October 22, 2015 by Brooke
It’s been too long! The fresh air of fall always puts me in a more creative space. I decided to come back to my textures of NYC project now that the outside air is tolerable again and (interestingly) there are less people out and about. I appreciate all the people that stop and say hello and offer me feedback on my project, but sometimes…it’s nice to feel alone in the city. Alone and creating.
The story with this piece as I’ve found with so many others is not in the piece itself but its creation. It’s about what’s behind the gate. I won’t share its location to preserve the privacy of the gatekeeper.
by Brooke Townsend
Wondering around East Harlem looking for my next project in a series called textures of NYC I began to get discouraged. I had just purchased some new glitter and glue sticks for a new technique a wanted to try on a specific small utility cover that had pretty stars on it. But I couldn’t find it. It’s exact location was lost in one of the 5 cell phones I’ve had this summer.
Since it had been so long since my last project I was feeling less confident. I told myself ‘no pressure.’ I told myself to wait until something spoke to me. This time less let the process be organic. I wondered towards the East River a place I know well. I checked out a cobblestone street, that I’ve looked at a million times and once again decided that capturing its uneven texture would be too difficult. I started walking towards a manhole cover I’ve been thinking about doing but wasn’t sure if I wanted to go work so close to the East River while it was getting dark. It’s not really the best area, so the timing seemed.
Then, I walked by the gate. It looked like the kind of gate that never goes up. Old. Worn. The building looked abandoned. I’ve been wanting to capture a gate. It’s a texture that we see everywhere and is representative of the city. It was around 7pm when I started. I knew I didn’t have a lot of time to be picky.
I got out my supplies: tracing paper, and duct tape. I began securing them to the surface. Then, I took out my pastels and began applying colors. After about 15 minutes when I was sufficiently zoning out the door behind the gate opened slightly.
A man popped his head out the door inquisitively. “What are you doing?” he asked.
Startled I let out a small quick shriek. Then, took my headphones out. “Oh, I”m just working on an art project.” I explained.
“Oh, you’re an artist?” he said excitedly. “I’m an artist too. This is my studio.” he gestured inside.
I peaked in past the door and could see sculptures and paintings in dark colors.
“So you’re going to take that with you?” he asked.
“Yes, I’ll take it with me.”
“Ok, keep going good luck.” he said and closed the door.
About 15 minutes later a visitor arrived, a younger man and his son. Looking at me skeptically he banged on the gate.
“Oh don’t worry he knows I’m here.” I offered.
The man came to the gate and to my astonishment they wanted to put the gate up. This being the man’s home and not mine I didn’t object outwardly, I was not prepared for this. Surprisingly, the gate went up along with my artwork with no ill consequences.
“We’re having dinner you should join us” the gate keeper invited.
“Oh no thanks, I have to finish up.”
After some more time, the gate keeper returned. At that point I had finished up and was just rolling up my work.
“You have to come in and have some wine and some food” he insisted again.
This time I took him up on his offer and went inside…and his studio was amazing. There were larger than life size canvases covered in dark red and black, macabre sculptures made of scrap metal, and ‘masks’ as he called them.
“Where do you get the metal for your work?” I asked as I entered his home and studio through the upturned gate.
“It’s scrap metal” he replied.
“Oh interesting. How do you cut it?”
“I use an axe.”
“I’m so glad I came in” I replied.
He also told me instead of black paint he uses tar, hence, the bizarrely human looking thing in the corner that reeaalllly resembled a dead body covered in tar.