The Cutting Edge of Art in Northern Manhattan

By Erica Varlese. Reprinted from The Manhattan Times.

Hector Canonge circles a mirror placed on the floor that is covered in his hair that he and invited guests just clipped. He grunts at the audience and pounds his chest, sticky from the hair he pasted there. Looking upwards, he pauses and bows. The audience claps in appreciation.

He calls this performance art piece “Hombre de Pelo en Pecho.”

(Canonge will also lead a series of tours at Inwood hair salons and barber shops during Sun., June 12’s day of open studios.)

Artist Hector Canonge shaves his head during a performance piece called “Hombre de Pelo en Pecho” during the opening reception of the Uptown Arts Review at the NoMAA gallery on 6 June 2011. (Photo: Mike Fitelson.)

Artist Hector Canonge shaves his head during a performance piece called “Hombre de Pelo en Pecho” during the opening reception of the Uptown Arts Review at the NoMAA gallery on 6 June 2011. (Photo: Mike Fitelson.)

Such was the scene Tue., June 7 at the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance (NoMAA) Gallery during the opening reception of the Uptown Arts Review, an annual exhibit showcasing the work of this year’s NoMAA grantees during the Uptown Arts Stroll.

The work of 22 artists, all of them from Washington Heights and Inwood, is spread through two rooms and hallways, housing paintings, sculptures, photographs.

Diana Schmertz’ paintings “Cause of Itself” and “Without Intention” welcomed guests into the gallery with striking images of hands – twisted and bent – grasping on to one another. The mass of painted flesh looked almost like a newborn in the fetal position as the objects seem to turn in on themselves. Schmertz, a Washington Heights resident who teaches art in Westchester County, has worked on this series for about three years.

Inspired by laws of physics and “grey areas” of time theory, Schmertz said, “My work is about memory, perspective, and contact.” She added that her paintings are an attempt to show contact in a nonlinear way and to deconstruct the manmade concept of the segmentation of time. Coupling this deep, theoretical influence with a hyper-realistic style, these pieces were a fascinating introduction into the work of NoMAA’s diverse grantees.

Other highlights in the show include Roni Mocán’s black and white photographs of bridges in Northern Manhattan and Enrico Miguel Thomas’ series of watercolors of New York landscapes painting on subway maps. Jessica Lagunas, a mixed-media artist, exhibited “Bittersweet,” an installation of broken teacups that have been glued back together. Lagunas is interested in relationships and the modern woman.

“[‘Bittersweet’ represents] all of the difficulties in a marriage, all of the discussions, and the heated conflicts,” Lagunas said. “All of these crevices and cracks can really hurt you.”

Lagunas has participated in the Uptown Arts Review for the past four years and has contributed projects on such various subjects as beauty standards and menstruation. A common theme in her work is the world of appearances. The teacups may appear whole, but “once you take a closer look,” Lagunas said, “the cracks cannot be repaired.”

Canonge invites artist Maggie Hernandez to participate in his performance. Canonge will also lead a series of tours at Inwood hair salons and barber shops during Sunday 12 June’s day of open studios during the Uptown Arts Stroll. (Photo: Mike Fitelson.)

Canonge invites artist Maggie Hernandez to participate in his performance. Canonge will also lead a series of tours at Inwood hair salons and barber shops during Sunday 12 June’s day of open studios during the Uptown Arts Stroll. (Photo: Mike Fitelson.)

In contrast to Lagunas’ interest in that which goes on behind closed doors, Kristine Paulus is fascinated by public and shared spaces. She is currently a NoMAA grant recipient for a project documenting newly planted trees in Manhattan, focusing primarily on her own block. However, her work in the Uptown Arts Review showcased a long-time passion of hers: neon signs. Incorporating elements of kitsch and Americana, Paulus’ picture of the Stardust Motel in Wildwood, NJ is a bit of nostalgia from her childhood.

“We went there every summer—that was where working class families took vacation. [The Stardust Motel] is still the same, it hasn’t changed,” she said, emphasizing the continuity between her parents and her own experience at the hotel over several decades.

For many of the artists, the Uptown Arts Review was an opportunity to showcase projects that they are working on through the NoMAA grant program. For others, it was a welcome occasion to display their artistic passions that are rarely in the spotlight. Regardless, the Uptown Arts Review is most striking in its seemingly effortless ability to compile such a diverse collection of artists in both background and medium.

The Uptown Arts Review is on exhibit at the NoMAA Gallery at the Cornerstone Center at 178 Bennett Avenue at W. 189th Street for the next couple of months.Additional arts events will be held throughout June as part of the Uptown Arts Stroll. For a full events listing, visit the Uptown Arts Stroll website.

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