Writing on the Wall

After a June night of violence in PVD, many downtown business owners covered their surviving windows with plywood to protect them from being broken during anticipated protests. Local artists beautified the display by using the panels as blank canvases where portraits of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and messages of peace and justice emerged. The protests were peaceful and the panels unnecessary, but the art remains. They’re now displayed on Eddy Street, just across from the Biltmore Garage, where passersby can witness their messages.

Photo credit: Tess Lyons; art by @twobirds.Art, @diaryofaquarantinedartist, @coleseyeview, @mister.diablo, @_Happysloth_, @tattoovandal, @lunabadoula, @lizzysour, @96CYRI, @so.Roni, @naturalsnatural,  @lucidTraveler_Art, @joselin_0321, @Escoky, @_happysloth_, @brooxana,  @shelaughsxo, @martin_p292

Opinion – Stop Criticizing Shepard Fairey’s “RI Angel of Hope and Strength”

“RI Angel of Hope and Strength” by Shepard Fairey, 2020.
(Source: RIarts.org)

At her daily press briefing on April 25, RI Gov. Gina Raimondo announced an arts initiative, inviting anyone in whatever medium to submit original family-friendly work on a new website RIarts.org created for that purpose.

The governor said that she contacted internationally renowned artist Shepard Fairey and asked him to help by creating a work that inspired hope. “I just called Shepard Fairey a month or so ago, a few weeks ago, I can’t remember now. He’s a RISD grad and he’s a very well known artist. It was kind of the depths of this, to be honest, and I thought everybody could use a little bit of hope, so I asked him if he would volunteer his services and create an image that he thought would be hopeful, and this is what he came up with, like he says, to celebrate the courage of healthcare workers specifically, and generally symbolize the spirit of hope, strength, compassion and resilience. It’s all his artistry and I thought, and I think, it’s beautiful. To me, in addition to the fact that it’s a symbol of hope and strength, I see it and I feel it’s just really a nod to all of our first responders and healthcare workers, and a big thank you from us to them. It reminds me a little of Rosie the Riveter.”

“Andre the Giant Has a Posse” sticker by Shepard Fairey, 1989.

Fairey got his start as a student at RISD making guerrilla illustrations, most notably the “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” stickers created as a quick project in 1989, a seeming advertisement for nothing with no clear meaning that he sold for 10 cents each. The surreal incongruity of the “Andre” stickers caused them to appear everywhere, soon plastered on walls and street signs by admirers in many cities, participants in an anti-art mass in-joke subtly ridiculing the techniques and tropes of advertising: “Why does he need a posse, and why are you telling me?” Somewhere between Marcel Duchamp and Zen koan, “Andre” struck a nerve and became a memorable popular icon, widely recognized and frequently parodied. Beyond the community of artists (and sk8er bois) familiar with the “Andre” sticker, Fairey became far more well known in 2008 as the creator of the definitive campaign image of Barack Obama, the “Hope” poster.

Obama “Hope” poster by Shepard Fairey, 2008.

While he was alive
the actual André the Giant does not seem to have minded (nor even
noticed) the attention from Fairey, but after his death in 1993 his
estate demanded that Fairey stop selling anything referencing the
trademarked professional wrestling character name, forcing Fairey to
simplify and abstract the image to mostly just the eyes. Fairey
labeled the new version with nothing more than the word “OBEY,”
which became his new brand. In another nod to anti-commercialism,
that is a reference to the 1988 John Carpenter horror film They
, in which space aliens
infiltrate human society and use a secret transmitter to brainwash
people into being unaware of subliminal messages conveyed through
advertising, and the hero obtains sunglasses with “Hoffman lenses”
so he can see what is really happening, an
allusion to Swiss chemist
Albert Hofmann who discovered LSD. (Carpenter
wrote the screenplay under the pseudonym “Frank Armitage” as an
homage to
H.P. Lovecraft’s
consistent theme of the
“hidden world.”) The
film has since become a cult classic, with the aliens introducing
climate change – remember, this was in 1988 – to warm the earth
more like
their natural habitat.

The governor said that Fairey immediately agreed to her request and designed the “Rhode Island Angel of Hope and Strength,” an obvious evocation of the Statue of Liberty: a winged woman holding a torch, dressed in medical garb with a red cross emblem. The RI Arts website quotes Fairey: “This piece was created to celebrate the courage of healthcare workers specifically, and generally symbolize the spirit of hope, strength, compassion and resilience that we can all find in ourselves and share collectively.” The governor told Motif that no money changed hands and the work is royalty-free for any use.

There is an uncanny
resonance between Fairey’s most famous work, the Obama “Hope”
poster, and the heraldic seal of the State of Rhode Island, a fouled
anchor with the motto “Hope.” Seeking to found a bastion of
religious freedom, the earliest settlers of Rhode Island were
refugees of conscience escaping Massachusetts, and the seal (often
mistaken for a nautical allusion) is a canting reference to the
Epistle to the Hebrews
6:18-19 which, in the King James Version, describes those
“…who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before
us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and

There is enormous irony that Fairey, whose early work embraced anti-commercialism, now with his wife Amanda runs an advertising agency, Studio Number One, that draws a direct line from “Andre” to a client list including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Disney, Paramount, Universal, Warner Brothers, Adidas and Nike: “What started for Fairey with an absurd sticker he created in 1989 while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design has since evolved into a worldwide street art campaign. Heidegger describes this as Phenomenology – ‘the process of letting things manifest themselves.’” Given that Martin Heidegger is primarily remembered today as one of the most influential intellectuals of the 20th century who tragically manifested himself as an ardent Nazi, one suspects Fairey intends this as yet another joke.

In a revealing
interview conducted by Chris Nieratko of International Tattoo
in 1999, a decade
before the Obama poster would make his work instantly recognizable,
Fairey discussed that. “I always want to maintain the sense
of humor in it all. I think it’s real important that people can see
the humor in everything. And even though some people don’t see the
humor in the Stalin graphics or the Lenin graphics, people need to
realize they are not serious. You can’t insert obey giant’s face
next to that of a communist leader and hope that people pull the
message, ‘Communist, dead wrestlers should take over the world.’
There are those people that take it that way, that have such a
knee-jerk reaction to the colors that they automatically think it’s
negative. What’s so ironic though is that they are assaulted,
bombarded with Marlboro using the same colors as l am, but they don’t
get uptight over that. They should fear Marlboro way more than a dead
wrestler, that’s for sure. What I’m doing now is making fun of
propaganda and advertising utilizing the same devices at the same

RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity critical graphic showing “RI Angel of Hope and Strength” by Shepard Fairey, flanked by posters from Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini.

Right on cue two decades later, on Apr 28 the conservative research and advocacy group RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity issued a statement condemning Fairey’s angel as “a bastardization of the Statue of Liberty wearing a communist China-type cap and tunic, in a layout reminiscent of posters supporting fascist dictatorships of the past,” showing it flanked by early 20th Century fascist posters of Stalin, Hitler, and a figure representing Mussolini’s Italy, all with arms upraised in a similar pose. That’s a bizarre criticism, as Fairey’s female figure is wearing a nursing cap, complete with stripe, used since the 1800s as a formal part of the uniform to identify the educational pedigree of the wearer, each nursing school having its own distinctive cap. As anti-communist as one can get, the original inspiration for the nursing cap invented by Florence Nightingale was the nun’s habit, and to this day in British Commonwealth English it is common to describe a medical nurse, regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof, as a “nursing sister.”

Zeus of Smyrna in the Louvre Museum, with right arm upraised holding a thunderbolt.
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

human figure with an arm upraised holding a source of light is hardly
new, and it
very common in art. The Statue of Liberty itself was designed around
1870 and dedicated in 1886. An 1,800-year-old statue of Zeus found in
Smyrna can now be seen in the Louvre Museum
in Paris after a restoration in the 1600s gave it an upraised arm
holding a lightning bolt.

Currier and Ives lithograph showing artistic rendering of the Statue of Liberty the year before it was constructed.
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Even more galling, the simplistic artistic style favored by Stalin and Hitler, intended by them to make art uncomplicated and accessible to the average person, had been perfected by Americans in the 1800s not because of authoritarian forces of government but by the democratic impulses of commercialism. Currier and Ives, founded in 1857, advertised itself as “Publishers of Cheap and Popular Prints,” introducing Americans to mass-produced wall art sold for as little as 5 cents, printed by lithographic presses and then hand-colored by low-skill workers. Indeed, the firm published an artistic rendering of what the Statue of Liberty would look like a year before it was constructed.

Cover of The Saturday Evening Post from 1903 by George Gibbs, showing the late German chancellor Otto von Bismarck with his right arm upraised (holding his hat).
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

This style of American illustration arguably reached its pinnacle in The Saturday Evening Post, a weekly magazine founded in 1897 that made a household name of Norman Rockwell and used the work of many other famous American illustrators including J.C. Leyendecker and N.C. Wyeth; a 1903 cover by George Gibbs shows the late German chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, with his right arm upraised (holding his hat) in the red and black color scheme that Fairey describes as characteristic of Marlboro ads.

“Hope and Strength Woman” by Shepard Fairey for Amplifier.org.

The RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity statement also alleged the image “is nothing more than a slight modification of a prior work,” but Gov. Raimondo’s office confirmed to Motif the situation was the reverse: the original was made for RI but its public release was delayed at the request of the governor to coincide with the announcement of her arts initiative on Apr 25, while in the meantime Fairey asked for permission to adapt it to a more generic version for Amplifier.org that was released on Apr 10, the dates ordering giving the mistaken impression that RI got a knock-off.

On the day the governor released the Fairey image, she was asked by a reporter whether the young female figure, perceived as white, was unrepresentative of those of color, men and older. The governor defended the image: “First of all, I don’t know that you know that she’s white. It’s an image, and it’s a black and white and red thing. It’s art: you can look into it whatever you want to see. By the way, if somebody wanted to do another image, that’s exactly why I launched the whole other website. Hopefully other people will put up other images and that would be great.”

One need not like Fairey’s work, but asserting that it is somehow “a symbol of communist and fascist totalitarianism,” when it looks at least as much like The Saturday Evening Post or a Marlboro ad, is criticism grounded in plain ignorance of art history.

Hagiography or New Saints

Local Rhode Island artist Norlan Olivo will be displaying his work in the group show Hagiography or New Saints, at Distillery Gallery at 516 East 2nd Street, Boston. As a long-term resident of AS220, Olivo hopes to highlight Providence’s evolution as a collaborative arts community, while challenging some of Providence’s darker undertones. Providence on Fire, the title of Olivo’s first sculpture and political piece, is in response to Providence’s parking and ticketing system as it applies to economically disadvantage communities. The sculpture is a car cut in half and covered in parking tickets. It will be on display from March 6 through April 3. To learn more about Olivo and his upcoming shows, visit Instagram @yoonorlan

Artistic Expression: This pandemic is hitting artists where it hurts

Performance cancellations, while necessary, are having a very real impact on the income of local artists. On this page, we’ll compile a list of resources and fun stuff to help artists connect, support each other and express themselves. To add to this list, email news@motifri.com

Find a list of free resources, opportunities and financial relief opportunities for artists here: covid19freelanceartistresource.wordpress.com/?fbclid=IwAR2FhLt924rScJt2Hl4vMylXNFEDWyamcDhBmPjsWsYIJZ7mbHreC87j370

Rad Cat Crimson Al-Khemia insists that “the quarantine can’t stop the scene” and encourages artists to keep expressing themselves by posting videos of their performances with #TheRadRemedy.

Head Trick Theatre will help you take part in #TheRadRemedy. Email your idea of a theater performance or scene you’d like to perform and record to headtricktheatre@gmail.com.

Spoken word artist Christopher Johnson also suggests artists post videos of their performances with #SocialDistance.

An Ode to the Analog: The Linotype Daily project is part diary, part news filter and completely perfect

I am at DWRI Letterpress, and I am standing in front of a Linotype, the first automatic typesetting machine — a machine that Edison called the “Eighth Wonder of The World” — and over the whirring, clanking and spitting of its 3,000 moving parts, Dan Wood is explaining why it’s so wondrous, or in his words, “Completely insane! This started a whole new printing revolution: the second printing revolution after Gutenberg. Up until the 1880s, everything had to be handset — this machine made school textbooks affordable, and suddenly instead of two- or three-page newspapers you could have daily newspapers that were 20 or 30 pages long. It launched us into the information age.” At the turn of the century, the Linotype was a marvel of modern engineering; it was, in Dan’s words, “breathtakingly fast…and now it’s like, so, so slow.”

Dan would know. He’s the artist behind The Linotype Daily, and for 366 consecutive days (ending on Leap Day), he produced a new “print, card, pencil or other Linotype-created work” using this fin de siècle marvel. Dan’s website describes The Linotype Daily as “part diary, part news filter.” He had a number of print subscribers, and a spot in the World’s Fair Gallery,
but many encountered the project through the Instagram account @thelinotypedaily.

Dan’s daily posts toggled between the political (“PRESIDENT PARDONS WAR
CRIMINAL,”) and the personal (“TEENAGE WHISTLEBLOWER ALLEGES HER DAD ATE THE PEANUT BUTTER”), the local (“PRONK!”) and the national (“HONG KONG, BEIRUT, SANTIAGO! MILLIONS CONTINUE PROTESTS”). The voice of The Linotype Daily is that of a hard-nosed reporter of bygone days: authoritative and bombastic (“When you put it in print, people can’t hear my ‘every-sentence-is-a-question’ inflection”). The fonts, classic early-to-mid-century newspaper typefaces, carry a similar power, as does the printed word itself (“People think: ‘they wouldn’t print it if it wasn’t true.”).

There’s a wry irony in the juxtaposition between that authority and the content of the posts themselves, which reflect the dizzying, haphazard tone of our hyperactive news cycle (“THE WORLD IS STILL A MESS”). “It’s been such a weird year,” Dan says. “Day after day it’s worse and worse and everything is just so bizarre.” That absurdity comes out in the Daily,
sometimes as whimsy (a Democratic Debate scorecard modeled after an Olympic Figure Skating card), sometimes as despair (“I CAN’T KEEP UP!”), often as both.

Dan grabs a loose Daily from a nearby stack and passes it to me (“DEATH EATERS TRIUMPHANT! REPUBLICANS SILENT AS PURGES CONTINUE”). I run my fingers over the debossed letters as he muses: “I’m printing a hundred copies of this, but on the Instagram hundreds, thousands, whatever, all these people are going to see a digital replication of this
handmade thing, but because it’s handmade, they’re going to spend more time looking at it than if it were just, like, a meme. Which is a weird thing. But people like things that are handmade. The amount of time it took for you to make it seeps into its meaning somehow.”

Part of what makes The Linotype Daily intriguing is the allure of the tangible. The studio itself is a sensory playground: the lead bubbling in the crucible of the Linotype (in which old type slugs are melted and reborn); the chunk-chunk of the Heidelberg spitting out copies (“I can’t watch anyone using this machine because it looks like you’re sticking your hand in it,” Dan says, as he seems to stick his hand in it); the paper invitations and cards and posters that line the walls (including all 366 Linotype Dailies).

The studio is a veritable museum of archaic machinery, and the project is, to some extent, an ode to the analog. Making a single Linotype Daily took Dan between one and five hours: writing the post, setting the type, loading and operating the machines, selecting the typeface. Dan points to a card that says “IMPEACHED” — “This 96 point Gothic is a really weird typeface, it’s got this playful joy, it’s really strange.”

That so many people encountered and engaged with this staunchly old-fashioned art on social media adds a layer of irony that Dan seems both bemused and fascinated by: “It’s very, very strange.”

“[These days] there’s so much information that we’re not even capable of sorting through it … with the project it was kind of like … maybe taking the time to do this little thing will be a way to sort of navigate the information overload that we’re all living in.” Social media gave him a chance to turn that sorting, the processing of a chaotic year, into a dialogue with his audience. “I feel like speaking honestly is the artist’s only job,” Dan says. “Just doing that is creating some meaning. If you’re doing something you feel genuine about, other people will appreciate that.”

If you’d like to see The Linotype Daily irl, it will be part of a show at Galerie le Domaine (145 Wayland Ave, PVD), called “Our Ephemeral World: from Plants to Paper to Print,” on the first Gallery Night of 2020, March 19 from 6 – 8pm. The posts are also available for purchase through dwriletterpress.net

Royally Creepy Creations: Local artist Jesse King’s art will fuel your nightmares

Jesse King

Jesse King is a self-taught artist living in Rhode Island who turns ordinary children’s toys into freakishly ghoulish monsters. One of King’s creations was recently seen at an event hosted by PVD Horror to benefit The Providence Animal Rescue League. The creepy, razor-toothed bear was extremely popular among the crowd and left attendees wondering where they could see more of King’s work. King answers this question and more below in her interview with Motif.

Amanda Grafe: How would you describe what you do? 

Jesse King: I use my special effects artistry skills to transform ordinary toys into creepy creations. I have a growing inventory of unwanted dolls and stuffed animals that I acquire from thrift stores, friends and yard sales.  There is an abundance of unwanted porcelain dolls and toys out there. I see this as a unique way to rescue these objects from ending up in the landfill by repurposing them.

Sleep well!

AG: Besides stuffed animals and dolls, what other materials do you use?

JK: I use a variety of materials, but what I consistently use are liquid latex, paint, stage blood and a glue gun.  

AG: What is the process of creating like for you?

JK: I have a dedicated corner in my living room for my SFX art. It’s this awesome storage cube shelf that holds most of my supplies and it has an attached table. I take a “before” picture of the toy in its original form and think of how I could make it completely disturbing. Or I just start working on it and see where it takes me. I may start by melting and molding a bunch of sharp teeth from plastic or building many layers of liquid latex and tissue paper on the doll’s face depending on what look I’m going for. Or I might just do a three-step process that gives the dolls that old cracked look. I aim to make every creation one-of-a-kind. I am resourceful and have used body parts and pieces from other dolls or teddy bears. I once used a decapitated Barbie head to make a shrunken head look. Once I piece and mold everything together and blow dry what needs to be dried, I get to paint. The painting is my favorite part. I love mixing custom colors and blending them into my work. That’s when everything starts to come to life. I think finding a suitable outfit for a doll is the toughest part. Most of the time, I can just use the outfit they came with after I dye it a murky gray or brown color.  Sometimes, they just don’t have a suitable outfit so I’ve been known to shop the thrift store in search for the perfect outfit in the baby clothes section.  Once, I even debated bringing my creepy clown doll in with me to find an outfit that would fit him, but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself.  When everything else is completed on my creation, stage blood and a clear coat sealer are the final touches. I list my creation online with its own name and short back story.

AG: What first inspired you to begin transforming children’s toys into scary creatures?

JK: I’ve loved horror movies and books since I was a little kid. I’m a fan of made-up horror, gore, monsters and anything strange. I’ve loved special effects makeup for a long time. I used to do SFX makeup on people for practice and for Halloween. I even volunteered my services for a low budget movie one time. It was a lot of fun, but what I loved more than anything was creating my own gory prosthetics. I was so happy and content working on a dangling eyeball or a set of exposed ribs for hours. Then I just stopped doing SFX for years because I wanted to go back to school and get a “grown up” job. Life just got really busy and I never had the down time to be creative. I always missed doing SFX makeup, but I didn’t see how it could provide a good return on the investment of my time. I actually stumbled on the idea of creepy dolls by accident. In addition to my full-time job, I was selling stuff on eBay on the side. I used to watch YouTube videos to learn what kinds of products were selling online. One day, I came across a YouTube video about “Creepy Dolls that sold on eBay” and I was intrigued. I did not know that people collected creepy dolls! I guess I never even thought about it.  I’ve seen those “creepy dolls” at the stores around Halloween and I even own one but it never occurred to me that there are people who collect them year round! After this, I immediately started researching what kind of creepy dolls were selling and what people were looking for. I saw that people were transforming ordinary dolls into scary dolls and I knew right away, this was my niche! Soon after that, I was at a yard sale and this woman was selling a ton of dolls. I saw this as a sign and was so excited that I bought them all! I dug up my old special effects train case, ordered a new gallon of liquid latex and stage blood and I got to work! It was then that I discovered that I LOVE transforming dolls into my own works of horror art. It was the perfect kind of work for my introverted personality. Dolls don’t feel uncomfortable sitting for hours while I paint them. I don’t feel obligated to make casual conversation with them. Most importantly, I don’t feel like it is a liability to work on them. I don’t have to fear them having an allergic reaction to the materials and I can use a hot glue gun on their face and not worry about getting sued. When they are finished, I can spray them down with a clear coat of spray paint and not have to worry about them passing out …  just kidding on the last parts. I’ve always been responsible with my art, but it is so refreshing to be able to practice my art in a less demanding, quiet environment that is comfortable for me.

AG: Do you create by yourself or are other people involved in what you do?

JK: All my creations are made solely by me. My dog, Hank, likes to claim he is supervising me, but he really is just napping on the couch nearby.

AG: Are there any people in particular who you have learned from or have inspired you who work in a similar genre of art?

JK: I’ve always been a big fan of YouTubers, Glam and Gore and Ellimacs.  They are special effects makeup artists who create their own prosthetics and do mainly horror looks. I’ve learned some techniques from them. I also appreciate SFX makeup on films like “The Walking Dead” and ’80s horror movies like Nightmare on Elm Street, Poltergeist, Killer Klowns from Outer Space and I guess Puppet Master and Child’s Play are similar to my genre of art as well.

AG: What role does the horror genre play in your creative process?

JK: My creative process is primarily based on horror. I aim to create cringe-worthy art that reminds you of being a kid and imagining a monster lurking under your bed. Almost every creation looks better with some more blood.  

AG: What is your favorite horror movie?

JK: I don’t have a particular favorite movie. I’m a big fan of monster, zombie, vampire and paranormal movies. It’s fascinating to me to see a creature that was once in someone’s imagination come to life in a movie or a work of art. My favorite generations of horror are the ’80s through ’90s.  This is when, in my opinion, horror movies were actually scary. There were a ton of handmade special effects that were just creative, messy and scarier than a lot of cookie cutter scenes that are digitally done today. There was something disturbing about a real person actually being behind the monster on the screen.

AG: What are you trying to say with your work?

JK: There is nothing more powerful than the imagination. You’re never too old to play with toys.

AG: How is your work meant to contribute to the world of art?

JK: They are a fun escape for people who enjoy horror and appreciate the art of transforming an ordinary object into something dark and creepy. My creations are an awesome way for horror collectors to creep out their friends or trick or treaters on Halloween. I’d like it to be that I can contribute to keeping handmade horror art alive in a generation where everything is CGI or digitally done.

AG: Where can we find more of your work?  

JK: Follow me on Facebook and Instagram @RoyallyCreepyCreations and visit my Etsy shop at Royally Creepy or use the web address: etsy.com/shop/royallycreepy to see what’s for sale.

Masc.: Exploring the power dynamics of gender-driven domination

Set amid the quaint taverns and curio shops that line lower Thames Street, Coastal Contemporary Gallery is an anomaly in the tourist town of Newport. When Shari Weschler opened her gallery in May 2018, she also opened the door to a world of art that was a distinct departure from the usual seascapes and souvenirs. Today, Coastal Contemporary is forging a link between the traditional and the avant-garde, with works that have questions to ask and stories to tell.

The March show, “Masc.,” features a multi-faceted mix of six national and international artists who question the ways in which people make space. “Masc.” explores the power dynamics of gender-driven domination. Co-curator and artist Mike White liked the idea of the term masculinity being abbreviated. “It does not necessarily center on men, per se, but rather on a way of inhabiting space, society and one’s own head.” White’s “Leg Waxing,” a photo still from a video performance, is a surreal voyeuristic view: two figures frozen in time, in a power dynamic that defies definition. His free standing duo, “Under Pressure: Self Portrait and Portrait of Julia,” is a play on the force of weight in gender. The original sculptures were made from a 100-year-old wooden beam; they’ve been re-created with stone and bronze for this show. 

There is a monumental weight to the memories and impressions that fuel all of the artists. The imagery can be stark, sometimes chilling on impact; a sense of personal history permeates “Masc.” The naked white plaster of Hillel O’Leary’s ___ is where the ___ is, looks eerily like skin draped over a spare wooden frame, a home inhabited by ghosts that hide their truth. It is a reflection of O’Leary’s childhood, a Jewish family in an American White Neighborhood: “When my parents bought our first house in the suburbs, there was a swastika scrawled inside of it.”

This show is presented in honor of Women’s Month, which is ironic given that Rose Keefe’s painting, “My Favorite Wife,” presents a cozy picture in which men casually chat by a fire while only fractured remnants of women can be seen. One gentleman’s shoulder is stroked from behind by a disembodied hand, while behind another, a Rubenesque model is flattened against the wall in a frozen vignette of force and rape. The conflict between women’s natural functions and the shame and secrecy that male perception brings to them is seen clearly in Laura Jaramillo’s “First Blood” It has a visual impact that will hit every woman right between the legs.

PeiXin Liu’s Chinese/Canadian multicultural identity is a source of inspiration for many of her works; “Invisible Empowerment Chair” displays a disconnect between co-existing values. “My empowerment is not a constant, but it is something that I constantly have to work for.” A graceful bronze stalk exudes a solemn sadness in Renee Yulin’s work “Renee and the Sea of Flowers.” The isolation of women and of “other” in our society is something that is felt more than seen.

Weschler takes risks at Coastal Contemporary. She shows art that speaks beyond the concept/goal of the sale. She also makes a point of providing a launching-point for artists at every level of career. Contemporary, conceptual, traditional, old school, graffiti and installation all come together at CCG.  

Weschler arrived at the role of gallery owner and director after years of experience in art and exhibition. She understands the ins and outs of both talent and representation. As a figural narrative painter, she exhibits nationally and internationally. Her curatorial experience began in the 1990s and carried through to becoming partner and director at Coastal Living Gallery in Wickford and Warren, RI. Today, Weschler represents over 30 national and regional artists, with a growing list of guest artists. She directs 12 shows a year, rotating exhibitions on a 3 week schedule until the summer salons, during which up to 30 artists exhibit. 

­­“Masc.” runs thru March 30 with an opening event on Friday, March 13, from 5:00 – 8:00 PM, with guest DJ Eli Backer. An after party is planned at Top Of The Pelham in Newport, from 9pm-1am. DJ Eli and Mike White will also be projecting their videos on a loop at the venue.

Visit Coastal Contemporary Gallery at 491 Thames Street in Newport. For more information, go to coastalcontemporarygallery.com

Art in Providence: The Man with the Red Mohawk

“The Man with the Red Mohawk”
(Credit: @fuckpat Instagram)

A group of us were
walking down Empire Street in Downcity around 8:30pm on a Saturday
night, and we saw a van, admittedly parked in a no-parking zone,
right outside AS220. Our attention was captured by two items: one a
hand-lettered cardboard sign on the dashboard explaining that the
owner of the van was homeless and asking not to be ticketed, and a
bright orange Providence parking ticket under the windshield wiper.
The incongruity motivated Motif publisher Mike Ryan to take a
photo, expressing the opinion that it had been “a dick move” to
issue that ticket.

Around 11:30pm, I was walking back alone in the other direction and saw the side doors of the van open with a young man sitting amidst an array of art on the sidewalk he was hoping to sell, mostly silk-screened canvases. That was dedication: The temperature was in the mid-30s and headed lower, and it was nearly midnight. I was wearing an insulated hat and gloves, but he had a simple knit cap and no gloves.

I asked about the
parking ticket. “Yeah,” he said with an air of resignation but
hardly defeat, “Now I gotta pay that, too.” How often does he get
parking tickets? “It happens.”

Pat’s van
(Credit: Mike Ryan)

He told me his name is Patrick Oliveira. He is 20 years old and has been making art since he was in middle school, half his life so far. His Instagram account with over 4,700 followers has a name that, while iconoclastically uncommercial, seemed in perfect ironic synchrony with that parking ticket: @fuckpat.

As we were talking, a woman excitedly ran up, introduced herself as Michelle, and said that her husband had told her she had to go see the man with the red mohawk. Confusion momentarily ensued as neither Pat nor I sport a mohawk, red or any other color, and as noted both of us were wearing hats. It turned out the “man with the red mohawk” was for sale, made from a photo Pat had taken and then enhanced onto canvas. Michelle fell in love with it and asked the price.

Pat, I could see, was struggling with the terrible agony that has afflicted artists since at least Michelangelo: ask too little and the work is undervalued, but ask too much and they’ll just leave the ceiling blank. It was also his first sale of the day, he later told me, after many hours earlier on Thayer Street. He asked for $80.

Michelle agreed,
subject to a condition: she wanted to hang it in her dining room but
Pat had to sign the canvas so that it would be more valuable “when
you become famous like Shepard Fairey.” He apologized because he
had nothing with which to sign it. Neither did she.

“I can solve that
problem,” I said, pulling a black Sharpie clone from my pocket and
handing it to Pat. He duly signed the canvas, and the sale was

That was, indeed, how Shepard Fairey got his start, selling individual pieces, such as T-shirts silk-screened by hand, a few feet away from that exact spot.

I don’t think Pat bought into any expectation that he would “become famous like Shepard Fairey,” but he signed the canvas anyway. Art is art if it speaks to people, and The Man with the Red Mohawk was good, captivatingly good in a way that embodies life in Providence as much as that parking ticket.

I told Pat to keep
the Sharpie clone in case he was asked to sign anything else.

Art Trolleys ‘Graduate’ to Downtown Hotel Hub: Gallery Night Providence has a new home

The trolley shuttle service of Gallery Night Providence has a new launching point — one that may give even more visibility to the city’s free art tour.

Last year, Gallery Night trolleys picked up and dropped off at Regency Plaza Apartments in Providence; they’ll now be rolling up Dorrance Street to the front door of the Graduate Providence hotel, formerly the Biltmore, to usher art enthusiasts to local galleries, museums and cultural events.

Alyssa Ann Heller, Gallery Night coordinator, says she sees the change of venue as a win for program visibility, as well as easier access.

“Being at the Graduate,” Heller says, “we’re also able to do more walking tours and more biking tours in the nicer weather. We’ll be able to introduce people to a wider variety of galleries downtown.”

Gallery Night’s partnership with the Graduate reflects, Heller says, a synergy of local businesses that benefits the arts and Providence as a whole.

A spokesperson for the Graduate Providence attested to the hotel’s excitement at partnering with Gallery Night: “We’re proud to be supporting Providence’s robust arts community by providing a welcoming home base. We encourage [Gallery Night] attendees to utilize the free trolley pick-up, conveniently located right outside our front doors, and stay with us to experience the locally inspired artwork we have right here in our hotel.”

This coming March, Gallery Night begins its 24th year of operation, with approximately two dozen galleries expected to participate.

Founded as a non-profit in 1996 by artists Paula Martiesian and Teresa Level with gallery owner Cathy Bert, Gallery Night Providence takes place on the third Thursday of every month from March to November. At no cost and with no need for pre-registration, people can board a trolley for a gallery tour or, if they choose, take self-guided tours.

Part of the goal of Gallery Night, says Heller, is to make art galleries and museums more accessible to the general public. You don’t need an art degree to attend Gallery Night, Heller notes, and the evening won’t conclude with a quiz: “You don’t need any art experience, or even know what primary colors mean.”

Instead, says Heller, Gallery Night is an informal, relaxed way to meet people, interact with artists and gallery owners, and experience the vibrant cultural life of the capital city.

“I consider art to be successful if it sparks a conversation,” Heller says. “If you have something to say, then the art was successful.”

While Gallery Night Providence officially begins in March, the organization will hold an inaugural fundraising event on Saturday, Feb 29, from 2 – 6pm at Sprout CoWorking in Rising Sun Mills (166 Valley St., Building 6M, Providence). People of all ages are welcome to come, free of charge, to meet artists and gallery owners and enjoy live music.

For more information about Gallery Night Providence, visit their website at gallerynight.org

A Grand Adventure in Nature Photography at Common Fence Point Center

Deidra Ricci, founder of Grand Adventure Nature Photography, held her first show at the Common Fence Point Center for Arts, Wellness and Community in Portsmouth on Sunday, December 8. Deidra’s captivating stills graced the walls of the center in the form of canvas, framed prints and postcards. Deidra, a travel enthusiast, used the catch phrase “photos from as far as Alaska, to right down the street” to help define her show to spectators as a range of scenery from intriguing journeys to the uniquely familiar. 

“It is a pleasure having Deidra’s work at the hall,” said Lee Ferreira, member of the arts group at Common Fence Point. “She is a neighbor who has taken great photos, many of which highlight the neighborhood.” Since 2016, Common Fence Point, a non-profit organization, has been showcasing local artists and musicians. Recently, Common Fence Point Center upgraded their venue by adding gallery lighting, classrooms for teaching theater and art, and purchasing concert equipment for music shows. The beautifully designed building is not only a great addition to Portsmouth, but was constructed while keeping in mind with the goal: to maintain a healthy, happy, and resilient community. By owning a house right next store, Deidra was the perfect candidate to uphold the Common Fence Point mission. 

Deidra Ricci poses in front of some of her works from Rhode Island
at Common Fence Point Center.

Deidra spoke highly of her time taking photographs locally. She did not hesitate in acting out her routine of moving back and forth while pretending to hold her camera. She even mentioned getting down and dirty to take some photos of the Newport Bridge. The budding photographer claims, “God sets the scene, I just take the picture,” but does admit that her part in capturing these aesthetic masterpieces lies in their composition.  Her strengths, her admirers say, is her ability to add depth to her photos through her special attention to her subject in the foreground. Her photos from Alaska, Wyoming, Idaho, South Dakota, Maine and Rhode Island all have at least one enchanting use of this type of configuration. 

Though Deidra had been taking pictures for years, it wasn’t until commemorating a recent trip to Alaska in the form of scrapbooking that gave her the confidence to share her work with others. For her, spending time carefully curating pieces for this project sparked revelation — she began to see her photographs as works of art, each with its own history. For Deidra, the photos became more than just a snapshot in time, but each a conduit for telling a story – her story.  It is for this reason that Deidra does not yet title her work. She wants her viewers to create their own fiction – or truth — from what they see.  

Deidra’s works will be on display at Common Fence Point Center December 2019 – January 2020, 933 Anthony Rd, Portmouth. For venue inquiries, contact Lee Ferreira by e-mail at leemcph@hotmail.com; for more information on Grand Adventure Nature Photography, contact Deidra Ricci by e-mail at grandadventurenature@gmail.com.