The very recently inaugurated Bay Ridge Art Space is without doubt the physical sum of its nominal parts. In expanded terms, however, it is an art gallery, an art school, a shared studio, and an art-oriented community center of sorts. For co-founders Alonsa Guevara and James Raczkowski, it is also the realization of a shared creative vision. We chatted with Guevara to gain some insight into how the space came to be, and into what else it might gradually become.
You two have quite similar fine arts backgrounds in a very recent sense, but your involvements with and training in art prior to coming to New York are anything but analogous. Can you each describe a bit what led you to such pursuits?
Yes, we both recently graduated from the New York Academy of Art, but we come from very different backgrounds. As a child, I grew up in the tropical forests of Ecuador, where I developed a love for nature, color and light. I later settled in Chile where I finished my BFA, and in 2011 I moved to the US to pursue an art career. James hails from New Jersey. He joined the Army when he was 17. While in the military he was a tanker and Infantry man, and he was eventually enlisted to conduct special operation missions for the US military in Iraq. His experiences of war cemented his decision to dedicate himself to making art.
How did wrapping up your MFA degrees at the NYAA transition into establishing Bay Ridge Art Space? Also, why Bay Ridge?
During our two years at the NYAA, we met a lot of artists that live in Bay Ridge. We both moved to Bay Ridge because our artist friends recommended it. After graduating from the Academy we found a studio in Gowanus, where we stayed for 4 months. We eventually had to leave because a developer bought the building. We had been dreaming of this idea for some time, and becoming dislocated pushed us to open the space.
We chose Bay Ridge because it is our home and there are a lot of artists in the area, as well as many people who appreciate art. The neighborhood is beautiful, full of life and rich in culture; it’s a perfect place to open a space that will support the artists and community around it. In our new space, besides using it as a studio where we can work as artists, we will be able to share the art of others, and teach art classes to anyone who is interested.
Tell us a bit about your recent inauguration and first exhibit.
We wanted to have our inaugural show with just local artists. We already knew a bunch of artists who live here, so we invited them to participate, and we also made an open call for artists. In the end a total of 31 artists are in the show, including both of us.
We decided to call the show New Ovington Village because we were pleasantly surprised to learn of an artist colony, Ovington Village, that settled here in Bay Ridge back when it was farmland. The colonists, like many young artists today, ended up here because of the area’s natural beauty, affordable rent, and close proximity to, yet secluded feeling from, the ‘big city’.
The opening was a great success. More than 200 people came, and there are still people emailing us to make appointments to come visit the gallery.
What are your plans for future exhibitions? Do you accept curatorial proposals?
We are planning to have our next show in January. It will be curated by local artist John Avelluto. He is one of the artists in New Ovington Village, and he’s co-founder of the 5th Avenue Bay Ridge SAW (Storefront Art Walk).
We don’t have a very strict plan for future exhibitions, and we are very open to receive curatorial proposals. This way the shows can be more diverse, and it allows us to give a platform to artists who want to gain curatorial experience.
Aside from putting on shows and teaching classes, do you have other modes of sharing creative energies or interacting with the local community?
Besides the exhibitions and the classes that we provide, because James has a mural painting background, we are exploring the idea of placing a permanent mural in the area. We are currently looking for the right wall space and a willing landlord. We would love to share our art with the neighborhood, and we think murals would be a beautiful way to do that.
You’re both also artists with studio practices. What kind of work do you each make? Do you have any shows coming up you’d like to tell us about?
My current work has a strong connection with nature, fertility and fecundity. My paintings are a mix between reality and fantasy, always full of color, life and light. Right now I’m working on pieces that will be in my solo show at Anna Zorina Gallery in September. Tomorrow is the opening of a group show I will be in at Bloomfield College, in New Jersey, and in December some of my pieces are going to Context Art Miami with Anna Zorina Gallery.
James’s work is rooted in his deployment to Iraq. His paintings are subtle depictions of war, exploring the nuances of a powerful experience. His paintings include realistic portraits, sublime Night Vision landscapes, and surfaces scarred by projectiles and explosions. James just recently participated in a group show at Stockton University, in New Jersey, and he currently has a solo exhibition up in Bridgeport, Connecticut, at Gunmetal Gallery.