ahead, knucklehead blues

In mid-November I received a postcard in the mail. I immediately recognized it as being from my friend Jason Eisner, for a show that he was telling me about two months back. I opened the envelope only to realize that the opening was the weekend that just passed. I missed receiving the postcard on time because of the way in which our house mail system operates, so I became internally frustrated, because I would have loved to have attended the opening, which was laced with several performances.

But sometimes, things are somehow for the best.

I could not attend the following two weekends (the gallery is only open on Saturday and Sunday) because of Thanksgiving (closed) and prior engagements, so I set aside 2 December, a Sunday, to parade my way to this new-to-me space, the English Kills Art Gallery.

Living in Queens can be frustrating, because Brooklyn is right there – right there! I have to take three trains: the 7 (from 40 St/Lowery St) to the G (transfer at Court Square) to the L (transfer at Metropolitan) to Morgan Avenue, to arrive in Bushwick, an area technically only three neighborhoods away (but by other measurements worlds apart). That’s one train per neighborhood! Meanwhile the next decade-plus will see likely a billion dollars poured into constructing a new subway in Manhattan so that Upper East Side bougies don’t have to walk two blocks west to crowd themselves onto the 4/5/6. But WHATEVER! I exit at Morgan Avenue only to find a map for “Open Spaces“, a one-day event promoting artists and galleries in the Bushwick area – everything would be open! Sweet!

My agenda was set: first to English Kills, then just stroll and look, at my leisure.

Billed a ‘double solo show’, Jason and Brent Owens each got one of the two cavity spaces that constitute the English Kills space. Even before entering though, you knew you would be entering an alternative space, as each artist had made exterior signage (above image) to promote entry. Ahead – Knucklehead Blues!

Brent Owens 3
(install by Brent Owens)

Both artists have similar but separate approaches: each obviously have a fondness for wood, drilling into it, chopping it up, hacking it as it were. Transforming it to their will. Owens additionally relies on a specific vernacular which he imposes into the grain, and one can leap from the language he uses to imagined narratives about his upbringing: LIKE THE PATH BEATEN BY THE SWINGING SACK OF FATHER TIME. One can only guess he’s from the South!

Brent Owens 1
The Taxpayer, by Brent Owens, a homebrew-looking machine with multiple buckets, containers, modified Anheuser-Busch keg, propane tank. Where’s the moonshine bruh?

Eisner - power towerEisner - forest stubsEisner - wood blobs

Eisner activated his space with both static works (as in framed, none pictured here though) and site-specific installation and sculpture. One or two of the works you got the impression were not only built & installed on-site, but perhaps not even conceived of until the artist was present in the space: wood blobs taking over the architecture or wood shoes hanging from conduit, or various carts promoting their… is that a billboard or a landscape?

Jason Eisner roadsign gif

The main work in the space was a cart, with inoperable wheels and a suggestive tow hitch, its bed stuffed with slats of foamcore to hold stiff what appeared to be a type of billboard structure depicting a rolling, segmented, landscape. An open cavity in the billboard-landscape revealed hidden works and spaces beyond: power towers, forest stubs, and a plastic work. Originally seen as obtrusive, the viewer is meant to penetrate the landscape in order to find these hidden messages and metaphors.

The delight of the day though was the Open Spaces event, and simply having the time to walk around and enjoy viewing random spaces, art and artists in their spaces. Other notable stumbled-upon spaces included Pocket Utopia, where artist Libby Hartle sat in residence, conversing with punters and carving short wood sticks out of re-constituted paper pulp.

All my cynicisms about this area of Brooklyn aside, it is obvious that some fantastic new spaces are cropping up and are being operated by people that obviously have an investment in their work and the artists they support. Our fair city’s first snow of the season fell this morning, but that didn’t stop me from trekking (again, THREE trains!) there to engage the area, and it shouldn’t stop you either! The Arts in Bushwick non-profit have simplified the task with an accessible map of the area’s galleries and studio complexes.