea. I am excited by the possibilities. 

"Contemplating Modern Art in New York City",
chacoan, Statigram, 2.44 pm, 11/1/2011

As I watch it all unfold, there are many cups of tea and coffee to drink and many more drawings to do between now and the beginning of 2012.

See you at the Flatiron. And don't forget to bring your camera - or at the very least, your cellphone.
cattie, 12.37 am, 10/31/11

rmar, Statigram, 5.58 pm, 11/4/2011
Matthew Huie, Flickr, 11/7/11