Sunday, November 30, 2014
The Garment District. Ancient home of New York's fashion industry. Thousands of yards of fabric still roll through its streets adding flashes of color to its otherwise drab outlines. Its sweatshops gone, the rhythms of work are now heard in offices, store fronts, and start-ups.
I. The Fisherman knows to wait
He's ripped up the canvas; now he's stitching it back together. "Pink symbolizes 'sex'," he says. A neon strip of spandex is held against a length of glue.
The artist then pulls out another half-finished work. What could this use?
A Manhattan scene is blown up on a canvas. A tin of paint is opened. Couture cuts the image with a line that acquires dimension with a thickened stroke. It zags through the scene, pulling the eye from the image into spaces beyond the frame, suggesting something deeper than the immediate.
II. New Blood
On a white piece of paper, A series of geometric forms appear, dark and shaded. A weight and scale are suggested through the use of shadow and altered proportions. Dots are painted; other dimensions hinted.
A series of dozens of renderings quickly evolve in pencil and water color.
Scraps of wood are gathered. Memories and emotions are added to the mix; a young boy playing with wooden blocks in his father's studio.
Sounds of things being smashed, pulled, cut and reshaped are heard. Pallets litter the atelier floor. A series of dark brown wooden forms stand like an army or a city. The figures are placed in a sequence and a new type of Manhattan arises out of the discards of the district.
After a week of production, the artist surveys the work. While sated with a certain satisfaction, he picks out a riff on a nearby guitar. Vocalizing, phrases emerge. A truck momentarily stops in front of the window, suggesting a line. Hmmmm. Non.
A musical canvas is ripped up and another process begins.
III. Le Tout En Même Temps
"In France, we know him as a singer," they say, "Here, he's a Multist."
Welcome to New York where self-expression takes on as many forms as the expression itself. In a city of multists, you need do these things well to survive.
Consider the film maker, renting out his apartment to tourists, editing a promo for the city marathon while writing a treatment for the Discovery Chanel. He pitches a show to feature his improvised dancing in exotic locales. His viral stamina has been tested in over 100 webisodes. He'll direct your next music clip for $800, if you give him cash up front.
Meet the Guyanese IT headhunter from Queens. He's on track to make his placement quota this month. Last year, he was delivering pizzas and selling pot from his mom's Subaru. $80,000 of school loans doesn't stop him from feeling optimistic. He's part of a new generation of shoe-gazing rock revivalists. He plays guitar, bass, and drums.
His girlfriend does burlesque. She bar-tends, and writes corporate lore, recounting the fictional struggles of Brooklyn-based artisanal companies that retail their goods for three times the price of organics. Of course, She has a band, as well.
These New Yorkers share something in common with the artist. Couture creates the big synthesis, merging his art with the city. His impulses push him into a variety of media and forms. It's a dangerous undertaking; he's completely unknown here, with rents to pay and a family to support. In his ten years in New York, he has changed direction rapidly, with each new approach bringing him closer to the specific gravity found here.
In his first years here, sales of his work were mostly to the French, some of them astonished to find that his talent carried over into so many areas: writing, photography, sculpture, painting, and collage. He made a splash with two sold out shows; hit the ground running, as they say. It would have been easy for him to repeat himself, but he moved on in the only direction available; deeper.
To the casual eye, the work looked less accessible, but the artist was finding a new language, making use of the new land's resources. There are words on canvas, lines on negatives, photos merged into paintings , surfaces colored over and redrawn. Bits of wood stick out. The images move. On canvases, as large as shop windows, the viewer finds a series of convergences. between the objective word of photography an the subjective world of painting; the discipline of the city's grid and the freedom of the individual; the horizontality of a material society and the presence of the infinite.
IV. Keep on movin' baby, keep on movin' on.
"Hey ASSHOLE, move it!!!."
That's the New York "Hello".
Change your life like your clothes; buildings come down, neighborhoods go up. Food's eaten while running. Everyone speaks in acronyms, contractions, neologisms, and IT slang. A city of Napoleons in skirts marching off to the office war.
The ReGallery is as much a garage as a boutique as new works as big as the windows themselves reflect on the city passing by outside. They are put up on the walls and then either taken out or taken down. The artist holds open the margin for error with his paint-covered hands.
"Whoa. Look at that.."
"Dude, how much for that????"
"That's THE Fucking FUCKING SHIT!!!!"
"Dude, how much for that????"
They stop and stare- as do the dog walkers, cops, delivery men, hustlers, homeless, and executives.
On lunch hours, drive-bys, and ways home, they stop in, wanting to talk to the guy, feel his smile, or shake his hand.
In the subway, you feel the stress, the pulse, the competition; the ugly alternatives staring you in the face. Burn-out cases and vagabonds sitting side by side with "success stories". The NYC Man lives to permanently reinvent- take a course, change a job, go to a health club, get a divorce, learn a language: do it all at once.
They want to tell him their stories; how their daytimes employ little of their interior lives. His art hits them there. It's a balm; a deep-impulse buy. Money comes and a print photo, or painting is wrapped in a blueprint, taken home and put on a wall. Some sort of pride is felt- they email him the pictures of their newly-anointed apartments.
V. Looking for my Artland.
Ask him about selling out and he will start to get upset about the "money people". Young people come through the door, dropping off resumés, assuming that there is some large corporation supporting him. Indeed, a quick tour through today's downtown scene reveals a mixture of vanity salons, commercial showrooms, and not much that will upset, provoke, or disturb one's lunch.
In this society where time is money, reflection, contemplation, and emotions count for little. These needs are sublimated, forced down, negated during working hours. The canvasses, phot-graffs, and prints in the district comments and call into question the order things.
A common response is for a customer to come into gallery silently, spend a few minutes and then walk out with a quiet, "thank you". They'll come back a week or two later and hand over a credit card. The print, photo, or book will be wrapped in plain brown paper and they adjust their posture and then they put on the city again, like an invisible overcoat.
VI. Les Ours Blancs
Kevin has kept calm for three days. It's the last shot and he has to stand still on the corner of 36th St and 7th Avenue while people stare at him, feel his belly, or step on his foot.
"Dammit, Ken, are we done yet??? I've had enough!!!!"
"One more shot," calmly replies Ken Webb, shooting a clip for "Les Ours Blancs" with CharlElie.
He was told to meet Ken on the Brooklyn Bridge, to keep on walking while Ken tracked him from the side. Kevin wasn't thinking too deeply about the song, just put a lot of faith in the fact that the clip would work.
Shooting on the bridge, at the stock exchange, in Chinatown and Central Park, the meaning became more clear to Kevin, as people reacted to him in a range from indifference to fascination.
Kevin Cerovich, at 27, represents another kind of NYC transplant. The best jazz musicians in the country migrate here for a chance at a break. The fact that Couture remains open to close collaborations with other artists is perhaps one of the reasons his music stays vital. As the Brazilian musician Milton Nascimento once remarked, "Collaboration is at the heart of creativity."
"He's always on the search for something new….Couture is completely uninhibited; he feels so passionate about New York I felt a apart of his works…The man doesn't have an age or style. He's a constantly changing entity. Nothing is sacred in his fearless desire to create something new and reinvent. Musically, the things he throws out seem random, but are very much thought out at times."
Indeed, since "Double Vision" his music seems to have gained an edge from the energy of the city. As other artists of his generation retreat and recycle, Couture continues to take risks, engaging young musicians, and keeping his ears out for new technology and sounds. And his public responds, as the latest Couture has banished the old one in all things Google and Youtube.
VII. Double Vision
Although Couture is quick to admit the inspiration of Warhol in his desire for a hub of all things creative in a productive space, there is a crucial difference in outlook between the two men. You will not find a coterie of insecure emotionally abused people surrounding the man at his space. You will find more of a construction worker than rock star; not a cynical guy pursuing the city's rich and famous, but a humble man on a singular pursuit of his artistic vision. There's an excitement on 36th St, but also an introspection.
He's currently inspired by the layout of the city. Its grids and lines forming pictograms that reflect the straightforward thinking of its inhabitants. Couture continues to decode and compose in this new language, finding a spiritual in the banal and a convergence between the interior and exterior self that generates as much heat as light. He makes himself open to a process and catalyzes something that goes back to his early exposures to Dadaism and his current fascinations with technology and 21st century human behavior.
A stripper demands a naked portrait. Vagabond artists bring their work in for a chance to exhibit. German tourists lost on the way to the tattoo parlor stay for hours, buying albums and prints. Tourists find their way to the gallery after a day of Empire State Building, Apple Store, and The Met. Schlepping their packages past the restaurants, storefronts, office buildings, and clinics, they enter the ReGallery carefully.
The Fulani gentleman waits in the store. He's come to sell his handicrafts to the African art dealer across the street. Dressed head to toe in traditional tribal garb, he carries an impossibly heavy bag on his shoulder. He opens it to reveal handicrafts. He doesn't have a phone and the dealer is not there. Tea is made as is broken conversation. He sits in the window seat for the next hour, smiling at the French tourists. A trade is effected for his beautiful handicrafts.
A gaunt middle-aged man strolls in, fixated by a photograph of water towers shot from above. He surveys other works, but feels taken by this scene. He explains that he's a public employee. He could be a survivor from a war zone considering his intensity. He doesn't have enough money for what he wants, but that's a secondary consideration. Arrangements are made. The painting is wrapped in butcher paper and one could see a sense relief and ease on the man's face.
Beyond high profile openings and embassy invitations, Couture connects to people in a way that's quite different from the Downtown scene. When you come to New York you'll see for yourself.