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A Rather Remarkable Sort of Magic

There was a rather remarkable sort of magic that happened in ART YARD Summer Session 2021. In my opinion, this magic was made manifest through the organic collaborative process of so many extraordinary people.

Final critique for Summer Session 2021 at FiveMyles Gallery

Managing Director Dennis Buonagura, Teaching Artist Reg Lewis and I worked together planning, dreaming, organizing and scheming. Even as the program went into action we continued to organically respond to each session and truly embody our aim to heal and restore. Our first two weeks of virtual classes included exceptional artists from far-flung locations including California, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, Dominican Republic, and, of course, New York City. The third week of Summer Session took place in person in Crown Heights, Brooklyn at Salon on Kingston, a community jazz and poetry venue. Open windows to the activities on the avenue, gold velvet drapes, drums, a piano, carpets and working disco ball provided quite an environment for a professional level intensive artist residency.

Salon on Kingston
Reg teaching, Robin, Kevin and Akash listening at Salon on Kingston
Elizabeth, August, Kevin, Akash, Jacob and drums

Participating artists created large-format watercolor paintings inspired by my own Inside Outside Windowphilia. For many this was a first foray into watercolor, for everyone it was a first working at this scale. The resulting work is stunning, moving in content, well painted, quirky, profound and at times humorous. I am truly honored to show my own paintings with these pieces in our exhibition The Way We See It at FiveMyles Gallery September 18 – October 10, 2021.

Meridith McNeal, Inside Outside Quarantine Fire Escapes, 2021, watercolor on paper, 78x55"

Reg summarizes: "Today, (Day 5) we concluded our summer session by visiting FiveMyles art gallery and performance space, the site for our fall exhibition. Once there, students used their sketch books to capture and recreate images from the artwork in the current exhibit ("Tin Foil Has Many Uses”) that appealed to their interest and attracted their attention most. They produced some surprising representations of the artwork as they sought to observe the details through the stillness of the “Shhh” or through contemplation of the techniques and choices the exhibiting artists employed in the execution of their work. During critique, extra time was set aside for the participating students and artists to not only compare, contrast, and complement each other’s sketch work representations, but also to reflect upon their impressions of the entire summer session. Many spoke of the transformative experience of being in a supportive environment which gave them permission to be vulnerable or else the courage to venture outside of their comfort zones. Either way, the overwhelming response was one of gratitude which I am certain will have a lasting effect for all summer session participants.

Drawing from "Tin Foil Has Many Uses” at FiveMyles

Drawings of art on view by Zahir, Sigrid, Sarah, Robin, Jacob (x2), Elizabeth, August, Akash:

Once finished, we took a stroll a few blocks away to Aita Trattoria for an elegant celebratory lunch. There we enjoyed sublime salads, magnificent pasta dishes and fine desserts that made for a festive mood (while listening to a fabulous sound track from the late 1970’s). What a way to conclude a session of art making in “good taste.” Ultimately, the experience from Day 1 of our on-line virtual classes to the last day of our in-person session definitely exceeded all expectations.

Looking back, Day 1 of our live in-person summer session started by Meridith giving the participating artists a lesson on how to effectively use watercolors (as it is the primary medium for the project). Students then practiced the watercolor application techniques by painting portraits of fruits with an additional objective to leave spaces of the canvas white as a means to emphasize light and provide brilliance. Although some of the students were inexperienced with using watercolors, all of the results were beyond successful as the practice portraits glowed upon their small canvases - stunning, refreshing, and some even edible.

Zahir and Akash painting
Working on fruit paintings while Dennis and Reg hang paper.

Watercolor practice fruit paintings by Zahir, Kevin, Sigrid, Robin, Jacob, Elizabeth, Delphine, Akash and August:

Students were then introduced to the overall concept and title for the exhibition, “The Way We See It: Inside & Outside Our Windows of…(Reflection).” Students then began drafting ideas in their sketchbooks that reflected the window based theme. A few students even started to sketch their concepts upon the large scale canvases.

On Day 2, the participating artists began working on their large paintings, transferring their ideas from their sketchbooks to their canvasses in pencil and/or pen until they were ready to add their initial layers of watercolor. Their concepts slowly began to emerge although students were working at a broad range of paces.

On Day 3 students continued developing their paintings with patience and almost meditative persistence. The objective of the “Shhh” actually permeated the atmosphere. A well-earned recess from this highly focused work came in the form of a pizza lunch break provided by Gardel Prudent, one of ART YARD’S most enthusiastic supporters. Artists resumed work on their paintings afterward with silent urgency knowing they only had one more working day of class remaining.

Pizza lunch provided by Gardel

On Day 4, the students set out to finish their paintings the moment they arrived, and although it appeared as if some students would need an extra week or so, they miraculously found a rhythm and pace along with the creative solutions that allowed them to finish almost exactly at our last minute of work time. The results were absolutely stunning and left many of us at a loss for words when we endeavored to share our impressions of the artwork during critique. In other words (without giving away too much) you must make plans to attend the exhibit when it opens in September; if nothing else, the ideas and aesthetic beauty inherent in the overall presentation will inspire you to pursue those strategies, practices and expressions that you can incorporate into your own life in order to increase your ability to heal and restore.

Zahir Prudent, My Window of…Memory, 2021, watercolor on paper, 55x36"
Sigrid Dolan, My Window of…Shush, 2021, watercolor on paper, 55x36"
Robin Grant, My Window of…Busy Stillness, 2021, watercolor on paper, 55x36"
Jacob Rath, My Window of…Zoom Out, 2021, watercolor on paper, 36x55"
Elizabeth Morales, My Window of…Liberty?, 2021, watercolor on paper, 55x36"
August Levenson, My Window of…Blissful Ignorance, watercolor on paper, 36x48"
Akash Wilmont, My Window of…Peace, 2021, watercolor on paper, 55x36"

Kevin, Sarah and Delphine's paintings are still in progress. Check back as I will update as they finish!

That should bring us full circle. So with that in mind, please have an extraordinary second half to your summer. See you in September! And when everything becomes a little overwhelming, please remember - Shhh…”

Dennis adds: “I am so happy to know that our students support and encourage each other - even when not in class. During our summer session at Salon On Kingston, I overheard a group of students sitting outside and chatting during lunch break. Kevin was explaining to the others about creating a lesson plan and the importance of selecting an artist whose work you are inspired by and how it relates to our theme and the lesson itself. He then asked Robin if she’d considered teaching a class. Robin replied that she didn’t feel that she was up to the level yet - to which Kevin quickly and adamantly responded “Oh YES you are!”.

We are very lucky to have such a great group.”

Kevin and Akash study completed paintings

ART YARD supporter Ryan Behroozi, who joined us for our celebratory lunch, writes: “Thanks for lunch. It was so nice seeing you and so many familiar ART YARD faces plus meeting some new folks too. You have quite a special crew there!

And that lunch -- quite spectacular! I was really blow away by the homemade pasta dishes. I had the cavatelli (great smoky eggplant flavor), Cecile had the basil gnocchi and we tried each other’s dishes. The sauces were great but the pastas themselves were so intensely flavorful and delicious -- I can’t remember having better pasta dishes! I think we’ll go back. Thanks again. ART YARD Rules!”

Sarah, Dennis, Ryan and Rachael at Aita Trattoria

We are deeply grateful to Amber and Nyneve at Salon on Kingston for the use of the space; Gardel Prudent for the excellent pizza lunch and ongoing support; Gardy St. Fleur for visiting our program in action; Roberto Aita for the delicious and festive end of year celebration at Aita Trattoria; Hanne Tierney at FiveMyles for hosting today's ART YARD Summer Session and the upcoming exhibition of our artwork.

ART YARD Summer Session 2021 and The Way We See It is sponsored in part by Con Edison Arts and Cultural Program.

The Way We See It is sponsored, in part, by the Greater New York Arts Development Fund of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, administered by Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC).

Spotted on Washington Avenue on my walk to FiveMyles this morning

The Revolution will be Live.

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Wow! The work from the Summer Session is fantastic! Kudos to all participants and to Reg for bringing it all together. It's really inspiring.

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