Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Who Has Time to Stop and Look at Art?

I start each day in my window studio by sitting, drinking a hot drink and watching life flow like a river on the other side of the plate glass. I know if I sit here looking out or lift my camera, people won't stop. Still, I study them. Who will even turn their head? I perceive patterns and keep a lookout from the corner of my eye once I start to draw.

 Cup of the day #80, by Gwyneth Leech
India in on upcycled white paper coffee cup
Drawn in the window studio at 215 West 38th Street

By the end of my drawing session today I have it nailed. First there is my posse - the street sweepers, security guards, postal workers and office workers who I see every day. They stop to see what is new, or wave to me as they go by. Then there are delivery and messenger folk, walking purposefully.  Pushing a cart, they look ahead for obstructions, no time for me,  but if they carry envelopes they turn and engage. Cigarette smokers are furtive and preoccupied, seeking doorways to smoke in. They jump if the haven't seen see me at first and move quickly away from the window.

 Cup of the day #80, view #2, by Gwyneth Leech
India in on upcycled white paper coffee cup
Drawn in the window studio at 215 West 38th Street

Tourists pulling wheeled luggage are intent and anxious, walking quickly up the street. Later, strolling with heads up, they are happy and excited to see the window, stopping for group photos, sometimes with their backs to me. Successful shoppers carrying their purchases stop and study the window, as do pairs or small groups walking and conversing. They exclaim to each other and to me, interact and linger. Young people, students I would guess, usually walk with their heads up looking at the city. They invariably take time to examine the cup drawings.

View of the Hypergraphia window, March 23, 2011

The happiest viewers are office workers carrying their lunches. They have their food, they are looking forward to eating it, but they are not in a big rush to get back to their desks. They stroll by daily and we wave.

But the strangest of all are the cellphone zombies - they walk as if possessed, moving their mouths, completely unaware of their surroundings. A man stood with his back to the window today talking on his cellphone for a good 10 minutes before finally wandering off. He never noticed I was there.

 View from the Hypergraphia window, March 29, 2011

Truly, the best thing about the window studio is that I am disconnected. My phone is off, I have no laptop or I-Pad. I sit, think, look and draw. I try to stay like that as I walk through the streets of the city, eyes and ears open, finding stories everywhere. Once while talking on my cellphone, I walked the length of Central Park without noticing or remembering anything I saw.  I too was a cellphone zombie!
Now I know what it looks like.

View of the Hypergraphia window, March 23, 2011

Today I draw the people walking by, a frieze around my cup, some with heads turned looking in at me. Before I leave I put the cups in the window and go outside to consider the effect.
Now they are looking out at me as I look in. A pleasantly circular touch.

Cups in progress in the window studio
India ink on white cups, March 29, 2011 

The exhibition has been extended until April 8th and I will continue to draw in the window Monday - Friday 11:30 AM - 1:00 PM through Wednesday, April 6th.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

How to Make a Perfect Cup of Tea: Testing the Water

Cup of the Day #79
Fountain Cup by Gwyneth Leech
India Ink on white cup
Drawn in the window studio, March 2011

After my recent experiences trying to reuse paper cups in coffee bars, I decided to make my cuppa at home, pour it in a paper cup and carry it with me to the window studio. I held the kettle under the faucet and turned the tap. It filled with clean, clear H2O. This is a daily miracle which I never take for granted. In this crowded, impossible metropolis, over 8 million people have access to the finest tap water in the USA. It comes straight from scintillating mountain reservoirs in the Upper Delaware Valley watershed and the Croton Highlands, carried by gravity through cavernous water pipes which are a marvel of engineering. My favorite tea is Scottish Blend which, in Glasgow, we brewed with excellent water flowing from pristine Loch Katrine in the Scottish Highlands. Here on West 47th Street, that tea tastes just as good made with New York City's plain old tap.

Food Plan/ Food Plain
by Christy Rupp

So knowing this about our water supply, I expected a lot of excitement over at Exit Art on 10th Avenue and 36th Street where the exhibition "Art and Activism Against the Drill" has been running since December with an extension through this Saturday, March 26th.  The group show organized by Lauren Rosati, Exit Art Assistant Curator, with Peggy Cyphers, Ruth Hardinger, and Alice Zinnes,  comprises paintings, drawings, installation, videos and printed materials alerting us that our drinking water supply is under imminent threat from hydraulic fracturing, a natural gas extraction process which has spread right across they United States in a frenzy of energy exploration dating back to just 2005. A clutch of documentaries and articles has been letting us know the dangers to air, ground water, watersheds, our health and our safety from this unregulated industry. And yes, fracking, as the process is called, has reached a watershed very near you. Thousands of sites have already been leased for fracking all through the Upper  Delaware Valley watershed, which sits atop the gas-rich Marcellus Shale and a moratorium on the process in New York State is set to expire this summer.

 Postcard Wall

There is much to know and much to be concerned about. The artists have made thought-provoking artworks underscoring the risks in, as Mike Newton says, "an honest and insistent voice of concern"

And yet every time I went to see the exhibition (apart from the mass of people who came to the opening reception and to a panel talk in January) the gallery has been empty.

Fracked Venus
By Chris Twomey, 2010

Having studied the show, seen the documentaries and read a bunch of articles, here is what I still don't know. If they extract this gas in the Delaware watershed, where will it go? Who uses it? How long will it really last? I have read that the whole Marcellus Shale has enough natural to last 10 years. 10 years? That's it? All this impact and long range damage to the landscape and threat to human health for 10 years worth of gas? Couldn't we just make some changes, conserve a little, turn off the lights at night and leave the Marcellus Shale alone? I do not want the quality of my drinking water, not to mention my coffee or tea compromised in any way!

My kettle is full. I turn from the sink, put it on the stove, and after a moment of hesitation...I turn on the gas.

Lois Carlo
Drinking Water Test Kit, 2010

Educating about gas drilling issues and seeking solutions including legal, regulatory and government reforms
The NYC sister group to Damascus Citizens
Advocate of clean water in New York State and New York City
Affiliated with Riverkeeper
A 22-year-old environmental advocacy, stream restoration and education organization that operates throughout the Delaware River Watershed
Active in NY State; focused in Chenango, Delaware and Otsego counties
Centralized source tracking and visualizing data related to gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale region
Active in the Upstate NY and Finger Lakes region
A national organization for the education, organization and protection of communities from the devastating impacts of oil and gas development
Active in the Catskills region
About the movie and about getting involved in the issues
This compelling Emmy Award winning documentary shows the dirty side of hydraulic fracturing and natural gas, an energy source the industry touts as a clean alternative to fossil fuels.  

"Everyday Tablecloth Pre-stained 
to Match Tainted Well Water"
By Pat Bellant Gillen

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Raining Coffee Cups: Time for a Refill

I gave a talk about my artwork over the weekend. After seeing a photograph of my drawings on cups, a man said to me, "Does this project have an environmental message? I hope not."
I was surprised, given that he is a science teacher.
"Only in the nicest possible way," I replied.

 Cup of the Day #78
Umbrella cup by Gwyneth Leech
India ink an Bic pen on upcyled paper coffee cup
Drawn in the window, March 21, 2011

Umbrella set by Gwyneth
India ink an Bic pen on upcyled paper coffee cups
Drawn in the window, March 21, 2011 

It is hard not to think about issues of over-consumption and consumer waste when surrounded by the results of my own small, daily act of buying hot drinks to go for over a year. Nearly 400 single use paper coffee cups is a lot to look at. I am now hyper-aware of the coffee cups I see everywhere in the city and know they aren't heading to recyling, but to landfills where they don't decompose because of their pesky polyethelene lining, the lining which allows them to hold hot drinks.

View from the Hypergraphia window
March 21, 2011

Yet I have grown fond of the sturdy paper cup. It has a history. Someone invented it in 1907, in my home state of Pennsylvania no less. And it even intersects with my family story, having first been used commercially on the Lackawanna and Western Railway. My great grandfather Alfred Fowler McCollum worked for Lackawanna at that very time, and since he was an inventor, I can imagine him being instrumental in the switch from communal water dippers to the newfangled but hygienic paper cup.

 View from the Hypergraphia window
March 21, 2011 

I decide that the least I can do is reuse some of my unadorned empties. One cup should last a few dozen times (not a patch on the travel mug which can be reused thousands of times, but I am not tempted to draw on those, yet). On the first attempt, at the deli, they take my proffered paper cup, throw it away and fill a new one. The second time, at Empire Coffee and Tea Company on 9th Avenue I specify reuse. They fill without comment, but give me a new plastic lid and coffee sleeve. All I need is another plastic lid! The third time I am at Guy and Gaillard on 38th. I ask for a cup of tea and hold out my empty paper cup. The man reaches under the counter and pulls out a new one.
"Please reuse my empty one," I say, still holding out my cup.
"Oh no," he says, "That's a cheap cup. No good. We have better cups, expensive - good plastic lining!"
He fills it and hands it over.
What can I do? I take yet another cup, pay and head out the door.

   View from the Hypergraphia window
March 19, 2011 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Life in the Window 2: Hiding in Plain Sight

Cup of the day #77, by Gwyneth Leech 
India ink on upcycled white paper coffee cup
Drawn in the window, March 11, 2011

Outside, it seems like the world is a maelstrom of bad news. But inside the window studio there is only a maelstrom of drawings, and all they do is hover, rattling gently with the vibrations of idling vehicles in the street. I sit drawing longer every day, wanting to hide here and watch the world through plate glass, everything softened and slightly removed.

 New cup drawings in the window
March 14, 2011

Now I recognize people: the Chinese designer who works on the block, the sock manufacturer who sent us a box of brightly colored peds, the mail-lady, the staff at Ben's Diner on break, and the many men with the trash cans who are based in the Fashion Center. They all stop by regularly to see how it is going, and they are not disappointed as the new cups accumulate and stack up around my drawing chair.

  Family photos in front of the Hypergraphia window
March 14th,  2011

The installation has become a bit of a phenomenon on West 38th Street. More people come every day. Little crowds gather and out come the digital cameras, SLRs and iphones. Families and tourists take turns posing against the glass, their backs to me as I draw. Some snap and keep walking, most smile and give me signs of appreciation - usually the thumbs up, but some blow kisses or applaud. One day a man bowed. A person could get used to this. 

 View from the Hypergraphia window
March 15th, 2011 

I do wonder where the photos will end up - e-mailed to friends, shown to fellow workers at lunch, posted on Facebook and Twitter? 
"Look at that!" exclaimed a young woman to a co-worker as they walked by. "That window is amazing."
"I know," said her friend. "Don't you remember I told you about it? We already took photos and posted them on our Tumblr."
Cool, I thought as they disappeared from view. "How remote and yet how connected we are!"
If your blog is Faux Real,  thank you, the pictures are great. If not, here's a shout-out to the photographer, whoever you are.

 View from the Hypergraphia window
March 16th, 2011 

Some more posts from visitors to the Hypergraphia installation:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Life in the Window: Inside the Hypergraphia Exhibition

Cup of the Day #76
Moebius Cup by Gwyneth Leech
March 10, 2011
India ink on pale yellow paper coffee cup

Forget the ladies of Amsterdam. In my chaste gray work clothes, people say I look more like Whistler's Mother. How about the fortune tellers scattered all around Hell's Kitchen? Those women sit in gilt chairs in their shallow window spaces waiting for people to come to them seeking the meaning of life. My grandmother taught me to read tea leaves and I have all these cups, so it is not a stretch.

The artist in the window
March 3rd, 2011
Copyright © Katherine Bourbeau

Then there is Marina Abramovic, sitting completely still, her hands idle, silently communicating with the public until she is exhausted beyond human endurance. Not me. I can leave my chair any time. With art materials around me and a cuppa at hand, I am completely comfortable  and content. I am just here to draw, the way I do in the studio, and see what people make of that. I wave politely when there is a knock on the glass and a thumbs up.

The window at 215 West 38th Street
draws a diverse crowd, March 10, 2011

Actually, people don't even notice me at first, so I get to see in their faces what they really think of my artwork. Generally, they register delight and surprise when they see the hundreds of cups filling the window, each one a unique drawing. On this gray Midtown side street the effect is surprising and it brings many to a standstill, clutching their brief cases and coffee cups. It is a privileged view the artist doesn't often get. "Did she draw all that shit?" Exclaimed a young man. Then seeing me, "wait, I mean that in a good way!"

 The artist's view from inside the window

There is an empty shop space behind the window gallery, through which I access the cup installation via a door. On this week day, during my 90 minutes of drawing the shop became very full. First came five art bloggers in a group, then Nancy Nikkal, an artist friend who blogs too. Cheryl McGinnis arrived with an art collector and a few minutes later, a drama student hurried in from NYU to interview me for an art essay between classes. At one point two random women from the Czech Republic wandered in off the street when the shop door was open and said, "We want you to learn to us". To top it off, as all of them gathered by the interior door to chat and take photos of me at work, John Haber, the esteemed art critic appeared outside on the sidewalk! It almost felt like a Sunday afternoon salon at Louise Bourgeois' house - but I am much, much nicer.

Informal Salon in the shop space
behind the window gallery
March 3, 2011
Photo by Katherine Bourbeau

I continue drawing in the window at 215 West 38th Street every Monday to Friday, 11:30 to 1:00 pm through Friday, April 1st.

I see you seeing me seeing you.
The artist in the window March 3, 2011
Copyright © Anne Finklestein

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Doing the Rounds: Tea at the Armory Art Fair

Arriving late afternoon at the Armory Art Fair at Pier 94, I thought, let's cut to the chase. So I walked briskly all the way back to the cafe. Within just a few minutes and a few yards of this essential hub, I ran into four artists I know in New York City and a fifth I was supposed to meet up with elsewhere: Linda Stillman, Marianne Barcelona, Cecile Brunswick, Judith Page and Joanne Mattera. It has to be said that Joanne was in a booth looking at art, and doesn't even caffeinate, but it seemed there was a magnetism drawing them towards the vortex of the refreshments at that one moment.Was it the lure of afternoon tea?

 Cup of the Day #75
Curvilinear cup by Gwyneth Leech
India Ink on white paper coffee cup

Without stopping to read anything further into these chance meetings  (let's face it, all the artists in New York City are at the art fairs this weekend), I plunged on from there into the full brew of art and galleries and people which make up the fair, surfing from art object to art object trying to focus. Perhaps it is my current immersion in my Hypergraphia cup drawing show, but I had only eyes for the round and for the intense. Ramirez at Ricco Maresca totally fit the bill for intense, as did Burchfield at DC Moore, both over in the modern fair on Pier 92.

For the round, here is a smattering of things that caught my eye. In my excitement I didn't get all the details. Tell me the artists names and/or the gallery they were showing with and I will buy you a cup of tea when you come by the Hypergraphia exhibition at 215 West 38th Street (on a week day between 11:30 AM  and 1:00 PM through April 1st.)

 Cakes, from Thiebaud Series, 2004
A baking and photo artwork  by
Sharon Core

No tea?
Unknown artist
at the Modern Institute/ Toby Webster (NYC)

 Lighthouse Keeper with Lighthouse Model, 2010
A photo artwork by Rodney Graham
303 Gallery (NYC)

Teapot composite #1
by Barro
at Galeria Laura Marsiaj (Rio)

Natural Fashion #77
Photo by Hans Silvester
at Marlborough Gallery (NYC)

Teapot composite #2
by Dewar and Giquel
at Loevenbruck Gallery (Paris)

Satisying circularity!
I know this one - an Altered Bicycle
by sculptor Bernard Klevickas
appeared at at 52nd Street and the Hudson River
on March 3rd.
Will it still be there now?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Bobbing on the Gyre: Afloat in Plastic Cup Lids

 Cup of the Day #74
"Plastics all at Sea" by Gwyneth Leech
India ink and encaustic on 
upcycled white paper coffee cup

"What's with the cup lids? Explain that to me." His tone was not reassuring.

"They are because the installation is about drinking drinks on the go," I explained. "The people outside the window are carrying their coffee breaks, drinking with the lids on. Imagine you are in Times Square. Erase all the people and you would see something like this - the cups all tipped up every which way.

 Passerby Day #3

"Also, the cup lid acts as a frame, setting off the drawing."

He still looked unconvinced. "I just see a lump of white plastic."

"Look closer. Every lid is different: flat top, sip top, flip top tabs, resealable tabs, sliding tabs."I picked up a Solo Traveler Deluxe lid with a high profile that has an intricate sliding mechanism to close off the sip opening while walking. "This is a feat of engineering. If mankind can do this, we can do anything!"

 View form the window Day #4

"And here is something else to consider. My cup drawings are treated with encaustic - immersed in molten beeswax and Damar resin, then fused with a heat gun. It's an ancient process of preservation, and encaustic paintings have survived intact from Roman Times - that's several thousand years. But the plastic lid that tops your cup drawing  -  talk about archival! It's non-biodegradable and will be in your family for a hundred thousand years or so, if not a million."

"OK," he said. "you've convinced me."

Drawing in the window Day #4

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Artist is in the Window: Drawing Days 1 and 2

Cup of the Day #73
By Gwyneth Leech
White and colored ink on upcycled 
White paper coffee cup

I am thinking of the Coney Island dunk tank, or a fish in an aquarium at the pet store, not to mention an animal in the window of that pet store. Yes, people knock on the glass, then they give me a thumbs up.

 Drawing in the window Day #1

I haven't felt the need to pace, unlike the snow leopard at Central Park Zoo, but then this is only the first few days. Besides, the space is so full of suspended cups that no large gestures are possible. So I sit, and draw. The cups turn gently in the draft and all is peace.
 Drawing in the window Day #1
Outside, people stop and look at the cups, then startle when they see me. Generally, they laugh and smile. Some take photos with their cellphones and walk away quickly. Through the glass, I can hear what they are saying. A young man wheeling a trash can works at the Fashion Center and gets what I am up to. He explains it to his co-workers.

  View from the window Day #2

A mother and daughter stop.
"Coffee cups." Mom says. "An artist drew on every single cup."
"And look," says the daughter, "there's a real live artist in the window right now!"
I smile and give a little wave, then draw a rabbit on the cup and show it to the child. She smiles too and they walk on.

   Drawing in the window Day #2

"Hm, that rabbit has possibilities," I think, examining the cup. By one O'clock rabbits are bouncing all around the surface and it is done. I put the cup on an upturned stack of empties, grab the chai my artist friend Elisa Jimenez brought by and head for the exit. I am getting into the groove of the window studio.

View from the window Day #2

Hypergraphia: Gwyneth Leech, the Cup Drawings is on view in the Fashion Center Window Space for Public Art at 215 West 38th Street, at 7th Avenue, in New York City February 28 - April 1st.
For full details click here.