nyc artists

The Nature of Shapes

Rebecca Norton is a Brooklyn-based artist whose work ranges from paintings to sculpture and video. Rebecca's work shows complex movement through color and space, drawing inspiration from geometry. She uses equations specifically from affine geometry (parallel projection from one plane to the other) which add a sense of dimension and creates a world where objects seem to appear suspended in space, leaving the viewer in a state of wonder. In the variety of ways that Rebecca uses to express herself, each serves as an inspirational work of art. 

Enclosed Operetta,  oil on linen, tryptic (3 canvases), 64" x 27" each, 2014

Enclosed Operetta, oil on linen, tryptic (3 canvases), 64" x 27" each, 2014

AH: I know that you have lived in LA and now NYC, do you find the art world to be much different to navigate in one place than the other?

RN: I do not think the worlds of art are much different coast to coast. In both cities, emerging artists are creating spaces to gather and share work while established galleries, with their national and international art stars, keep an eye on the emerging scenes to see who may hold promise for their standards of artistic professionalism. During my time in Los Angeles I felt that, for the most part, the art scene was not ready or willing to embrace the kind of work I do. This has not been the case in New York. It took hardly any time or effort to find people who are genuinely interested in my practice. Additionally, in New York, I have found myself engaged in more critical discussions and theories that are beyond questions concerning the art market and academic art history. Perhaps I’ve just met a larger number writers living here than on the west coast, or maybe their publications are easier to come by than those who are living and working in LA. This has been important in the evolution of my studio and writing projects. Additionally, being in conversation with individuals whose interests overlap mine has provided me with some validation as to what I do. My worries about becoming some estranged thinker tinkering with zany obsessions in perspectival geometries has, in the last few years, subsided, at least a bit. I don’t think I have a large audience, but given the depth of interest from the contacts I’ve made, I’ve come to respect the idea of being a niche artist. It’s a position that I liken to an author or illustrator of a weird genre, rather than a professional visual arts exhibitor in the broader art world. I occasionally go out to openings and museums, and I keep up with articles published in art journals and magazines, but, overall, I don’t concern myself too much with what's happening in the markets or with artists dominating the contemporary scene. It takes up time that I would rather spend with my work and the work of like-minded people. That being said, I should like to point out that many of my contacts have not come by way of being present in this city or LA. They are people whose writings I find while researching and whom I’ve reached out to via email. But, as for living in New York, it just so happens that they either live here, or visit more often than they do Los Angeles, providing me with opportunities to meet face to face.

AH: In what ways does your work represent the times we are living in?

RN: One simple answer would be to say that the technology I have been using in some of the digital pieces dates the work. The house scans used to compose the video "Wandering Through Childhood" were taken with a mobile scanner device, the Structure Sensor. I use a version that has not been updated since I received the scanner for Christmas, 2014. This piece of equipment gave me the opportunity to explore a new kind of documentation that I think will become more common as virtual reality devices make their way into our homes. The glitches in the meshes made from the Structure Sensor scans create some strange and wonderful moments wherein spaces and objects do not line up. It humors me to know that Wandering Through Childhood will look behind the times as advances in technology improve a mobile scanner’s ability to map our world in dense geometries.

Two Dogs,  digital print, 18" x 27", 2015

Two Dogs, digital print, 18" x 27", 2015

The 2-dimensional work maps perspectival geometries that, I believe, can help us imagine objects and spaces endowed with richer topologies and complex movements. I try to compose visual representations of complex systems that I read about in science and mathematical publications by contemporary thinkers, not only as a means to bridge a discussion with them but also to extend their studies into elements which can later be understood in visual terms. For example, according to the German-born French mathematician Alexander Grothendiek, by emphasizing the primacy of space over a point, a mathematical architecture for a point could be visualized in such a way that our thoughts about the meaning of a physically spatial location is expanded.  A model such as this proposes that the significance of a point depends on the geography and the maps that surround it. Through such models, we can begin to assemble a vision of an interconnected world. Such thinking may change how we consider and construct spaces of social interaction. Overall, I think this reflects a shift in how we are thinking about our presence as humans with our environments -- we want to understand the relationships between the local and global, and our impact as active beings in our communities.

Mer,  oil on canvas, 14" x 14", 2012

Mer, oil on canvas, 14" x 14", 2012

AH: How do you use the elements in your paintings to communicate a message?

RN: I am uncomfortable with the idea that my work is meant to convey a message. I work with ideas, and try to visualize complex spaces and movements to see what kinds of activities will emerge in the process. This, I think, is different from a practice imbued with symbolic elements meant to be decoded. The paintings are composed with generic elements—line, color, light and space. They are meant to be contemplative, and most refer to a subject or place that has in one way or another induced a moment’s silence in me.

The first paintings were experimentations to see what kind of compositions affine geometry produced when mapped and painted onto the surface of a canvas. These geometries, which map the “free movements” of an object, produce an asymmetrical composition. According to Gottfried Semper, in his book "Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts" (1860-62), an asymmetrical pattern on a symmetrical object appears to force its way out of the constraints of the symmetrical border. In the paintings, the geometries were not only highly active, due the this contrast noted by Semper, but also, in some cases, appeared to distort the rectilinear frame of the object. Through the years I moved from working solely with the object as subject of optical illusion to the object in its environment to see how the object and its surface activity interact with elements in a physical location. One instance of this occurs when architectural shadows drift across the surface of a painting. Parallel lines cast by architectural shadows causes the geometries to appear as if they are moving and shifting. This caused me to wonder how the surfaces of larger solid structures would appear if their facades were painted with these abstractions. Would shadows from structures and objects in vicinity to one another cause the appearance of a solid mass to dissolve into its environment?

Each painting asks a new question. The progression of the work has been that one leads to the next and so on. I suppose you could say that I am interested in opening doors for perceptual play and insight. Also, I like to remind people that painting and mathematics, particularly geometry, never stop losing their wonder. All it takes is an investment of time, sincerity, and diligent practice.

AH: How would you describe your process of starting with your initial concept and how you navigate yourself through the work? Is your process very structured or loose?

RN: It's both structured and loose. Each piece starts with a specific generative set of rules based on its reference. For instance, while painting When Riding I was thinking about the acceleration and vibrations one feels when riding a motorcycle. To capture the sense of speed, a very small affine constellation was drawn near the center left of the painting. This was to serve as a vanishing point on an invisible horizon, the lines emanating from it creating a vectorial space that sucks a person in. Colors from the southern Californian landscapes (where the motor rides were taken)  are painted around this “point” and expand out towards the edges of the canvas. The blue abstraction on the center right is supposed to represent the seat of the bike, vibrating and somewhat solid as if it were a structure that a person could feel one’s weight on. The iridescent whites on the lower third of the composition rotate as would the wheels of a vehicle, hardly perceptible because the wheels, driving us forward on some afternoons up to 150 miles per hour, would feel as if they simply vanished beneath the seat.

When Riding,  oil on canvas, 72" x 26.5, 2011

When Riding, oil on canvas, 72" x 26.5, 2011

The piece sounds very thought-out, but I just gave you the overview of what is occurring in the finished composition. I never know what a painting will look like when I begin. I never use a computer to draw out a composition or play with color. I measure distances in a blank canvas space, abstract objects into basic geometric compositions, imagine light sources, and from there delineate the structures of lines in a way that I think may best present an interpretation of an experience. I’ve been mapping certain geometries for over five years now, and still I never know exactly where each set of parallel lines will be set until after the space is mapped out. From the very beginning I start with unpredictable arrangements. Color makes the process more capricious.

AH: Can you describe your style evolution?

RN: My style has changed over the years. As an undergrad, my interest began with still life. I enjoyed painting the studio set-ups in the classroom. My favorite still lifes included patterned fabrics, reflective surfaces and intense lighting arranged to produce dramatic effects. When given a project to work on outside of class, I would often choose to paint interiors of a room, landscapes or night scenes. I once spent a month painting a scene from the same parking spot outside a Krispy Kreme donut shop. My goal was to capture the intensity of the neon signs of the donut shop and a distant billboard lit up against the night sky. As a bonus, I treated myself to a donut every evening I worked. Another time I set up my apartment as I imagined Vermeer would. Each object, angle and distance was meticulously measured and every tiny bit of color my eyes could perceive was added to the painting.

2nd Street Apartment,  oil on canvas, 24" x 20", 2002

2nd Street Apartment, oil on canvas, 24" x 20", 2002

For my BFA thesis I decided to do something completely different. During my last two semesters of school I would meet with a woman living in an assistant care apartment once a week. Her name was Carol Cooley and she loved to draw (she passed away ten years ago). Carol suffered trauma from a car accident at the age of five. She was well in her fifties when we met, but, having suffered brain injury, her mental and physical development had severely been handicapped. I soon came to understand how her sketches reflected different narratives in her life—what her roommate did, how she liked pizza, what she hoped to do, etc. At the time, I was wanting my work to make a difference in another person’s life. For the BFA exhibition I copied Carol’s drawings onto my canvases and added my own interpretations of her representations to the compositions. The narrative was a shared one, not just about myself, but myself with this other person. There was nothing made up about it. Carol came to the opening and was able to see her original drawings displayed alongside the paintings. Her excitement was the highlight of my night.

Journals , collaboration with Carol Cooley, BFA exhibition, Allen R. Hite Gallery, University of Louisville, KY, 2004

Journals, collaboration with Carol Cooley, BFA exhibition, Allen R. Hite Gallery, University of Louisville, KY, 2004

I moved to Los Angeles after I received my BFA from the University of Louisville, Kentucky. For a year I painted porcelain horses against red and gold backgrounds. I was attempting to capture fragility and power in an image. After a few months I met an Armenian painter named Vahe Barbarian. He lived on the next block and invited me over to paint with him in his studio. Vahe works in an expressionistic, poetic style akin to Arshile Gorky. For over a year I explored gestural and bodily movement, abstraction and poetic expression. By the time I started Art Center, fall 2007, I was again painting interiors and landscapes, but this time less traditionally and more abstractly. As I delved into abstraction, I came to learn that what I was looking for was not a representation of a thing, per se, but a painting that evokes sensation.

In 2009 I began studying a geometry that I still work with today. It fulfilled my need to organize complex perspectival spaces with which to explore basic elements of painting—color, light, surface, space, movement. The geometry diagrams affine translations. The word affine is used in reference to a woman in a philosophical text, and it was in that text that I first came across this term. I wanted to know why the authors chose to define a woman—mother—an affine, but could not find a satisfying answer in mathematics and philosophy alone. Studying its visual expression was a way for me to contemplate its literary use. As in my undergrad, I was again investigating the expression of another woman—only this time she was much more abstract and distant.

Big Horse,  oil on canvas, 12" x 15", 2005

Big Horse, oil on canvas, 12" x 15", 2005

I do not think it difficult to trace a trajectory through my various styles and interests. Landscapes, architecture, patterns and light always served as focal points in my work. Palettes of pristine whites and blues—similar to porcelain horses—have dominated the geometric compositions for some time. The asymmetrical compositions exert a force-like power against constraints, whilst the intricate color arrangement feel as if they may break at any moment. I spend a lot of time researching mathematics and spatial concepts. When exploring the body in painting today, I think more about the mathematical architecture of gestural movements and how our actions are expressions of a web of connections—memory, reflex, environment, thoughts, etc. I am also very interested in Jean Piaget’s studies of spatial intelligence and its development in children. As I read his work I recalled my own experiences working with Carol in undergrad. Through the years, my research has helped me construct a comprehensive understanding of affine geometry, including its properties and place in our perceptions of space. Through this I am able to consider the significance of these perceptual spaces within the evolution of my work.

AH: Are the shadow skulpt sculptures recent work? Did you come to a point where you felt like you could express yourself differently in 3 dimensional form versus 2 dimensional?

RN: I experiment with sculpture when I can. Painting is great, but nothing pleases me more than a day spent working with power tools. Since I was a child I have asked for a tool belt for christmas. I don’t think any family member takes me seriously when I say this, even today.

The Shadow Skulpts are new. I began designing these pieces in November 2014. The shadow play I witnessed on my painting in the summer of 2014 led me to want to work further with the idea of shadows—the history of shadows in art, the orthogonal geometry of shadows, their representation of environment and, as in the case of the sun, their representation of time. Not only has painting’s origins been attributed to tracing shadows, but the origins of sculpture have been attributed to a shadow as well. According to Pliny the Elder, the first sculpture was made as a relief of a shadow drawn on a wall. After working with rules of parallelism and affine geometry in the paintings, it felt like a natural step to extend my experiments with orthogonal projection by producing relief sculptures of shadows. The piece originated with a silly idea I had, inspired by the Billy character in the Family Circus cartoons. In some comic frames, Billy is illustrated as moving through a space—hopping and moving somewhat randomly through a house or landscape. It occurred to me that the dash marks of his trajectory represent moments in time, but they are all the same length. The time it takes to get from the beginning of his wander to the end would be measured in speed, but, as I interpreted it, the dashes represent the velocity of his body moving in space because they are consistent in size and indicate the shortest distance between two more narrowly measured points. Shadows too are cast at a constant speed, the speed of light, and also project velocity. I began to think, what would the cartoon look like if the dashes were replaced with shadows, and how would it change our reading of the place Billy wanders through? For one, the shadows would indicate the lights surrounding him. They would also tell us the expression of his body as he moved through space, conjuring up relations between him and his immediate environment. If drawn in the cartoon, these body projections would produce a strange, continuous amorphous substrate made of dark colors, and without mass.

The Shadow Sculpts are a tiny step towards thinking the continuous “Billy Shadow” in a three-dimensional form. I wanted to visualize this shadow as a chimera that potentially extends infinitely yet in integrals. Lengths of its appearance would depend on the time of day and/or the amount of time spent in an environment lit with alternative light sources. However, I first needed to create a basic model of a still object, rather than a moving one, to limit the conditions and begin with a very basic idea. I chose to start with differences in an object’s projected shadows based only on the migration of the sun in one day. The object used for the Shadow Sculpts is a crude three-dimensional model of an affine sculpture that I have yet to fabricate. The model was sculpted in Sketch-up, and in this program I was able set a sun path and trace the shadows of my object.

Shadow Skulpts , plexiglass, 28" x 21" x 20", 2015

Shadow Skulpts, plexiglass, 28" x 21" x 20", 2015

The digital affine sculpture is tied to the geometry of the paintings. I had been wanting to realize these spaces in a solid form, as either pure abstract space or an object translating infinitely through affine spaces, but still I am unsure just how I would like to do this. The shadow castings propose a new problem for tracing an object moving through infinity. Painting, for me, is limited due to the constraints of the flat plane. Sculpture allows for more free reign in this project.

AH: I see sculptural elements in your videos, do the videos influence the sculptures or vice versa? Do you feel the videos will impact the paintings?

RN: The videos are the latest work. They’ve come after the sculptures but, in many ways, will be useful as for future shadow tracings. In Sketch-up I traced shadows of a still object, but in the virtual model of a world, such as the ones constructed for the videos, I can lay out a trajectory of a body and change its gestures as it wanders through a space. The tracing of its shadows will indicate the lighting arrangements and sun paths of the virtual environment. In this way, I may begin on that messier chimera imagined initially as a Billy making Billy paths in the Family Circus cartoon.

As for the paintings, one can see aesthetic similarities between them and the virtual environment assembled from scanned room captures. In the past, I had talked about the sensibility of the vectoring geometric patterns as one that imitates movements in digital imagery and animations. Part of this revelation has come from conversations with programmers, though for the most part this has been part of my thoughts concerning my affine mapping since late 2009. The very first gouache studies looked to me like digitized transformers.  

I am not certain how the videos will impact the paintings. I’m only just now getting back to working on canvas. Some elements of the video and room captures will surely enter the work. The paintings have not directly influenced the video except, maybe, in the play of color. I am a colorist and work to intensify activity of the painted spaces with complex color arrangements. Color theory is definitely considered when composing light in the virtual environments.

Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches,  gouache on paper, 12" x 10", 2013

Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches, gouache on paper, 12" x 10", 2013

AH: Do you have any sort of unrealized projects that haven’t yet been brought to light?

RN: I have a few. I’ve mentioned the sculptural shadow chimera already. Another is a large installation of paintings in an architectural space that would maximize the play of shadow lines  drifting across surfaces throughout a day. This would allow the paintings to work as sites, wherein they could function as open sets for environmental interactions.

AH: Do you currently have any shows going on or anything coming up in the near future?

RN: I have some paintings and prints exhibiting in the group show Urban Lawns at MIM Gallery in Los Angeles, CA. The show will be up until October 8. For anyone interested, please visit for location details.

During the month of October and mid-through November, visitors to The Yard’s new location at Herald Square in Manhattan will have the opportunity to interact with Sticks, a digital piece made in collaboration with Eddie Elliot. This opens in conjunction with the ADAPT Conference being held at The Yard, October 1-3, Work at the Yard. Sticks originated from a desire to observe the pragmatic nature of affine geometry through the constraints of a mathematical program. The interactive site projected at The Yard allows users to see and direct various translations of a geometric diagram following the rules of parallelism that apply to affine geometry. In addition to interacting with the diagram, there is also the option to send one’s favorite composition to a file that will be arranged with other saved files into a complex composite of digital mappings. This extends the collaborative aspect of Sticks to a larger audience.

In November or December, Network Ecologies, a Duke University digital humanities project, will be beta testing a collaborative “Networked Publication” that I’ve contributed to. In addition to my essay and annotations on other contributor’s writing, Network Ecologies will also be publishing my digital video documentary of their Arts at the Edge exhibition (showcasing works by myself and artists Shane and Karin Denson). Readers can follow Network Ecologies at for updates and information.

To see more of Norton's work, check out her website

Art Can Save Lives

Billy Hahn is a New Jersey based artist whose work ranges from paintings, to three dimensional stuffed creatures, masks, collages and insanely cool installations. He is living proof that art has the power to heal even in the darkest of times. He spent his early 20's in Brooklyn doing some crazy things and has one hell of a story to tell that will inspire us all to stay true to ourselves and keep it real. 

Some of Billy's collages

Some of Billy's collages

A: What is the inspiration behind your work?

B: What inspires me most is having an idea and being able to execute it. Whenever I see something that really grabs my attention whether it be in nature, from other people, or just the revolving of life itself, knowing that I can make that idea a reality is what inspires me. The overall meaning behind my work is my heart. Every emotion inside of me that people generally don't get to see is what my work is all about, the rawness of emotions that no one wants to convey, the things you can't really say out loud. Art is not separate from my life, I look and see everything as a whole. I create art for myself, it is the only thing that keeps me level. 

My art is based off of my deep imagination, my dreams and desires. It's my world from A to Z. It all started in college when I started making masks out of paper mache. The first mask that I ever created was a character called Bush Monster for an exhibition that I was in around that time. The whole concept of creating characters came from that time. I started creating more masks, each one a different character with a different name. After college I moved to Bushwick and started to make masks and put costumes together for the band that I was in. I would customize the whole setup. I would also wear the masks and sell my art on the street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  

You can see Billy's new masks in next months spread of  Buffet Magazine

You can see Billy's new masks in next months spread of Buffet Magazine

It evolved into making settings to evoke feeling and that's exactly what I created for the show entitled "Into My Brain We Go". It allowed people to connect with my imaginative level. The feeling of the fog, the cave, the sound, and the smell allowed people to connect with an alternate reality. 

Installation shots 

Installation shots 

A: What life experiences have you gone through that are reflected in your art?

B: I've loved, I've hated, I forgave, I've lived in a city and I've lived in the South. I have camped out in Miami Beach, I've been to rooftop orgy's, I've seen my peers pass away, and have almost lost my own life. I've been assaulted more than once, I've seen people held up at gun point, and I've skinny dipped in the East River. I've watched my apartment burn in flames, I've been pampered, and I've been broke. I have struggled, I have helped, I've done good, I've done bad. I'm the yin and yang, the black and white, the DIRTY DUNDEE and the Laughing Lemon Legs.

A: So would you say that art has helped you through difficult times? 

B: Of course, art is the only thing that I can turn to, to let my emotions out instead of keeping them bottled up inside. Art is basically what is keeping me alive right now as we speak. If I did not have art in my life I would be dead, which is an intense statement and sad to say but art is really that powerful. 

"Art has saved my life" 

I say this because I was addicted to drugs and art has been the only thing that has helped me get through the darkness. Art is the only thing that I feel such real passion for and that gives me something back in return. When I am making art nothing else in the world is the only thing that truly makes me happy. Being addicted to drugs was swallowing my life. If I didn't have art to turn to it would have swallowed me, the drugs would have killed me. 

Art is definitely the only thing keeping me sober, if I didn't have art I would be lost. When I feel like I am going to use, I ask myself, would you rather be high or making art? Being high is short lived and art has a lasting effect. It helps me stay focused and empowers me to stay sober and serve as a constant reminder that I don't need drugs. The drugs were what was holding me back. It took me a while to realize that. The whole time I was using drugs I was aware that I was ruining my life, but that's the worst part about addiction, you just don't care about anything. 

Some of Billy's watercolor and ink drawings

Some of Billy's watercolor and ink drawings

A: What does it feel like to be addicted?

B: It feels completely helpless. Truly sickening and awful. Being truly addicted to drugs is possibly the worst thing you can feel. It's like being in your own jail and not being able to live while it is slowly killing you. You are stuck in this tunnel vision and can't think about or see anything else and you don't even like the way you are is slowly killing you and you don't even give a shit. 

A: Did you find that the art you were creating while you were using was different than the art you create when you're sober?

B: I have tried to look at my art that way but my art never changes. It was a little darker when I was using, but I always make art that has a dark side. You look at my work and you see the darkness, it's creepy but colorful and exciting at the same time. I had been on drugs for so long that I'm not even sure how to separate the two to make a comparison. I truly don't know if I can see a difference from the art I created when I was using versus when I am sober because now that I'm sober, I am still making the same things. My ideas are always there no matter if I am high or not. 

The thing is, the mindset when I'm on drugs doesn't seem different, it's the internal feelings that are different when I am using. It could depend on the type of drugs you are taking because some people who take hallucinogens have come up with different, crazy ideas they might not have if they were sober but the drugs that I was using were not like that. My ideas and inspiration have always come from within. I can trace that back to when I was a little kid. I was always being clever and creating. 

A: How did you get sober?

B: My parents have supported me and helped me get sober. I truly have the most magical loving family and was able to go to them and tell them that I really needed help and we devised a plan together. Part of that plan has been for me to use my hard earned money in a way that benefits me to have a brighter future versus pissing it away on drugs and putting things in my body that have no purpose. I want things out of life, and the longer I stay sober the stronger I get. As I started to get back to my true self again, back to that mindset of focus and awareness, I started to ask myself, "do I really want that kind of life for myself?" 

I know what I want and I am going for it. The past few months that I have been sober, I've had this fire in me and it would crush my soul if I went back to what I was doing before. 

A: What is the message that you want to send out to the world through your art?

B: That life is worth living. Be happy, laugh more, and judge less. Express yourself truly from within and find what you love to do because you feel it so much it makes you shiver. Don't waste your energy on negativity, take a deep breath, daydream, eat an extra cookie, and smile at a stranger. Be strong and work hard, always stay focused, and find your candy store. 

Billy working in his studio at  Art Space NJ

Billy working in his studio at Art Space NJ

You can learn more about Billy and his work at 

Subtle Shifts in Behavior and Identity

Iviva Olenick is a Brooklyn-based artist and poet whose work intersects text, textiles, and technology. Iviva creates narrative and sculptural embroidery inspired by her surroundings, subway sightings, and other artists. Olenick's work explores how we adjust and adapt to external change in urban environments and our awareness of these subtle shifts in behavior and identity. 


A: What exactly does narrative sculpture mean?

I: There is text embroidered directly on my sculptures. I audio record interviews with friends and acquaintances, then extract the most salient remarks to embroider. If I am particularly taken with a story, I make a stop motion animation of each letter as I embroider it. I add edited audio from the interview. 

A: When did your weaving and embroidery progress into sculpture?

I: I started experimenting with sculpture in summer 2013. After a 7-year textile design job ended, I longed to stay connected to design without taking on another corporate job. I started cutting fabric into shapes and ironing it onto thick interfacing. Interlacing the shapes by embroidering them together into neckwear (scarves and necklaces), I noticed I could stand my pieces up on a table. I realized I could use a combination of interfacing and fabric to make figures. I tried this out, making a few pieces which now look pretty preliminary. Still summer 2013, I was preparing for a 2013 winter show at Muriel Guepin Gallery. I showed her my preliminary dolls, and she liked them and wanted to exhibit them. 

Since then, my technique has gotten more sophisticated, and I've shifted the narrative to how we adjust to constant change and socioeconomic pressure while holding onto a core sense of identity in NYC. Everything in New York is compressed, which makes adjusting very hard. Time is sped up and there is a sense of urgency. While I literally share narrative through embroidered texts, I exploit body language, hairstyles and posturing to convey characteristic behaviors. My sculptures look like someone you know, even if you don't know their specific stories. My goal is to tell these stories, making us more visible to each other.   

Even though we see and walk past hundreds if not thousands of New Yorkers every week, we largely remain invisible to each other. Many upper middle class New Yorkers have no idea what it's like to live in a neighborhood where violence is commonplace, it's not safe for kids to walk home by themselves from school and parents are strapped working multiple jobs. While my sculptures won't force face to face interactions across socioeconomic lines, I hope to use them as a vehicle for empathy.

A: Do you always base your characters on people you know personally? Do you just look at people and think, I am going to turn them into a sculpture?

I: Many of my sculptures are based on friends and acquaintances, people I meet at art openings, bars and parties whom I find interesting. Occasionally, I observe strangers on the train or subway who seem particularly fascinating. I borrow from what I remember of their clothing and body language, sometimes combining qualities from two different people to create a new story. 

A: What about the people you draw inspiration from that you just pass by on the street or see in the subway? How do you choose the narrative for those subjects? 

I: So far, there are 4 sculptures from observation, all women. of the 4, 3 have text. One does not. The one without text defies description. I saw her on the subway, I think around Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn. She was potentially homeless; potentially just eccentric. It was hard to really tell what was going on with her. 

To some extent, I think we all make up stories about people we encounter once and those we see repeatedly. I couldn't quite infer this woman's story. Her mannerisms (hair twirling, repetitive hand movements) had a bit of the mania I associate with outward expression of mental illness. Her outfit didn't quite make sense, yet was bold and striking, and in some contexts would have been considered creative, bohemian and hip. She created questions for me about perception (our assumptions based on our own experiences of race, class, gender and other identifying categories). I wanted to capture what I found fascinating about her and felt it completely inappropriate to impose a narrative on her. The colors I used for her clothes are not entirely accurate. Instead of the blue in my doll, her top and skirt had a dark forest green. So I made adjustments when I made the sculpture. I retained her original sense of mixed patterns. She became a homage without literally representing the person I originally observed.


The woman described above reminds me of a homeless man I've seen in Chelsea/the 34th Street areas of Manhattan. He wears a coat made from rolled and twisted pieces of newspaper. It's ingenious and beautiful. The first time I saw him, I fantasized about bringing him to my then fashion job at a menswear company, knowing my boss would have been more than annoyed. I dreamed about having a design studio where I could hire him, teach him textile techniques (which he might already know) and have him apply the twisted newspaper look to other materials and forms. As this man is homeless and potentially ill, when I first saw him, I didn't engage him much, just gave him some money and tried not to stare too hard at his handiwork. I wonder(ed) what we lose culturally when we lose people like him from mainstream contexts. His newspaper creation was just so captivating and I still wonder about what "could be" for him. 

A: Could you expand more on the stop motion animation videos? At what point did you start to incorporate this into your process?

I: I've been making these very low-tech stop motion videos for about 9 months. I started experimenting with the medium while I was an artist in residence at IMC Lab & Gallery in Chelsea, which pairs artists with technologists to create new cross-disciplinary work. The space has incredible technical facilities, including projectors, and James Tunick, who co-runs the residency with his wife, Carrie, is a computer programmer capable of activating sound and video in new ways by programming the space. While working on my hand crafted sculptures for Native/Immigrant City, I decided to enliven some of the content from interviews by editing the audio recordings and adding excerpts to stitch by stitch or letter by letter stop motion animations of the same text appearing on fabric. 

A: Would you say that the videos are as important as the actual sculptures themselves in the work?

I: The videos still feel very raw to me and exploratory and preliminary. It is a challenge for me to work across media, incorporating digital tools to stay relevant and up to date even though my mission is to preserve traditional tactile arts like weaving, embroidery and soft sculpture.The videos distill more complex narratives into visual snapshots, and are potentially easier to absorb than reading the texts on the sculptures, which are both concealed and revealed in how they wrap around the body. 

A: What type of work were you making before you started incorporating embroidery into your art?

I: I spent a lot of my 20s writing poetry, which I think held some promise and needed some editing and emotional maturity. Some poetry finds its way into my flat embroideries (embroidered tweets). See@EmbroideryPoems on my web site, which includes my own and others' tweet length poems translated into stitch, a 2013 Brooklyn Arts Council sponsored project.

A: Where can people see some of your work in person? I am also interested to hear more about the Artists Who Write Salons you have curated, could you talk about that a bit?

I: Muriel Guepin Gallery represents my work in NYC. I've been showing with her since 2009, and she maintains an inventory. Recently, I started partnering with Brooklyn Workshop Gallery, a lovely community-oriented space run by artist, Martine Bisagni in the Carroll Gardens/Gowanus border. My sculptures were in the window there for a month during Embroidery Studio Thursday sessions, which we will resume in July. For now, the sculptures are in my studio for some promising studio visits.

In a series of events separate from yet related to my artwork, Jenny Douglas and I of the Brooklyn Cottage have co-curated two Artists Who Write Salons on consecutive Wednesdays in June. The first one took place on 6/10 and featured Yazmany Arboleda, a talented dancer, choreographer, designer, public interaction artist and memoirist; Kent Shell, a painter with a startling honest writing voice in essays and short stories; and Seldon Yuan, an artist who emphasizes and subverts linguistic and graphic design conventions, making poems visible through installations, sculptures, artist books and related objects. He is currently working on a novel. 


The next Artists Who Write Salon is THIS Wednesday, 6/17 from 7-9pm again at The Brooklyn Cottage, featuring Swati Khurana, Montana Ray and Iviva Olenick.


You can check out more of Iviva's work on her website


How much feeling is in a line?

Jenny Casey is an artist who creates mixed media, sculpture-like paintings that document her emotions and experiences she has interacting with the city, with the people and in nature. Casey works in a meditative way stemming from her own thoughts evolving from one thought to the next, and incorporates collage elements into all of her paintings. She recently debuted her newest series, "Emergence" on Saturday, May 9th at St. Luke's Gardens in Manhattan's West Village.

"That was a moment"

"That was a moment"

A: Jenny, could you tell us a little bit about how you came to this series of work, “Emergence”?

J: The “Emergence” series is a process of refinement. It started to form when I started seeing small pieces of white space (or blank canvas) within a painting and something within me and on the canvas started to change.

“Emergence” challenged me to be more refined which was hard. It was different than my other paintings. In my old paintings when something wasn't working out I would paint through my emotions, cover it up. This process of refinement was a new challenge for me and now I love it. At first I found it so difficult to be refined but it became a purposeful balance of refinement and restraint.

About 3 years ago is when I started experimenting with mixed media. It was really a time when I felt I wanted to paint for myself again as more of a meditative journey and start to show my work to the world. Around that time,  I decided to take a drawing class with one of The Art Studio NY instructors, Linda Connelly. I felt comfortable enough with her to share what I was going through both on and off the canvas.  I told her I had worked my way up into more senior, management roles in the graphic design industry, but started to feel like I was loosing my creativity. She said:

“You should start sketching everyday and don't feel bad about anything you draw. You will get better as you practice.It helps to keep your creativity alive and flowing.”

I started sketching everyday. I started doing series of 30 days of sketching, 60 days of sketching, 90 days of sketching to get my thoughts out. Drawing was never a daily thing for me, but it soon became my daily meditation. As I kept sketching and sharing my drawings with the world on social media, things just started to evolve.

Sketches from Jenny's 30 days of sketching journey

Sketches from Jenny's 30 days of sketching journey

My mixed-media painting class instructor at the Art Studio NY, Edward Holland, and the Art Studio NY owner Rebecca Schweiger, saw the direction I was going in and encouraged me to add some drawing into my paintings. I started to experiment with markers and pencil, with leaving pieces of canvas exposed.

A: What made you decide that you wanted to start showing your work and posting your drawings online?

J: At first, I was scared to show my artwork. I cared what people would think, I had doubts, I am a perfectionist. I felt so nervous to post my art online. Then I just said screw it I am going to go for it! People started reaching out to me saying, “you really inspire me,” it helped shape me into who I am. It really started this process of evolving into my authentic self.

A: What inspires you?

J: I like bright colors and have always been inspired by hidden discoveries and beauty in my environment. In my most recent painting series, “Emergence,” I would close my eyes and try out just shaking my hand, and do a brush or pen stroke. It was very therapeutic like punching a punching bag while at the same time creating something interesting. Being okay with doing a small area of a painting and saying ”i am content with that” was how the series ended up evolving. It became more of this minimalistic, experimental approach to painting. To say, “okay, I am okay with this stroke, I really like this” was difficult because being content with just a couple "imperfect" strokes was always a challenge for me.

I've always been inspired by Andy Warhol. That's where my love of sculpture, graphic design and pop art came from. But as I was making this minimalistic transition, I became incredibly inspired by the work of the artists, Joan Mitchell and Cy Twombly. Then it all just came to a point where it exploded. I started to think...

“how much feeling is in a line?”

A: How did this show differ from your others?

J: I've been in a variety of gallery shows which were amazing experiences but there is something so interesting about showing my art outside in nature, specifically at St. Luke's Gardens. I discovered the garden about a year ago and knew it would be a wonderful place to exhibit art. 

"Emergence" exhibit at St. Luke's Gardens in Manhattan's West Village

"Emergence" exhibit at St. Luke's Gardens in Manhattan's West Village

At this show it was interesting to observe what pieces people connected with the most. People were most drawn to “On The Heels of Change” which was neat as it also happened to be the painting featured on the invitation and event poster. 

"on the heels of change"  photo taken at jenny's solo exhibit, "emergence", in the gardens at St. Luke in NYC

"on the heels of change" photo taken at jenny's solo exhibit, "emergence", in the gardens at St. Luke in NYC

I also loved watching people interact with my art. Some people were just walking by and it became this impromptu experience, like a pop-up gallery for them. Watching this interaction in the garden, a hidden oasis in the middle of the busy city, made it even more special. It was so fun to meet new people and share an environment together; the art was an added bonus. 

For more information on Jenny Casey's artwork contact or visit her website at