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Rockers and Posers: Artists get in deep with portraits

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For its latest group installation, "Rockers and Posers," the Gowanus-based studio facility and gallery space Brooklyn Artists Gym received submissions from all over the world for its portrait-themed show.

Artists here and abroad were asked to submit a piece of artwork – ranging in medium from photography to sculpture – dealing with portraiture.

"A lot of artists at one point in their life think about portraits," said gallery director and show curator Michele Jaslow. "We can grab artists' attention who work in many different mediums, and are different ages living around the world."

Of the hundreds of images that the gallery received, 50 will be on view at the space's gallery from May 22 to June 5, with the official opening on May 31, where BAG selects a "winner" from among the artists and awards him or her with a three-month residency at the artists space.

"It was a little dizzying," said Jaslow of the hundreds of photography, video, painting, sculpture, ceramic, installation, illustration and alternative medium submissions the gallery received form local artists in Brooklyn as well as those abroad.

To narrow the portraits down, Jaslow looked for subthemes.

"What happens almost organically is a subtheme comes together, so we start working towards these grouping and strengthening them together to sort of form a more cohesive show. It's a more in-depth look at what portraits are and what contemporary artists are doing today," said Jaslow.

A couple weeks before the show began its run, those themes were just starting to take shape to the curator. The works show a range of interpretation, from more formal pieces to more conceptual work, though all use their different medium to tell their portrait story.

One of the artists who submitted a work to the group show is Geoffrey Raymond. A Park Slope-based artist who is also a resident at BAG, Raymond specializes in portraiture. As an artist, he is commissioned by business and financial professionals to do their portraits in a style he describes as a "Chuck Close-Jackson Pollack fusion," with the large closeups of heads a la contemporary photographer Close and a similar painting technique to that of Pollack, where the paint is thrown down on the canvas from the brush.

For "Rockers and Posers," Raymond submitted "Annotated Spitzer," a portrait of ex-New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. Drawn right before his fall, referencing a photograph the artist found of him online, the piece emphasizes the politician's high cheekbones, which "if you can get just right looks just like him," while "embracing those ears," said Raymond Spitzer's eyes also look just above the viewer, a nod to his "holier than thou" attitude that contributed to his fall, which, along with his dogged pursuit of the Wall Street community as attorney general, made those in the financial sector, well, hate him.

Originally commissioned to paint him for a nonprofit, when the scandal broke and the painting was no longer much use, Raymond brought it down to Wall Street, where he stood with magic markers and let people annotate the painting any way they liked, as long as it wasn't too raunchy. Over 300 people participated, with about 98 percent negative comments, the artist's favorites being "Tax is up, pants down," and "Pride goeth before the fall, and then comes winter and all that snow."

"When you step across the room, the reds, greens and blacks all turn into almost a brush stroke. The annotations become almost impressionistic images," said the artist, who entered the open call for the exposure, as well as the chance to be in a group show. "That's one of the things that delights me about it."

Raymond's work, as well as those the 49 other artists showing, will be up for sale, priced at or below $2,000.

When choosing the artist that gets the three-month residency at BAG, Jaslow will look at how the work hangs on the wall and also talk with the artists to find out as much as she can about the person behind the work.

"We like to hold big group shows at least a couple ties a year because one of our missions at BAG is to support artists and also to create community," said Jaslow. "We like to throw a wide net and see who of the working artists are out there... and also give a forum to people who wouldn't necessarily be invited to have solo shows."

Rockers and Posers at the Brooklyn Artists Gym (168 Seventh Avenue) runs from May 22 to June 5, with the opening on May 31 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, go to www.brooklynartistsgym.com.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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