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The Secret Growing

Updated: Oct 21, 2022

Zooming in all the way from Marseille, France ART YARD Teaching Artist Alison Guinet presented an ART YARD Advanced Studio session based on the work of ART YARD Artist Ed Rath.

Ed Rath, The Machine Age, 2016, acrylic on canvas

Ed Rath, Pieta, 2017, acrylic on canvas

We were really glad to view and discuss well over a dozen of Ed’s tree paintings. In addition, Alison shared the first three minutes of a video of Ed discussing the work.

Alison asked participating artists to consider the following questions as a springboard to their own work:

  • If a tree could feel, what do you think it would think right now?

  • How nature reacts to cities? To human?

  • How does it feel about its condition?

  • What would it do if it could actually act? Move and take decisions.

  • How does it feel to step into each other shoes?

  • Through this experience, what can you do better for nature around you?

Rachel describes her piece: “I live right near an elevated Long Island Railroad stop. We can see directly to the tracks and station, and people waiting at the station can see directly into our home. To help combat this, several beautiful trees were planted, which improve our view greatly. However, the trees are a point of contention between my building and the LIRR itself. They have ripped out several trees that others have planted, and have threatened to rip out more. I imagined what it would be like if the trains stopped overnight, and the trees were allowed to reclaim the space. They would eventually be able to take over the tracks, but their own lives and growth would be stunted by this event. I chose to leave the trees bare for this reason, and also because their limbs entwined with the tracks reminded me of octopuses.”

Rachel Rath, If I Were A Tree

Sigrid, Zeke and I (in collaboration with Lola!) all worked with trees directly outside where we live, trying to imagine how they might be feeling and acting.

Sigrid Dolan, If I Were A Tree, The Secret Growing

Zeke Brokaw, If I Were A Tree

Meridith McNeal & Lola, If I Were A Tree (in progress I & II), Turning Color

Delphine also worked in cut paper. In her poignant piece hands gently cup a seedling of potential.

Delphine Levenson, If I Were A Tree

Jane painted a crowded subway filled with trees.

Jane Hintington, If I Were A Tree

Pat and Ed think about trees in the city.

Pat Larash, If I Were A Tree

Ed Rath, If I Were A Tree

Kevin tells us: “Since the point of this lesson was thinking about plants in human society, I initially thought of our current relationship with them. Plants are just like people in regards to adapting and progressing at the expense of the surrounding environment. The many infrastructures that people have built--houses, subways, roads--required uprooting natural land. Plants do something similar; tree roots, for example, have the power to break through stone causing sidewalks and buildings to crack. Therefore, both try to do the same; survive. “

Kevin Anderson, If I Were A Tree

Karla who continued her mixed media piece with cut paper, ink, colored pencil, Tree silhouettes from vintage Uncle Wiggley story/color book. She explains “I was very inspired by Allison’s selections of Ed’s tree pieces. My work might have remained black and white but his bold color drew me in!!! Especially the reds and yellows. Once I put one color in it was compelling to go for bold!! I approached the piece considering trees from a below ground perspective of the meandering roots and their history and strength. I imagine a reverse umbrella of root network…it’s outer reaches a mirror of the tree’s leaflines.”

Karla Prickett, If I Were A Tree

Alison contemplates her indoor plants with mixed media and text

Alison Guinet, If I Were A Tree

Alison sums up the session: “I was glad how everyone responded to the lesson’s theme and how people approached in their own way their connection to nature. I was also glad for Ed that he also responded to his own work in a different way”


Focusing on an act of self-care and grooming that humans and animals practice to upkeep themselves physically and in terms of health Teaching Artist Fatima Traore presented Zooming into Grooming on Tuesday evening session of ART YARD Advanced Studio in person at BWAC

Fatima tells us: “All artists in attendance were encouraged to think about how humans and animals groom themselves and each other both publicly and privately. This included acts of self-care and other tendencies all living things partake in to improve their looks or simply relieve them of any discomfort. I displayed an array of reference photos for inspiration and highlighted that grooming isn't always a pleasant process. It can be anywhere from luxurious (taking a bubble bath, getting nails done) to repulsive (picking nose, clipping toenails), but either way it is a real and true experience and the work that followed afterwards was just that.

Ed summarizes the class discussion: “Veering off track from aesthetic roads well-traveled, Fatima challenged us to depict an act of self-care and grooming that humans and animals practice to upkeep themselves physically and in terms of health. Furthermore, Fatima stated that acts of revulsion could be included. She suggested we could depict an act of grooming we have witnessed in public.

At critique it was noted that subjects like picking one’s nose, or popping a pimple, were more likely to be found in Mad Magazine or an episode of The Simpsons, mainstays for low humor and social criticism. We fine artists don’t usually tread there.

The lesson begs the question: “How far can we venture outside our comfort zone?” Is feeling safe and comfortable always the right way to go with our work?

This question led to the bigger question, “What is Certainty?” How can we be certain that something is beautiful or ugly? What are the conditions that lead us to form judgements on this question?

Lastly, we discussed the problem of translation in communicating our ideas and opinions. When one reads different translations from different time periods of some of our great literature and poetry, we are left with that uneasy feeling that maybe what we were so certain about from the first reading may not be so certain after all. As we open up our minds through art and literature, we discover that things are not what they seem.

Welcome to the world of art.”

Assata, Fatima and Ajani at work at BWAC

Fatima brought in an acrylic painting she started which illustrated a zoomed in and full on nose picking. She used herself as a reference to get the desired angle and capture the act both shamelessly and beautifully.

Fatima Traore, Zooming into Grooming

Similarly Ajani used watercolor and acrylic paint to zoom into grooming by showing her finger pulling a slimy strand of gunk from her eye.

Ajani Russell, Zooming into Grooming

In her paintings Lola Your Ears Look Great! and Rik Your Ears Look Great! Meridith show her cats Lola and Rik in their trademark grooming ritual touching up their ears.

Meridith McNeal, Zooming into Grooming, Lola Your Ears Look Great!

Meridith McNeal, Zooming into Grooming, Rik Your Ears Look Great!

Ed and Assata illustrated grooming images through process. Ed used NYC trains as a reference magnifying women who apply makeup through small mirrors on the train.

Ed Rath, Zooming into Grooming, Lipstick

Assata showed the process of straightening hair from its natural state while mimicking the hair patterns in the background with bold graphic lines.

Assata Benoit, Zooming into Grooming, Flat Iron

Candy explained her layered drawing of several yoga asanas: “My self-care takes the form of finding and engaging in activities that bring me joy!”

Candy Heiland, Zooming into Grooming, Yoga


This week in ART YARD Portfolio at LaGuardia we were once again doubling up on tasks. I started the session with a short PowerPoint on self-portraiture from a 15th-century portrayal of Roman painter Laia at work, up to Rachel Rath’s 10-year daily practice of diaristic drawings from observation. Other artists self-portraits we discussed include Diego Velázquez (1656), Edouard Vuillard, (1890), Frida Kahlo (1945), Lucien Freud (1965), Jacob Lawrence (1977), Adreien Piper (1981), and Russell Craig (2016).

While participating students worked on self-portrait through observation in a reflective surface, we switched off for one-on-one breakout sessions to review drafts of individual portfolios. Students were asked to:

· Make sure you include the best photographs possible!

· Carefully consider the school and its specific portfolio requirements.

· Clearly label all work as follows: Slide number. Name, Title, date, medium, size. Short description.

Self Portrait by Charlie

Self Portrait by Clara

Self Portrait by Liam

Self Portrait by Sarah B.

Teaching Artist Sarah Gumgumji led critique, having students hold up images to the camera while I finished up portfolio review. I am still waiting to get images from the students! (Check back, I will update as the work is turned in.)


Other Art News:

In a bit of a multi-layered coincidence the morning after Alison’s tree inspired lesson I came across a review of another French Artist, named Christophe Guinet (same last name as Alison!) who is making fascinating tree sculptures that mimic the ability of trees to assume other forms!


CONGRATULATIONS to ART YARD Artists Sigrid Dolan who has been selected for an internship at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum this semester!!

Sigrid painting during ART YARD Summer Session 2022



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