A look inside the work and lives of East Village artists at Painting Space 122.
Finding a good, affordable artist studio in NYC is virtually impossible. During my first years living here, I used the basement of my apartment to paint. To pay the bills, I worked on the side as a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum. During that time, I didn’t sleep much. My waking hours were spent making a lot of terrible paintings and a few good ones. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of filling out applications and researching opportunities to expand my practice. The longer I live here, the more I understand that success really happens when you do the work. If you want people to visit your studio, you have to compel them to. If you really want an exhibition, make your own space and then curate the show.
Last fall, through a colleague, I received a notice about a subsidized artist studio available in the East Village called Painting Space 122. Even though I thought I had little chance of getting the spot, I applied anyway. After a week or so, the approval came through and I went for it. Shortly after moving, I realized that I would be working alongside many incredible emerging and well-established artists.
Just off of 1st Avenue and 9th Street, Painting Space 122 has provided a platform for many artists to grow for over 40 years. At its location in the heart of the East Village, PS122 has five organizations working in the space—Painting Space 122, Performance Space 122, Alliance for Positive Change, Mabou Mines, and Movement Research.
Painting Space 122, which is the organization I am working with now, runs a partly subsidized project studio program and a non-profit gallery, PS122 Gallery, for under-recognized and established artists. Artists like Keith Haring, Lisa Yuskavage, and Mark Tansey had their studios at PS122. The PS 122 Gallery exhibited many of today’s renowned artists, such as Peter Halley, Kiki Smith, and Amy Sillman, providing early exposure that helped to launch their careers. It has been an absolute delight and privilege to work and spend time with other artists in the building.
Renee Magnanti is an artist who has been at Painting Space 122 since 1978. Her work is associated with the Women’s Deco Art Movement that rose during the ‘70s and ‘80s. I’ve never seen anything like her encaustic carvings. Her ability to literally weave through painting, carving, and fibers, then challenge their medium at any scale is stunning. You can feel her deep intuition in her textile designs and the words she references through everything she makes. Her work is sociopolitical, personal and expressive, digging deep into the inherent qualities and history of her materials.
After Magnanti submitted slides and interviewed with the existing Painting Space 122 members, she was offered her first studio after gaining her MFA from Tulane. She recalls her 1 bedroom apartment, which was a block away from the studio, being a total of $125.25 a month. It was small and affordable, but she had to deal with her bathtub being in her kitchen. She worked with the Whitney Museum part-time to help pay the bills for this tiny living space. Getting the studio at Painting Space 122 quickly became her second home, as it is twice the size of her apartment and gave her the space to help her practice flourish. Though many of the studio artists have rotated through the years, she’s been a staple in the collective of permanent residents.
I met Nandan Sam He at an art party we were bartending before we became project studio artists at Painting Space 122. I instantly fell in love with her humor and insightfulness, which often went hand in hand. We kept in touch after that first meeting and ran into each other shortly after we moved into the studio. I think it was fate.
He is from Guang Dong, China and has moved around over 14 times. Because of this, she never really feels like she belongs anywhere and her creative practice eases that feeling. He creates environments that are, “Easy to see, heavy to reflect [and] specific to you and common to everyone.” She may be thinking about a specific tunnel in her hometown when she’s creating something, but her usage of universal materials like cardboard and readymade objects lets anyone into the memory.
The Project Studio Residency Program at Painting Space 122 has given He the opportunity to experience the best kinds of uncomfortable. She notes that the contrast of ages and experience here elevates the artists’ perspectives and inspires her to keep her passion active.
I was a little intimidated to sit down with Cindy Karasek. She is known as a founding member of Painting Space 122 and she represented at A.I.R. Gallery—an artist-run exhibition space that provides opportunities to a diverse body of women and femmes. She and fellow artist Karen Eubel built the foundation for Painting Space 122 and have helped other organizations in PS122 CC grow since 1976. She’s still at Painting Space 122 and making phenomenal, beautiful work. From working with fellow residents like Keith Haring and Mark Tansey to the adventures associated with finding her found objects, I could’ve talked to her for days. Though being an artist is typically a lonely experience, she has come to recognize the power of group effort and collaboration.
Over the years and since the PS122 CC building renovations, Karasek has moved the majority of her practice Upstate, where she’s making more outdoor sculptures with found objects like boats, wood and drawings that fill entire rooms. It doesn’t matter if she’s making sculptures, drawings or videos, her work is always, “Layered, but clear, like a voice rising above the daily grumble.” It reveals memories, “evoked, activated, and distilled by the unique poetry of visual relationships.” She understands success in art comes from, “skill, mastery, understanding, and imagination.”
If you’re around the East Village this Friday, September 13, 6–9 pm and Saturday, September 14, 12–6 pm, come meet Renee Magnanti, Nandan Sam He, Cindy Karasek and me.