Where dreams flourish

FullSizeRender 9I lost myself to a dream two weeks ago when I watched acrobats perform in Compagnia Finzi Pasca’s “La Verità” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I rediscovered unencumbered childhood delight and wonder, and laughter that rises up just because without any strings attached–no sarcasm, no wry humor–just pure laughter. All of it derived from watching comical dances, contortionists, musicians, dancers, and aerialists fly, embrace, swing, and spin.

In addition to the performers, a Salvador Dali painting, which takes up the entire stage on a huge canvas, divides the acts. There are the performances that happen in front of the curtain where the actors engage with the audience to make sense of what is happening and why the painting exists. And then there are the magical scenes that happen once the large painting disappears where Dali-esque like images parade around on the stage. And some elements of the painting come to life such as a red cane and dandelion heads.

The painting was originally created for Léonide Massine’s 1944 ballet “Mad Tristan.” In it one figure clutches its bony ribs while the other extends skeletal hands. One figure has a dandelion head while the other has branches growing out of its’ crown. To me the painting represents life and death and its presence raises the question of what’s real–the show in front or behind the curtain? What’s real, the bamraku puppet or the contortionist who twists his body just like it?

The performance inspired me to think about what grows at the edge of imagination. How as artists and writers, we can draw on fantastic elements only witnessed in dreams and somehow make them a reality in our creative productions–what we put on the page or the stage.

Flourish

Where a graffiti astronaut roams

Sculpture or time machine portal for graffiti astronauts?

Sculpture or time machine portal for graffiti astronauts?

I ran into one of my characters from a short story on a walk through downtown Jersey City not too long ago. He stood still at the corner of Second and Hudson Street. Despite his steely silence, he spoke to me from the words and letters painted on his torso. This wasn’t your average José, this was a character that had once been written about in the New York Times. In that 2001 article, he is described as a “Man of Steel.” But instead of the blazon, red letter S on a superhero’s chest, this man of steel has a graffiti green letter N on one leg and a letter S on the other. A necklace of white graffiti stretches across his shoulders. I have walked by him many times in recent years but on this day in late October 2013 he took on a new shape and form—that of a graffiti astronaut.

“Graffiti astronauts,” is the title of a collection of short stories I am working on. When I saw the sculpture it was as if a character in my head had manifested on the street before me sheathed in metal.

The "Longshoreman," sculpture in Jersey City.

The “Longshoreman,” sculpture in Jersey City.

“This is what a graffiti astronaut looks like,” I thought.

When I took a closer look, however, I noticed that artist Steve Singer had long ago named the sculpture “Longshoreman.” Commissioned by Candlewood Hotel and Suites, the piece was installed Oct. 26, 2001. The sculpture represents Jersey City’s past when long shoremen worked the waterfront on tugboats and ships that lined up at the moorings. This was during the industrial and manufacturing age in the 19th and 20th centuries when many railroads ended at the Jersey City waterfront and factories dominated the landscape.

I wasn’t around for the Jersey City of that time, but when I walk along the waterfront through various neighborhoods, I pick up on clues—like this sculpture—that offer glimpses into what once was.

Then again, this could be a TARDIS disguised as a sculpture that serves as a time and space travel machine for graffiti astronauts. That would be awesome!

Peeling urban landscape

Steve Singer's Quanah Parker against a rusting metal door, Jersey City

Dylan Egon’s Quanah Parker print against a rusting metal door, Jersey City Powerhouse Arts District

Quanah Parker stands guard at the corner of Warren and Morgan Streets. Plastered against a rusting metal rectangle on an old warehouse, the image stands between Jersey City’s industrial past and its luxury building future. To the right, the Native American Comanche Chief looks out on parking lots for commuters. Directly in front, beautiful, old gold doors beckon passersby into the Morgan Industrial Building. To the left Parker sees an empty, grassy lot and beyond that a luxury building rises. If you walked in the other direction on Warren, toward the Morris Canal, you’d come across another luxury rental building under construction. Whether you walk north or south, east or west, luxury apartment buildings are going up in every direction.

The Native American Comanche piece, which is by local artist Dylan Egon, appeared at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery in 2011 as part of the exhibition, “Home of the Brave.” The image portrays Quanah Parker, one of the last Comanche chiefs, holding a machine gun rifle.

Parker was the son of European American Cynthia Ann Parker and Comanche chief Peta Nocona. He marked a transition for his people and served as a bridge between their past and future. After fighting many battles, including one where he was hit by a bullet from a long range Sharps rifle, Parker surrendered and settled the Comanches on a reservation.

In the peeling, wrinkled weather worn image, Parker defiantly holds the machine gun rifle with his finger on the trigger. With one arm inside his wrapped garb, he does not appear aggressive, but rather resolute and ready. Ready for the transformation that’s before him as the old urban landscape peels away. Ready as the old warehouses crumble, lands shift hands, and rents go on the rise.

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A luxury rental building rises in the distance.

Doors that lead into the Morgan Industrial Building in Jersey City.

Doors that lead into the Morgan Industrial Building in Jersey City.

When art inspires writing

10Whenartinspireswriting09When I arrived at the cold, corporate lobby at the corner of Greene Street and Christopher Columbus, I didn’t expect to see the Jersey City sky I am so often mesmerized by at sunset. But there it was painted onto a 30×40 inch canvas in brilliant hues of purple, red, and orange. There were gorgeous clouds that loomed above shadowy trees and a house – the sky visible in its windows. I stopped in front of the painting thinking, “I know that sky.” But it wasn’t Jersey City. It was the Ocean Grove sky artist Alan Walker had captured on a visit to friends.

Fellow writers continued to stream into the light-filled lobby. It was a breezy Saturday afternoon in October and we had arrived at stop number seven on the Jersey City Artists Studio Tour. I would spend the day strolling the city streets with my fellow Jersey City Writers exploring cafes, galleries, and studios in search of inspiration.

Like striped zebras studying spots on a leopard, the writers questioned and pondered and mulled over the art at each stop. We are different animals but we both have the mark of creativity. Whether via oil or ink, we all have a story to tell. And sometimes we borrow inspiration from each other.

10Whenartinspireswriting09-2Art has a way of fueling the imagination. Writers sometimes fill in the details of a painting with characters. I visualized a woman smoking a cigarette on the porch of a ranch house in a snow-filled landscape. I also thought that there was the making of a science fiction novel when I saw a sculpture of a white cat with a metal ruler in place of one of its legs.

While I may not return to the sci-fi cat thriller idea, I am most certainly returning to the purple cloud-filled sky to see if there is a story to be told. It starts at the sunset’s magic hour when the tall glass buildings downtown reflect deepening shades of blue before being taken over by twilight. The light rail sounds in the distance as it travels across tracks laid down on top of the old Morris Canal route. Someone stops in front of the old, abandoned building at 86 Essex and lingers at the gate a bit too long when a child’s face appears on the fifth floor…