≡ Menu

I came upon Frank Boccio’s infectious aesthetic on my first visit to the Living Museum on the grounds of the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens. I recently had the opportunity to find out a bit about the talented artist behind it.

When did you first begin to draw? Become interested in art?

I knew I wanted to be an artist from the time I was four years old. I began with coloring books.

What is your earliest art-related memory?

Drawing imaginary flowers. I made them up as I drew them. My mother used to give me the sheets of paper that came with the stockings that she’d bought. Those papers were my canvas. My first painting was a copy of American Gothic. My first real painting was of an American Indian. I was 15 at the time.

How did your family respond to your artistic bent?

They didn’t. My father didn’t want me to be an artist, and my mother never provided me with any art supplies — other than the papers packaged with her new stockings.

What inspired you, then, to keep doing art?

I liked it. I liked looking at art, studying it and making it.

Have you any favorite artists?

Jackson Pollock is a particular favorite. I love that he found a new way to play with paint.  Other favorite artists include: Salvador Dali and René Magritte.

Any cultural influences?

American culture…film… Andy Warhol

How much time do you generally spend on a piece?

It depends. Some come quickly and some take years.

Have you any other passions – besides painting?

I’m passionate about photography. I also play the piano and I write music.

Have you exhibited your work?

I exhibited in Soho back in the 80’s, and in 1986 I had a solo exhibit at the National Arts Club. I also showed at Adelphi and here at the Living Museum.

How important is the viewer’s response to your art?

It doesn’t matter much.

Are you generally satisfied with your final piece?

Yup! I work up to my own standard of what’s real and what’s good.

Do you work from a preliminary sketch? Or do you just “let it flow?”

I don’t work from a sketch. I paint from my head.

How has your aesthetic evolved within the past decade?

I’m more into abstraction than I used to be.

Have you a favorite setting to work?

Anywhere there’s an easel.

Have you a formal art education?

Yes. I have a BA in Fine Arts from Oneonta State College, and I’ve taken classes at SVA. I’ve never stopped studying art or creating art. Even the 19 years I worked as a Special Education teacher, I was painting and drawing. I left the school system after getting eight separate death threats. 

What percentage of your time is devoted to art these days?

About 90%. When I’m not doing it, I’m thinking about it.

Where are you headed?

I don’t know.

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

{ 0 comments }

Currently on view at the Self-Taught Genius Gallery in Long Island City, Queens is New York Experienced, a delightful, eye-catching exhibition of artworks in a range of styles and media reflecting the lives of those who made New York home. A visual ode to our spirited city, New York Experienced was curated by Steffi Duarte — assistant curator of the Self-Taught Genius Gallery  — with works selected from the American Folk Art Museum’s permanent collection. The image featured above, Iceman Crucified #3, is one of several on exhibit by the noted self-taught painter Ralph Fasanella.  A sampling of images of artworks included in New York Experienced follows:

The celebrated Romania-born UFO artist Ionel Talpazan, Untitled, Oil on canvas, 1994

Bronx-born folk artist Malcah Zeldis, Coney Island or Brighton Beach, Acrylic on masonite, 1973

Maryland native Vestie Davis, Village Art Show, Oil on canvas, 1958

 Socially-conscious Italian native Louis Monza, Our Daily Bread, Oil on canvas, 1946

Bronx-native fabric artist Paula Nadelstern, Kaleidoscope XVI: More is More, Cottons & silk, 1996

A wide view of segment of gallery exhibit

New York Experienced remains on exhibit at the Self-Taught Genius Gallery through May 30. Located at 47-29 32nd Place in Long Island City, the Self-Taught Genius Gallery is open Monday through Thursday, 11am to 5pm.  Admission is free.

Photos of images by Lois Stavsky

{ 0 comments }

Enchanted by Nyla Paula Isaac’s alluring, emotive portraits that we discovered while visiting the Living Museum on the grounds of the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, we were delighted to have the opportunity to interview the wonderfully talented artist.

When did you first begin drawing? And what did you draw at the time?

I was about three when I started drawing and making paper dolls. I was still living in Trinidad in the West Indies. 

What inspired you to begin doing art?

I was shy, and it was my way of expressing myself. And when I started going to school, I wasn’t good at math or reading. But I could do art.

Do any early art-related memories stand out?

When I was about 7, a woman I knew showed me West Indian comics. They fascinated me.  And I remember winning first prize in an art show at PS 37 — my elementary school  in Springfield. Gardens.

Have you any cultural influences?

The landscapes of Trinidad are a definite influence…their mountains and ditches and the colors that I associate with them.

Any favorite artists? Artists who have influenced you?

Among my favorites are: Rembrandt, Norman Rockwell and Jacob Lawrence. Norman Rockwell has been one of  my strongest influences, although my work is much looser than his. And I don’t tend to idealize what I see. I paint my reality.

How has your family responded to your artistic bent?

They love that I am doing something with my life.

How much time do you generally spend on a piece?

Anywhere from a few hours to a few days. When I paint, I like to work all day long.

Are you generally satisfied with your final piece?

No. I always feel that I could do better.

How has your aesthetic evolved within the past decade?

It is less surreal. I also tend to work with brighter colors and a more varied palette. My aesthetic also varies according to my mental state. When I’m not well, my work takes on a bit of a surreal edge. It is looser. Schizophrenia frees me.

Which style do you prefer? Have you a preference?

No. I like them both.

What percentage of your time is devoted to art?

Just about all of it when I don’t have to deal with doctors’ appointments.

Have you a favorite setting to work?

Here at the Living Museum. Dr. Marton makes me feel free and comfortable, and I know that my work is safe here. In 2017, a fire in my apartment destroyed 17 years of my artwork.

And your favorite media?

I love working with oil paints.

Any favorite colors?

Blue and yellow; they remind me of the sky.

Do you work from a sketch when you paint?

Occasionally I sketch first. But, generally, my paintings just happen.

Have you ever studied art in a formal setting?

Yes. I graduated from the High School of Art and Design, and I earned an Associate’s Degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology. And for the past 20 years, I’ve studied off and on at the Arts Students League.

Have you found your formal art education of value?

It has definitely helped me on a technical level. It helped me master perspective, and life drawing from observation was important to my development as an artist. But now I want to do my own thing.

You’ve exhibited your paintings in quite a few spaces, and your work is included in the Education and Research Center of The Museum of Modern Art. How important is the viewers’ response to you?

It is important to me. I’d like those who view my work to appreciate its originality. 

What are some of your other interests?

Watching sitcoms from the 70”s — The Jeffersons, Archie Bunker, Diff’rent Strokes. 

Where are you headed?

I don’t know — working on developing further my skills.

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

Photos of artworks and of artist by Lois Stavsky

{ 0 comments }

In 2018, Queens-based visual artist and art specialist Bonnie Astor traveled to Israel, Greece and Morocco. Journeys, an exhibition of watercolors and photographs reflecting Bonnie’s impressions and insights gleaned from the ancient cultures she encountered on these travels, will open on May 4 — this Saturday evening — at the Local NYC in Long Island City.

Working as an art specialist with individuals with developmental and cognitive challenges at AHRC NYC in Queens, Bonnie invited members of the AHRC community to illustrate their journeys. Several of their works will also be on view in Bonnie’s upcoming exhibition. The image above — picturing a beach in Haiti — was painted by Sydney Burford. What follows are several more artworks created — under Bonnie’s guidance — by members of AHRC NYC.

Elvin Flores depicts his ancestral homeland, Puerto Rico

And is at work on another variation of it here:

DaShawn Long visualizes a tree connecting him to nature in a favorite destination, Brooklyn’s Botanical Gardens

Edward Diodato, Going in Circles

Javed Ryner at work depicting the joy of his inner journey of self-expression

Javed Ryner’s completed piece, The Joy of the Inner Journey

Journeys opens this coming Saturday, May 4, 7-10pm, at The Local NYC, 1302 44th Avenue in Long Island City and continues through June 30, 2019.

Photos of artworks by Lois Stavsky

{ 0 comments }

Perhaps the sole self-taught outsider artist of my generation to be thoroughly embraced by the “art world,” Jean-Michel Basquiat is currently the subject of two solo exhibitions in New York City. Downtown the Brant Foundation has inaugurated its New York space in the East Village with a sprawling exhibition showcasing a broad sampling of Basquiat‘s works. Pictured above is Basquiat’s 1982 painting of a face in the shape of a skull that sold at a 2017 Sotheby’s auction for $110.5 million. Other works on view that I captured while visiting the hugely impressive exhibition at the Brant Foundation include:

Irony of a Negro Policeman, Acrylic and lipstick on wood, 1981, characteristic of the artist’s political bent

Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump, Acrylic on canvas, 1982

Grillo, Acrylic, oil, paper collage, oilstick and nails on wood, 1984

Uptown Nahmad Contemporary is presenting Xerox, the first Basquiat solo exhibition to focus exclusively of the extraordinary body of work that Basquiat created using Xerox photocopies as his principal medium. What follows are several images I captured while visiting the intriguing, engaging exhibition:

Untitled, Acrylic and Xerox collage on wood, 1981

Peter and the Wolf,  Acrylic, oilstick and Xerox collage on canvas

Natchez, Acrylic, oil, wood and Xerox collage on wood doors, 1985

Installation view

Curated by Brant Foundation founder Peter M. Brant and Basquiat scholar Dieter Buchhart, the exhibition at the Brant Foundation, 421 East Sixth Street, continues through May 15. Reservations are necessary. The exhibition at Nahmad Contemporary — also curated by Dieter Buchhart — continues through May 31. Nahmad Contemporary is located at 980 Madison Avenue, off 76th Street, on the Upper East Side and is open Monday – Saturday, 10AM – 6PM.

Photos of artworks by Lois Stavsky

{ 0 comments }

We first came upon Stephen Spagnoli’s mesmerizing aesthetic on the walls of the Living Museum, a treasure trove of art on the grounds of the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center. During the Living Museum’s Open House several weeks ago, we were delighted to finally meet the artist behind the artworks that had so entranced us. We have since had the chance to interview him.

When did you first begin drawing? And what did you draw at the time?

I was five when I first started to draw.  It was mostly cars and motorcycles.

What inspired you to begin doing art?

From early on, creating art was therapeutic. My father was a psychiatrist. He was also an alcoholic. We were constantly traveling from one city to another as my father’s place of employment shifted. There was no stability in my life. When I was ten, my father committed suicide. Art and music have saved my life.

Had you any cultural influences?

Not in my art. But among my musical influences are 80’s New Wave and 70’s pop.

Any favorite artists? 

I do feel a kindred spirit to Frida Kahlo in that physical pain has colored my very existence for too long—as it did hers. But while her aesthetic was realistic, mine has been abstract. 

How has your family responded to your artistic bent?

My wife and kids are proud of me. They see me as an example of perseverance.

How much time do you generally spend on a piece?

Anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. I tend to work three hours at a time.

Are you generally satisfied with your final piece?

Yes. If not, I’ll keep working on it.

And your favorite media?

Acrylic. I also like working with oil.

What percentage of your time is devoted to art?

All of it! Even if I’m watching TV, there’s a guitar in my hand.

How has your aesthetic evolved within the past decade?

Early on, it was therapy. It was an expression of my chronic pain. It has since evolved into something more. It is more true to who I am. Now I am free to paint about everything.

Have you a favorite setting to work?

I love being here in the Living Museum with other artists. I feel that I’ve found my tribe here! I’ve been coming here since 2003, and this place still amazes me.

Many of your pieces were fashioned with blacks and whites and shades of grey. Have you Any favorite colors?

Teal blue—it’s warm and cool at the same time.

Have you ever studied art in a formal setting?

No. Sometimes I wish I was trained.  But I’m, also, glad I’m not!

Where are you headed?

I’d like more people to see my work. And I’m trying to refocus on my music.

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; photos of Stephen’s artworks by Lois Stavsky

Note: Stephen Spagnoli is one of several Living Museum artists to be featured in Bonnie Astor‘s upcoming exhibition Journeys opening May 4, 7-10pm, at The Local NYC, 1302 44th Avenue in LIC.

{ 0 comments }

On view at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans is “Vernacular Voices,” a group exhibition featuring an eclectic range of works in varied media by self-taught, outsider and visionary artists from the American South. The image pictured above, Elvis at 3, is the work of the late legendary visionary artist and Baptist minister, Howard Finster  Several more images I captured during my recent visit to the delightfully engaging exhibition follow:

The late Georgia-born, self-taught artist George Andrews, Scramble Art, Oil on canvas board

The late Florida-born Columbus “Dude” McGriff aka The Lost Wireman, Red Duck, Black Head, Wire

The late Louisiana-born folk artist Clementine Hunter, Chaleur: The Sun Gives Life to Everything, oil on canvas

The late Miami-based mixed media artist Purvis Young, whose works were recently exhibited in NYC

The late North Carolina-born visionary artist Minnie Evans, Untitled, Mixed media on paper

“Vernacular Voices” continues at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art through July 14. The museum is open daily. For hours and more information, check here.

Photos of artworks by Lois Stavsky

{ 0 comments }

We first came upon Queens-based Susan Spangenberg‘s infectiously intriguing aesthetic at Fountain House Gallery in Manhattan. Recently, we had the opportunity to spend some time with the lovely multi-talented artist, actor and writer:

When did you first begin doing art?

I was three years old when I started to draw. I hardly spoke. I expressed myself with crayons and pencils. I still remember drawing black circles and orange and yellow leaves. Art has always been my therapy — even back when I was three!

Had you any early inspirations?

Bugs Bunny! I’ve always loved rabbits, and, along with cats, they still play a prominent role in my artwork.

How has your family responded to your artistic bent?

My family was never supportive. No one encouraged me. My mother always belittled me. And no one exposed me to any art as I was growing up..

Have you any favorite artists?

Issa Ibrahim — whom I met when we were both patients at Creedmoor. I love everything he does, and he is a constant inspiration.

Have you any particular cultural influences?

I’m a mix of cultures with roots from the West Indies to India.

How much time do you generally spend on a piece?

I lose track of time when I’m working on a piece. The process of creating is far more important to me than the end result.

Have you any other passions – besides painting?

Acting, writing and feeding homeless cats!

We’ve seen your work  Fountain House Gallery and at Plaxall Gallery in Long Island City. You’ve exhibited in a range of other sites, as well. How important is the viewer’s response to your art?

It’s become important to me. I love it when somebody loves my work.

How has your aesthetic evolved within the past decade?

I have increasingly embraced my Indian roots and have even fashioned myself as an Indian goddess. As a child I was fearful of the goddess, as I saw my mom in her face.  But lately I feel a spiritual connection to her. My art has always been — and continues to be — intensely personal.

What percentage of your time is devoted to art?

I’m not sure. I find myself creating art mostly when I feel low. It’s a way of getting my feelings out. And it’s my way of coping. I have a painting in which I killed myself.  It was a safe way to end it all!

Are you generally satisfied with your final piece?

Not always! I’m very self-critical.

Have you a favorite setting to work?

Alone at home.

And your favorite media?

Pencils, crayons, pens and acrylics. Whatever’s available!

Where are you headed?

I’m currently working on finishing my memoir.

Good luck with that! We are certainly looking forward to it!

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

Featured images were photographed by Alyssa and Lois in the following locations: Fountain House Gallery  in Hells Kitchen; Fountain House Studio in Long Island City and Susan’s and Issa’s wondrous Jackson Heights-based Issues Gallery.

{ 0 comments }

Appy Lands, a tantalizing group exhibition featuring a range of sumptuous, dream-like images by female Aboriginal artists, remains on view at Olsen Gruin on Manhattan’s Lower East Side through April 14. Featured above is Tjala Tjukurpa – Honey Ant Story by the prolific Yaritji Young, who has been painting at the Aboriginal-owned and operated Tjala Arts since 2000. Several more images from Apy Lands follow:

Sylvia Ken, Seven Sisters, Acrylic on linen

Ken Sister’s CollaborativeSeven Sisters, Acrylic on linen, one of many works fashioned collaboratively

Mitakiki Women’s Collaborative, Seven Sisters, Acrylic on linen

Wawiriya BurtonNgayuku Ngura – My Country, Acrylic on linen

Yaritji Young, Tjala Tjukurpa – Honey Ant Story

Located at 30 Orchard Street, the gallery is open Tuesday – Saturday 11am – 6pm and Sunday 11am – 5pm.

Photos of images by Lois Stavsky

{ 0 comments }

We came upon self-taught artist Paula Brooks’s lyrical landscapes and inventive imagery during one of our early visits to the Living Museum. More recently, we’ve had the opportunity to speak to the distinctly talented and delightfully welcoming Queens-based artist.

When did you first start making art and what inspired you at the time?

I remember doing arts and crafts back in pre-school. But when I was about eight years old, I started to draw characters. I was inspired by the likes of Bambi and Winnie the Pooh. I loved Walt Disney’s characters.

Do any art-related childhood memories stand out?

Yes! I remember when I was in the fourth grade, I was asked to design the backdrop of a forest and trees for the school play. I also remember drawing a parakeet when I was 11 and painting a bird free-hand when I was 13. But I didn’t start to take art seriously until I was in my 20s — and since, it’s become a huge passion.

What happened in your 20s to change your relationship with art? 

When I was a patient at Creedmoor, I met Dr. Marton who invited me to the Living Museum. That’s where I met an entire community of artists. And as I continued to come here, I began to think of myself as an artist. Dr. Marton always encouraged me to express myself freely.

Have you any favorite artists who’ve influenced your aesthetic ?

I love the late American artist Georgia O’Keeffe.

What about cultural influences?

My Rastafarian background has played some  influence — in terms of my choice of colors and subject matter. My art feels like meditation. I get lost in it. It’s part of my healing process.

How long do you generally spend on a piece?

Anywhere from one day to one year —  with an average of two weeks to three months — working four days a week, five hours each day.

Are you generally satisfied with your finished piece?

Yes!

Have you a favorite?

I especially like “Bar Code.”

It’s quite different from most of your work that we’ve seen! How has your aesthetic evolved since you started coming to the Living Museum?

I’ve become more experimental. I use different techniques, and I’ve gotten better.

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

Yes. Many times in many different settings, including the Queens Museum of Art. The viewer’s response is important to me. I want to feel that my art inspires others.

Have you a favorite setting to work?

I love my space at the Living Museum, and I also like working outdoors in the courtyard of my residence.

What is your favorite media?

Painting with acrylics.

Any favorite colors?

I love green, and I love turquoise. Green is my absolute favorite. It’s the color of my first pair of sneakers I bought at Payless when I was 11!

How has your family responded to your artwork?

My mother and sister love it.

What are some of your other interests?

I like going to recovery meetings, and I love shopping, especially for shoes!

What’s ahead?

I want to keep having fun doing art! And I’d love to travel.This past year, a few of us from the Living Museum traveled to visit Switzerland’s Living Museum. I’d love to see more of the world.

Interview of Paula Brooks conducted by Lois Stavsky with City-As-School intern, Alyssa Torres; photos of artworks by Lois Stavsky 

Note: Paula Brooks is one of several Living Museum artists to be featured in Bonnie Astor‘s upcoming exhibition Journeys opening May 4, 7-10pm, at The Local NYC, 1302 44th Avenue in LIC.

{ 0 comments }