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While visiting the YOHO studio of the wondrously creative self-taught artist, Michael Cuomo, I had the opportunity to pose a few questions to him about his recent body of expressive abstracts.

This particular body of work — imbued with colorful, dreamlike imagery — is quite a departure from the amazing masks and figures you construct from found materials and, also, from your many black and white abstract illustrations. What spurred you in this direction?

I felt a need for change and for color. I’m also interested in working in different mediums.

How do you go about choosing your colors? 

I choose colors that I feel at the moment. They serve as a catalyst to the piece. My color palettes are constantly changing, and I find ways to use the colors with each other differently.

Do you work from a sketch?

No. I have no primary sketch or preconception. Everything is done spontaneously.

How do you know when a piece is completed?

When it has said enough.

What do you want your viewers to walk away with?

I want them to be open to alternative realities.

About how many of these expressive abstract artworks have you created?

About 20. I feel now that it’s time to move on.

And do you have any favorites?

My favorites change all the time.

What’s ahead?

I’m working on some new designs with oil paints instead of oil pastels. Each one from this series was fashioned with oil pastel and Indian ink.

Note: You can find out a bit about Michael here, and view some more of his abstract paintings on Bristol paper here. You can, also, follow him on Instagram here.

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; photos of images by Lois Stavsky

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Working primarily with a huge range of discarded objects — from scraps of found wood to abandoned doors — the late self-taught Southern artist Purvis Young created an extraordinary body of work reflecting both the African-American experience and the universal one.

During a three-year stint in prison as a teen, Young discovered his passion for drawing. And soon after his release, he became consumed with finding cast-off materials on the streets and transforming them into art. Many of the artworks he fashioned and assembled made their way into a neighboring alley in his Overtown, Miami neighborhood — where they were often “adopted” by passersby, and eventually sought by art collectors.

Within the past year, Young’s work has been exhibited In several prestigious shows — including History Refused to Die at the Metropolitan Museum and Vernacular Voices at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.  Here in New York City, Purvis Young‘s art has been on view these past few weeks in solo exhibitions at both Salon 94 Freemans and James Fuentes. Pictured above is a work created by the artist in 1995 with paint on wood, as seen at James Fuentes. Several more images from the two concurrent exhibits follow:

Untitiled, c. 1990’s, paint on wood with artist’s frame

Untitled, c. late 70’s, Paint on fiberboard

Confusin’ City, 1990. Mixed media, assemblage, cardboard, paper envelope, paint and wood

Untitled, 1994, Paint on linen

The concurrent exhibits continue at James Fuentes Gallery, 55 Delancey Street, 10-6pm through Sunday, March 24 and at Salon 94,1 Freeman Alley, 11-6pm through Saturday. Featured, too, at Salon 94 are several art books assembled by Purvis Young from books discarded by the Miami Public Library. Featuring his distinctly alluring expressionist aesthetic, they are a treasure.

Photos by Lois Stavsky

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We first came upon Issa Ibrahim’s artwork — encompassing a range of styles, subject matter and mediums  — at the Living Museum on the grounds of Creedmoor Psychiatric Center. We soon discovered that he is not only a wonderfully talented visual artist, but a gifted musician, eloquent writer and award-winning filmmaker, as well. We were delighted to finally meet him and have the opportunity to interview him.

When did you first begin to create art?

I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. My mom was a painter, and when she set up her easel, she would set me at her feet with watercolor paints and the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s album. When my mother was painting portraits of the likes of Mao and Castro, I was doing my thing.

Who or what were some of your early inspirations?

I was inspired by Saturday morning cartoons. I’d be in front of the TV from 6am to noon!  I loved Superman, Batman, Wile E. Coyote, the Road Runner…I’ve also been inspired by classical science fiction. Frankenstein was an early favorite.

How did your family respond to your artwork?

My parents felt that I had a gift, and they encouraged it.

Who are some of your favorite artists these days?

I love surrealism. Salvador Dali is my favorite. I also like Norman Rockwell. I like the way he expresses movement.

What about cultural influences? 

I’ve been influenced by the Bible, 20th century history, American history and art history. Quite a few of my paintings reference famous classics.

How has your work evolved through the years?

My work is largely narrative. Everything I do tells a story. And it evolves as I live.

Are you generally satisfied with your work?

I used to feel self-doubt. But these days I’m generally satisfied.

How long do you usually spend on a piece?

Anywhere from one day to several weeks.

What percentage of your time is devoted to art?

That’s difficult to answer. When I’m not creating art, I’m thinking. I think a lot.

What is your favorite media?

I like painting with acrylic because it dries faster.  But I also like the effect of oil and the way it blends. 

Have you a favorite color?

I like working with primary colors. I love shades of blue…periwinkle, purple…

What is your favorite setting to work?

A place that’s somewhat isolated. A space that I can call my own.

Have you a favorite piece?

The last one I’ve created.

Have you a formal art education?

I graduated from the High School of Art & Design. I then spent a year and a half at the School of Visual Arts majoring in Illustration. But I didn’t feel that the experience was fulfilling my soul, and so I began taking classes at the Art Students League.  I studied there for two years.

Was studying art in a formal setting a worthwhile experience?

Yes. It helped me improve my technique. 

Have you exhibited your work? And how important is the viewer’s response to you?

Yes, I’ve exhibited widely in a range of places — from alternative spaces to museums. The response has always been positive. The viewer’s response is not all that important to me, but I like the validation.

What are some of your other interests?

Music. My father was a musician…a bass player. And I remember sitting at his feet when he played. I also love writing and producing videos.

Yes. We love your award-winning musical documentary, PATIENT’S RITES and your memoir, The Hospital Always Wins. What is your main source of income?

Art. My girlfriend and I have set up an Etsy site and an online gallery, Issues Gallery.

You were hospitalized at Creedmoor for almost 20 years. What impact did that have on your art?

It gave me lots of time to think and to work on my skills. And the Living Museum provided me with a huge space to create art and to experiment.

Much of your art is politically and socially conscious, as you take on such themes as race, sex, religion and the imbalance of power. Are there any issues of special importance to you?

I’ve been intent on exposing  — particularly in my memoir and documentary — the injustices I’ve witnessed and experienced in the mental health system.  All that I create, though, is for my mother. She is my guiding force.

What’s next?

I’m currently exhibiting at the Fountain House Gallery in Manhattan and at The Plaxall Gallery in Long Island City. And I’m working on an installation for an upcoming show in Queens.

We’re looking forward to it all!

Interview conducted by City-As-School intern Alyssa Torres and edited by Lois Stavsky

Photo credits: 1-5 & 8 Lois Stavsky; 6 Alyssa Torres

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Showcasing an eclectic range of works reflecting the experiences and perspectives of living with mental illness, Inside/Outside remains on view at Plaxall Gallery in Long Island City through April 7. Curated by Nancy Bruno, the provocative, forceful exhibition was organized in partnership with Fountain House Gallery and the Flushing Interfaith Council. Featured above is Sisters, oil on linen, by the noted Brooklyn-based Italian artist Fulvia Zambon. Several more images from Inside/Outside follow:

Jackson Heights-based multidisciplinary artist Issa Ibrahim, Shazam…I’m Cured, Oil and glitter on canvas

LIC-Artists Sharon Taylor, Darker Days, Oil on board

NYC-based sculptor Jerry Atkins, Thumb Suckers, Cast bronze

Pennsylvania-based painterJames Kane, Water-bearer, oil on canvas

Fountain House Gallery artists Angela Rogers (L) Alien Wall of Sadness, Wax pastels and markers on pamphlets & Ella Veres R), Sunshine, Collagraph print; Windows to Light, Acrylic and Verdi Gris of Memory, Acrylic

Located at 5-25 46th Avenue in Long Island City, the gallery is open on Thursdays from, 6-10pm and on the weekends from 12-5pm.

Photos of images: Lois Stavsky

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Housed in a former cafeteria on the grounds of the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, the Living Museum continues to serve as both an inspiring oasis of creativity and a sublime sanctuary for those living with mental illness. I recently had the opportunity to speak with its co-founder and director, psychologist Dr, János Marton, a winner of the Dr. Guislain “Breaking the Chains of Stigma” Award for his “extraordinary efforts and distinctive ability to nurture creativity of individuals living with mental illness and for establishing a groundbreaking and flourishing artistic community within a mental health care setting.”

When was the Living Museum first established? And whose concept was it?

When I was a student at Columbia University’s School of the Arts in the 1970’s, I met the Polish artist, Bolek Greczynski. Together we founded this space in 1983.

Can you tell us something about the principle behind it?

Modern art and mental illness are almost identical. And people with mental illness have far too much time on their hands. The same energy that fuels destructive and self-destructive tendencies can be channeled and used to create great art. And living with an identity as an artist — rather than simply as a mentally ill patient — is, in itself, healing.  Also, mentally ill people tend to be extremely nice, nicer than most people. And this allows a supportive community of artists to develop and thrive. We’ve come to resemble a family.

You seem to suggest that there is a link between creativity and insanity.

Yes. Extreme creativity and mental illness overlap. And if you are not mentally ill and you are creating great art, you are most likely using drugs or alcohol. You are cheating. If you’ve heard voices, a certain truth emerges, and art is one way of expressing that truth and communicating it to others.

There are hundreds — perhaps thousands — of artworks here.  How many folks does the Living Museum currently serve? And how is it funded? 

It currently serves about 100 people. Both inpatients and outpatients. Several are mandated by the courts to attend. But what all these artists have in common is their authenticity. Their motives are pure; they simply wish to create art. The Living Museum is funded by the Office of General Services in Albany.

What’s ahead?

More Living Museums. In addition to Gugging — the first space of this type — in Austria, there are now six Living Museums in the Netherlands, one in Switzerland and one in Korea. It isn’t just about the art; it’s about the space.  People with mental illness have almost no tolerance for stress. They need a safe, stress-free space that provides them with meaning. They need medication and Living Museums. 

Interview conducted by Lois Stavsky with Bonnie Astor;  photos of Living Museum artworks and of Dr. János Marton by Lois Stavsky. The first photo is a portrait of Dr, János Marton painted by Edwig Stinvil.

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The Living Museum, located on the grounds of the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, is home to a sprawling collection of art created by people living with mental illness. The spaces where the artists bring their ideas to life and present works in a range of styles and media are as inspiring and creative as the art itself. Featured above is a segment of the studio space of former Creedmoor patient and the wonderfully talented multi-disciplinary artist Issa Ibrahim. Below are several more photos taken during a recent visit.  Featured are artists’ spaces, projects and even a wild indoor garden.

Steven Spagnoli’s artwork

A wondrously wild indoor garden

Paula Brooks’ canvas in progress

John Tursi aka Dirty Tursi’s work space

And just outside

This Thursday, March 7th, the Living Museum, 80-45 Winchester Blvd, will host an Open House from 2 — 4pm, where you will have the opportunity to tour the spaces, meet many of the artists and greet its remarkable director, Dr. Janos Marton. If you can’t make it to Thursday’s Open House, you can arrange a visit at another date and time by calling 718-264-3490.

Post and photos by arts educator and photographer Rachel Fawn Alban

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Diagnosed with schizophrenia while an art student at Ohio University over 40 years ago, the multidisciplinary artist Linda Carmella Sibio is particularly sensitive to the challenges faced by those living on society’s margins. A recipient of over 20 grants and rewards, Sibio is the founder of Bezerk Productions, a nonprofit that educates the public on the art created by people with severe mental disabilities.

Continuing through this week at Andrew Edlin Gallery is Sibio’s solo multimedia exhibition, The Economics of Suffering. Curated by Martha Wilson, it explores the devastating effects of the financial crisis on society’s most vulnerable. Featured above is Body Type C Minus, fashioned with gouache on watercolor paper, depicting the impact of the financial crisis on our bodies. Several more images from The Economics of Suffering follow:

Cash Air, Gouache on paper — depicting a dying Earth, along with its inhabitants, a casualty of corporate greed

Economic Paradigm of LifeGouache on paper — depicting a violent world that demands “we give up a limb or two to feed our children.”

Check Mate: Monkey Stew, Gouache on watercolor paper — depicting a hungry parent who has evolved into a green monster playing chess while devouring her children’s brains 

Poetic Pond of Despair, Gouache on paper — depicting the abyss that awaits those who attempt to escape from their torturous lives

Located at 212 Bowery, the Andrew Edlin Gallery is open Tuesday — Saturday from 10am to 6pm.

Photos of images by Lois Stavsky; research on the artist’s life and work by City-As-School intern Alyssa Torres

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A group of self-taught Rwandan artisans living in the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsis, the women of Savane Rutongo-Kibuye collectively create stunning embroideries portraying images of Rwandan life. PAX Rwanda: Embroideries of the Women of Savane Rutongo-Kibuye, a traveling exhibition showcasing these artworks, has been featured in a range of spaces including The Textile Museum in Washington, DC and The Puffin Foundation in Teaneck, NJ.

Curated by Juliana Meehan, the exhibition is now on view at the gallery inside the Port Authority Building on West 42nd Street. Featured above is The Weaver in the Palace, one of the many painterly images fashioned with needle and thread. Several more follow:

PAX Rwanda: Embroideries of the Women of Savane Rutongo-Kibuye is an homage to these remarkable women, their talents and the role they play in the reconstruction, reconciliation and desire for peace taking place throughout Rwanda.

Photos of artworks by Lois Stavsky

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On view through Wednesday, February 27th at Fountain House Gallery is Knotted, Pieced & Wound, the gallery’s first exhibition devoted entirely to fiiber art. Curated by Sarah Margolis-Pineo, Knotted, Pieced & Wound, stretches the boundaries of fiber art, as it incorporates a wide range of media and techniques. Featured above is Straphanger’s Ball Gown– fashioned with brass findings, Metrocards, nylon tulle, bubble wrap, copper wire, chicken wire and nylon thread — by Lily Ng.  Several more images from the group exhibition follow:

Lucinda Fernandez, Blue Jack, Crocheted wool and cotton with acrylic, 2018

Multimedia Eastern European artist Ella Veres, Dandelions, Plastic trays, textiles, and acrylic, 2018

Multidisciplinary artist Boo Lynn Walsh, Relic, Canvas, acrylic, and wood, 2018

Multidisciplinary self-taught Southern artist Angela Rogers, Twisted Mermaid & Frida Tribute, Fiber, found objects, and wire, 2018    

Award-winning self-taught fiber artist Alyson Vega, Line Sampler, Grid Sampler, Circles Sampler, Mixed fiber, 2016

Located at 702 Ninth Avenue at 48th Street, Fountain House Gallery “provides an environment for artists living and working with mental illness to pursue their creative visions and to challenge the stigma that surrounds mental illness.”

Post by City-As-School intern Alyssa Torres

Photo credits: 1 & 4 Lois Stavsky; 2,3,5 & 6 Alyssa Torres

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Opening this evening and continuing through March 16 at the Blue Door Art Center in Yonkers is “WE ARE FAMILY: Celebrating Black History and Culture.” Curated by Katori Walker and Evan Bishop, the exhibition features over 40 artists — many self-taught — working in a diverse range of styles and media. The image pictured above was painted by Yonkers-based multidisciplinary artist Michael Cuomo. Several more artworks that I captured while visiting the space earlier this week — as the exhiibit was being installed — follow:

Khouri Rowe

Patricia Stuart

Katori Walker

Nordia Byfield

The opening reception to “WE ARE FAMILY: Celebrating Black History and Culture” — with performances by Ashley Antonia Lopez and Tyrone Birkett — takes places tonight, February 16, at 13 Riverdale Avenue, located just three blocks from the Yonkers Metro-North Station.

Photos of artworks by Lois Stavsky

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