A kook’s perspective: Squat Gallery.

By Michael Esposito

I walked in with two dollars in my pocket; it was a donation-based event. Your first misstep in an unfamiliar environment is always internally laughable. In this instance, feelings were muted by expectation. The dusting of formal artistic exposure I have is a pure result of a few childhood friends. So when I was asked to write up ALT ESC’s curated show at the new Squat Gallery, I immediately saw an opportunity to mix in a favorite topic of mine; stigma.

The space set up like a longitudinal house party, a long single hallway with walled-off alcoves passing as individual rooms. My initial reaction was to treat it as is, so I snaked my way to the bar, passing two, three, now four individual exhibits. A good side eye is customary in New York, but the few I received seemed to have intent, so I explored them. I swung back around, bouncing from end to end, prodding each room like a cow, never committing to the slaughter. Finally I dove into JJ Brine’s exhibit and the feeling was literally verbalized as he broke song and turned his camera toward the three of us in the room; “I’m recording your reactions!” This immediate intimate relationship with the creator is a realization that some artists took to heart throughout; allowing their slice of the pie to be malleable. Petroleum jelly even made a dynamic appearance.

I carried this outlook throughout the show, compartmentalizing observations between the work, bystander reaction to the work and the corresponding creator reaction. Most didn’t seem to share my view on viewing, not even the two individuals


Alt Esc

comfortably stepping on Ryan Oskin’s creation in search of an elusive selfie. Ryan’s room sent me through two portals simultaneously; a shipping crate with suspended stills and a dramatized New York crime scene. Either way, the suspended installation created a unique experience that I donated a considerable amount of time to.

One of ALT ESC’s stated goals: “there should be a middle ground between presenting good content and having this holier than thou attitude.” What Alternative Escape provided, from a kook’s perspective, was an acceptance of healthy snap judgements that can only be captured through physical interaction and reaction. They chose a venue that exasperated the feeling through its tight quarters and diversity of medium. Akin to a Native American view on game, Alison and Irina used the entirety of the converted brownstone, promoting community through intimacy and alternative artistic experience.

Malcolm Lomax and Dan Wickerham provided a duality that chronicled the accumulation a shared apartment table receives after a productive weekend, coupled with a look inside the opening of a caged mind.


Alt Esc

The juxtaposition to me: a piece highlighting substances often hitched to creativity with a wall installation depicting the peace some artists find within those substances. Nick DeMarco’s installation elicited the magic sense of reality that only Bo Bartlett tends to capture in me; subjects so familiar and foreign, in competing perspectives. You could imagine three fish swimming together. You could even imagine you’re in the depths of ship, a window too high to peer out, but knowing that aquatic life is teaming all around you. Now just remove the structure of the ship. Now we’re on an invisible ship watching three ordinary fish steaming on by, and I don’t even know if the window was part of the installation.

As I finally strolled upstairs, the expansion of medium excited me. Frankly, the scanning exhibit overrode much of my previous approaches to deciding, internally and with naivety, what studio art is and can be. It was a simple flatbed scanner set up at face height. Distortions could be achieved through movement and interaction. The possibilities were guided with a gentle hand by its creator, Jonathan Checler. The images were projected on large screens across the way. It was another exhibit that elicited a feeling that the observer’s reaction was being judged, because it was, and was subsequently recorded. The playfulness and exuberance that Jonathan was having with his exhibit was inspiration to not take ourselves too seriously. It was welcome icing to my experiential cake.

From my collective experience and the layers of thought I’ve piled on to that experience, there is a certain stigma to all art, no matter the medium, content or location. This self-perpetuating aberration is a result of the concept that anything and everything can be art given the right argumentative properties; precluding laymen to stay far, nervous to offend, gawk or disagree. To the extent that Alison and Irina are attempting to document a strong, proud artistic community with the caveat of inclusion of medium and audience, they are doing a tremendous job through ALT ESC and their collaborators.

+ Squat Gallery is run by Tyrell Winston; this was the first exhibition

+ ALT ESC launched their first print magazine that night


World Peace

By Michael Arbeiter

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-12-01-42-amIf at one point in the past two weeks you’ve cut through the open alley that connects 1st Street and Houston in between 1st and 2nd Aves, you’ve probably left the scene with two very specific words on your mind: “World peace.” The phrase appears dozens and dozens of times on the alley’s eastern wall, aligned meticulously and printed in bold blue and orange.

“That’s loosely based on the New York Knicks and the New York Mets,” says Redna Writer, referring to the color scheme of what he calls his latest handwritten mural. Shrugging off his own personal affinity for either institution, Writer had a frank explanation for the rationale behind allowing these teams to influence his work: “This is New York, you know what I mean?”

Of course, allegiance to the city’s athletic franchises is hardly the only “New York” thing about Writer’s project. Although he has branded the walls of 14 other American cities with identical undertakings, the delivery of his pacifistic message to the Big Apple still rings unique—thanks in no small part to the date he chose for the latest outing of his tour.

I met Writer at the site of the mural just after its completion this past September 11. With the sun coming down and the memorial beams preparing to permeate the night’s sky from just across the island, it would have been impossible to not afford a few thoughts toward the events of the morning a decade and a half prior.

“A lot of people died on this date 15 years ago. Everything else aside, it did trigger a war,” Writer said. “Maybe the details are unclear about how long that war even lasted, or if we’re still in it. Maybe the details of September 11 are shrouded in mystery.”

These points aside, the artist asserted that whatever political connections a viewer is inclined to draw between the piece and his choice of date are not of concern to him. Though conscious of the historical significance inherent in his choice of date, Writer is certain that his message of world peace is not meant to tether to any one specific event. “At any given moment there’s a war going on in the world,” he said. “It can always be related to or put in the context of something, and it’s interesting to see what people do with it.”

Still, to Writer, the message is simple. “But I come from a place of no point of reference,” he continued. “I enjoy discussing the finer points at times, but I also like to always return to the simplicity of it…It’s world peace. It’s real self-explanatory. We all want it. It’s possible, though maybe we don’t all realize it.” He added, “My goal in doing this is just to introduce it into the global conversation. Or reintroduce it, maybe, I should say.”

Though Writer does believe in the plausibility of achieving such a lofty goal, he, like any of the rest of us, lacks a clear-cut strategy for bringing this dream to life. Still, he’ll identify a few constructs that he believes are standing in our way. “We’ve forgotten about it as an option,” he said. “We’re so caught up in all the divisive things that we don’t even see that this is possible, and this actually solves everything else. We’re worried about Clinton or Trump or this or that. These things are meant to divide us, and are doing just that.”

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-12-02-40-amIf there is any key element to fostering harmony worldwide, Writer sums it up in one word: “Communication.” These murals are his way of expressing this idea to the people of America. “I’ve done all kinds of murals over he last few years. I’ve noticed that they always have an impact,” he said. “I did a mural that said “Love is a risk, do it anyway.” I fell in love in the process. I met a girl while I was working on the mural. I’m still with her two years later. I noticed that a lot of coupes had a relationship with the wall. People were proposing in front of it or using it in their engagement photos.”

Writer has noticed this kind of effect consistently across his body of work. “I did a mural of all positive self-affirmations, where I wrote, ‘I am happy,’ ‘I am healthy,’ ‘I am confident,’ ‘People like me,’ ‘I attract good energy,’” he said. “I just wrote that kind of stuff over and over. And then I noticed all that stuff manifesting in my life. And I noticed people taking selfies in front of the wall. All along, I saw that this idea of words on a wall is a good idea, because it attracts an energy.”

His famous “world peace” idea evolved from there: “Seeing these different walls and the impact they had led me to think more broad. What is something that’s real big and that will impact everyone, and that will almost have no room for argument or interpretation?”

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-12-02-18-amAs simple as the message may be, the practice plays quite a number of roles in Writer’s mind. “It’s public art, it’s street art, it’s graffiti, it’s political art, it’s poetry, it’s pop art, and it’s performance, too,” he said. “The process is just as relevant as the final product.”

So where to next? Among the 15 cities Writer has already hit are Detroit, Philadelphia, Boston, and Fredericksburg, Virginia—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg: “I’m going to do 500 more, literally, by the time I’m 70.” He said, “I really want to do it everywhere. It’s just a matter of time before I do it in every place… Will I do San Francisco? Yep, probably. Will I do Chile? Probably. Clearly, Writer believes wholeheartedly not only in the message of his art, but in the possibility of that message to come true. “I’ve said on multiple occasions, I will do the World Peace Mural Tour for the rest of my life. And that’s how I see it.”

For more info about the World Peace Mural tour, visit http://www.worldpeacemuraltour.com

For more info about First Street Green Art Park (the alley that connects 1st Street and Houston in between 1st and 2nd Aves,) visit http://www.firststreetgreenpark.org

On the misery of a desert landscape

By Michael Arbeiter

I was locked on the miotic pupils of the most menacing of four disembodied (and ostensibly enflamed, or at the very least fuming) heads adrift in what was very deliberately nowhere, when the refrain for “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” hit me from the bar’s ceiling. I wondered for a second if it might just be my own snotty musical tastes that rendered this heavyheavyheavywood_bencampbellcoupling so vividly absurd—let me defend myself; this was the George Thorogood version—or if there could actually be something innately funny about engaging with the challenges of a thoughtful piece of fine art in a venue devoted to the dulling of the mind.

Onto the next painting—which, by virtue of a threesome of storybook ducklings making a meal of a contorting man’s innards, rang paradoxical enough without even the help of George’s bittersweet rasp—and I found a third sense stimulated. The inimitable aroma of bar food, one both appetizing and threatening (another paradox!), waded out from the table of diners seated directly below the canvas.

Again, I considered that my own gastronomical aversion to buffalo wings may be what anchored the smell so far from the element of the pictures I had come to observe. Or could I justifiably pass the buck to the establishment of art show culture that had confined its subjects’ aural and olfactory companies to strings, cheese cubes, and red wine? Author of this ideology or not, I was clearly all too beheld to it, unconsciously annotating every glimpse of artist Ben Campbell’s pieces with an asterisk. How was I expected to appropriately engage with such provocative paintings when standing at arm’s reach of a frenetic Mario Party tournament?

This question became especially prevalent when I reached my favorite of Campbell’s works:
one of ghoulish, horned face sprouting from the misery of a desert landscape.
lanternhallBut it was during a later battle of wits with the figure’s dead eyes that I’d win my answer. Having long given way to my inability to properly wrestle with the images while under the duress of the anxieties and distractions I’ve always shouldered upon committing myself to a night in a bar, I conceded instead to the caliber of chitchat I’ve always relied on to stave off my demons during such nights. Movie talk, mostly.

And, in the tradition of my lifetime of paralyzing social outings, I eventually found myself yielding verbal contribution to the conversation that swept my table.
The friends I had arrived with chatted easily with a relative stranger about the history of police violence in Los Angeles. The artist himself chimed in when asked to divulge the mindset that accompanied one particular painting: a faceless naked man falling upside down through yet another harrowing nowhere. Eventually, as it always does, the conversation moved onto Mario Party.
Conceding no formidable education in psychology, American social history, or any game that came out after 1996, I kept largely silent, allowing for my ritual absent glance around the
thepromisedland_bencampbellbusy room. Inevitably, my eyes landed again on the chilling face illuminating her desert home to eternal dusk. Squinting between heads and glasses to catch the eye of my distressingly humane monster, I was only then forced to admit yet another area of cerebral deficiency: where, why, and with whom art belongs.

I couldn’t tell you what I may have gathered from a head-to-head to Campbell’s pieces in a well lit and silent gallery, a locale where my motionless ruminations wouldn’t have been at the expense of many the high-speed bar back. But I can tell you that a cockeyed and cloudy peep of that nightmare humanoid growing inscrutably from the dead sand,scored to some forgettable ’80s hit and snippets of my friends’ assessment of a recent viewing of Straight Outta Compton, tore me away from my own pretensions with just enough a reason to assert that this painting did work just fine where it was. Because right then, I liked it.

-Ben Campbell’s work will remain on display at Lantern Hall through September 2016.