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I am Who I Say I Am

This week ART YARD Advanced Studio on Zoom learned about the art and social activism of Lily Yeh and her group Barefoot Artists in a fascinating session with Teaching Artist Vera Tineo.

Vera explains her concept for the lesson: “Art can heal us and our community. Advanced Studio Artists were tasked to confront a problem their community faces and illustrate the problem and/or possible solutions in any medium. Healing Community is conducive to healing yourself.”

From Vera's PowerPoint introduction of Lily Yeh

Yeh’s Village of Arts and Humanities

I found Yeh’s work so inspiring and not unlike what we do at ART YARD! In my piece I referenced the look of Yeh’s gorgeous brightly colored mosaics as well as the wonderful birds eye view map of the Village of Arts and Humanities in my vision of a permeant space for ART YARD.

Meridith McNeal, Healing our Community

In her first piece Nayarit also takes direct inspiration from Lily Yeh’s artwork, in particular her early traditional Chinese landscape ink drawings. Then in a lovely watercolor she created a second artwork addressing the horrible effects of plastic waste on birds.

Nayarit Tineo, Healing our Community I & II

Many of us laughed out loud when Pat’s piece came up during critique. Finding great humor in her spot-on depiction of that completely overwhelmed feeling we have all experienced. When she then explained her topic was the overwhelming frustration of healthcare in this country we heartily complimented her visual critique of that hulking problem!

Pat Larash, Healing our Community

Karla depicted a stylized rendition of her view out the studio window. She explains: “The tree appears in many of Yeh’s works. I reference it as a symbol of hope, growth and breaking free….also as witness to the passing of time and it’s issues. In the Japanese culture, sacred trees symbolize both birth and death, beauty and violence. In liturgical/religious symbolism green symbolizes hope and life. Black, eternity; Yellow, youth and happiness; White, birth and new life. Color symbolism is used through history in many art forms. Interesting how my work suddenly appeared to have a sidewalk like image below a tree….must have channeled that poem of Delphine’s. Comparison with the tree as visual focus.”

Karla Prickett, Healing our Community

Delphine created two touching and powerful pieces. One about her sadness at those who do not operate from a place of love. She also provides a stop-gap by depicting a plunger, symbolic of taking action to reestablish a loving community.

Delphine Levenson, Healing our Community

Delphine's second piece goes along with a poem she wrote recently on her way to school.

A lonely Birds Call

By Delphine Levenson

Wind blowing through the wrestling leaves

Sap trickling down the tree bark

The call of a lonely crow sitting

on the Highbranch the snap of

A twig as a critter rustles behind a bush

The crunch of a foot print in the snow

The crash of the shimmering ocean riding up on the shore

My toes sunk in the sand as water rushes over them

A tickle up to my fingers

I'm in peace

I'm in my calm

And I am home

Delphine Levenson, Healing our Community II

Ed trains a gimlet eye on the despicable thoughtless waste of ultra rich, and the plight of gripping substance abuse amongst the destitute.

Ed Rath, Healing our Community

Vera and Zeke both look at the plight of people living without homes. Vera honing in on the growing population taking shelter at her local subway stop in Queens. Zeke focusing on vacant buildings in Portland, ME which should in fact be inhabited.

Vera Tineo, , Healing our Community

Zeke Brokaw, Healing our Community

Jacob takes on the fight for a Living Wage, casting a dim look upon the often proffered pizza party in lieu of adequate pay. His glitter slice packs even more of a wallop when you know how much Jacob loves pizza!

Jacob Rath, Healing our Community

Vera sums up the session: “I chose to present the work of Lily Yeh her art and her activism and its nomadic and hybrid style as a parallel to that of ART YARD! Our tenacity to survive and thrive through covid has made us a closer community, similar to Yeh’s work. We all dug in to important issues from health insurance and tax stress, to the need for housing to stop gun violence.”

Even in its unfinished form Marilyn’s piece could and SHOULD be used as a public service poster!

Marilyn August, Healing our Community


Once again frigid temperatures kept ART YARD Advanced Studio usually in person operating on Zoom. In this session titled I am Who I Say I Am Teaching Artist Aisha Tandiwe Bell introduced us to the art and ideas of Toyin Ojih Odutola who says of her work: “My Biography is written in my eyes, on my skin in the texture of my hair. It is woven into my breath.” And to portraits by Michael Volpicelli composed of layered text relating to the person depicted.

Toyin Ojih Odutola, Birmingham, 2014

Michael Volpicelli, Israel Kamakawiwo`ole

Aisha opened the lesson asking each of us to recount something about yourself that none of the others in our group would know about you. As we took turns sharing these tidbits, we unwittingly exposed our vulnerability to each other. The effect: it made us feel closer. This is a great strategy to use in your artwork. Sharing personal things with your audience develops deeper emotional connections (e.g. Vincent Van Gogh, or Alice Neel) cementing your shared humanity.

Aisha then had us create a portrait of ourselves or others using one or both of the techniques employed by these artists. Both Aisha and Ed used a combination of methods in their self-portraits.

Aisha Tandiwe Bell, I am Who I Say I Am

Ed Rath, I am Who I Say I Am

Likewise Nayarit worked with self-portraiture separating facial features to take back negative comments she has received over the years.

Nayarit Tineo, I am Who I Say I Am

Vera went big! Her digital piece a portrait of world powers and political mishegoss.

Vera Tineo, I am Who I Say I Am

Ed compliments several artists: “Naya's piece poetically expresses the idea that, The Mind is not located inside the Brain. Indeed, contemporary brain scientists are discovering more evidence that consciousness may in fact be located outside the body. Naya's drawing of two heads connected back to back, one with a brain, the other with a spiral of words perfectly illustrates the idea that, Language is the link between Consciousness and the Mind.

Naya Jackson, I am Who I Say I Am

Using small black dots to build his self- portrait, Wayne's phantom-like visage dances like a sun shower on a hot sidewalk.

Wayne Gross, I am Who I Say I Am

Likewise, the exquisite line work in Pat and Meridith's portraits of Edgar Allan Poe and Ruth Asawa is so delicate they appear to be held together by static electricity, offering tantalizing evidence that perhaps Bishop Berkeley's thesis that the exterior world does not exist was right.

Pat Larash, I am Who I Say I Am (Edgar Allan Poe)

Meridith McNeal, I am Who I Say I Am (Ruth Asawa)

"In closing," Ed finishes, "always remember: We're not crazy. We're Artists."


Dennis writes: Our partnership school, Brooklyn New School (BNS), was closed on Tuesday in celebration of Lunar New Year. It's too bad, in a way, that we are only at BNS one day per week. Think of the excellent projects we could have made with our students all week - tiger costumes, tiger paintings and drawings, sculptures of those waving hand cats that we see everywhere around town (they're called Maneki-neko - and they're actually Japanese altho one does see them in most Chinese restaurants and shops), or simply lots of art making about all those fruits eaten to celebrate the New Year.

Then I thought .... can a person from a Brooklyn Italian American family have a personal Lunar New Year memory? Why not? I do.

I worked with a lovely and very energetic and smart Chinese-American woman for many years - her name is MeiFong Wong. She was known as Mei Mei to her family because she was the youngest of all of her brothers and sisters (and Mei Mei means "little sister"). I would refer to her as The aMEIzing Mei because she worked non-stop all day. When I'd say that, she'd walk away shaking her head. She'd always give me one of those beautiful red envelopes with money in it and a little Maneki-neko at Lunar New Year. I had a pretty big collection of them as the years went by. Once, someone gave me a solar energy powered figure of Queen Elizabeth who'd give a royal wave when in the right light. I placed QEII amongst all the waving cats. Mei looked at it, didn't say a word, took it off my desk and put it in a bottom drawer and walked away .... shaking her head.

Dennis Buonagura, Beautiful Red Envelope from MeiFong Wong

But in addition to red envelopes and waving cats, Mei always brought me fruit from a Chinese grocery in Chinatown. I could never identify most of them - but she'd stand and wait until she saw me at least taste every single one. She told me their names and what traditions or superstitions belonged to each one - I mostly remember that oranges and kumquats and pomelos symbolized prosperity because of their golden color. I once tried to return her kindness and brought her some fruit from Whole Foods for the new year - they were oranges that were individually wrapped in their own little jackets. You know - the ones that look like they're wearing down (poly-fiberfill) vests. She took one look at them in their foam parkas, shook her head and walked away. I can only imagine what she told her family when she got home.

I miss Mei. I think I'll call her today. Gung Hay Fat Choy everyone.


In other art news:

Hearty congratulations to ART YARD Artists Karla Prickett who writes: “Exciting news from Kansas! The Artist Enrichment Grant I applied for has been approved! Thanks to all of you at ART YARD BKLYN for inviting me to join you in creative expression and dialogue!! After several months, I recently looked over pieces I had completed and was amazed at the variety in expression and composition…all only possible because of Advanced Studio and the enjoyment and challenges it presents. The grant will underwrite presentation materials for between 20 and 30 completed works. The July/August exhibit “The Brooklyn Exchange” will also include a narrative providing an overview of the program, inspirations from lessons and my thoughts regarding this incredible experience, especially during the Covid culture of the past year. I was compelled to share this great adventure with my Salina community as you all have broadened my world and enrich my life! I’m starting to feel like a small New York satellite!”


Congratulations to ART YARD Teaching Artist Rachael Wren on the opening of her solo exhibition Still It Grows on view at Rick Wester Fine Art (526 W 26th Street, Suite 417, NYC) from February 10 – April 2, 2022.

Excerpt rom the press release: "Still It Grows, explores the dichotomy between geometry and landscape, meticulous execution and rationality versus emotion and intuition, depicting space over location. Wren is particularly drawn to moments in nature in which form and space intermingle and are interchangeable.

Visualizing her canvases like the framework of a building, she utilizes geometry as the base for a sound structure, process and tool to layer and build upon. Using a square canvas provides symmetry and order to the work. She starts the work scheduling each placement along grid lines, which she leaves exposed. Wren views the framework of the grid lines as a “scaffolding” from where she improvises. Each line builds up multiple layers of shapes and colors that creates an ambiguous sphere of realism and abstraction and blurs the lines between the known and the unknown. The work is built up slowly, and Wren describes the clear amount of time spent with each line and layer as an “(invitation for) viewers to slow down in front of it too, the way one might stop and breathe deeper upon being in nature”.

Rachael Wren, Already There, 2021, oil on canvas, 72 x 72 inches


ART YARD Board member Cecile Chong shares news and this invitation to her curatorial debut with alongside invited co-curator Eva Mayhabal Davis. On view Februrary 19 – March 27, 2022 (Be) Tiger Strikes Asteroid New York Longing an exhibition of works by artists Jesus Benavente, Carlos Jiménez Cahua, Bonam Kim, and Alva Mooses. Nostalgia is a nexus for the works. Each one confronting and analyzing the complexity of nostalgia as a lingering sentiment and an underlying perspective to their history and identity. Through the image and object, they explore personal and universal confinements of living and being in the United States. Cecile will be at the exhibition February 20th from 1-6pm!

Alva Mooses I You Enter Dancing / There’s Always Sign I 2021 I Handmade paper I 11 x 15 in


In case you are curious as to where (else) in the world our ART YARD BKLYN tote bags have been found? Here‘s one in London - at the Charing Cross station and at Piccadilly Circus.



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