Sing for Hope

For two weeks in the spring, the five boroughs of New York City are treated to a delightful public art project sponsored by Sing for Hope, a non-profit organization committed to bringing the arts to the public, particularly to those segments most in need. Arts education in public schools is a cause near and dear to my heart, having been raised in a family of artists and musicians. The Sing for Hope Pianos installation places fifty one-of-a-kind pianos all painted by local artists, in a communal space -usually a park or plaza – for the public to freely enjoy. After the two weeks, the pianos are then placed in permanent homes in schools, healthcare facilities, and community centers around the city. Absolutely wonderful. Sing for Hope was conceived and founded by arts advocates Monica Yunus and Camille Zamora, both opera singers and alumni of New York’s renowned Julliard School.

So when I drove over to the Queens County Farm last week to check out the early seasonal pickings from the farm stand, I checked out its Sing for Hope piano, which looked lovely against the historic farmhouse. This piano, called “The Wayside Rose”, was created by Brooklyn-based artist/printmaker Jamie Wilen, and I share my photo here for Music Monday:

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The piano was also just a few feet away from the farm’s herb garden, which is already thriving! (Too early for tomatoes, but they’re worth the wait.)

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I’ve gained quite a few new blog followers over the past few weeks. To all of you, thank you and welcome! I’d like to share two older posts that relate somewhat to this one: a Music Monday that I dedicated to my childhood piano teacher and a post from last summer inspired by the Queens Farm.

It’s unlikely that any of the passersby sat down and performed concert soloist-level virtuosity on the Sing for Hope pianos on their lunch breaks … but hey, you never know! We’ll conclude our Music Monday with the mind-blowing excellence of my favorite pianist, Vladimir Ashkenazy. This is him playing the third movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No: 23 “Appassionata”. Folks, it’s insane. I don’t know what Beethoven was thinking apart from his usual genius self, but this is something that for anyone other than a professional concert pianist is pretty much unplayable. Ashkenazy sounds like he has two sets of hands. A sublimely gifted and expressive musician. The final two minutes of this is simply riveting. Enjoy, and have a great week everyone!:-)

Welcome to Minerva’s Drawing Studio

Some of you may remember that I blogged many months ago about the imminent closing of Minerva Durham’s life drawing studio on Spring Street in the SoHo section of Manhattan. And longtime readers know well that Spring Studio has always been, hands down, my favorite place to model. I have since mentioned, in a post or two, that Minerva has found a new space in which to set up shop, and do what she does better than anybody: keep daily, open life drawing alive in New York City. A few readers have requested a formal introduction to the new space and I’m happy to oblige! First, a brief homage to the old Spring Studio with a photo of its distinctive red door, and the staircase descending into the basement studio we loved and depended on for so many years. Farewell 64 Spring Street. You are missed.

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And now ladies and gentleman, the sign and door of the new incarnation, renamed Minerva’s Drawing Studio! Broome Street, in the heart of Chinatown, just around the corner from the Grand St subway station. The excellent dumpling shop around the corner on Eldridge Street is enjoying a burst of new business customers from snacking artists!

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The Broome St studio space differs from the Spring Street space in two significant ways: it is above ground on street level, and it is blessed with natural light that bathes the room through tall windows overlooking a private courtyard. Upon entry, visitors are greeted by this marvelous large cityscape painted many years ago by Minerva Durham herself. Edward Hopper would be envious!

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Minerva has held onto the trusty half-circle arrangement with two “tiers” of seating for the artists to choose from. That’s me relaxing on the platform during the long break last Tuesday. Thank you Bruce for taking this photo!

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And I took this photo looking above from the platform; the model’s lighting, and I really like the ceiling tile design. Lovely detail.

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During the move between studios Minerva had to sell off or throw out a lot of her accumulated things, as the new studio is smaller and has less storage space. But this guy could never be left behind – an essential player in Minerva’s anatomy lessons:

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I was on the modeling schedule at the Spring Street studio into its last days, and I was on the schedule at the new studio in its first days … a transition that has defined for me – professionally and personally – the supreme sense of loyalty, purpose, and belonging that I’ve always felt from Minerva’s mission, her circle, and her stewardship. As an artist’s model, it is an honor to be aligned with this journey, and this courageous, inspiring woman I admire.

At the opening reception for the new studio back in January, Minerva spoke to the crowd and welcomed everyone to the new space. In the true spirit of this community, a man took the opportunity to sketch Minerva as she spoke:

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A pencil and pastel sketch of me by Chuck Connelly, from last week:

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And from the same session, a quick sketch by Jerilyn Jurinek. I was in a reclined-pose kind of mood that day:-)

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Amrita Sher-Gil

She has been called “the Indian Frida Kahlo”. To a fellow 20th century female painter with the same fearless and rebellious spirit as the Mexican icon, the moniker is no doubt a great compliment. Though her life and career were brief, Amrita Sher-Gil defied conventional norms and left a legacy as India’s most celebrated woman artist of the modern era.

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She came into the world blessed with privileged circumstances, and was reared with an Indo-European cultural identity that would shape her sensibilities as she matured. Amrita Sher-Gil was born in Budapest in 1913 to highly accomplished and well-connected parents. Her father was a Sikh aristocrat and scholar, and her mother was a Hungarian opera singer. Both of them encouraged and supported their daughter’s art education and training. The family moved to Shimla in northern India when Amrita was a child and she began creating her first artworks at the age of five. By the time she was in her teens Amrita, accompanied by her mother, was studying sculpture in Italy and, later, painting in France at the esteemed Ecole des Beaux Arts.

With the requisite formal academic training under her belt, Amrita was ready to discover her authentic voice. I find it fascinating how a young woman in the 1920s and 30s, whose experiences overlapped between the European west, British Raj, and traditional India, manages to find a sense of cultural belonging. Amrita’s fiercely independent spirit and fervent curiosity surely helped her navigate the unique cultural patchwork in which she found herself. In photos of Amrita taken during various stages of her life, she appears in some of them wearing traditional Indian dress, and in others wearing bathing suits and fashionable western clothing.

During her years in Paris, Amrita drew profound inspiration from the works of Cezanne, and post-Impressionists like Gauguin and van Gogh. Gauguin, with his subjects of native people and village life, and use of bold lines and rich palettes, became a particularly strong influence and is evident in many of Sher-Gil’s paintings.

Hungarian Gypsy Girl, 1932:

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One of Amrita’s most well-known works, this is Three Girls, 1935. It was her first painting upon returning to India from Europe. She wrote, “I realized my real artistic mission, to interpret the life of Indians and particularly the poor Indians pictorially; to paint those silent images of infinite submission and patience,… to reproduce on canvas the impression those sad eyes created on me.”

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Painting of Sumair, Amrita’s cousin, 1936:

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A lovely photo of a smiling Amrita with three of her paintings:

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In 1938, against her parents’ wishes, Amrita married her first cousin on the Hungarian side of her family, Victor Egan, and returned to India for good. Amrita realized that she was destined to paint in India and India alone, never having felt completely comfortable, artistically, in Europe. As she put it, “There [Europe] I was not natural and honest because I was born with a certain thirst for colour and in Europe the colours are pale – everything is pale.” The couple first settled in Uttar Pradesh, where Amrita immersed herself in painting themes of rural Indian life and the struggling poor, particularly the women and children, whom she portrayed with solemn empathy.

Hill Women:

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Part of Sher-Gil’s “South Indian Trilogy”, this is Bride’s Toilet, 1937:

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In 1941, Amrita and Victor moved to Lahore (present day Pakistan). Then, tragically, Amrita fell ill and slipped into a coma in December of that year. The cause of death is not known, although it’s been speculated to have been possibly food poisoning, peritonitis, or a botched abortion. She was only 28 years old. A woman of liberated modern mind who chose to remain artistically faithful to her indigenous roots. Frida Kahlo approves.

Portraits and Pets

My friends, it’s been far too long since we’ve had a Museworthy Art Show. Since December 2013 to be exact. We are way overdue for another one, so let’s do it! Here’s the plan: people can begin submitting works starting Memorial Day, May 30, all the way through the spring and most of the summer. Plenty of time! And by all means take your time, no rush at all. I’d like to publish the show post around mid-August, at which time the post will stay at the top of Museworthy while I take a little blogging break until Labor Day. Hope that sounds okay with everyone.

Our theme is “Portraits and Pets”, so you can choose one or the other. Many of you artists probably have a portrait in your collection all ready to go, and that’s great. Or you can create something new. For those choosing the pet option, we welcome dogs, cats, birds … any companion creature that inspires you to create a piece of art, like Matisse did with his “Goldfish”. As always, I will be participating right along with you. All mediums are welcome; oil, acrylic, pencil, pastel, crayon, watercolor, mixed media, collage, digital, iPad, sculpture, whatever you like! And ALL skill levels are invited – and encouraged – to participate, from beginner to advanced … because this is Museworthy and joyful expression is the most important thing here.

I will post periodic reminders over the next few weeks. And if you have any questions you can post them in the comments or email me. When you send your image, write “Museworthy Art Show” in the subject line, and make sure to include your full name, location, artwork title, and medium. I anticipate a charming and captivating array of works from my readers:-)

See you soon!

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Naked Deliverance

When stresses and anxieties threaten to overwhelm my mental state, art modeling bails me out. Art modeling always bails me out. I don’t think I’ve ever realized it so acutely until these past few months, as the tragic deterioration of once close and loving relationships within my immediate family have come to a head. It’s all taken quite an emotional toll on me, and I’ve avoided venting about it here on the blog. My readers don’t come here for that, nor should they be subjected to such things.

What I can do, instead, is give props to this livelihood of mine, this arduous work that has always been there for me, and I for it. My dance partner for 10+ years, art modeling provides me with a sense of humble purpose – however small and obscure it may be to the loud, busy, urgent, much larger and more complicated world out there beyond the closed door art studios of New York City. It doesn’t fill my bank account. It doesn’t do my body any favors. It doesn’t always operate fairly. But art modeling is still my faithful rescuer. It rescued me eleven years ago from a personal crossroads, and it continues to do so. It is work in which an oft-depressed 47 year old woman can take her clothes off … and be valued. How many occupations can make that claim? With gratitude, I press on …

This is yours truly, captured in watercolor, by my friend the inimitable Jordan Mejias.

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Concrete Jungle

“New York is a city of daily irritation, occasional horrors, hourly tests of will and even courage, a huge dollops of pure beauty.”
– Pete Hamill

Forty minutes early for my modeling gig at NYU, I decided to take in a little streetball at the West 4th Street Courts in the Village, better known around town as “the Cage”. Pick-up basketball in this urban mecca is not for the faint-hearted. Play hard, play gusty, trash talk… or else sit your ass down.

Springtime has arrived, and it’s bringing the rhythms, the strides, the chatter and cheer and big city sun. I’m ready! Farewell winter … until next time:-)

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The Garden, 1986

Have you ever sat third row/center at a concert? I did, once. When you’re accustomed to seeing your favorite bands from the nosebleed seats a football field-length away from the action, the third row is an experience like nothing else. Exactly how my friend Faby and I managed to snag such prime seats for the Prince concert at Madison Square Garden in the summer of 1986, I honestly can’t recall. But I can tell you it wasn’t through the box office😉

How can I describe that night seeing Prince perform live? Mesmerizing. Groovy sounds and glittering lights. A rush of adrenaline and shocks of electricity. Shiny instruments, colored smoke, thumping rhythms and sumptuous vocals. Prince’s female bandmates riffing, soloing, being utter badasses. Satin and lace. Funk and psychedelic. A legendary arena packed to the brim with the most diverse crowd of concert-goers I’ve ever seen; 15 year olds and 40 year olds, a Brooklyn Italian guy over here, a Bronx Puerto Rican woman over there. A Manhattan East Side professional, and a gaggle of girls from Long Island. Good kids and troublemakers. City and suburban. Screaming, perspiring, standing on seats and singing along with the lyrics. Prince was, in a word, spellbinding.  A 5’2″ dynamo of talent, charisma, and originality. 

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But allow me to share the single most unforgettable detail of that night, one that I can easily replay in my mind like five frames of a film reel because, when you’re 18 years old, this kind of thing burns an indelible imprint in your memory, along with the thrills and chills that accompany it. Prince was dancing at edge of the stage. Faby and I, like I mentioned before, were in the third row. Prince was right there … so damn close it felt like if I had stood on the back of my chair I could launch right into him with one full throttle leap. The fabric of his jacket, the scarves, boots … right there .. right in front us. And then, on the downbeat of the music, he froze for two seconds .. and made eye-contact with me .. and smiled … and … WINKED!!!!! Yes!!! YES HE DID!! Faby turned to me, her mouth wide open, and the teenage girl-screams came forth in crazy shrieks. “Prince winked at you!!! Did you see that??!! Oh my God!!!!!!!”. Thirty years later I can still it, vividly – Prince’s big brown eye looking directly into mine. Annnnndd … W I N K !!!!! It’s my giddy, cherished memory, and no one can take it away from me.

Lest you think that Prince was an indiscriminate winker, I was wearing a purple halter top with my boobs half hanging out, and huge dangly earrings, and 25 bracelets going up my forearm, and waving my hands in the air and blowing him overt kisses all night long. So I’m fairly comfortable saying that I :ahem: got his attention. Mission: accomplished😉

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When the news broke of Prince’s death, my Mom sent me a text: “Awful news about Prince. I know you loved him from the very beginning”. Mom is right, because “very beginning” for fans like me means pre-Purple Rain. When his fame blew up and hit the mainstream, we weren’t the least bit surprised. We had recognized his talents.

In the midst of all the “grief porn” flooding the Internet, and the pretentious “thinkpieces” being penned by “cultural critics” (or whatever we’re supposed to call these people) let’s have a different take and consider the impressive state of Prince’s life when he left us at the age of 57. He died having the staunch respect and admiration of his musical peers and colleagues. He died having the loyalty of his faithful, devoted fans. He died having found spiritual enlightenment and religious awakening. And, after the epic legal battle he waged against his record company Warner Bros, he died owning his own masters – no small feat in the notoriously rapacious music business. Although fiercely private, Prince revealed himself in the way all true artists do – through his art. Over the course of his long career, we witnessed him evolve from a raunchy, seductive lothario to a teetotaling Jehovah’s Witness, metamorphosing through the personal stages of his life with the same mastery and imagination with which he navigated all styles of music. And he remained, always, a consummate musician, prolific producer, arranger, performer and songwriter. Influential. Inventive. Enigmatic. Often mystifying. We know we won’t see the likes of Prince anytime soon, if ever.

Special condolences should be expressed, by all Prince fans, to the people in and around the Minneapolis area. They lost a fellow Minnesotan, a native son, a neighbor, a supporter of the community and its music scene. When celebrities reach Prince’s level of fame and success, many of them move to a mansion in Beverly Hills, a beach house in Malibu, or a penthouse in New York. But Prince stayed right where he came from.

And no there’s nothing wrong with your tablet or your computer …. this blog post is written in purple font. Your eyes don’t deceive you! Now you probably think it isn’t possible to “out-cool” Lenny Kravitz, but here’s Prince doing just that. (Sorry Lenny). Watch him shred at 4:47. This is Music Monday. Rest in Peace, purple one … and thanks for the wink😉