A Whirlwind of Creativity at Dumbo Open Studios

Another iteration of Dumbo Open Studios organized by Art in Dumbo took place last weekend, so naturally, I spent the majority of my Saturday afternoon avoiding the seasonal hair-ripping winds by venturing through various floors of 20 Jay Street. Dozens of artists and project spaces opened their doors across six stories of the multi-use building, inviting the public into a whirlwind of contemporary creative output through both polished presentations and behind-the-scenes views.

The mezzanine floor was bustling with visitors, including some four-legged friends, as Kate Teale’s speckled renderings of window sills and interior spaces, public artist Cheryl Wing-Zi Wong’s bite-sized sculptures, and a peek into street artist Swoon‘s studio practice immediately stood out as highlights.

I spent the majority of my visit in Laura Karetzky’s studio taking in the textures and hues of her storytelling through paintings. Karetzky, who has worked in Dumbo for about 24 years, said that she has worked in her studio at 20 Jay Street for about seven years through the Two Trees Cultural Space Subsidy Program. Her subsidy expires at the end of this year, so she will soon be back on the hunt for a new space.

Karetzky said she investigates the idea that “there can be a story inside of a story” in her work.

“But even more than that, there can be several different perspectives within one story,” the artist continued, gesturing to the painting of a figure’s shadow between the asphalt and wall called “Shadow of Anemone” (2023). Several other panel paintings bear actual “windows cut into them, allowing viewers to peer through one painting into another, as if gazing into “other dimensions.”

Karetzky said she also amplifies color and texture throughout her works, evoking what she dubs an “almost realism.”

Regarding her time in Dumbo, Karetzky has said the neighborhood has changed completely over the last 20 years.

“When I first moved to the area, I was one of the first artists to rent out a space in this completely raw warehouse on Washington Street. I mean, I literally drew out the bay I could afford at the time and they installed the walls for me there,” she explained. “At the time, there was no hot water so we had to rinse out our brushes in icy water that sent jolts up to our elbows. The elevators never worked, there were squatters in the stairwells, and it wasn’t always safe. But that’s what kept it affordable.”

Now, Karetzky said that her modern studio with an HVAC system, air conditioning, high ceilings, and other critical amenities has helped her become the most productive she’s ever been, making the prospect of having to vacate the space this December even more disheartening.

“The community that we have of artists is just fantastic,” she continued. “There is so much collaboration between us, from studio visits to emergency crits and going in on deliveries together, to even just knowing we’re working among each other without even having to interact — I love being part of the beehive and feeling everybody’s energy. It’s really invigorating for me.”

Karetzky’s remark about collaboration rang true throughout the building, as various studios hosted group exhibitions for artists within and beyond the studios. The Space Between, curated by Tracy McKenna for the Platform Project Space on the third floor, was especially cohesive with a throughline of abstracted fiber arts. I found Mark Olshansky’s colorful geometric stitchwork particularly refreshing.

Over in the Triangle Arts Association residency studios, Wen-Woan Chang’s candidly humorous marker-on-paper narrations of mundane thoughts and encounters were exactly what I needed, and I can safely say that if she was ever inclined to write a daily newsletter, I’d be her first subscriber in a heartbeat.

The Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program cohort made up the entire seventh-floor open studios, with standouts being Oscar yi Hou’s oil portraiture in progress, Kevin Umaña’s glazed stoneware tablets, Jesse Greenberg’s foray into oil pastels, and Danielle Gottesman’s dimensional manipulations of public signage and anatomy.

Though I was willingly ensnared by a single building this year — which certainly wasn’t helped by the confusing office numbering and slow elevators — I’m looking forward to expanding my reach in the future for more encounters with independent and resident artists.

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