Volume 78 / Number 1 - June 4 - 10, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since

Photo by Gabe Kirchheimer

Rites of Spring 1997, East Sixth Street and Avenue B Garden

Morena Saenz’s “Viva Manhattan!”


Loisaida artists find inspiration close to home

The Wildlife of the Lower East Side
Artistas de Loisaida
Through June 26
Opening reception on Sat., June 7, 3-5 pm
Tompkins Square Library
331 E. 10th St. (bet. Avenues A and B)

By Bonnie Rosenstock

When one conjures images of the Lower East Side, wildlife probably isn’t the first picture that springs to mind. But for the Artistas de Loisaida, or the Artists of the Lower East Side, the neighborhood flora and fauna offer endless inspiration. Here, the LES encompasses the East Village, which was part of the original area. From the community gardens that founding members helped to create and save, to the vitality of Tompkins Square Park and the energy of surrounding environs, all is manna for the urban artists.

Thus, wildlife serves as the theme for the group’s 11th annual show. The multicultural group of 18 painters, photographers, printmakers, and sculptors is an evolving collective of individuals who enjoy the camaraderie and collaborative process. Participants are Deborah Aslanian, Mario Bustamante, Lois Carlo, Onno de Jong, Ken Ecker, Dennis Edge, Lauren Edmond, Gabe Kirchheimer, Horacio Molina, Jerry Pagane, Jacqueline Sferra Rada, Carolyn Ratcliffe, Bonnie Rosenstock (full disclosure: that’s me), Alex Ross, Morena Saenz, Anna Sawaryn, Shell Sheddy and Leslie Tanner.

The artists, like all flowers, trees and foliage have their own distinct voices:

Leslie Tanner (oil painter): “I’ve been with the group since its 1995 inception. It means everything to me. It’s my favorite place to do art. I liked it originally because it was disorganized. It’s eclectic chaos.”

Deborah Aslanian: “I’ve been part of the group for five or six years. It’s artists together. There’s not a lot of that. It’s compelling. I grew up on East Ninth Street and Avenue D and went to the Tompkins Square Library as a kid. It turned me into an avid reader. I have a real connection with the neighborhood. I am exhibiting paintings of people of the Lower East Side.”

Morena Saenz: “I read about painters who hung out together and drank in cafés. When I came to New York from Los Angeles via Texas, I got to be in this group that is an extended art family. I’ve been involved on and off for about 10 years, and I like the fact that we are part of something good, interesting, fun and crazy all at the same time. Especially in such a big city, most of the time we as artists are loners. For me, I am constantly looking for a place to fit in and be part of art shows. ‘Viva Manhattan!’ is about the resurgence of the city after 9-11.”

Carolyn Ratcliffe (founding member, coordinator): “We sometimes exchange our works. I tried painting in my apartment, but it was too small. I got involved in La Plaza Garden and photography events there and evolved into a photographer.”

Ratcliffe, sculptor Mario Bustamante and arts promoter Robert Slaughter spearheaded the Save the Gardens movement. At a ceremony on June 11, the Municipal Art Society will recognize La Plaza Cultural Armando Perez, on the southwest corner of East Ninth Street and Avenue C, renamed for the slain district leader in 2003, as one of the 10 places that matter in New York for “enhancing community life.”

Jerry Pagane: “This is my first year in the group. I am deaf, so I depend on my vision to communicate. The reason I am participating is that I have been doing a series on sunbathers in Tompkins Square Park for four years. It’s a peaceful subject. I hope to complete the series by the fall. I am exhibiting one large sunbather in acrylic and two small pieces in gold, copper, and silver leaf and mother of pearl on glass on other subjects.”

Onno de Jong: “I don’t know if it’s any better than what I did before digital. The photographs are basically painting with light.”

De Jong created the Save St. Brigid’s website and designed the church’s Christmas card. Several past and present Artistas contributed works of art to be auctioned off “over and over again to save the church,” stated Ratcliffe, who helped organize the parishioners into the Committee to Save St. Brigid, which is on Avenue B and East Eighth Street.

Dennis Edge: Known as the Bird Man of Tompkins Square Park, he photographs hawks and migratory birds. “People in the park know him and tell him what birds are there,” said Ratcliffe. “He’s a fixture.”

Anna Sawaryn: “I am showing pinhole photographs, treescapes taken in Tompkins Square Park, and a small photograph of my nephew in the playground.”

Lauren Edmond: “I am a digital oil painter, old school, new technique.  I will be showing three landscapes of Tompkins Square Park, my favorite subject. My work describes the quiet spaces that exist within the hectic pace of the city.”

Alex Ross: “I am a constructionist. I pick up rusty scraps of metal and discarded pieces of wood, assemble them and give them new life.  The three pieces I will exhibit reflect the rebirth of the Lower East Side: the heroic freedom in red shoes, the struggle and take off in flight, the final accomplishment in marathon man?”

Shell Sheddy: “I’ve been an unofficial member for some years but am now a real member. The fact that we’ve been under assault with all the development, some places I thought would always be here are suddenly gone. I have to record it and do what I can and capture some of the beauty that surrounds us and the people and places that are about our spirit and energy.”

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