He might be the last cowboy in Brooklyn. Like those adventurers of yesteryear, Jamie Toll (that’s MRToll to you) wandered to a new land seeking adventure and opportunity. An immigrant from Australia, Toll moved to New York in 2003 and quickly rose from local bartender to worldly artist to social justice guru. His work has spanned continents and mediums; his cracked-open, silicone eggs scattered about the US border highlighting the fragility of the immigrant experience caught the attention of the United Nations who employed Toll to travel to El Salvador and Turkey to build community through street art. Alongside his wife, Toll is also crafting a documentary called I Am Migration. Based on their cross-country journey handing out free DNA tests, the film aims to unearth the perceptions of whiteness and blood purity, tackling racism and xenophobia along the way. Meanwhile in Greenpoint, he creates jubilant birds and clay eggs and cartoonish skulls that are peppered around the neighborhood as Easter eggs for residents to discover.
Toll is simultaneously planning, tackling, and executing a number of projects. Before this interview, he said he prefers to delve into just one and discuss its impact as opposed to scanning over many and diluting their effects. And so we discussed his one true love: Brooklyn. (“I’ve never put up art in Manhattan,” he says with pride.) He’s forthright, but don’t mistake this for harshness; Toll exudes compassion, is masterfully warm, and radiates an envious amount of charisma. Maybe it’s the Aussie accent, or the casual way he sipped a whiskey during our interview. He was in his own bar after all — the summer hotspot and winter hideaway Northern Territory, located at 12 Franklin Street. Perched on a barstool, he’s excited yet at ease, and it’s contagious. After getting to know Toll for an hour or so, it’s not hard to feel gravitationally bound to him, even as he tells you that in two years’ time his cozy bar will close. Come March 2020, Northern Territory’s lease won’t be renewed and the building will make way for a high-rise office space. This is just another verse in the dirge of local bars being bought out, but as with cowboys, another adventure is always on the horizon.
We profiled local artist and musician Ken Butler last year, and he gave us a tour of his incredible studio and even played us a few jams. He also participated in our local artists’ event Greenpoint Open Studios, opening his home and studio doors to the public. For decades he’s been collecting objects off the street and turning them into playable musical instruments, as art. He’s a true character and local legend, so you shouldn’t miss his unique style of performance this Friday, February 9th. He’ll be doing a live video recording and concert for the first time in 20 years.
WHAT: Ken Butler’s Voices of Anxious Objects WHERE: Scholes Street Studio | 375 Lorimer Street WHEN: Friday, February 9th, 8pm COST: FREE
By now you’ve surely noticed the 4-story mural on the building on the corner of Greenpoint and Manhattan Avenue. Completed in late October, painted by Swedish artist Ola Kalnins, the mural covers the entire building facade at 903 Manhattan Ave, which is owned by Peter Kirchhausen.
In a neighborhood that seems to be more and more inundated with advertising (hand-painted or otherwise), it’s damn refreshing to see some art for arts sake.
Funded by the Consulate General of Sweden, the creation of this beautiful mural is documented in this short film. Enjoy!
Louis Fratino’s Long Island City studio is part of the Artha Project artist residency program. Among the others in the shared studio space, I am quickly drawn to a long wall jeweled with multiple small paintings that hold snapshots of moments shared between Louis and those close to him. A gentle stretch from an inversion, a simple sip from a cup, two figures nuzzling in bed, the paintings bolster warmth, solidarity, and peacefulness. His works are clearly intimate in both scale and subject. Each supple figure is cradled safely in its tight frame, yielding both tenderness and eroticism. His painting in progress hangs in the center of a paint speckled circle, warmly haloed by the brush strokes of preceding works. There is an intuitive desire to squeeze the juicy feet and bellies of his adoring figures. The dry and waxy rendering of paint invite a closer look into his inventive mark making techniques that create a diverse textural surface.
Greenpointers: When were you first exposed to art as a child?
Louis Fratino: My first experience with art was probably my amazement with various illustrations in children’s books as a kid. I used to hoard books and try to figure out how they could make the character look the same on each page. I made my own versions of books as a kid. We also lived not so far from Washington D.C., so I was able to go to the Smithsonian and the National Gallery of Art which was incredible. I always really loved drawing and don’t remember having a defining moment of figuring that out. It was just always something that I did. I would go through multiple reams of printer paper in a weekend. Eventually my parents noticed and heard from my teachers that I was very interested in art. I took art classes in high school where we had a very robust program. The art room was in the old gymnasium where six or seven people could be working on easels at one time. I have always made work about relationships and intimacy and love. In high school I was making paintings about my siblings, and when I was in a relationship I started painting the person I was with.
Louis: I decided I wanted to study painting my freshman year of college. I was trying to entertain the idea of a dual degree in illustration right up until graduation. I made a manuscript for a children’s book and had done some editorial pieces. I decided it wouldn’t be possible to go all the way and do both at the same time. There are tons of artists who make publications and do things outside of painting when they’re older that I want to do, but I think right now it just demands too much to try to build both of those careers. Illustration in a way feels harder to me sometimes because you don’t get to just generate your own material. And maybe that’s why I’m ultimately a painter.
Passion for coziness and a reverence for Dolly Parton sound like the perfect combo in an artist, and Caroline Z. Hurley boasts both of those things. Hurley was originally trained in painting at RISD, but her Greenpoint-based eponymous label (with a shop at 155 Freeman Street) produces textiles for the home using age-old, hands-on processes like block-printing, quilting, and weaving. Greenpointers had the pleasure of catching up with Caroline and hearing more about her artistic process, and how she managed to turn an “accident” into a full-fledged, sustainable manufacturing business. Continue reading →
Local artist Martynka Wawrzyniak‘s site-specific sculpture, Ziemia, will take the form of a ceramic sphere atop a meadow garden in McGolrick Park, and she’s having the local community help create it. Ziemia, which means Earth in Polish, will celebrate our neighborhood’s many cultures, become a locus for community programming, and carry personal significance for the participants who help shape it.
McGolrick Sculpture Installation & Walking Tour With Greenpoint Historian When: Saturday, September 30, 3pm – 5pm Where: Kingsland Wildflowers Green Roof | 520 Kingsland Avenue Who: Greenpoint artist, Martynka Wawrzyniak & Greenpoint historian, Geoff Cobb $15 donation (proceeds go to the Ziemia art project), RSVP
On Thursday, September 28th, the Park Church Co-Op (129 Russell St) will play host to an evening of experimental jazz headlined by post-punk, avant-garde powerhouse Lydia Lunch. Performances will begin at 8pm with pianist Jesse Lynch, followed by Matt Nelson on tenor saxophone, and a trio set by Moppa Elliott’s Mostly Other People Do the Killing. Lydia Lunch and Michael Foster will headline at 10pm. The evening will close with an experimental group ensemble conducted by Lunch. And, if that wasn’t enough to entice you to check this one out, proceeds will go towards McGolrick Park’s public art project, Ziemia (Polish for “Earth”).
To create Ziemia, artist Martynka Wawrzyniak is creating a native plant meadow and a sculpture made with help from Greenpoint residents. The sculpture will take the form of a ceramic orb, fired out of clay excavated in Greenpoint and glazed with a mix of soil contributed by residents from personally meaningful locations from around the world, which symbolize their identities. Ziemia aims to bridge the divides between the neighborhood’s disparate subcultures, serving as a collective portrait of the community through embodying residents’ personal homelands and migration stories.
Giordanne Salley spends a few weeks each summer out of the city. She retreats to the rocky coastlines and glacier-carved forests of our Northeastern-most state. There, she quickly assumes the circadian rhythms of nature, in part, encouraged by a lack of cell phone reception. Swimming, kayaking, and hiking, Salley studies the sun and changing colors of the day. Upon returning to New York she begins painting these summer experiences. Nude figures running freely among raw pebbly beaches, silky waters, and deciduous brush; Giordanne has managed to transport the spirit of the spruce islands to her Greenpoint studio.
Greenpointers: When were you first exposed to art as a child?
Giordanne Salley:I am originally from Southwest Ohio. My parents took us to the Dayton Art Institute on the weekends which had an interesting collection of art for a city of its size. We would picnic in the gardens and spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the various exhibits. I remember once looking at a Josef Albers’ red square painting and wondering why it was in a museum. I find it ironic now because I’ve taken color theory classes and really appreciate his work. Being homeschooled until the sixth grade, my parents always encouraged me to take on any form of self-expression I wanted. I was constantly being supplied with paper and drawing tools. I could organize my time differently than kids in school, and was able to spend a lot of time exploring nature. This remains very important to me and my paintings. Continue reading →
Kate McQuillen greets me from the driveway of her charming and noteworthy Greenpoint house, directing me into the garage where her fluorescent printmaking studio is set up. Her companion Kassie, a sterling herding dog, is attentively surveying the area and happy to have another to look after. The inherent New York City ankle weights have already slipped away, leaving us to speak candidly in Kate’s kaleidoscopic space. While we talk, the garage door remains open and Kate periodically greets her neighbors passing by. I feel as if I have crossed a portal into an alternate dimension, or at least am no longer in the city.
Greenpointers: When were you first exposed to art as a child?
Kate McQuillen: My dad studied painting in graduate school, and during my childhood worked as a graphic designer in Boston. We always had an art studio in the house, which allowed me the opportunity to experiment with literal cut and paste tools like transfer paper. I’d imagine this is what initially pushed me into printmaking. I think of printmaking processes as the perfect place between design tools and fine art tools. I always had a lot of interest in drawing, but was never super into oil paint. I think my new work is taking on a form reminiscent of paintings, but I can still use the printmaking tools I’ve grown to know and love.Continue reading →
Aaron Zulpo‘s Greenpoint studio is a multitude of raw canvas hung on paint-stained walls. In the middle stands a table topped with piles of paint, smelling rich of linseed oil. His work looks immediately relatable, a style he later describes to me as “Cartoon Realism”. The divisions of brightly colored vignettes create elaborate narratives, enticing the viewer to engage further.
GP: When were you first exposed to art as a child? Are there visual influences from your childhood that currently influence your work?
Aaron Zulpo: I grew up in the Midwest and wasn’t exposed to a lot of art until high school. I was always a doodler, however, replicating imagery from comic books and a duplicated bronze Remington cowboy statue we had in the house. As far as visual references from my childhood go— action movies, bright colors, cowboys robbing a train—these are all things I liked as a child and I still like now. I took art classes in high school and really loved a specific sculpture class. After that I decided to apply to art school. This was the first time where all my classes related to one another. I could be in 2D Design in the morning, and learning about the same concepts and principles in afternoon art history. It was very exciting.Continue reading →