- Nick McManus
Bushwick Artist Interviews In Their Homes
Cinco de Mayo falling on a Taco Tuesday was just another day in our pandemic paradise and Bushwick's artists have been making the most of it like everyone else. Visiting their bohemian homes last week, I found their artistic rusts refusing to sleep despite the city's social shutdown. These house calls were also a way to discover the comfort levels of my peers as some were gracious to invite me inside their apartments while others were not having any guests over, friends or otherwise.
Even the threat of COVID-19 couldn't deter the city's Spanish musicians from busking on the subway. Guitarist Nelson and his bandleader Ricky from Union City, New Jersey played with the same gusto for their limited audience as if it was any other busy weekday train. "We usually play at Venus Bar in Passaic," Neslon told me. "But all our gigs got cancelled so we've been on the train since the crisis started."
Musicians Nelson and Ricky (left pic) alongside an accordion player (right) as they busked aboard the subway on Cinco de Mayo
Under the permanent shade of the Myrtle/Broadway station, I met up with gallerist Brandon Wisecarver at his shared loft while he was having a socially distanced meeting with one of his artists, virtual reality producer Roman Dubchak. Wisecarver had just launched his online gallery Platypus in a Party Hat with a pop-up show in LES that Dubchak recreated in VR so future buyers can take tour at home. "The show at 198 Allen was really a soft-opening for our virtual grand opening," Wisecarver said. "And now anyone can see it while they're stuck at home."
While he discussed details with Dubchek, Wiscarever's roommate, filmmaker Caz came home after some getting some air. Caz was on the shooting crew for a Comedy Central show before the film industry went on PAUSE and is now catching up on some classic cinema. "I got a subscription to Criterion Collection's channel," he said. "It's got Grifters, with John Cusack and Anjelica Huston which the best movie ever and everything they say has a double meaning."
Gallerist Brandon Wisecarver (left), artist/programmer Roman Dubchak (center) and Wisecarver's and filmmaker Caz (right)
Further down Broadway I visited the home of musicians Adam Amram and his wife Yukary Morishima. Amram was able to play a show earlier this year with his veteran Bushwick band Ken South Rock but Morishima's West Coast tour with Mary Bison was cancelled. Amram's also can't visit his father, 89 year old composer David Amram. "It sucks but he's fine upstate just hangin out. In the meantime I got a DVD collection of his feature film scores, you can watch it for hours."
The couple has lived in Bushwick for almost two decades and I asked if it's recently been as quiet as the "old days". "Yeah," said Amram. "It's like 2003, you can hear a pin drop. The J right now is like freight train in the country, you hear the sound and it's an escape from the silence till it disappears again. It's even influenced the music Yukary and I are recording because it's always in the background and we work around it while we play."
Musicians Adam Amram and Yukary Morishima at their loft (right) and with their home studio (left)
Our hangout moved outside as we met up for a socially distant walk with Charlie Garmendia, drummer for Champagne Superchillin who recently backed up Habibi for a packed show at Market Hotel in February. "We all working on our own projects right," he said of his bandmates. "I'm finishing an album that I recorded in Cuba back in December. My friends played on it and I got to visit my family while I was there."
Artist Charlie Garmendia as he met up for a socially distanced walk on Broadway
Leaving the posse, I visited artists Bruce La Bounty and Miryam Prodanovic who had just returned Vermont where they rode out the pandemic's peak. The couple regularly works in production for the world's art fairs and were not thrilled to be sitting around during what would have been a very busy Frieze Week. "It's a huge loss for the industry," Bounty told me. "We were supposed to be in Hong Kong in March and then this June for Basel Switzerland which got moved to September, but we'll see."
Inside their apartment I spoke with Prodanovic who was working on a painting while on hold with the unemployment line. "I've been on hold for 30 minutes and have been calling for two days," she said. "They owe me weeks of payments that I've claimed and it sucks. I should be on Randall's Island right now dealing with Frieze."
Art fair staffers Bruce la Bounty (left) and Miryam Prodanovic (right) at home during their unemployment
Outside their building, I met their neighbor and filmmaker Drew Rahini who staining wood for a loft bed he's building. Rahini has hopes of becoming a director and was working as production assistant on re-shoots for the Sopranos prequel 'The Many Saints of Newark' before the area's film productions shut themselves down. "We are the end of the the first week when coronavirus hit and they sent us home midday," he said. "The knew we were gonna get shut down and they really just brought us in so we could get paid for the full day. That was really nice of them 'cause some PA's don't get treated right and it helped me stay secure."
Film production assistant Drew Rahimi while staining wood for his loft bed.
Walking in the street to avoid slower pedestrians on the sidewalk, I ran into Dan Leinweber who formerly managed Brooklyn's huge Elements Festival. Leinweber was driving home from his new job in marketing and community outreach for Mount Sinai hospital in Brooklyn Heights and he told me he's humbled to coordinate his music contacts to the frontline workers he's supporting. "We have had the Matcha Bar team distributing heathy beverages and local JunXion music collective throwing impromptu social distancing parties to honor them."
Mount Sinai Brooklyn hospital staffer Daniel Leinweber driving on his way home to Bushwick
My friend and fellow photographer Austin Pinon has had a fortunate stomach during this crisis as he shares his house with Williamsburg Pizza co-founder Nino Coniglio and his fiancee Shealyn Brand. The three of them were beefing up their garden boxes and compost pile so they could have fresh produce by the summer. "We have plenty of time right now," Brand said. "Like we were supposed to be getting married at the Las Vegas Pizza Expo next month, it got cancelled but it was gonna be amazing! We're trying to plan for October but we'll see what happens then."
Artist Austin Pinon (left), and Williamburg Pizza co-owner Nino Coniglio with fiancee Shealyn Brand and their dog Logan
I finished off the day with a gorgeous sunset on a roof in East Williamsburg over the home of painter James Fisher-Smith who asked that I interview him up there as he and his roommate were not comfortable having guests. James was having a great year so far highlighted by a solo show at Realty Collective in Red Hook in March just a week before the shutdowns.
He was also forced to move at the height of crisis but was fortunate to get better deal on rent and plus plenty of light to work under. "The bedroom has three windows," Fisher-Smith said. "And my rent is cheaper than its ever been. I'm just worried about the other people in this city that can't work because it's the opposite for me. It takes so, so long to make my pieces and now I have so much time."
Artist James Fisher-Smith during his exhibition at Realty Collective in Red Hook (left) and at his work table in East Williamsburg (right, photo by Tysen Shen)