This past Monday night NURTUREart held their annual benefit, where a varied mix of painting, sculpture, collage and drawings covered the walls, and collectors and critics mixed with teenagers with art school ambitions. Held in the Bernaducci Meisel Gallery in Midtown, NURTUREart’s benefit displayed work chosen from an open call, with ticket holders allowed to select a piece to take home. The Bushwick institution, housed at 56 Bogart, supports emerging artists by providing exhibition space and resources, as well as operating after-school art programs at schools in Brooklyn.
“I won’t say how many extra pieces I got, but it’s more than one,” said James Panero, executive editor of The New Criterion and a dedicated supporter of NURTUREart. He has attended the annual benefit for the last five years; this year he was part of the four-judge panel that decided which pieces would be chosen from the open call. “The level of quality is second to none,” he said of the pieces displayed this year. In other places, he explained, these pieces would be selling for five to ten times the price you’re paying for them by buying a ticket to the benefit—at other benefits you might donate more and only get a digital print.
When asked about the trends in the works selected this year, Panero cited geometric abstraction, a casual painting aesthetic, looser painting (“loose edge,” as he called it), and process/studio based work—all areas in which Bushwick artists excel in particular. “An artist from Bushwick is a known quality,” he said, while also bemoaning the lack of coverage of the Bushwick art scene by most major publications. The Bushwick Beat Nite, which he curated, was an attempt to guide newcomers through a collection of galleries in order for them to get an idea of what’s going on in a neighborhood that can seem disconnected from the Chelsea-centered gallery experience. NURTUREart, based in Bushwick and with many Bushwick artists on the board, is important because of its ties to the community, their collaborative group projects, and their work with neighborhood schools. “There should be more of that,” Panero added.
One whole wing of the gallery displays work made by students in NURTUREart’s educational outreach programs—after-school programs where students can learn new techniques and use novel materials. David and Caesar, both high school students from Juan Morel Campos Secondary School in South Williamsburg, had pieces which were displayed that night and were articulate, ambitious, and highly talented. David discovered his love of art when drawing cartoons with his mother when he was young; he now spends his time copying drawing from tattoo magazines or from images by his favorite artist, H.R. Giger. His favorite mediums are charcoal (“you get your hands dirty”) and spray paint. His last graffiti mural depicted the Virgin Mary wearing a gas mask—a commentary both on the upheaval in Syria and his own ambivalent relationship with religion. David’s panel on display that night was an image of the Virgin Mary with a Day of the Dead face drawn over her own in intricate black lines.
Caesar also loves to draw but prefers mixed media and scale of architecture. For a while, his morning routine was to sneak out of his room and climb up his fire escape in the early morning “like a spy,” in order to draw the sunset. His mother wasn’t too happy about this—she told him that art will “get him nowhere” and wants him to be a lawyer. He knows he has a natural knack, however: “Give me anything, some wire and a pencil, and I’ll make something out of it!” The panel he created in the NURTUREart program is an image of a tree with an eye, burned into the wood. He has a complex story behind the image—the tree is a very old living being, such as in a fairy tale, which must stay alive to deliver a message, and the debris underneath the tree is the “living membrane” that it sheds, showing it is still alive.
As we talked, the two of them excitedly began cooking up a collaboration. David will spray paint and Caesar will layer “bubble gum, nails, anything rusty” on top of it. The young men’s deep excitement about their future and their work was a refreshing reminder of the sense of possibility that NURTUREart helps to cultivate.