New Groundswell mural vivifies East Williamsburg; really makes ya think

Early last week, I took a short walk down Manhattan Ave to its terminus at Broadway. It was a nice walk—in part because, on a morning this hot, I found myself actually enjoying being in the shadow of those 2,700-unit Lindsay Park cooperative housing buildings. But mostly it was because I knew what awaited me at the end: not one, but two!, beautiful and moving public murals by NYC’s own Groundswell, a nonprofit that’s been bedecking the city with gorgeous, socially-conscious public art, painted by teams of professionals and city kids, for 20 years.

I’ve been admiring the first mural I passed, “I Just Want To Come Home,” since it went up in 2015. A “contemporary blues piece,” according to the organization, the painting’s moody color scheme and kaleidoscopic arrangement of faces  within the letters of its title make it at once an arresting, calming, and haunting visual experience. With the knowledge that its purpose is to illustrate the complex relationships between police, young men of color, gentrification, incarceration, and a sense of safety and belonging, that experience is enriched many-fold.

Then I turned the corner onto Broadway and joined the dedication ceremony for Groundswell’s newest art project in our ‘hood: “The Fall of Oppression” (so new, it looks like Groundswell’s yet to put it on their website!). It’s a pretty fascinating work.

You can read my write-up of the whole dedication experience—complete with tear-jerking quotes from the lead artist, Groundswell’s program director, and our city council district rep—on Bushwick Daily.

My renewed thanks to all of you for keeping Williamsburg an enjoyable and educational place to live, paint, and walk. And for continuing to fight that good fight.

Readers: Tell me about your favorite public art!

“Knitting is Sitting for Creative People”

I just Googled “knitting jokes” and that came up. Pretty good, ay?

I also know it to be true, because I spent most of the day last Sunday in Gowanus with the good people of Knitta as we attempted to cover two white Ford trucks and a grip of cardboard boxes in loops of yarn.

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Grace and me with much yarn

What I didn’t know going into this was… pretty much anything. My friend Grace only told me she was going to “help out with an art installation involving yarn” and that they needed extra hands. Sure!

At 9:00 am, when I arrived at the production warehouse that would be our staging area, people were already busy spreading out big yarny expanses to sort them by pattern.

As the unfurling continued, I began to suspect something…

Wait—this was going to be a vodka ad!

Well, so be it. Lesson number one.

The twenty or so of us crafty types got to work plastering the trucks and covering the boxes, which would later get stacked in the back like presents.

The skilled knitters among us did the heavy lifting of actually knitting things together when that was called for; the others (like me) took turns whip stitching, hot gluing, and velcro-taping the fibers into place.

Our fearless leader, Magda Sayeg, a not-quiet woman in big eyeglasses, would be my lesson number two: she’s the mother of yarn bombing, people!! It was an awesome trip to hang out and get guidance from a real street art luminary all day. Also fun: although Magda looks like she’s about 20 years old, her two kids showed up at one point. They were very nice, and I think they’re in high school!

It was satisfying to watch our collective labor start to add up to something as the day wore on, and I was also stoked to see about one-third dudes making up the itinerant knitting crew. Yeah, fellas! We all chatted and snacked on really delicious Amy’s Cheddar Bunnies and listened to dreamy dance music as we worked. The time passed quickly.

Ergo, lesson number three: Doing crafty stuff is meditative and fun, even when you have to keep staring at a vodka hashtag.

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Knitta circle

Bonus points: on my bike ride home, the best Brooklyn sunset! Shots straight from the phone:

Sines in the ‘hood

I’m super myopic, and I only moved to Williamsburg a couple of months ago, so I might have just been missing this awesome Frank Ape by the artist Sines on Lorimer and Meserole Streets… until today.

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Yeah, Frank!

I’m a fan, both of Brandon Sines and of what I take to be Frank’s life philosophy, so I was cheered to see it.

It also reminded me that I accompanied my Polaroid-snapping friend Crazy Nick to an art battle in Dumbo last year and we tried to get an article published about the experience. I don’t think anyone bit, so I’m happy to publish it here, six months after the fact, for whoever might still get a thrill:

Dumbo Arts Festival Art Battle Intense, Danceable
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Funny that one of the stipulations of the Secret Walls art battle at Dynomighty Design last Saturday [September 27, 2014] was that the competing illustrators use only black ink on white canvasses, because the color in the room was off the chart. At least 50 many-splendored folks showed up to watch Abe Lincoln Jr. and Brandon Sines square off with markers and paint for 90 minutes.
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As I wandered the gallery floor, the rainbow unfurled: a curly-haired baby with gold earrings bopped between big Keith Haring-esque paintings, strapped to a mom in a black sleeveless pantsuit with a red bra visible underneath. A tall black dude in a bright yellow “No Money, No Honey” t-shirt danced to the DJ’s Paula Abdul and Toto tracks. The emcee grew a waxed mustache, the ladies wore red lipstick, and the ratio of tie-dye shirts to spiderweb elbow tattoos throughout the crowd was probably one to one.
Meanwhile, Sanford King Sizes flew like inky stick insects and wet paintbrushes cried grayscale across the canvasses as the artists sweated ’til the timer dinged: the judging hour. A pale bald guy and a guy in hot pink glasses (both art world hot shots) were called upon to deliver their critiques and rulings, and the crowd listened before getting their own votes measured by a decibel meter. As is often the case, minds were split: the critics went for Abe Lincoln, and the people sided with Sines.
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Sadly, there can be only one. But the guys took it like pros, and everyone still danced afterward, before tripping back out into the afternoon sun.