Tag Archives: art

Nonprofit Local Project, Falchi Building seek artists for site-specific installation piece

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Rendering Courtesy Jamestown Properties

One landmark Long Island City building is calling all artists to come and create.

Nonprofit arts organization Local Project and the Falchi Building, located at 31-00 47th Ave., have come together to look for artists to collaborate on a site-specific installation piece in the 20-by-40 feet glass vitrines of the five-story location.

“I’m super excited. It’s a great opportunity for artists to show their work in a new environment,” said Carolina Peñafiel, founder and director of Local Project.

Artists can submit proposals presenting collaborations in any media and inter-borough groups are welcomed, with at least one of the artists in each proposal from Queens.

“We are definitely looking for artists to collaborate from borough to borough,” Peñafiel said. “We’re pretty open to see what’s out there.”

The temporary or semi-permanent pieces selected to be displayed inside the Falchi Building will investigate the everyday movement through a diverse city and the projects will receive a stipend, according to Jamestown Properties, which owns the building.

The Falchi Building went through a recent lobby renovation and upgrade, which brought a 2,000-square-foot pop-up artisanal food fair, known as The Food Box, to the site.

The deadline for the proposals is March 15 and artists can expect to be notified no later than March 20. An opening reception is scheduled for April 12.

For more information, visit here. Artists can submit their proposals to info@localproject.org.



LIC plumber uses tools of the trade to create unique art pieces

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos by Orestes Gonzalez

When Long Island City resident Cristian Torres is on the job as a plumber, he sees more than just pipes and pressure gauges.

The 41-year-old Argentinian native has been a plumber since he was 17 years old. He made his way to the United States for the first time in 2001. Since then he has been creating pieces of art from material he knows and uses on the job.

“When I was young enough I was doing little things: I always had the [desire] to build little stuff,” said Torres, who remembers first building small pieces for his nieces and nephews. “Every time I see something I think, ‘with that thing, I can make this, I can make that.’”

When he isn’t plumbing, Torres, who has been living in Long Island City for the past four years, is an artist/sculptor specializing in pipe design. He used to work out of the Davis Street building shared with 5Pointz.

The father of two uses materials such as pipes, aluminum shields, copper coils and gauges to create lamps, light fixtures, sculptures and other art pieces.

Yet Torres creates these pieces with more on his mind than just adding to his collection. The artist said he uses the struggles he personally faces or sees happen in life to influence his various pieces.

“I create things always with the concept of not just using the plumbing material, but having the concept of anxiety,” he said. “I’m trying to express what I’ve seen in my life. It’s more than what they look like.”

One series Torres has been working on for the past seven years follows the theme of expressing anxiety, and was influenced by Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” The artwork in the series is set on copper shields, with pressure gauges and other metal pieces welded on to form the screaming face.

Torres also creates light fixtures and sculptures with sewing machines from the 1900s and temperature/pressure gauges, which he uses to symbolize time.

“I felt like I was liberating myself from a lot of stuff,” he said. “One of the major traumas [of] the [human] being I think is time because we think we are never going to die or get old. That’s why I’m trying to use gauges all over.”

Torres currently works on his pieces in a building shared with numerous other artists, as part of the nonprofit Long Island City arts group known as Local Project, located at 11-27 44th Road. He plans on showing his pieces at upcoming art shows, but dates are still to be determined.

“I hope people just appreciate it [my art],” he said. “It’s not just something functional, because when you buy something like this, handmade or created by someone, it’s always a little bit more than that.”

Even though he has created various pieces of artwork with meaning behind each piece, Torres said he calls himself a plumber before an artist. 

“I enjoy what I do,” he said.

To see some of Torres’ pieces visit his website and if you are interested in purchasing an item, contact the artist at plumbingart1@gmail.com.



Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer discusses vision for new majority leader role

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com


Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer is looking forward to the next four years as majority leader.

Van Bramer was appointed on Jan. 22 by newly elected City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

“It’s a great honor, not only for me, but for our district, for our team and for Queens,” Van Bramer said. “It was a very humbling experience. It took a while to sink in.”

As majority leader, his key role is working together with the 48 Democratic members of the City Council and serving as a bridge between them and Mark-Viverito.

Van Bramer has also been named co-chair of the Council’s Budget Negotiating Team.

Since his appointment, the councilmember has hit the ground running and plans to get involved in working on subjects such as paid sick leave and universal pre-kindergarten.

“We are active every single day and I am looking forward to being a very influential majority leader over the next four years,” he said.

Van Bramer hopes to work together with his fellow councilmembers to help in any way he can.

“I’m here to help them achieve their goals and to use my office and my proximity to the speaker to advance their goals, their agendas and their districts,” he said. “I hope that they will call on me anytime they need and I will go to the speaker and advocate for them in every way I can. That’s the kind of majority leader I want to be.”

The councilmember also retained his position as chair of the Council’s Cultural Affairs Committee. He plans to continue working with the libraries and growing cultural community to make sure the budgets and appropriate funds work for them.

“I’m excited about the work ahead,” said Van Bramer. “It’s a great time and I feel reinvigorated. I am going to work incredibly hard in being the best majority leader that I can be and then the future will take care of itself.”



Holocaust survivor shares experiences through art

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

As visitors walk through the Queensborough Community College (QCC) Art Gallery, they are taken through the experiences of Rosemarie Koczÿ, who at three years old had her life turned upside down.

Koczÿ was born in 1939 in Recklinghausen, Germany and three years later was taken to a concentration camp together with her family. At a young age, Koczÿ witnessed death, loss and the struggle to survive.

Years later, still having the hardships she shared with many others strong in her mind and making it as a survivor of the Holocaust, Koczÿ began keeping records of the memories through different methods of artwork. The artist began with creating tapestries then moved to drawings, paintings and sculptures. Koczÿ died in 2007. Since September, QCC has had close to 140 pieces of Koczÿ’s art, created over nearly 30 years, on display in an exhibit titled “Art As A Witness” at the campus’ historic Oakland Building.

The series of close to 100 drawings, done with ink on paper, involved in the exhibit are called “I Weave You A Shroud.” Koczÿ used each of the drawings to remember those she saw suffer and die while in the concentration camps.

“They are burials I offer to those I saw die in the camps where I was deported…” Koczÿ wrote in an initial description of her series. “In the Jewish burials the dead are washed; a woman washes the body of a dead woman, a man washes the body of a dead man. The body is then wrapped in a shroud. Sewing a shroud is an act of respect and a rite.”

The exhibit also features wood sculptures and paintings titled “Standing Man,” where Koczÿ honors an unknown prisoner who ultimately gave his life to help and protect her in the camp.

Some of the pieces are owned by the QCC Art Gallery of the City University of New York, other paintings are loaned by the Stichting Collectie de Stadshof in The Netherlands, drawings from the Musée Création Franche in France and sculptures are from private collectors.

One of Koczÿ’s sculptures is permanently on display at QCC’s Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives, while another piece, a tapestry made in 1975, is hung above the main desk in the admissions office.

QCC is located at 222-05 56th Avenue in Bayside and “Art As A Witness” is free to the public and will be up until Sunday, January 5.

The QCC Art Gallery is closed Monday and opened Tuesday and Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and weekends noon to 5 p.m.



After a decade in Long Island City, Local Project searches for a new home

| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Carolina Penafiel-16

At the edge of Long Island City, where warehouses haunt like rusty fossils of an industrial past, obscured by the elevated subway tracks, street art fights for survival.

Encircled in graffiti-wrapped sarcophagi, the low brow legacy of Local Project and 5Pointz await doomsday, untouched by the sterile glass high-rises that erupt from the ground almost monthly — for now, at least.

It’s only a matter of time before the building they share becomes nothing more than piles of scrap metal and drywall dust. Several months ago, the space’s owner announced plans to sell the warehouse to a builder who would turn the space into luxury condominiums – “yuppie projects,” scoff the locals. Local Project, a space for emerging artists to nurture their craft and connect with the public, that shares a building with graffiti holy land 5Pointz, must depart their home in search of new prospects.

Carolina Penafiel, a part-time food stylist and Local Project’s founder, moved to New York from Chile 13 years ago in pursuit of her American Dream.

“I wanted to live like in the movies,” she said.

Penafiel began her career as an artist, but a bad experience during a group show changed her mind. It took too much to be an artist, to open her work to the masses, resting on talent and believing in the message behind her art. Even the title “artist” felt wrong.

“I’ve always done exactly what I’ve set myself to do,” said Penafiel. “Thankfully, I’ve always gotten where I’ve wanted to go.”

Instead, she focused on her administrative skills, training as an independent curator. She fell in love with the process of putting together a show, nurturing artists and watching them develop. One show called “Hot in Hell’s Kitchen,” held at the Fountain Gallery – a center for those struggling with mental illness. The exhibit told stories from the iconic Manhattan neighborhood. Visitors stuck notes to the wall, scribbled with memories from Hell’s Kitchen – “I got drunk,” “I met my ex,” “I kissed somebody.”

Penafiel’s shows center around creating community rather than bringing culture to high society. Local Project’s doctrine of art for the people allows her to build bridges – the most rewarding part of her job. Instead of judging artists based on reputation, Local Project celebrates unknown entities on the rise. Each resident artist is required to spend 40 hours in the building during their two week stint, creating a setting where visitors can dip into the work organically.

Local Project draws tourists from around the world. One artist, keeping tabs on the gallery’s visitors, had a person from every livable continent come see his show in a single day.

“That’s what makes us different from other spaces,” Penafiel said. “You get to come in and talk to the artists. How cool is that?”

Artists of all mediums present in the space. Every Saturday, a DJ spins for a crowd who dance and chat, huddled together in the chilly space. They host video festivals, including one of exclusively horror films before Halloween where the audience dresses as zombies and four times a year, emerging musicians play acoustic sets in a series called “Music under the 7.” Penafiel said they do as much as they can – as much as everyone wants to do.

But now, everything needs to go somewhere else.

They have begun searching for a new space – a topic not easily broached among the staff, unhappy about the move. For years, rumors of the demise of the building on Davis Street swirled. Now they are coming true.

It’s happening all too much in New York City – art institutions knocked down in favor of bourgeoisie-friendly entities. Penafiel mentioned DUMBO, formerly raw, now spotless and new like a suburban art fair.

“Unfortunately, we, the ones who helped bring [LIC] to that level are not the ones that live there or have stores there,” said Penafiel. “That’s just life I guess. I don’t know what’s going to happen in Long Island City.”

Cristián Pietrapiana’s naturalistic realism

| MKirk@queenscourier.com

Cristian Pietrapiana-27w

From Buenos Aires to Long Island City, Cristián Pietrapiana has seen his art career go from helping out his painter grandfather in his studio to having over 30 exhibitions, his work featured in private collections and galleries, several commissions, and the opportunity to study all over the world.

While Pietrapiana appreciates art that strives to be as realistic as possible, he said he’s much more interested in finding the “personal gestures, expression, limitations and talents” in his subjects, describing his style as “figurative and representational, with a personal twist or view.”

Preferring oils over acrylics due to their slow-drying nature and capacity for manipulation, he described his process of creating a painting as almost free forming.

“I tend to start a piece by taking a photograph of a model or several models and I paint taking the photo as a platform. Later I add or take flesh away and change features… Then I add more bodies and as I start to work and let go, the piece takes its own course. And when that happens, it’s a great feeling because it demands from you instead of the other way around, almost as if it has a life of its own.”

Pietrapiana’s website, www.pietrapiana.net, further describes his work as an exploration of “the vulnerability of human nature as well as human landscapes.” He expanded on this point by explaining that despite the dominance of humankind, he still finds plenty of fragility in people, both physical and emotional, and strives to bring that out in his paintings.

“Even though humans have tamed other species and kingdoms, we are fragile beings,” he said. “Words and actions can be as strong as an illness. Maybe that is why I tend to paint and draw figures that tend to be exposed. Being conscious of our own limitations could make us more humble, and boy do we need more humble attitudes in a consumer society.”

Part of this desire for more humility stems from his admiration of tango, which he said his parents danced often during his childhood. As he got older, he began to appreciate the philosophy within the lyrics of many songs in the genre. He recalled a particular passage from Enrique Santos Discépolo’s tango, “Cambalache,” which Pietrapiana paraphrased as, “We are all manhandled in the same mud.”

“The phrase had a great impact in my recent work. It made sense ideologically and aesthetically, and I started painting all these figures, exposed, naked, all together, almost like a fabric made out of bodies. On the other hand, I think that we are manhandled by society — marketing, politics, world powers and sometimes even those who manipulate religions who emphasize the exclusive instead of the inclusive aspect of belief systems.”

Pietrapiana said this concept is behind his painting, “Mud,” which depicts a slew of naked men and women mixed chaotically, their limbs intertwined with one another’s in the “fabric” he previously described. Contrasting the disorder in the bodies’ positions are the looks on their faces, which remain still, listless and “manhandled.”

The numerous figures in Pietrapiana’s works also play a role in his views on world overpopulation.

“Resources are limited,” he said. “We are too many already and if we add up the fact that corporations and governments are looking to expand markets more than improve societies, well, think of the consequences of every human being trying and expecting to consume like those of us who live in western consumer societies.”

Pietrapiana has continued this theme of nakedness both in the physical and figurative sense, most recently through a series of drawings. For these, the artist has left his brushes and pallets aside and has instead gone with ink on paper, something he says he has not done in a while, but has become more interested in. One of his ink drawings, “Mob,” is similar to the aforementioned painting, “Mud,” in that it features several naked bodies intertwined. In the drawing, the bodies are divided into many segments containing lines spanning in all different directions, the sections appearing to overlap one another, almost as if they’re generating an interwoven fabric similar to the one the bodies are creating among themselves.

“They follow the same theme as the paintings,” he said. “Still figures, still out there, intertwined, manhandled, but a bit more graphic and capriciously playing with lines and stripes.”

Pietrapiana is currently working on commissions with hopes of more exhibitions in the near future. His studio in Long Island City is open to the public by appointment, which can be made by contacting him via email at cristian@pietrapiana.net.

With or without galleries or commissions, Pietrapiana says he will keep on creating and painting.

“Unlike other fields, one is not so drawn to compete or achieve a goal in art,” he said. “It’s more about personal fulfillment I think, which does not make it easier or more difficult, it is just different. One deals with one’s own demands.”

Legacy: Memorial exhibit of Arthur Hammer’s works

| MKirk@queenscourier.com

Photos Courtesy Elinore Schnurr

Long Island City — and the entire art world — lost one of its own in March of this year. Arthur Hammer, LIC resident for nearly 40 years, had a passion for painting portraits that was rivaled only by his passion for life.

His daughter, Deirdre Hammer, fondly described him as being “the nutty artist guy in the community,” “a force to be reckoned with” and “the quintessential life of the party.” After being diagnosed with prostate cancer in the mid 1980s, he fought on for the next two decades before passing away at age 79.

On Thursday, October 25, the Diego Salazar Art Gallery in LIC will open a memorial exhibition for the late painter, featuring a number of his works.

Hammer grew up in Cleveland before heading east to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan with aspirations of working as an actor. After finishing his studies there, he met Jean Sharkey, an actress and singer whom he married in 1958. They had three children together: Deirdre and a set of twins, Maura and Joshua. It was his wife who bought him his first paints, brushes and canvases, which he used to paint casually in his early adulthood and then more frequently as he got older.

When Deirdre was five years old, her parents separated and her father left New York to pursue acting in Alaska and California. Eventually he made it back to New York in the early 1980s and reconnected with his children. Deirdre, who at this time estimated herself to be in her early 20s, moved into an apartment with him.

“It was weird because we didn’t have a normal father/daughter relationship by any account,” she said. “It’s not like he was there during my formative years, so we sort of became more of friends. It was interesting.”

Hammer never took a lesson in painting, opting instead to learn as he went along. To support his passion, he continued to find work as an actor before calling it quits on the trade entirely. He then worked as a cab driver and then as an art dealer, later coming to own his own gallery.

By the mid 1990s, he devoted himself to painting every day.

“Painting full time was becoming more and more of a necessity to me,” Hammer wrote in his application for a Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant, meant “to aid those individuals who have worked as professional artists over a significant period of time.” He received the grant in 2008.

“He loved to paint portraits,” Deirdre said. “The problem with portraits is they’re impossible to sell. I would always say, ‘Dad, why don’t you paint flowers? People buy flowers.’ He definitely painted what he wanted. He painted out of love and out of passion, those were all of his qualities.”

Deirdre went on to explain that portraits are not only difficult to sell, but to paint as well, particularly in her father’s style.

“Most people have a different version of what they look like, and an artist’s painting of you is distorted in whatever way,” she said. “My father wasn’t a realist at all.”

Elinore Schnurr, a fellow artist and friend of Hammer’s who will be the curator at his exhibit at the Diego Salazar Art Gallery later this month, described the late painter’s nonrealistic style as being very personal.

“Sometimes, although he catches the dynamic of a person, it doesn’t always entirely look just like them. They took on very unusual pictorial characteristics. The structure and design of the painting would change according to his mood.”

Despite portraits being a tough sell, Deirdre said people purchased her father’s works because of their quality and his outgoing personality.

“That’s usually how he sold his work,” she said. “Besides the fact that it was incredibly good, he was always so charming. He certainly lived life to the fullest. He certainly lived the life he wanted to live. He certainly was loved. He had a huge following of people that just absolutely adored him. My hope is to ultimately preserve his legacy. Any time I’m able to have a show and bring out his art and talk about him — that would be his favorite thing in the world.”

Instead of paint, L.I.C. artist uses chocolate

| sLieberman@queenscourier.com


Sid Chidiac eats his work.

For the past 10 years, the artist, born in Australia and raised in Lebanon, has painted with chocolate.

Now based in Long Island City, Chidiac has a distinct, creative routine unseen among those working with oils and acrylics. He cleans his brushes by licking them, and is forced to repeatedly remind people to not dig their nails into his paintings for a taste.

Regularly, countless boxes of chocolate, instead of pigments and lacquers, are shipped to his studio.

Chidiac started working with chocolate after moving back to Sydney, where he attended the Julian Ashton Art School. He worked in the kitchen at Sheraton on the Park. A chef in the hotel’s restaurant was representing Australia in a pastry competition in France. Knowing that Chidiac was an artist, the chef taught him how to paint with chocolate, commissioning him to create a representation of sunflowers on a woodblock.

Chidiac was instantly drawn to the medium.

“It was that temptation, I’m not eating it, but I can taste the chocolate under my teeth,” he said. “My guts wanted to eat that painting.”

Years later, after an exhibition in Kuwait City, his paintings were shattered on the flight back to New York.

“I opened the bag and I was so upset,” said Chidiac. “[It] looked so beautiful. I started eating [it] right at JFK Airport.”

A major career breakthrough for Chidiac came when he was given the opportunity to paint in the Chashama Theatre near Bryant Park in Manhattan. For weeks he painted on display in the window of the theater, composing a humongous oil-paint interpretation of “The Last Supper.” About 4,000 people passed the window every hour. At the end of the display, Chidiac received 50,000 emails from newly earned fans.

Chidiac said his chocolate paintings frequently garner questions from curious and skeptical onlookers. None of his paintings have ever melted, spoiled or faded.

The chocolate painter does have one rule – the better the chocolate, the easier the painting. Chidiac, who is sponsored by Barry Callebaut, a Belgian chocolate company, believes that a higher concentration of cocoa in the chocolate holds the “paint” tighter and prevents it from drying too quickly.

Occasionally people are doubtful that Chidiac’s paintings are actually chocolate, an accusation he takes quite seriously. Chidiac laughs it off, telling a story of a time he dug a spoon into his work and forced a skeptic to eat his art.

At many showings, people mistakenly think that because the works are done in chocolate, they are welcome to sample what Barack Obama’s face tastes like, or how sweet Nicole Kidman’s hair is. Chidiac must remain on constant patrol while exhibiting his work, prohibiting hungry viewers from taking a bite.

“I am constantly telling people, ‘please don’t touch my work!’” he said.

And who could blame them? The gallery smells like a confectionery paradise with fragrant chocolate wafting through the air. Viewers struggle with the temptation of his paintings – an artistic statement in itself. The relationship between the desire for beauty and the consumption of chocolate provoke something deeply sensual.

“People would say, ‘why do you paint with chocolate?’” said Chidiac. “I would say, ‘why not?’ New York is the heartbeat of the world, you have to do something completely different to be recognized. It’s a tough city.”

Chidiac has been searching for ways to break from the mass anonymity of the city since first arriving. Even back in Sydney, he was warned of New York’s ability to sink an artist’s name.

“People said, ‘New York is big. Who’s going to listen to you?’” he recalled.

While painting with chocolate has gained Chidiac recognition, he realizes that the struggle of making it big in the art world is ongoing. The artist is currently looking for a space in Long Island City to build a Chocolate Museum where he can display sculptures, paintings and other works completely made of chocolate. He has also been doing body painting in chocolate, layering forms in dark chocolate and covering that with white chocolate Arabic script.

Chidiac, pushed by the fast pace of the city, constantly reinvents himself, repurposing his work in creative and brilliant ways. Luckily, he is aided by the distinctiveness of his edible medium.

“People can’t resist chocolate,” he said. “They love it.”


Local artists angry over plans for 5Pointz

| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Photo by Alex DiBlasi

Taggers armed with cans of spray paint who flocked to leave their mark on the paint-laden walls of graffiti mecca 5Pointz may soon be searching for another canvas.

The 200,000-square-foot Long Island City graffiti art exhibition space, home to over 350 multicolored murals, could soon be knocked down in favor of building two high-rise apartment complexes.

“We’ve been waiting for this sort of transformation,” said building owner David Wolkoff. “We saw it happening a long time ago because of its proximity to Manhattan. We knew that Long Island City was going to transform at some point and now it’s happening at a rapid pace.”

According to Wolkoff — whose family’s business has owned the 5Pointz property for 40 years – the new structure will include dual rental towers equaling approximately one-million-square-feet, outfitted with state-of-the-art amenities including a gymnasium, pool and media rooms. The structure, expected to be completed by 2016, will also boast retail space.

“We have a very good feeling about the project and the likelihood we’ll get the changes we’re looking for,” said Wolkoff. “Nothing is 100 percent certain. I think the neighborhood is very positive about the project. A project like mine will bring life to the area. I think Long Island City is ready for it.”

While Wolkoff believes the development will benefit the neighborhood, area artists are upset at the alterations.

“Now everyone wants to be in LIC and everyone who created it is going to be kicked out,” said local artist Carolina Penafiel. “Changes are good but when they change history it’s screwed up. Everyone new is coming and the old ones are leaving.”

Wolkoff claims the building plans include keeping walls in place where graffiti artists can continue their craft, as well as opening two 1,200-square-foot open art studios.

“There will at least be a link to what it was at one point,” said Wolkoff. “We love the art that’s on the walls and we want to continue that.”

5Pointz, which earned its name by bringing together the five boroughs of New York City, attracts aerosol artists from across the country as well as the Netherlands, Japan and Brazil. Hip-hop artists and singers — enamored by the site’s visual stimuli — including Doug E. Fresh, Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Kaz, Mobb Deep and Joss Stone, found creative ignition inside the abandoned factory.

According to a representative from the Department of City Planning, an application to demolish and rebuild at the current 5Pointz location has yet to be submitted.

This Morning’s Headlines

| jlane@queenscourier.com

Graphic by Jay Lane

DOE takes two ‘politically connected’ schools off the chopping block, axes 24 others

The city’s education-policy board voted just before midnight last night to close and then immediately reopen two dozen schools with new names and new staffers in an unprecedented move that could displace more than 1,000 teachers. Two last-minute reprieves were granted yesterday before the vote, and they went to a pair of politically backed schools — Grover Cleveland HS in Queens, which counts state Assembly Education Committee Chair Cathy Nolan as an alumna, and Bushwick Community HS in Brooklyn, which garnered several vocal supporters, including Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Read More: New York Post


Air man’s dogged pursuit

The Port Authority worker who got down on his hands and knees to try to rescue a canny canine who wandered onto a busy runway at La Guardia airport Wednesday is a cat lover who is allergic to dogs, he lamented. But Paul Malichek, 57, didn’t want to spook Byrdie — a 14-month-old Rhodesian ridgeback who had escaped her travel crate and turned the runway into her own private dog run — so he crawled toward her as jets idled nearby. Read More: New York Post

Occupy Protesters Turn Focus To Mounting U.S. Student Debt

Occupy Wall Street protestors gathered in Union Square in Manhattan on Wednesday to mark the day they say the U.S. student debt reached $1 trillion dollars and to draw attention to what they called the financial sector’s “predatory” student loan market. The Federal Reserve disputes the figure, saying U.S. student debt is currently $870 billion. President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent Mitt Romney have called attention to the issue on the campaign trail to try to court the college-age vote. U.S. Senate Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives have proposed separate bills to keep interest rates for poor and middle class students at the current level for another year. Read More: NY1


Mother, Sister Of Queens Terror Suspect Testify On His Behalf

The mother and sister of a Queens man accused of plotting a terror attack in the city gave emotional testimony for the defense in Brooklyn federal court on Wednesday. Alisa Medunjanin choked back tears as she talked about her brother, Adis, and the raid on their home. She recounted the story of dozens of agents with weapons storming their sixth-floor apartment to arrest her brother. Alisa said she thought her brother had gone to Pakistan to get married. Prosecutors, who wrapped up their arguments earlier Wednesday, said Adis Medunjanin was there receiving Al-Qaida terror training. Read More: NY1


Rapper Talib Kweli emcees at St. John’s University

Like any great rapper, Talib Kweli knows how to freestyle. Without any notes or prompts, the Brooklyn native rattled off a first-person history of hip hop music to a captive audience of more than 400 students at St. John’s University on Tuesday. “Hip hop is such a folk thing,” the 36-year-old lyricist told the Daily News. “It speaks directly to the people and the language that they are using right now.” Read More: Daily News


While NY Giants sit tight with No. 32 pick, NFC East division rivals Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys load up to challenge Big Blue


One of the crucial issues for the Giants as they go through the offseason getting ready to defend their Super Bowl title is whether they indeed have an identity crisis. Are they the Giants who struggled to become the first team to not only win the NFC East with a mediocre 9-7 record but the first team to win the Super Bowl at 9-7? Or are they the team that raised its game to an unimaginable level in the playoffs and beat the Falcons at home in the wild-card game and then the Packers and 49ers on the road — the two best NFC teams in the regular season — before finishing off their incredible run with another Super Bowl victory over the Patriots? Read More: Daily News


‘Draw’ing inspiration from Astoria

| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com


A blank canvas – lacking a defined identity and purpose – can be a daunting task for any artist. Many grow to hate its vacant stare, praying for inspiration to end the monotony of its colorless complexion. Often, it can lead to hasty or unimaginative work.

Such dilemmas are nonexistent for Louie Gasparro, who adores his canvas as much as, or perhaps more than, his work – because his canvas is his city.

Gasparro, an urban contemporary street artist born and raised in Astoria, found his feet in art in a nontraditional manner.

“When I was a kid, I would ride the ‘RR’ train to Queensboro Plaza and the No. 7 to Main Street, and that’s where I first saw bubble writing and cartoons on the train,” Gasparro said. “The fact that it was moving on a train, it was like a flying cartoon in front of me.”

Following his fascination for the flying images he observed, Gasparro grew to create icons of his own. He began visiting train yards after dark to spray paint – a practice he continued for roughly six years. He would draw his tag name, “KR.ONE,” or whatever images he viewed in his mind’s eye, aiming to evoke the same joy in other subway riders that he experienced as a kid.

“I tried to take this flowing and fantastical lettering and combine it with my graffiti style lettering,” he said. “Graffiti when it began was name based. It was all about how many different ways I could draw my name and bend the alphabet.”

In his early years, Gasparro credits cartoons, comic books and the rock and roll album covers his brothers gave him for motivating his artistic creations. Artists he admired include Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso.

A classic western Queens kid, Gasparro received his entire education in Astoria and Long Island City schools. His art edification he left to his own studies, having never received any official training.

As Gasparro grew in age, and as an artist, he never struggled to find inspiration – wherever he looked, it was in view.

“I’m inspired by good people, truth, music and nature,” said the 46 year old. “I get inspired easily, I guess because I still have this childlike approach to it all. I get inspired so easily because there are so many things I appreciate that are all around me.”

His greatest inspiration, however, will always be his hometown – where he discovered his craft and found his first professional work as an artist.

“Where I grew up was the perfect vantage point for me to view all the different graffiti styles happening at the time,” he said. “From 1974 to 1983, I absorbed all of that which was going on with graffiti. I wouldn’t trade when and where I grew up for anything. I grew up around the corner from Kaufmann Astoria Studios. I met Aerosmith when I was 12. I saw Michael Jackson and Diana Ross making “The Whiz” when I was a kid. I was immersed in art growing up – it was around every corner I turned.”

Beginning in the early 1980s, Gasparro was commissioned to paint murals across western Queens, and he was particularly well known in Astoria. He painted frescoes for neighborhood spots such as the Beebe Diner, Boutique 92 and a schoolyard located at 28th Street and 36th Avenue in Dutch Kills, affectionately known as 204 Park. He has also been featured numerous times at L.I.C.’s 5Pointz Aerosol Art Center – an outdoor art exhibit space considered by many to be the Mecca of graffiti.

Gasparro’s most common graffiti topics are assorted lettering fonts – which he considers the purist form of the art – and subjects pertaining to New York. Along with his urban contemporary street art, Gasparro also enjoys creating abstract and fantasy pieces.

What he relishes most, he says, is the process of combining many genres and forming a free flowing finished product – allowing the piece to come together on its own.

“Fifty percent of the time I’ll be bold, and I’ll look at the canvas and just go immediately. I just go for it,” Gasparro said. “I get in an improvisational flow – like jazz. You have to take chances and you will make mistakes, but you have to make mistakes to achieve perfection.”

Gasparro has also pursued a career in his second passion – music. He joined the band Murphy’s Law in 1982 and traveled the world performing as a drummer. Regardless of where he went, his true love was never far away.

“I went to Europe and I was amazed. Europe really grabbed graffiti and held it to its bosom and nurtured it,” Gasparro said. “Europeans have had art and culture for centuries, so they have more of a vision. America is a much younger country when you compare it to a country like Greece. Graffiti is huge in Greece, Italy and Germany.”

Despite its international popularity, Gasparro is proud that graffiti is from New York, and his neighborhood was a leader in the art’s rise to fame.

“Graffiti is a worldwide phenomenon. It is probably the biggest art movement in the world, and it is from New York,” he said. “The phenomenon that it has become is because of New York. I don’t know of any other art movement that so many people were doing at the same time.”

Gasparro does not appreciate the negative connotations often applied to the word “graffiti.” The art was never about breaking the law for him, but meant something more than the paint in the can.

“When people asked me why we were doing graffiti, I told them we had to express ourselves,” he said. “What we felt was so deep that we had to go big. We were expressing ourselves in a big way. There is the graffiti problem, but what about the art side? We can’t always look at the negative. Why can’t we get kids who are acting out and get them to express themselves through this art form?”

Now an accomplished artist, Gasparro is frequently commissioned to work on clothing, furniture, cars and even private homes. He has been published in several anthologies, and is currently in the process of writing a book of his own – chronicling the life and work of Don 1, an influential graffiti artist.

He was recently re-welcomed to the site of his artistic genesis, when his work was displayed in an exclusive show – Bringer of the Kolor Storm – on March 10 in L.I.C. More than 100 people attended the event – which featured Gasparro’s urban, contemporary, fantasized, graffiti-style art – and every painting was purchased. Due to its success, Gasparro is currently planning a subsequent show.

“For me to come back and do a show in my hometown, where I practiced and started – the place that turned me on to art – was amazing,” said Gasparro. “It is great that LIC has become this artistic place when an artist like me can show my stuff.”

Queens artist ties the knot

| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Nicholas Ruiz

Dapper, dashing and debonair, the notoriously sophisticated bow tie has acquired an artistic injection from a Queens creative.

Nicholas Ruiz constructs imaginative bow ties from found objects, fashioning his original accessories from everything from pills to newspaper, film negatives to wine corks.

Originally from Florida, Ruiz attended college at Drexel University in Philadelphia, where he studied merchandising and design. After graduating in 2010, he moved to Forest Hills and got a job in the Special Programming and Events department at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

A chance meeting with singer Janelle Monáe in November, 2010 sparked Ruiz’s idea to create bow ties.

“She wears this fantastic bow tie in her music video ‘Tightrope,’” said Ruiz. “I started looking for a similar one in N.Y.C., but couldn’t find anything, so I decided to just make one myself.”

Ruiz revealed his first bow tie, made from colorful guitar picks, at the opening of “Picasso: Guitars 1912-1914” on February 8, 2011. Each bow tie created thereafter was inspired by exhibition openings and benefitted events Ruiz worked on during 2011 at MoMA.

“They were all created during different moments in my life in 2011, so each bow tie represents that unique moment of time,” said Ruiz.

Ruiz created the LEGO bow tie to wear to a party following The Armory Show, a modern art fair held every March in Manhattan, featuring a performance by British singer, Kate Nash. The chanteuse took a liking to Ruiz’s unique accoutrement and asked him to make a similar one for her to sport in her hair. Delighted, he obliged, and decided to define the project, assuming the challenge of designing and hand-crafting nine more bow ties.

In his spare time, Ruiz can be found spinning records at events around New York City as DJ Bow Tie Boy.

During the summer of 2012, The Bow Tie Collection (2011) will be showcased at a gallery in Fairfield, Connecticut and several of the 11 total bow ties will be available for purchase.

Ruiz also has a new collection in the works.

“My future bow ties will include tie-able forms hand stitched from cloth, denim, suede and other unique materials,” said Ruiz. “They will offer more classic looks for the office as well as zany prints if you want to spice up your style, and also more modern dapper looks for red carpets. I would absolutely love to design custom wedding bow ties for someone’s special day.”

Recently, Ruiz was asked by the Virgin Company to design an exclusive bow tie, constructed from one of their signature red balloons.

While the bow tie has long since been considered a distinguished accessory, Ruiz enjoys taking something “elitist” and creating it out of everyday objects.

“I want people to see the bow ties and feel inspired and wear them and feel confident,” said Ruiz. “The bow ties allowed me to express a bit of myself without saying a word.”

Ruiz plans to launch an online shop sometime in the fall of 2012, called www.NicholasTee.com and has since launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for it. Fans can purchase handmade bow ties made of recycled and traditional materials while browsing future collections.

FBI busts teacher’s aide for allegedly making child porn with students

| jlane@queenscourier.com

Graphic by Jay Lane

FBI busts Brooklyn teacher’s aide for allegedly making child porn with students

A teacher’s aide at a Brooklyn school was arrested again yesterday by the FBI and charged with making child pornography videos of students he was assaulting at the grade school where he worked, authorities said today. It is the second time in the last two weeks that FBI agents have charged Taleek Brooks with offenses linked to illegally possessing films of underage children engaged in sexual acts. After his first arrest in mid-January, Brooks allegedly confessed that he had assembled more than 1,000 pornographic images of young children on his computers, according to a report filed by Brooklyn federal prosecutors. Read More: New York Post

Prosecutors have yet to convene grand jury in Cashman ‘stalker’ case

Yankees GM Brian Cashman’s alleged shake-down stalker learned some good news in Manhattan Criminal Court today: prosecutors have agreed to take more time investigating the case before convening a grand jury on possible felony grand larceny charges. Louise Meanwell, 35 — who also uses the let name Neathway — looked grim but clear-minded after making the trip from jail to court, and turned up at the defense table wearing a snug-tailored charcoal pants suit and repeatedly flipping her long blonde hair from her face. She’d last come to court Feb. 3, and had that time treated news photographers to a slide-show stack of emotions and poses, rolling her eyes, tearing up and laughing in turns. Read More: New York Post

Hotel art thief is prison-bound

A compulsive fine art fan is going to prison for at least a year after getting caught lifting hundreds of thousands of dollars in paintings from the lobby walls of the Carlyle and Chambers hotels in Manhattan. Mark Lugo, 31, was a restaurant waiter with caviar taste — as much as $700,000 in stolen art and fine wine was recovered from his Hoboken, NJ apartment when cops busted him this past summer. Lugo pleaded guilty in Manhattan Supreme Court today to one count of grand larceny in the second degree, the top charge against him. Read More: New York Post


Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is trying to buy Los Angeles  Dodgers

Donald Trump’s son-in-law is making a play to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers. If successful, Jared Kushner would be the most high-profile New Yorker to own the team since Walter O’Malley, who broke Brooklyn’s heart by moving the Dodgers to L.A. before the 1958 season. Kushner, who is just 31 and married to Ivanka Trump, would also be the youngest owner in Major League Baseball. While Kushner has not said anything publicly about the bid, the editor of his newspaper — The New York Observer — gave it a thumbs up. Read More: Daily News


Teens charged with burglary and sexual assault in home-invasion robbery in Brooklyn

Disturbing details emerged Monday about a Brooklyn home invasion by four teens, the youngest only 13-years-old, who allegedly tied up a couple, ransacked their home and took turns sexually assaulting the woman. As one robber went to get cash with stolen ATM cards, the three others repeatedly forced the 22-year-old victim to perform oral sex, threatening to kill her if she refused, prosecutors said. “The defendants are known members of the Brower gang,” Assistant District Attorney Wilfredo Cotto said in Brooklyn Criminal Court. Read More: Daily News

Time to Create: Artist Violet Baxter paints L.I.C.

| smosco@queenscourier.com


Art is comprised mainly of two elements: time and raw materials. While the art itself is physically constructed with materials – paint, clay, trash, whatever – it is time that decides whether or not the art lives on. Prehistoric people decided to paint on cave walls, and time decided to preserve that work for modern eyes.

Contrary to the process in which art becomes art, an artist becomes an artist through a mix of sheer will and talent. If the artist relies on time, they’ll be left with a blank canvas and a pile of unpaid bills.

Artist Violet Baxter grew up as a shy, yet promising youngster in the Bronx. Her grade school teachers noticed her talents and saw fit to recommend she take art classes on Saturdays. A fourth grade teacher, Evelyn Licht, befriended the young Baxter and helped her score her first “art job” – designing cake boxes on weekends when she was 13 years old.

“We stayed close until her death,” said Baxter, whose studio resides in the Wills Building on 21st Street. “She was responsible for my first job and my first gallery exhibitions.”

An educated and trained artist, Baxter graduated from high school and went on to Hunter College for two years of night classes. She graduated with honors from the Cooper Union Art School after five years of night classes and continued her schooling at Columbia University studying under renowned American artist Ralph Mayer.

In 1983, she took a studio in Union Square, where she stayed until skyrocketing rents drove her to L.I.C.

“Here my windows face a new school called Mason Tenders Training, highways that lead to the Queensboro Bridge, the El train, Silvercup Studios with its sign and a wide sky,” she said. “This is my subject matter. I have made closely observed drawings of this view, that sets it somewhat in memory. From the drawings I made watercolors and oils.”

Baxter said that she doesn’t know what the finished work will look like when she begins a piece. Again, time decides the finished project.

“It can take a long time to resolve a painting, sometimes years,” she said. “It is put aside until I can see if there is something else for it. There are always paintings around my studio in this state.”

The state of Baxter’s ideal painting studio lends to the reflective quality of her work. She seeks a quiet place with a view to achieve the quiet, contemplative narrative revealed in her paintings.

“I keep in touch with myself in my work. Like music, the themes are within the work,” she said. “I need a block of time to get into the work. It starts with problems to solve and at some point time dissolves. I often work at night – night light and self reflections, outside and inside, are what interests me.”

Among LIC artists, Baxter is most interested in Elinore Schnurr, Juvenal Reiss, Karen Fitzgerald and her new friend, Orestes Gonzalez. She feels one of the most important galleries in L.I.C. is the Jeffrey Leder Gallery. Her paintings were shown there through last season, and much of her work will be on exhibit in the upper gallery beginning Sunday, February 19, with a reception from 4 to 7 p.m. continuing through Sunday, March 11.

Baxter will continue to share her view and present images in the hopes her work will resonate with viewers. Her hard work – and the hard work of her influences – continues to payoff tenfold. Now she works with time to see her vision through.

“I have hundreds of influences, mostly artists from prehistoric time to the present, from nonobjective to representation,” she said. “My interests are with painting, as a personal touch of the hand. A drawing on a mammoth tusk seen at the Museum of Natural History still resonates, and reaches out through millennia.”

Long Island City artist blending art and photography

| smosco@queenscourier.com

Rafael Octavio Gonzalez

Far away from the static realm of everyday photography lies the work of Rafael Octavio Gonzalez. The Long Island City-bred artist puts a luminescent spin on the lens – surrounding the viewer and bringing the past and present together in one intimate, yet all-encompassing, image.

His images are currently being presented in an ongoing exhibition at Z Hotel in L.I.C. – steps away from where the artist grew up and developed his photographer’s sensibility.

“I got into photography when my brother gave me a camera back when I was in eighth grade,” said Gonzalez, who came to Queens from Columbia at seven-years-old. “Before that, I didn’t feel very artsy or have any inclination toward art at all.”

But growing up in L.I.C.’s old days – before the condos shot up – afforded Gonzalez the types of views that builds an eye for the majestic.

“I grew up on the corner of 21st Street and 44th Avenue, back when there was roof access. I used to hang out up there and there was a full view of the city because there was nothing on the waterfront. There were no tall structures,” he said. “I grew up with beautiful sunsets and sunrises and everything that happens around this piece of the city right here.”

One image he captured was a panoramic view of Manhattan from the Queens side of the East River on December 7, 2000. In the image, the sun dramatically sets just behind the World Trade Center – creating a poignant vision foreshadowing the city’s not-too-distant future.

As any art should, that panorama always elicits a response from the viewer, and for obvious reasons. The piece, called “Sunset at the Towers,” shows a striking image of the Towers outlined in a brilliant and fiery light. Gonzalez said that no matter the reaction, he wants to reach an audience so that they feel something – whether it’s love or hate.

“I’m hoping that it does bring some kind of emotion out of people,” Gonzalez said, explaining that one of his works, “Frozen,” tends to bring out an array of opinions. “Some people love it, but others are a little creeped out by it. I like it in the sense that I got to them at some level of emotion – it means the image is strong. To be able to draw some sort of emotion from someone is a very fulfilling feeling. To get someone to react to your work is the point – whether they like it or not.”

“Frozen” is part of a series of 360-degree panoramic photographs. The images play with space and time, perception and perspective. Bringing the 360-degree view within one plane suggest a single image taken at a single instant – when in reality the image came to Gonzalez over multiple frames over a period of days.

This is where Gonzalez’s technical side comes into play. He always had a technological brain – with mathematics and engineering preceding his love of photography.

“A lot of what goes into photography is highly technical when you’re putting it all together,” he said. “In many ways I think they are very linked, mathematics and life.”

Gonzalez is the first artist Z Hotel is exhibiting in their lower level Z Lounge, and they will exhibit a new artist each month in an effort to support the arts throughout the neighborhood.

And the neighborhood has changed greatly since Gonzalez moved to East Elmhurst with his wife and brother. Large buildings have popped up, blocking the view he once had as a kid. But he is not completely against such an occurrence – in fact, he wishes he was a part of it.

“I was very sad that I wasn’t in the position to buy some parts of the land there before they built on it,” he laughed. “It was kind of disappointing to see the view go away because it was such a beautiful unobstructed view, but that’s progress.”

And if he can somehow make a return to the area, he wouldn’t mind being a part of that progress.

“I dream of one day having an apartment over here,” Gonzalez said. “I grew up with this view and the ultimate way to get that part of me back would be to have a spot right up front on the waterfront.”