Trenton Art Puzzle

Walking in, I scan around and see mostly unfamiliar, but not unfriendly, faces. There’s Frank at the other side of the bar, he’s looking crusty and sour, but still has a nod for me as I pass through to the dining room. I’m alone, but used to that these days. I know I’m welcome here. In that space, I continue my search for the tall, hairy fellow I am supposed to meet. We are looking to talk about the future, and what we can do with it. But, he’s nowhere to be found. Instead I see a trio of acquaintances. They’ve come to talk about the future, too. It seems we all have that on our minds these days. How to shape it. How to make it better. I sit with them and get drawn into their conversation about an opportunity to work together to bring ideas to fruition. Well, the hairy man never arrived, but in the end, I think that was the meeting I was meant to have.

Several more trips to worn leather couches with a rotating crew of perspectives led to the conception of the Trenton Art Puzzle. “We need something to bring people together,” we said. “We need to activate our city spaces in a way that makes people feel safe.” “We need to feel that we are a part of a bigger whole.” “We need to recognize the assets that we have and to celebrate and develop them.”

Bruce had joined me at this point. He was enamored by the shape of Trenton and saw its potential as an icon. And so, the idea of the Trenton Art Puzzle was born.

It took many rounds of proposals to realize it, but finally, the #IamTrenton Foundation and Isles, Inc. came through with grant support. A stipulation was that the project must take place primarily in the Old Trenton Neighborhood, an area that encompasses roughly nine square blocks of the city from Route 1 to Broad Street and Perry Street to East State Street and is designated as a new arts district.

In the Trenton Art Puzzle, each participant gets their own wooden puzzle piece to paint. Is it really theirs, they wonder? Well, yes, they will get to keep it when the project is all said and done. But until then, it belongs to the whole and Bruce and I are its stewards.

Each puzzle piece is a 2 foot square with the outline of Trenton routed out in the middle. On it, the painter can share their connection to the neighborhood. The people, the landmarks, the memories, and the vision. It could be abstract, it could be an actual time and place. Ultimately, what they paint doesn’t matter as much as personal reflection, the act of painting, and being a part of something big.

My connection to the Old Trenton Neighborhood stems from the Windows of Soul project by SAGE Coalition. I had been a part of Windows of Soul since its inception on E. Hanover St. by providing large scale reproductions of my original artwork for wheat-pasting on the the boarded up windows. In 2014, the location was several buildings on Stockton St. and my contribution was a detail from a painting I had done of the Peruvian singer Yma Sumac, who had an extraordinary voice that could reach over 4 octaves.

20180724_173527
My puzzle piece in process. It shows my artwork being pasted to a building on Stockton St. during Windows of Soul.

So far during the Trenton Art Puzzle, we have spent two, hot afternoons being a part of the pageantry of a city that is down on its luck but hasn’t given up. Many passersby stopped to ask us what we were doing, asked how they can be a part of it, and reminisced about their own experiences. I even got a salsa lesson.

Here are a few photos of those days:

 

 

From October 5 – 26, 2018 the pieces – hopefully 200 of them – will be exhibited at the BSB Gallery where everyone is invited to see how their puzzle piece fits into a massive installation that should cover most of the floor. Visitors will be able to mix and match the pieces.

Before then, we have more paint sessions planned where anyone can come paint:

Tuesday August 7 from 4 – 8 pm
As part of a National Night Out party sponsored by Isles, Inc.
Located on Wood St (between Montgomery and Stockton Streets) Trenton

Tuesday Sept 18 from 2 – 6 pm
At the Orchid House
134 E. Hanover St, Trenton

Grand Opening Reception at the BSB Gallery
143 E. State St., Trenton
Friday, October 5 from 4 – 7 pm

Introducing Visual Stream Gallery Collective

AKA my “accountability” circle

Yes, I have a more than full-time job running a nonprofit. Yes, I have a family to manage (on my own) with two amazing sons. Yes, I have a love relationship to maintain. Yes, I make art. And yes, I decided to add the formation of a new gallery collective in my hometown of Lambertville, NJ. What made me think that this would be a good idea knowing that my plates are spinning out of control atop their poles?

WeakMistyAfghanhound-size_restricted

You know, sometimes you just feel compelled to do more. I’m happiest when my art takes a front seat, so I’m just filling up the bench seat of my boat station wagon and doing the mom arm in hopes that we all end up at that picnic by the ocean in one piece.

But more than that, since Visual Stream is a collective venture, it provides me with a built-in group of folks to be “in it” with. And I need that. I need group accountability and a community to work for. Each of us brings a different perspective and set of strengths to the project. We are bigger than the sum of our parts. I’m excited to make this venture successful, not just for me and my happiness, but for all of us who have so much to share.

Bruce Lindsay and I have spent the last few years supporting and encouraging each other in the development of our art. As partners in life, we share a love for the arts and for sculpture in particular. Bruce’s sculpture is elegant and well-made. Having been trained as a foundry-man and having worked with many well-known and emerging artists, he has a keen eye and attention to detail that I have rarely seen. His knack for seeing interest and beauty in objects and forms is apparent in his sculpture as he recombines forms or focuses on one particular aspect, but showing it to us in a new way. In the last few years he has also started experimenting with 3D printing and pushing the results of that technology into an artistic realm. Bruce lives and has his sculpture studio in Trenton. There, he not only makes his own work, but his business is to assist other artists in the production of sculpture. Together and individually we have invested a lot of time into the Trenton arts community. Our next big project will be to facilitate a community arts project called the “Trenton Art Puzzle” that has been funded by the #I Am Trenton Foundation! More on that another time…

Alia Bensliman also has ties to Trenton as it was at Artworks that she says she first met many of the local artists who she now calls friends. She has shown her fine detailed drawings in several exhibitions and has also sold her recycled paper jewelry at Trenton venues including Ellarslie, the Punk Rock Flea Market, and more. I met Alia when she submitted artwork to a juried show at the West Windsor Arts Center. She was encouraged to apply by some Trenton friends, and I’m so glad she did and that we met. She is a kindred spirit and I admire the depth and care she puts into everything she does.

Kathleen (Kat) Hurley Liao and I met also in Trenton – I can’t even remember where anymore because since then our lives have intersected in many ways. On any given (or every given) Saturday afternoon you will find Kat in her element at the Candlelight Lounge, soaking in the live jazz from great musicians and inspiring Kat with their intricate sounds. Kat is the type of artist who you sometimes wonder if she is a time-traveler coming from another decade, either forward or back. Her work is classic and experimental and she has a relationship with each one. They “talk” to her and you can tell it’s a love affair.

Howard Michaels I met when he had a solo show at Trenton Social, a rite of passage for artists in the Trenton “renaissance”. His work was colorful and playful, and so was he. As a retired school teacher, Howard has that kind of enthusiasm and curiosity that is infectious. One of my favorite works of his at the gallery right now is “Funky Tut”. If you get the chance, you should ask him to tell you the story…

So as you can see, all of us have connections to another river town, Trenton. As the Delaware connects the two, so do we, flowing back and forth in our visual stream.

The soft opening of Visual Stream Gallery Collective will be Saturday April 28, 2018 during Shad Fest from 4 – 7 pm at 7 N. Main St, Lambertville, NJ.

Buckle up!