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Staten Island, New York, United States

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Collaborative Process: Our Exhibition Is On View at the Tottenville Library, Staten Island

Bruce Cohn and I had the opening reception for Abrazo Argentina: Embracing A Culture last Saturday.  It was that special public moment when we could share the fruits of our labor and celebrate with the people closest to us, talk about our processes, and get some feedback about the work. We are happy to do that on an individual basis throughout the month, if someone wants to contact us (see previous blogpost for details).
Denise and Bruce, at right, talking about our artwork 
with friends at opening; library patrons in foreground.
By the end of installation day on Friday we were exhausted, after doggedly and efficiently installing our work both upstairs, high up on the walls in the reading room, and downstairs in the community rooms,  but were very satisfied. Just as we knew they would, the paintings and the photographs worked as a cohesive unit and we feel proud of the body of work and their presentation in the library. Our careful planning paid off. 

(c)2013 Denise Mumm
Recoleta Cemetery, 72” x 48”
paper lithography, collage, acrylic on canvas

Denise leading tour, 
Tango Dancers on the Street 
72” x 48”, paper lithography, collage, acrylic on canvas
The space available to us at the library was generous, but not without its challenges. We could hang work anywhere, but we had to use the picture rails. That required researching hardware online. We used "antique" brass hooks to hang all the work from the railing, with brass lanyards to hook onto the eyes of the canvas supports and many miles of picture wire strung from the photos.

(c)2013 Bruce Cohn
Teatro Colon
13 3/4"x 20 3/4"
pigment digital print

(c)2013 Denise Mumm Buenos Aires Streetscape
48"x73 ½"
paper lithography, collage, acrylic on canvas
To hang work under light fixtures in the community room, Bruce and his friend Joel Teicher created an ingenious solution of using a strip of wood, suspended by plastic coated wire wrapped around the light fixtures, and tightened by a turnbuckle. The photos were suspended from eye screws screwed into the bottom of the wooden strip.
Bruce's work in the community room

(c)2013 Bruce Cohn
City Bikes, BA, 13 3/4"x 20 3/4"
pigment digital print


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Collaborative Process: Our Exhibit Opens This Week

Abrazo Argentina: Embracing A Culture
Artists Denise Mumm and Bruce Cohn

November 2 - 30, 2013
Opening reception: November 2                 1-5 pm

Tottenville Library
7430 Amboy Road
Staten Island, NY 10307
Library hours: Mon 12 to 8
Tues - Thurs 11 to 6
Fri and Sat 10 to 5

Denise Mumm: denise.mumm@gmail.com
Bruce Cohn: bc4sail@aol.com
Library Manager: Courtney Castellane courtney_castellane@nypl.org

The Tottenville Library presents Abrazo Argentina: Embracing a Culture, a collaborative art exhibit by Staten Island artists, Bruce Cohn, a photographer from the South Shore, and Denise Mumm, a painter/collagist from the North Shore. This project is made possible (in part) by an Encore Grant from Staten Island Arts, with public funding from the New York State Council on the Arts.

Large-scale paintings and photographs will be displayed in the soaring reading room of this historic library. Smaller work will be hung downstairs in the more intimate community room. 
(c) 2013 Denise Mumm, Cafe Society, 48"x72"
paper lithograph, collage, acrylic on canvas

 c) 2013 Bruce Cohn
Carnaval Dancer, BA, pigment digital print, 10"x15 1/4"

Directions to the Tottenville Library:

Public Transportation from Staten Island ferry terminal:

Take Staten Island Rapid Transit to Tottenville. Get out at Tottenville stop, exit the station and head south on Main St., approximately 4 blocks to Amboy Rd, make a left. The library is between Brighton St. and Yetman Ave.

Verrazano Bridge to Staten Island Expwy (278W) to West Shore Expwy (Rt. 440). Follow 440 (look for sign indicating Outerbridge Crossing) for 8 miles to Arthur Kill Rd. Exit - (Exit #1 - last exit in New York City). Follow green signs to Amboy Rd.; right turn. Continue on Amboy Rd. to library (Branch is on the left, after passing through traffic light at Yetman Ave.)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Collaborative Process: Kicking it up a Notch

Bruce Cohn and I are coming into the homestretch for our exhibit Abrazo Argentina: Embracing a Culture.* At this point, Bruce has 13 pieces framed and ready to go. He has at least another 10 photos printed, some matted. I have 4 pieces finished and hanging on Bruce's walls, where I have room to back up and look at them, and we can see them with his photos. Hey - it looks like a nice show!

About 4 months into our project, Bruce suggested we revisit the library in Tottenville where our exhibit is going to be installed, with the idea mostly that he could envision the appropriate size for printing out his photos and how many pieces in the downstairs area we should prepare. It turns out that was a good move. We discovered that the upstairs wall space was NOT exactly all the same height on both sides of the room (a little drama). But, since I had not finished very many of the large canvas pieces (which is what we want to install up there) at that point, it was not tragic. I mentally re-adjusted my vague plan of shapes and sizes for the four pieces I planned to put on that side of the room.   Looking at the room again I thought 8 large-scale canvases would work well there.  

Bruce doing what he does
We reviewed all of Bruce's photos again. He, because he wanted to make sure he didn't miss a gem in the 1400-some photos he took in Argentina. I wanted to look at his photos for source material. I want to do another tango piece (okay - I ALWAYS want to do another tango piece - it's a compulsion), a gaucho collage, and a streetscape. These are only vaguely formed in my head. The photos refreshed my eyes. 

It has been such a gift to have Bruce walk into my studio at key points in the process and help me get unstuck. Also, having a deadline forces me to find solutions and move forward. By the same token, I have seen something in photos Bruce had previously dismissed and urged him to reconsider them. One of his photos was a whimsical shot of a crane and a lamppost. It caught my eye and made me laugh. I hope he prints it out and includes it in the show.

I have recently started using liquid acrylics, something I wish I had done from the start. I'm hoping this will speed up production (I hate to put it like that, but it's a reality), because I'm not spending so much time mixing paint. Little discoveries like this and the fact that I love working on the large scale canvases   are the side benefits of this project.

Bruce and I communicate constantly, e-mailing ideas and photos. I've asked him to make slides for me to project onto the canvas and trace around and he's printed dozens of source photos for me. 

Denise in her studio working on Cafe Life,
Carnavale in progress in background
photo (c) 2013 Bruce Cohn
We have to move quickly to finish up the art work. The intention was to be finished by the end of September and then to focus on installation and marketing in October. Now September is nearly over!

As it turns out, Bruce has been able to turn his attention to some marketing. Thank goodness. He designed our postcards and took care of getting them printed.  We talk up the exhibit everywhere we go and now we can hand out the postcard. He also had a sign made to put up in front of the library and is even making the structure to attach it to.

As for me, I'd better get back to the studio.
*This project is made possible (in part) by an Encore Grant from Staten Island Arts, with public funding from the New York State Council on the Arts.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Collaborative Art Process: Inspiration Amid Plodding Work

Bruce Cohn and I are diligently working on our "Embrazo Argentina" project for November at the Tottenville Library.* But it's not all work. We occasionally take some time off for inspiration. It's been a couple of months since I've posted, so I'll have to catch you up a bit.

During the rainy Memorial Day weekend Bruce and I visited the John Singer Sargent watercolor exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. GORGEOUS! We both felt like it was a mini-vacation, enjoying the scenes of boats and Italian tourist sites.

My mother was an accomplished watercolorist, a purist, and she always used the white of the paper for highlights. I was shocked to discover that Sargent had "cheated" by using opaque watercolor to add highlights sometimes.
John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925). 
White Ships, circa 1908. Translucent and opaque watercolor 
and wax resist with graphite underdrawing, 
14 x 19 3/8 in. (35.6 x 49.2 cm). Brooklyn Museum     
In my mind, this is the main reason watercolor is the most challenging paint medium. You really have to think ahead and have a light touch with the paint. My watercolors always look muddy, but my mother put in the time and work to develop her skill. And here was this upstart in a museum cheating!  But, I digress. . . 

For me and Bruce, the Sargent paintings were a great illustration of how to paint light with color, which we both do, although he uses a camera and I use paint.  Sargent also showed us what can be accomplished with a limited palette. 

From June 5 to July 6, Bruce was included in a competitive photography exhibit called Sex/Love http://www.umbrellaarts.com/exhibitions/sex-love at the Umbrella Arts Gallery in Manhattan. The curator was Harvey Stein, the instructor at the workshop that Bruce went to in Argentina. It was a very strong, though crowded, show. Bruce's piece was a black and white pinhole photograph of us in the bathtub. He claims it's a collaboration because the setting was my idea, as well as both of us appearing in it. The whole thing was great fun and I'm so proud of Bruce.

Nelson Stevens, guest of honor
Faith Ringgold,
and Denise Mumm
Denise Mumm, Bruce Cohn
in front of Faith's house with her
"flying over the bridge" mural
We also took the time out to attend Faith Ringgold's annual Garden Party in June, a fundraising event in her New Jersey garden.  I worked as an artist assistant for Faith for many years, stitching up her story quilts before she painted on them. She is a constant inspiration for me, not only in her painting, but also in her generosity of spirit. The way she has stubbornly insisted on telling her own story, in her own way, sets an example for all artists, but especially women. Introducing Bruce to her was very important to me.

The work I am creating for our exhibit is the closest I have ever come to Faith's own work. I'm working on unstretched unprimed canvas, as she does, and at the same scale as Faith. And, most importantly to me, I'm also starting each piece by staining it with a bright color, which gives a liveliness to all the layers on top.

We went to see the Civil War photography exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in July. Neither of us quite realized how key photography was to the public experience of that war.

We also went to the Guggenheim to see the James Turrell exhibit. Once again, it was all about light. The installation in the central atrium was transfixing, the best use of that space I've seen. We were dissappointed that the walls up the spiral ramp were blank, especially when we were waiting to get into the last room for 45(!) minutes. On the other hand, the small Kandinsky exhibit near the cafe was VERY inspiring. We loved the playfulness and whimsy, the color combinations, and the compositions.

So much for inspiration - time to get back to the studio!

*This project is made possible (in part) by an Encore Grant from Staten Island Arts, with public funding from the New York State Council on the Arts.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Collaborative Art Process: Painting Large, Playing with Photos

©2013 Bruce Cohn     Denise in her studio
Bruce wearing a leather
mask he brought back from
It's been awhile since I've written a blog post. That's because Bruce Cohn and I have been hard at work on our collaborative project!*  As we had hoped, we are both going to new places with our art, pushing each other into the studio and darkroom and inspiring each other.

I've been enjoying the pleasure of working on large canvas. Why haven't I done this before? Being enveloped by the painting, the dance of pulling back to look and making large gestures with my paintbrush, taking BIG chances - it's all exhilarating! I have been doing a little more painting and incorporating a little less of my prints in the large canvas pieces.
©2013 Bruce Cohn

Bruce's process is very different from mine. He has already printed out, matted and framed 5 photos. Done! The creative part for him happened in the camera when he was in Argentina in February. When he looks at his photo program on the computer he is adding the finishing touches to the image, determining the best size and what kind of matrix he wants to print on. He says "My process is selective and subtractive, with me responding to those images that speak, sometimes having to listen again."

 I've only finished 1 piece (at least I think it's finished). Of course
Working in the print studio
at the Noble Maritime Collection,
pulling a big paper lithograph
to be used as a collage
I had to start with a couple dancing tango for my first collage.  
The photo above shows me working on it. Working at this scale proved challenging when I was gluing large printed pieces down. It's taking a little time to perfect my technique. My creative process is quite different from Bruce's. I never know where a piece will end up. I only have a vague idea of theme and components when I start out, but that's the fun of it for me, being surprised by the process and following what interests me in the development. Bruce's photos serve as a reference, and sometimes a component, in the form of a print.

Even though the bulk of our work is done separate from each other, we look at each other's work when we have doubts or just want input. Bruce has helped me place the light falling on tango dancers in my painting. I have helped him choose the most dynamic shot of a bandoneon player and the right color tone for a paddler on the Rio de la Plata. We made a collage together so that Bruce could understand my process. He chose the colors, photos and composition. I acted as his assistant, mixing paints and gluing everything down. I tweaked the collage a bit after we finished. It's not bad!
©2013 Bruce Cohn/Denise Mumm  
Collage 15"x22 1/2"

Last weekend we were in the darkroom working on a photogram of a wine (malbec, of course) bottle. I can relate to this more painterly  photographic technique. Bruce finished the photogram, finessing it  and "burning in" areas that needed more exposure time.  I plan to use the resulting photogram to make a BIG print and incorporate that into a horizontal collage about Buenos Aires cafe culture. I'll start that one next, but before I can, I will have to clear a wall in my studio and move a couple of these 4'x6' pieces into Bruce's house. He has more wall space than me.

*This project is made possible (in part) by an Encore Grant from the Council on the Arts & Humanities for Staten Island, with public funding from the New York State Council on the Arts.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Collaborative Process: Back from Argentina

Bruce Cohn's photos are the source materials for our collaborative art exhibit Abrazo Argentina: Embracing a Culture that we are having at the Tottenville Library in November 2013.* He attended a photography workshop in Argentina in February. Bruce took over 1,000 photographs, both digital and traditional black and white, taken with his Leica. He was in Argentina during Carnaval, and although much more subdued than Carnaval in Brazil, the resulting photos do have that festive aspect to them.

I visited Buenos Aires about 10 years ago, on a tango pilgrimage to attend a tango festival there. As in any city, there are many must-see sites that any first-time visitor to the city will visit, so I was familiar with many of the places Bruce visited. Daily e-mail contact about his activities refreshed my memories and I could share in his enthusiasm for the vitality of the city. 

Buenos Aires is a very photogenic city. Streetscapes vary from Parisianlike boulevards to colorful cobblestoned barrios. There's the muddy Río de la Plata and the port, life sources for the city. Bruce also ventured out to San Antonio de Areco, outside the city, where he got a taste of a less urban Argentina, complete with gauchos.

Our project focuses on the rich culture of Argentina. As Bruce and I poured over all his pictures, several themes emerged that capture the essence of our impressions of its unique culture. We are in the process of creating 8 large scale canvases that will hang in the main room of the library. Hopefully we will have time to create 4 more even larger ones, but frankly, I panic when I think of all that work! So, we have about 8 themes (subject to change); Tango, Cafe Culture, Protest, Death, Streetscapes, Carnaval, Gauchos, the River & Port (from which the nickname for residents, Porteños, stems).  Work on these pieces has begun. More on that in another blogpost. 

in my studio; prints, xeroxes, source photos and paper lithographs
I have source photos that Bruce printed up for me spread out on a table in my studio. I have ideas about a color palette (bright!) and some patterns suggested by the streetscapes, such as grillwork, cobblestones, and store signs (fileteado). I'll use some of these photos to make drawings and others I'll use to make xeroxes. I'll blow the xeroxes up really big and make paper lithographs from them. Bruce has a different agenda for other photos.

As I had hoped, Bruce came back with surprises. He is drawn to people and his personableness puts them at ease. He captured a breadth of faces; young, old, outlandish, worn-out, but all tell a story. Because of their particularity and dignity, I think those photos stand by themselves well, in their own places of honor. 

I was delighted by a series of photos Bruce took of reflections. They are instant collages (!) created by capturing the juxtapositions that happen in a moment in time. They couldn't be more perfect for this exhibit, since I'm making collages. I'll be encouraging Bruce to print them large. Other photos, especially one he took in the Recoleta Cemetary, are just achingly beautiful and I keep saying "Big!" "Print it really BIG!" After all, we have a lot of space to work with.

Back to work in the studio for me, with lots of inspiration and plenty of work to do.
*This project is made possible (in part) by an Encore Grant from the Council on the Arts & Humanities for Staten Island, with public funding from the New York State Council on the Arts.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Collaborative Process: Inspired by the Space

Here we are, leaving the stage, award envelope in hand.
Bruce and I have been visiting the Tottenville Library to scope out the space for our collaborative exhibition that we are having there in November 2013. Our project is made possible (in part) by an Encore Grant from the Council on the Arts & Humanities for Staten Island, with public funding from the New York State Council on the Arts. We had the official  COAHSI awards ceremony on January 27, (photo left) where we received the grant. 

Now the work begins. We have our concept, to honor the culture of Argentina. It's Bruce's job to take the pictures we will use to base the project on. I am beginning to prepare the pieces themselves.

One of our first tasks is to figure out how many pieces we want to create and what sizes will work best for the space. My first impression when I walked through the door of the library was of sheer awe. The room soars up to a gorgeous heavy timber ceiling. Grand arched windows grace the walls. You can kind of get an idea from the picture below. The library opened in 1904 and it looks like this picture was taken around that time. It has not changed substantially in appearance since this photo was taken.

vintage photo of main room of Tottenville Library
Courtney Castellane, the library manager, has been very generous and gracious in offering us to hang art throughout the library. As it turns out, she is a former student of Bruce's and is eager to be the community facilitator for our project. If it weren't for her, we wouldn't have an audience for the art.

yummy - look at those empty walls!
This space deserves grand art and I think we owe it to the space to create that art. That also makes for a more ambitious project than we had already envisioned. It's a good thing there are two of us and that we have the better part of a year in order to get it done!

We had originally envisioned just working on paper and exhibiting in the communal meeting area in the basement. Certainly there is plenty of exhibition opportunity there and we do intend to exhibit in this space, too. The advantage of this space is that the public will get a chance to get up close to the artwork and examine the details. Often in my own work, the layers that make up the surface are very intricate. And, of course, Bruce's photographs are generally meant to be viewed at close range.
community room 

But, what about that upstairs space? We could still work on paper, but it would be prohibitive to frame work of the scale that makes sense for the space. I want to work on canvas.

I did a little research online and discovered that there is a way I can transfer the paper lithographs I make to canvas. Some tests proved it. I will be able to make prints directly from scaled-up versions of Bruce's photographs and transfer them to the canvas in this way.

Some 90 yards of canvas are now waiting for me to take the next step.  My next blogpost will explore how that goes.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Collaborative Art Making Process: Starting Out

At some point in 2012, Bruce Cohn and I decided to embark on a collaborative art project, combining his photography with my collages. This was prompted by his signing up for a photography workshop in Argentina in February, 2013. The workshop will use Buenos Aires as a base and the group will photograph three nights of Carnaval, a tango club, and make day trips to several colonial towns outside the city.

Bruce is an accomplished photographer, but has been away from it for awhile and wants to use the workshop to get back into the swing again. It was only a short hop for me to suggest a collaboration, since my collages are all about the Argentine tango and Buenos Aires. I've been making these collages for a few years and could use a little creative infusion. Bruce and I have a playful, respectful, and energy-filled relationship. We never tire talking about art.   It seemed like this was all good stuff to bring to a collaborative project in the studio. Who knows where it could lead?

Our first collaborative artistic adventure, Bruce and I
showing our work together at the Staten Island Museum's
annual Fence Show, Sept. 2012
To formalize the collaboration and motivate us to actually carry it out, we decided to apply for a grant* from COAHSI, the Council on Arts and Humanities for Staten Island. Bruce lives on the South Shore and one of the things about Staten Island is that there is a huge Mason-Dixon type divide between the South Shore and the North Shore. Since I'm a well-established (North Shore) art citizen here, I know that most art projects and artists are clustered on the North Shore. COAHSI is always looking for projects that take place on the South Shore. Bruce has all kinds of connections and scored us a venue for our grant project at the Tottenville Library on the South Shore. We just found out that we won the grant (yay!). Full steam ahead for a November, 2013 exhibit at the library!

Portrait collage ca. 1860,
ambrotypes with applied color
Bruce and I have been thinking about innovative ways we might combine our two art forms. We have been looking at alternative photography techniques. Bruce makes pinhole photos and I participated in a pinhole photography workshop he volunteered for at the Alice Austen House (not so coincidentally the financial conduit for our grant). During Hurricane Sandy we made photograms until the lights went out. For me it's been very helpful to go back to the very basics of photography.

We recently visited the exhibit Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There we saw this tiny ambrotype (photograph printed on glass). You can't really tell from this photo that it's painted on glass. That's why we go to museums to see art. A lightbulb went off in my head - you can print photos on glass????  Sounds like fun! Bruce knew about liquid emulsion, which enables one to print photos on all sorts of surfaces. 

We got ourselves some liquid emulsion and gathered together some materials; some of the papers I use in my collages, plywood treated with various finishes, and some ceramic tiles left over from a bathroom project. As with most experiments, we had successes, failures, and happy accidents. Here are some examples. 
Photograph ©1979 Bruce Cohn,
printed on plywood treated with
matte acrylic medium

Photograph ©1979 Bruce Cohn,
printed on ceramic tile

We love the warmth and pattern of the wood in the sample on the left. The image on the ceramic tile lifted up in the water wash, but when it dried it settled back onto the surface of the tile and made those wonderful black cracks. We now know how to make it adhere, but would like to try recreating this happy accident.

It's just a start. We can't wait until Bruce comes back from Argentina in February with images so that we can get to it in the darkroom and studio. In the meantime we will continue our experiments and plan out our project timeline. We're hoping this project takes our art to some place completely new. Stay tuned!
*This project is made possible (in part) by an Encore Grant from the Council on the Arts & Humanities for Staten Island, with public funding from the New York State Council on the Arts.