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Positivity and Growth

At the completion of ART YARD Advanced Studio on zoom this week we had an interesting conversation about how as artists and as teachers we are really the sum of all our experiences. ART YARD Artist Ajani Russell presented the very first of their two-part inaugural effort as Teaching Artist. We were all so impressed with their work. While we bantered during critique about the many elements that came together in this wonderfully successful session, a participating artist asked Ajani: “Is this really the first class you have ever taught?!” Ajani’s response really got to the heart of it for me -- “Yes, in a way, but there are also all the many years I have been absorbing and learning as a student.” It is like when someone asks me: “Meridith, how long did it take you to paint that piece?” and I think well, a month of actual painting, a few years of thinking about the concept and decades of work!

In our first of a two-part session entitled Ideographic Mandalas, Ajani prepared a top-notch PowerPoint which cataloged many types of historical mark and symbol making, then introduced us the work of Tau Lewis.

Tau Lewis, Installation view in Brooklyn Bridge Park, 2022

Ajani summarizes the inspiration and actual session: “I visited 52 Walker Gallery in Soho for the opening of Tau Lewis’s show Vox Populi, Vox Dei, which featured several huge, wall mounted sculptures. The works, which presented mask-like qualities, seemed to steal some of my breath with their intensity. Each piece was sewn with bits of clothing, scraps of fabrics, and many different types of leathers to create recognizable features. While the size itself is impressively, the magnitude of the sculptures came from the expressions and spark behind the eyes.

Tau Lewis, Vox Populi, Vox Dei, installation view

Upon further exploration into Lewis’s work, I found information on her current installation at Brooklyn Bridge park, We Pressed Our Bellies Together and Kicked Our Feet, We Became Something So Alien That We No Longer Had Natural Predators, 2022. The motifs in these works reminded me of the undulating patterns I’ve witnessed in mandalas, circular creations used in Eastern spiritual practices as religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. I learned that Lewis’s works were formed with Ankra symbols- a logographic system of writing.

For the lesson, I wanted to change the shape of our canvases by having the class work within a circle while bringing a directional element to the lesson like that of mandalas. I was blown away by the range of themes and concepts the class explored through the lesson. From trees to numerology, everyone created their own pictographs around a theme, which were used as the motifs within their mandalas.

There were several pieces that utilized texture and negative space in a very engaging way. Although we worked in the boundaries of the circle, the range of compositional decisions felt deliberate in each work and supported the messages within the imagery.”

Ajani suggested we might start with a sketch developing our ideas and symbols. Time permitting we began work on our mandalas. Note: The works shown below are all in process and will be completed in class next week.

Delphine, who is the one exploring numerology, compliments “I loved the lesson it was hard but really fun!!”

Delphine Levenson, Ideographic Mandala (in progress)

Eden addresses the lesson presentation, complimenting Ajani “because the lesson was explained very well, very simple to understand, and the background information piqued my interests in language and gave me ideas for my upcoming lesson.”

Marilyn took the local rainy weather as her topic.

Marilyn August, Ideographic Mandala, test page and mandala in progress

Kevin who took inspiration from his work growing orchids and the natural world. He explains: “When creating our Ideographic Mandalas, I wanted to have my piece show positivity and growth. I placed the sun in the middle to represent warmth, and utilized trees and roots to show growth. At four points on the circle are orchid buds, which I placed to show the birth of something new."

Kevin Anderson, Ideographic Mandala, orchid, test page and mandala V1

Vera was also took on the nature theme.

Vera Tineo, Ideographic Mandala, test page and mandala V1

I circled back to my exploration of the Roman Goddess Minerva.

Meridith McNeal, Ideographic Mandala, test page and mandala in progress I & II

Pat worked out symbols for freedom and ideas.

Pat Larash, Ideographic Mandala, test pages I & II

Dakota pulled from his language skills, knowledge of symbols as well as his love of driving in his work.

Dakota Jones, Ideographic Mandala, test page and detail

Dakota noted that Ajani’s piece, in its current in-process state, has a Keith Haring feel to it!

Ajani Russell, Ideographic Mandala, test page and mandala in progress

Abby compliments: “I love the slides in Ajani’s presentation and how detailed/thorough they were especially when giving examples. I also enjoyed her selection art examples - all different but collectively viewed helped to express the lesson in a seamless manner!”

Maraya was not feeling great and had to skip out early still took time to share: “Love the lesson and am excited to be using my new dictionary of Symbols for this artwork! Ajani presented an outstanding and very interesting lesson. Also, I hadn’t hear of Tau Lewis but will definitely check out their work now.”

Karla Prickett, Ideographic Mandala, test page and mandala in progress

Karla writes: “Thanks to Ajani for a great lesson and introduction to a wonderful artist. I was particularly wowed by the large outdoor mandalas and large-scale fiber masks in the gallery photos! The layering of drawn lines in the mandalas was very intriguing as was the coloration. This lesson has inspired me to work with my lesson initiative a bit more than usual in the past few days! The circular format is open to so many possibilities and the artists responded in so many different ways! I am looking forward to where everyone takes their works this coming week.”


Teaching Artist Fatima Traore and Dennis worked with the students of The East New York High School of Arts and Civics, wrapping up a cycle based on "Meet-Cute" and hybrid creatures.

Art making in action at The East New York High School of Arts and Civics

Students worked in layering watercolor paint and matching up their pieces in a diptych manner. Zian's pieces show great mixes of color and her hybrid painting has a futuristic look to it. Everyone loved it. Critique included compliments - and ideas for future lessons.

Student painting Meet Cute

Student drawing Meet Cute (in progress)

Student painting Meet Cute

Student drawing in progress Meet Cute

Student painting Meet Cute

Student painting Meet Cute


Dennis and Teaching Artist Evelyn Beliveau (assisted by Sarah Gumgumji) are back at our partnership school in Jersey City, PS 6, with a lesson called Accordion Books of the Four Seasons. Sarah cut and folded dozens of large watercolor paper into accordion books while Evelyn showed a presentation of various ways to depict the four seasons in art - personification and abstraction being two of them.

Evelyn presenting her lesson

Evelyn writes: “We had a great first day back at PS 6 in 2023! Alongside the invaluable Dennis and Sarah, I presented a lesson on making accordion books of the four seasons. Students looked at art historical examples of interpretations of the seasons in the forms of personification, abstraction, narrative scenes, and landscapes/nature scenes.

They brainstormed their own experiences of the different seasons--moods, activities, colors and sights--and began sketching or painting the pages of their accordion books. Students were engaged and chose various methods to capture the seasons. Some went abstract, while others drew beautiful trees and flowers. Many students, who jumped right into watercolors on day 1, learned valuable lessons about the optimal amount of water to use and the importance of letting colors dry completely. I'm excited to see their projects develop in the next two sessions!”

Dennis recounts: “The presentation was sent earlier in the week to each classroom teacher who generously took the time to show it to their students - a great luxury for us to have students arrive in class with ideas already swimming in their heads. Evelyn gave the students the option to begin with pencil or jump right into painting.

Students viewed works by Alfons Mucha (Czech) and Cy Twombly (American), amongst many others, for inspiration and discussion.

While still in their beginning stages, the works are thoughtful and carefully drawn/painted. Some chose scenes from nature to show the changes in the seasons, while others went the abstract route and selected colors to represent them. Brief critiques covered challenges as well as ideas for displaying the books.”

Panel details of student work

Sarah adds: “Evelyn created a great presentation that led to a great conversations about different seasons and brought up amazing ideas that helped the students to be creative. 👍”


Other Art News

We are thrilled to hear from BWAC President Alicia Degener that our Winter Trees paintings have been moved to the upper floor (our studio area!) to flank the stage for the BWAC New Year concert series kick off! These beautiful paintings look great in every space they have graced.

ART YARD Winter Trees on view behind musicians performing at BWAC


ART YARD Artist Karla Prickett reviews Ron Michael’s solo exhibition at Kansas Wesleyan University Gallery in Salina, KS. “Ron Michael is a studio artist and Director of the Sandzen Memorial Gallery in Lindsborg, KS, a small Swedish community near Salina with a renowned liberal arts college. I serve on the exhibitions committee for the gallery and have known Ron and admired his work for several years.

Sculpture and drawing by Ron Michael

This presentation of Ron’s work is especially dynamic in this particular setting where lighting and walls highlight the beautiful and rich earth tones found in native clays he harvests regionally. Ron is inspired by the surfaces and forms and hues found in nature. He employs the simplest methods possible capturing raw textures and hues which join and absorb earth and sky. His drawings echo the surface details of his ceramic vessels and sculpture creating an immersion in art forms inspired and created of Kansas earth.


Congratulations to ART YARD Teaching Artist Iviva Olenick who has an embroidered collage included in Issue 10 of Cut Me Up Magazine, founded by artist Andrea Burgay, a master of collage and curator of this issue. Iviva has invited us to attend the launch party on Saturday, January 14, 6-9pm at Quimby’s in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Iviva Olenick, Bird Brained, 2022.

Additional compliments to Iviva who has been awarded a Wave Will Winter Workspace Artists Residency in which she plans to immerse herself in plant magic and local histories through a new lens as she continues her study of Ashkenazi herbalism and intercultural dye and fiber making from plants.


I took Kevin's lead in naming this recap! I think these are good aims for the week ahead!


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