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Inspired by COVID-19 lockdown, 2 ex-Detroiters take their art to the streets of SoHo – Detroit Free Press

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Imani Mixon
 |  Special to the Detroit Free Press

Konstance Patton and Trevor Croop had never met until they found themselves painting side by side earlier this year on the deserted streets of New York’s historic SoHo neighborhood.  It was the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and the neighborhood and its growing roster of high-fashion labels were not open for business.

Stores were closed with security guards posted outside and windows boarded up to prevent passers-by from getting a look inside. Most New Yorkers regarded the scene as desolate, but artists Patton and Croop, both former metro Detroiters, saw the closed stores covered with wooden panels as a blank canvas.

“All these rules disappeared and art appeared in the neighborhood,” says Croop.

In order to understand why Patton and Croop would take their paint and paintbrushes to adorn large wooden panels while others stayed inside on lockdown or fled their cool SoHo digs, you have to understand where they come from. SoHo in 2020 reminded both artists of Detroit’s complicated history of residential and commercial vacancies.

Patton remembers the nearly overnight facelift Detroit got in 2006  with what she calls “fake storefronts.” Vacant stores were covered with enticing window art to impress visitors in town for the Super Bowl. Now some of those stores are homes to real businesses on Woodward. Experiences like this explain why art is not frivolous, she says. It is a source of community and expression.

‘That Detroit hustle’

Patton has had to break into the art world without sustainable examples of how to turn her passion into a lifelong career. 

“It’s new for me to be a street artist and to actually be able to do my real work outside and feel protected,” she says. My friend used to call my bag a bag of indictment because there was spray paint and gloves. The difference is, I can actually put on a drop cloth, pull my brushes out and do really detailed work and spend time on the pieces, which is unheard of, especially being a Black woman. I feel like I’ve been pushed out or not embraced in the street art community because it’s a white boys club.” 

The 37-year-old artist, designer and oral historian grew up in Detroit, Ferndale and Royal Oak. She studied at Oakland Community College before moving to New York in 2006 to study at the Art Students League of New York. While studying accounting at the New School, she connected with Parson School of Design professors and built her own sort of curriculum providing a mix of technical skills and art-making. She typically returns to Detroit about six times a year for commissioned projects and had planned to come back to the city in the spring, but decided to stay in New York instead. 

“We can do something positive here with that Detroit hustle,” says Patton.

Croop, 35, is a visual artist and storyteller who grew up in Michigan, first Lansing and then Dearborn, before his family moved to Nashville when he was 16. After years of trying to run from his artistic calling, he decided to become a full-time artist five years ago. Since then, he has developed a unique glass painting technique with “invisible paintings that only reach completion when the audience creates a kind of exposure with light, sunlight or flash.”

For the past few years, he has been traveling around the world, setting up shop and searching for like-minded artists. He was in Beirut, reconnecting with his Lebanese roots and teaching workshops called Love Letters to Lebanon, as protests broke out all over the city earlier this year. Croop attempted to head back to the U.S. in April, but the borders were closed and coronavirus was spreading. He met Patton just days after finally arriving in New York and setting up shop to continue painting the sort of interactive artwork he was doing abroad.

“It’s beautification. We saw the effects of people leaving, We saw the effects of people being in a municipal leadership vacuum,” says Croop. 

A collective is born

Fast forward to three months later. Patton and Croop have founded an artist collective called SoHo Renaissance Factory that consists of themselves, plus artists Sule, Amir Diop and Brendan McNally. The name is a nod to powerful artist collectives of New York’s past, including the Harlem Renaissance and Andy Warhol’s Factory. The movement is currently rooted in SoHo, a neighborhood that gained popularity in the 1980s, when it was frequented by the likes of Grace Jones, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Andy Warhol and Madonna. 

The collective is bringing its talents to metro Detroit this weekend for a two-day mural painting event at the Royal Oak Township Recreational Center in honor of Patton’s friend Dana Selah Elam. Patton is memorializing Elam, who died last year, with a mural called “For Dana!” It’s being created in cooperation with Danielle Reeves, co-founder of the Culture Effect Detroit.

The community mural project began Saturday and is continuing through Sunday. Patton has made an illustration of Elam that she will work with others to re-create as a mural. She led an all-ages, mural-making workshop ahead of the installation. The mural will  be painted on wooden panels similar to the ones she is used to working with in New York, so the finished piece will be movable. Metro Detroiters can stop by to see the SoHo artists in action as they complete the mural on Sunday. 

Elam was a poet and screenwriter who hosted live events including “Storytime with a  Comedian” and “Monologues of a Poet” at the Boll Family YMCA. She created a host of indie films and skits with her tight-knit group of friends as writer and director of her film production company, the Selah Experiment, LLC.

The Royal Oak Township Recreational Center, site of the mural project, is a landmark of Patton’s upbringing. It’s the place where she and her childhood-turned-lifelong friends and sisters — Taren, Kendra, Kira, Alexis, April, Haley, Tomeka, Nicole and Dana — grew closer.  Elam taught them all the latest dance routines, put them up on acrylic nails, showed them how to masterfully brush out their baby hairs and led them in believable games of make-believe. 

“She would do things like have us lay on the floor, close our eyes, and she would have us walk through this world,” Patton says. “We were like astro traveling. She had us with her. She was a real storyteller. She was somebody that was always pushing you toward whatever it is you’re trying to do.” 

Inspired by tough times

The coronavirus pandemic has left the world mired in monotony, sadness and uncertainty.  While being isolated, many people have been faced with the task of articulating what it is that they are trying to do in their career and their lives. For Patton and Croop, going out into the streets of SoHo proved to be an effective way for them to express themselves as they adjusted to a slower and quieter New York. 

After a couple weeks of quarantining in her Red Hook apartment, Patton grabbed her art equipment and headed to SoHo in an attempt to clear her mind and break out of isolation. She would post up by herself at the same time each day. Neighbors and pedestrians would stop and look or cheer her on. A lot of the time she spent painting in SoHo was an opportunity to add on to her existing Goddess Project — a series of portraits of powerful, imaginative Black women that ground the goddess archetype in the present moment with realistic flourishes like box braids, septum piercings and gold hoops. This series embodies themes of adornment, attitude and style. 

“If I can affect someone positively on their way, I’m happy with that. If I can go in and really do work, that’s where I’m the proudest,” says Patton.

For a few months in 2020, Croop was stranded in Beirut and awaiting flight details from the U.S. Embassy. By the time he scored a June 5 flight back home, the flight crew on his Qatar Airways flight wase wearing hazmat suits to protect against the virus. Over his three months in limbo, he painted marble slabs and mapped out what his artistic life would be like back in the U.S.

Once he returned, he rented an empty dance studio that he intended to treat as an artists studio, and just one month into his time in SoHo, it became the headquarters of the yet-to-be-named Soho Renaissance Factory. The new artist friends Croop met suddenly had a place to store their equipment and strategize their moves for the day. With its high ceilings and second-floor location, the loft offered a bird’s-eye view of the streets below. It’s what Croop calls “a perch to watch the neighborhood change.”

 While painting in SoHo, Croop focused on two series he titled “Waves of Change” and “Find Your Own Heroes” respectively. “Waves of Change” is in a more traditional graphic style and speaks to his experiences with uprisings both at home and abroad. “Find Your Own Heroes” remixes typical pop culture icons. In one painting, he has adorned rapper Tupac with Salvador Dali’s signature mustache in an effort to encourage viewers to engage with the everyday heroes that surround them instead of searching for more one-dimensional icons. 

“We’ve got to live up to our ability of what we’re called upon to do,” says Croop.

Members of the collective credit the pandemic’s disruption of typical American consumption — gathering and going out, spending money to maintain a certain aesthetic status — as the thing that brought them together. None of them would have had this much time to convene and make art in public on a consistent basis. 

No one could have envisioned that an impromptu crew of artists would come together and begin to paint up and down the streets of SoHo during the hot, grueling summer months of a global pandemic. So there is no blueprint for how to move forward now.

Do unsanctioned murals qualify as vandalism? If your artwork lines a street, are you a street artist? Does that title still stand if many of the institutions and exhibitions where you would typically display work are closed because of the pandemic? If someone is drawn to one of the paintings and decides to take one home, is that considered a community offering or artistic acquisition? In other words, whom does the art belong to? Soho Renaissance Factory’s existence raises questions about accessibility, ownership and legality. 

“Institutions are going to have to catch up to what happened this summer. All of it came from the desire to fix something that was totally broken,” says Croop.

With help from Mana Contemporary, Croop says they have been able to save about 150 boards featuring art from the Soho Renaissance Factory members and other independent artists before they were taken down by neighbors or store owners. For a group that was initially hesitant to name itself and officially formalize what was happening around it, the collective accomplished a lot over the summer.

After catching wind of its work, NOMO SOHO, reached out to collaborate. Now the five artists are living and creating art in the boutique hotel just a short distance from their old art studio. They’ve been commissioned to adorn some of the hotel rooms with original artwork and are mapping out a residency program that emphasizes partnership and professional sustainability. They’ve also partnered with a nonprofit called the SoHo Broadway Initiative  to reproduce 25 banners of their artwork that will hang along the SoHo streets.

The SoHo Renaissance Factory artists knew the wooden panels would come down one day; they just didn’t know when. Even as the storefront-obstructing boards begin to come down and people return, the work continues and the bonds that were forged over one unforgettable and sometimes unforgiving summer remain.

Imani Mixon was born and raised at the magnetic center of the world’s cultural compass — Detroit, Michigan. She is a long-form storyteller who is inspired by everyday griots who bear witness to their surroundings and report it back out. Her multimedia work centers the experiences of Black women and independent artists. 

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Teens behind latest art damage on Berlin's Museum Island – WellandTribune.ca

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BERLIN – Several teenagers sprayed graffiti on a piece of art outside one of Berlin’s most famous museums and that the vandalism was unrelated to the damaging of more than 60 other art works on the city’s Museum Island that were smeared with an oily liquid early this month, police said Saturday.

A huge granite bowl in front of the Altes Museum, which is part of the German capital’s museum complex and houses antiquities, was defaced Friday night by some teenagers and adults, Berlin police said. Two of the suspects were temporarily detained.

Museum Island is a UNESCO world heritage site in the heart of Berlin and one of the city’s main tourist attractions,

Dozens of other exhibits at the Museum Island complex were vandalized Oct. 3. Investigators said they had watched hours of surveillance camera footage but not found any obvious sign of anyone applying the liquid.

Museum experts have said the motive remains a mystery and there appeared to be no thematic link between the targeted works. They expressed optimism that the apparently random damage can be repaired.

Berlin police said the graffiti sprayed on the granite bowl did not have any political content or appear related to the damaging of the other art works.

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Teens behind latest art damage on Berlin's Museum Island – The Battlefords News-Optimist

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BERLIN — Several teenagers sprayed graffiti on a piece of art outside one of Berlin’s most famous museums and that the vandalism was unrelated to the damaging of more than 60 other art works on the city’s Museum Island that were smeared with an oily liquid early this month, police said Saturday.

A huge granite bowl in front of the Altes Museum, which is part of the German capital’s museum complex and houses antiquities, was defaced Friday night by some teenagers and adults, Berlin police said. Two of the suspects were temporarily detained.

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Museum Island is a UNESCO world heritage site in the heart of Berlin and one of the city’s main tourist attractions,

Dozens of other exhibits at the Museum Island complex were vandalized Oct. 3. Investigators said they had watched hours of surveillance camera footage but not found any obvious sign of anyone applying the liquid.

Museum experts have said the motive remains a mystery and there appeared to be no thematic link between the targeted works. They expressed optimism that the apparently random damage can be repaired.

Berlin police said the graffiti sprayed on the granite bowl did not have any political content or appear related to the damaging of the other art works.

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Saving the saints: St. Ninian's restoration reveals art history in Antigonish – CBC.ca

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Michelle Gallinger spends more than nine hours a day pressed against the grand walls of St. Ninian’s Cathedral.

She’s slowly revealing a piece of Canadian history that’s been hidden for decades.

Under the painted walls and columns of the Antigonish, N.S., church, is an extraordinary mural by Quebec painter Ozias Leduc.

Gallinger, a fine arts conservator based in Dartmouth, considers him the Michelangelo of Canada.

“It’s pretty exciting. You get to have your hands on somebody’s painting who nobody has seen in its entirety since 1937,” said Gallinger.

Leduc has been recognized by the federal government as a national historic person, a designation given to people who’ve made unique and enduring contributions to Canada’s history.

He painted 150 churches, mostly in his home province. Gallinger said St. Ninian’s is the only one in Eastern Canada.

Leduc and his team painted the church in 1902, 26 years after the cathedral opened.

His work covered the entire interior from floor to ceiling. But in 1937, the cathedral needed an update and the first layer of paint was added, covering up some of the murals.

For three months, Michelle Gallinger and her team have been standing on scaffolding at the top of St. Ninian’s Cathedral, restoring murals by hand. (Robert Short/CBC)

Over the years, as many as seven layers of paint covered up the masterpiece, leaving only some of the saints exposed. They became known as the “floating saints.” 

The rose medallions on the ceiling were filled in. They’re now blue circles, but their intricate designs can be seen peeking through the layers.

Most people have no idea what’s actually on St. Ninian’s walls.

“The columns are actually painted marble,” said Gallinger. “On the outside aisles, the Stations of the Cross are all painted by Ozias Leduc and there are stencils that go up the wall.”

Two angels on the walls hadn’t been seen since 1957, when they were completely painted over. Damage caused by a steam leak at the cathedral caused layers of paint to peel away. (Robert Short/CBC)

It’s Gallinger’s job to bring that work back to life, and she’s working against the clock to save Leduc’s masterpiece.

A few years ago, there was a steam leak inside the cathedral that travelled up the columns.

“That actually caused the paint and all the subsequent layers to flake off or come forward,” said Gallinger. Those curling pieces of paint are taking the original mural with them.

In 2012, the church decided to start a campaign to save the murals. It started fundraising and every time donations total $80,000, Gallinger comes in with her team to save two saints.

In all, it’s expected the work will cost more than half a million dollars.

“The best part of it is when you get to take the four layers of artist paint off the faces. They no longer look dead or tired — they come alive,” said Gallinger.

The restoration team is using stencils to fill in some missing pieces of Ozias Leduc’s original mural. (Robert Short/CBC)

In this phase of the project, Gallinger and two of her colleagues have been tasked with revealing two saints, Matthias and Peter, as well as two angels that have been completely covered since 1957.

It’s incredibly slow, detailed work that is done by hand.

“We actually have to glue it all back down using steam irons and adhesive and hot irons,” Gallinger said of the peeling paint.

“Then we have to use what’s called a poultice, which is basically a wad of cotton with a solvent on it, to remove the top layers down to the original layer.”

Ozias Leduc originally painted St. Ninian’s from floor to ceiling. The blue circles were filled with rose medallions. While some parts have been restored, other sections are now flaking away. (Robert Short/CBC)

Once the layers are removed, she can see the original brushstrokes and paint colours.

“Right now, the two angels are just standing on clouds and it’s just glorious to see them,” she said.

But the damage of time is clear: some parts of the walls have peeled in large chunks, leaving behind blank white sections. That’s where Gallinger and her team are trying to fill in the blanks with their own paint.

“We will put a fine art varnish on it,” she explained. “They could always take our overpaint off without ever affecting the original Leduc.”

Michelle Gallinger says they were fortunate to find a few old photos of St. Ninian’s that were stored in Quebec. She’s using those to fill in missing sections of Ozias Leduc’s original mural. (Robert Short/CBC)

Rev. Donald MacGillivray, rector of St. Ninian’s, has been watching the church walls transform.

“Beauty is important,” he said. “The artwork here was made beautiful, and to have it restored brings beauty back into the building.”

He said it is incredible that people have been willing to donate to the project over the years. Every dollar has been an anonymous contribution.

“People come up to me and say, ‘I want to give money to help with this, but I don’t want my name to be known.'”

St. Ninian’s still has to raise $280,000 to restore the remaining seven saints. The cathedral hopes to finish the project in three years. (Robert Short/CBC)

The church is filled with posters showing old photos that give hints of what’s hidden on the walls, and explaining the work that needs to go into each of the saints.

When this phase finishes up next week, St. Ninian’s still has seven saints to save.

MacGillivray’s goal is to have the money raised in the next two or three years.

And while he waits to bring Gallinger’s team back to Antigonish, MacGillivray takes the time to appreciate the section that they have almost completely transformed.

“It’s wonderful,” he said.

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