Originally farmland, Greenpoint’s verdant name is an homage to pastures past. But even as trees have disappeared and skyscrapers have risen, local artist Sharon Ascher has had a keen eye for Brooklyn’s organically occurring patterns and nature’s geometric wonders. These terrestrial gifts influence her work, which will be on display in this weekend’s Greenpoint Open Studios. See her work in person at 80 Oak Street from 12pm-6pm this Saturday & Sunday (June 2 & 3), and learn more about her craft in this week’s Thursday Spotlight!
Greenpointers: It seems that much of your work is inspired by nature, yet you’ve lived in New York for decades. Can you discuss the influence the natural world has on your work within our urban epicenter?
Sharon Ascher: I was born in Brooklyn — A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: it only takes one tree to observe and experience the changing colors of the seasons. I grew up near Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and received my my BFA at Pratt. I traveled extensively, crossing the vast ocean, visiting beaches, and trekking mountains and caverns. I became more aware of the changing contours of our coastline caused by global warming.
I have been intrigued with organic shapes and textures and how they are affected by shadow, color, and light. I realized that the same forms are infinitely repeating themselves. This apparent phenomenon is often incorporated into my work. If we allow our minds to be open, our perceptions can change constantly; similar to the clouds as they dance in the the sky or the waves move in the ocean. This is all part of working with energy and its relationship to space.
This continual thread is interdependency: the simple quality of a brush stroke or a tear in paper. There seems to be a connection with the shapes that occur, and the reflections of the inner and outer landscapes.
GP: What materials do you often use for your works? They seem so beautifully textual.
SA: My recent work is on recycled paper with charcoal from the ashes of a fire. My curiosity about materials has fueled my experimentation. Working with fabrics, I have tested the boundaries by using all kinds of textured implements ranging from varied sponges to the subtle markings on found objects. I also infuse surfaces with found materials. Often fabrics are cut out to reveal another layer, torn up, painted and overlaid with threads.
GP: Having lived in the city for a while, do you have a favorite studio you’ve worked out of?
SA: That’s an interesting question. I have configured and designed many studios.
My most amazing studio was on West 23rd Street in the old File Cabinet District in Manhattan. It had skylights facing north and a view of the Empire State Building. Gentrification and re-zoning have caused these places to cease to exist. My current studio — Wabi Sabi Art Lab, at 3,000 square feet, one of the last of its size in the Franklin Street district — has been carved out of a grungy welding garage. I have turned a sow’s ear into a silk purse on a limited budget. This is now my favorite space.
GP: How do you feel the neighborhood, and its arts scene, has changed or evolved over your time here?
SA: I have been living and working on Oak Street for 12 years. There have been many artists who lived and worked here. Now the neighborhood is changing rapidly.
On my street, I have seen artists’ studios close, and now we have Brooklyn Expo Center.
A pillow factory was transformed into a residence, studio, gallery, and is now replaced by luxury condominiums. Our waterfront landscape is changing; we are losing our open sky on West Street. It seems like wherever an artist’s neighborhood forms, developers are sure to follow. At the same time, there are many small studios popping up in newly converted factory buildings. The art scene is different than it was, since the new spaces are tiny and hardly fulfill artists’ spatial needs. Each building is now its distinct artist’s community.
Greenpoint is a transitioning neighborhood; I conceived of a spiritual and community-oriented project on a sidewalk bridge (scaffolding) on Oak and Franklin Streets that I created with my art partner then, Beth Goldowitz. It was an offering to the community to express their wishes by weaving ribbons through mesh as tapestry. This was being done to beautify and comment on a temporary scaffold that has become a permanent eyesore.
GP: Besides the natural world, do you have any artists who have inspired you?
AS: There are many different artists who have influenced me. Here are some of the artists over the years who have contributed to my artistic practice. Choygam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Buddhist meditation teacher with the philosophy of Dharma Art, i.e. you don’t try to be artistic, but just approach objects as they are and the message comes through automatically… Creating art is like meditating. You work with one technique for a long, long time, and finally the technique falls away.
The following artists have also influenced me: Monet for his observation of light; Sonia Delunay, painting on silk and poetry; Georgia O’Keefe, nature and form; Joan Mitchel, abstraction and nature; Robert Smithson, public earth installation; Walter de Maria conceptual lightning fields and Laurie Anderson, heart and sensibility.
GP: Anything else you’d like to add?
Being an artist and and having a creative practice is a treasure. Recently, with curator Rigel Angelina, we created a collaborative studio, gallery, and retail venue, Wabi Sabi Art Lab. This was conceived through meditation and my contemplative studies. The Japanese concept “wabi” means tranquil simplicity, imperfect or irregular beauty, in a natural state. “Sabi” is beauty that treasures the passage of time and the lonely sense of impermanence it evokes. We are launching Wabi Sabi Art Lab (80 Oak Street) with Greenpoint Open Studios weekend. There is a new iteration of our community tapestry on Oak Street, with ribbons waiting for neighbors to incorporate messages of positive wishes.