Open to creativity: City artists share expansive definition of art during Open Studios

Although Pablo Picasso said that “art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life,” the dust from everyday art is thick in the air at the studio shared by photographer Andy Anello and his partner of five years, aerial artist Teresa Kochis. They’re in the process of remodeling the apartment/workspace they share at Ropeworks on Sawyer Street, a community of a dozen or so artists.
Anello and Kochis, who moved to New Bedford in 2009 after a longtime tenure in New York City, are two of the many vibrant faces prepping for New Bedford Open Studios, an event this Saturday and Sunday that offers the public a glimpse into one of working life’s most intimate of spaces — the artist’s den.
For the young couple, New Bedford has provided something that New York couldn’t — an affordable standard of living, easy access to Providence and Boston, plus the high ceilings essential for Kochis’ work, a combination of “circus arts” (trapeze/aerial silks) and modern dance.
“We talk all the time about the irony of how people think of New York as being this great Mecca for the arts, but it’s really hard to live there as an artist now,” Kochis says. “You spend a lot of time just working to make ends meet and you live in little shoeboxes. And it’s wonderful and stimulating and there’s so much going on there, but it’s hard to live there on a daily basis.”
At the Open Studios, Kochis will present a new dance piece at 4 p.m. both days, while Anello displays his photographs and video, which deal with memory. Both are driven to participate in the event, not by the prospect of selling work (though both see it as a promotional tool), but by the opportunity to reach out into the community. During the last couple years, Anello has noted the contrast between art-goers in the Big Apple and the Whaling City.
“It’s definitely a different sort of patronage,” Anello says. “A lot of times people (in New Bedford) will walk into the space and if it’s all sort of video, people will just sort of scan across the space and they don’t see any paintings and they turn around and leave. That’s a common response, and I’m like, ‘No wait — there’s art here,’ and get them to engage with it. Surprisingly, though, a lot of people get into it or find it funny or interesting … sometimes they’re surprised by their own reaction to it, which I think is really nice.”
Kochis agrees, “Being transplanted to New Bedford from New York, that’s what’s great about it, is you do have the chance to reach people who maybe don’t go to museums all the time, maybe aren’t engaged with contemporary art all the time.”
Across the highway in a very different kind of space are metal-smiths Dianne Reilly, Joost During and Susan Aygarn-Kowalski, who set up camp inside an old church on County Street four years ago.
Reilly remembers eyeing the abandoned space for years with her husband, During.
“We always drove by the church saying, ‘Wouldn’t this make a wonderful studio space, you know, in your dreams kind of thing’… We started looking for it on the listings and we’re like, ‘Oh we could never afford that, because we’re artists, we don’t make a lot of money.’ It’s kind of the condition, right? But we kept searching and searching and it was affordable and we came in, fell in love with it, and we got it.”
They set to work restoring the building, removing the pews, organ and pulpit but keeping the stained glass windows and remaining structure.
For Aygarn-Kowalski, sharing a space with her old friends — she and Reilly met when they were both UMass Dartmouth grad students in 2000 — requires a deep sense of trust, because the work they’re creating within that old sanctuary is, well, sacred.
“It’s almost, in a way, more personal than having someone in your living room,” she says. Covered wall-to-wall with different-shaped hammers, it might be the living room of Thor.
Curious visitors this weekend will get an ear-full from the three metal workers, particularly when it comes to all that ancient, heavy equipment. “When you say ‘metal smith’ most people think you weld,” says Kowalski. “People come in and they look at the tools and they just get this kid-like response, like, ‘What do you use those for?'”
“People see the material as being this hard, rigid thing, but if you think of metal, it’s a really thick clay,” says During, who trained in the Netherlands before moving to the United States in 1997.
“You can push it, you can pull it, you can stretch it. It is malleable. You can make it move,” says Aygarn-Kowalski. “When Joost takes a flat sheet and pulls it and stretches it into this beautiful undulating shape, you get this idea that you can move it. That’s the first misconception I get from people.”
The trio continue chatting about the rootedness of their tradiation (“stretching all the way to the Bronze Age”), the periodic table, the wonders of alchemy — how silver and copper are both soft materials, but if you combine the two, they become harder, and the melting temperature lowers.
Musing on a different kind of mystical balance, Kochis says that finding a good space and keeping it can be a challenge for artists.
“We tend to go into spaces that are affordable and use affordable space that maybe people don’t want to use, for whatever reason. Arts revitalize the economy and all that good stuff, that positive stuff. But then what tends to happen as the neighborhoods get revitalized, the neighbors get pushed out. So I think the thought behind this building was, let’s make a space that artists can live in and keep their space and not be pushed out. So I think we’re really fortunate to be here.”
While all the aforementioned artists have participated in New Bedford Open Studios before, there are a few artists who are new at the endeavor: OKO Arts Gallery and Studio, which opened this summer.
“Oko,” which means “eye” in Polish, was named honor of owner Hilary Burkitt’s great-grandfather, Kazimierz Proszynski, a Catholic Polish filmmaker who died in a concentration camp during the Holocaust.
Judith Paradise-Alden runs the Paradise-McFee Studios with her son, Ryan McFee; a venture that is new in every way for the former nurse. Although she may not have received formal artistic training, Paradise-Alden says that her career in the hospital system, which she had to leave in 2009 due to a back injury, has “absolutely helped” her painting.
“I’ve handled the human form for 38 years,” she says. “I’ve had my hands on people, so I know the bones.”
Paradise-Alden will offer demonstrations on watercolor technique at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
If You go …
What: Seventh annual New Bedford Open Studios
Where: The New Bedford Art Museum, located at 608 Pleasant St., New Bedford, serves as headquarters for the event, where studio-hoppers may attain free maps for a self-guided tour or climb aboard a free trolley provided by the city. The shuttle makes stops at the Wharfinger Building, Pier 3; Orchard Street Studios; Ropeworks; and Hatch Street.
When: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Preview exhibition will take place at the New Bedford Art Museum from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday.
Tickets: Self-guided tour is free; however, those looking for a fuller experience may board the shuttle for a “Studio Muse” guided tour, $15 in advance and $20 day of, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Pre-registration recommended. Most art for sale is priced below $350.
Information: Visit or email NBOS central office located at 1213 Purchase St., New Bedford. (508) 991-3122 ext. 113.
September 29, 2011 12:00 AM
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