Sunday, June 30, 2013

Fragility & Strength


In a multi-hued, rainbow primitive print blouse, knee-length denim shorts and Day-Glo teal Ray Bans, Kelly Saint Patrick looked like a summer dream: hot, blonde, and ready for action. She seemed to be hopping around, twitching with excitement, anxious to get behind the microphone and start the show.

Why did her anticipation reveal such an abundance of nervous energy?

Not only was this her first Groove on Grove appearance in three years – documented here – this specific 2013 date had been postponed due to rain. Rolling Thunder Storms had been forecasted again, threatening to cancel the rescheduled event – the rare Friday incarnation of the Jersey City summer concert series. As afternoon turned into evening, the sky cleared. Mother Nature called off her monsoon. The show would go on. Realizing this, Kelly Saint Patrick was just about bursting with elation to be returning to the GOG stage.

Kelly released her second album, The Light Keeper, earlier in the year and to anyone who knows her work, it is apparent she his reaching new creative peaks. Her sultry voice, warm and robust, is not just hitting the right notes but enwrapping those syllables with the confidence of a time-tested singer, layering fresh shadings into her lyrics.  Love is her subject; the emotional stakes are high and heartbreak is rarely avoided. This kind of music – and at this level – takes both heart and soul to make ... and to appreciate.

 Everyone felt her energy. The band was in high sprits, a unique sextet – two fiddles, a cello plus key board, drums and guitar. They were funkier than any band with a cello instead of electric bass has any right to be. The string section trio gave the sound a textural complexity – it was folk rock with a distinctly country edge, but notably accented by a gypsy sensibility. The result was a compelling acoustic mesh, as if they were preparting to write a new chapter for the Americana sound.  A back-up singer supplied supportive echoes, depth-inducing harmony and  the occasional duet.

Kelly and her crew were having lots of fun. They had stop-on-a-dime tightness and delivered the hooks home for all they were worth.  

The set consisted of Kelly’s original, 21st century folk-rock torch songs, and some  cleverly chosen covers, including a rocked-out (to hear two fiddles and cello rock out is surprisingly sublime) interpretation of Lucinda Williams Can’t Let Go and a rousing yet tender reading of Same Old You, by Miranda Lambert. Kelly brought on the sass with Hell On High Heels (I'm hell on high heels, baby I'm comin' for you), a contemporary feminist anthem that had an in-your-face, somewhat raunchy sexuality– an edgy ode to your inner gold digger. I was unfamiliar with the song; Kelly’s rendition suggested a Gurrrls gone country wild update of Reba McEntire’s Fancy.

In a few short years, Groove on Grove has established itself as part of the Jersey City life. Warm weather Wednesdays (and occasional Fridays) with open-air live music – three acts with sets of about 45 minutes each – have become the way it is here in town. We look forward to GOG and get annoyed when inclement weather postpones this pleasure.

 Food Trucks and other vendors… friends and neighbors and kids – the melding of GOG with Creative Grove increased the crowds, but organizers of both events have told me that the 2013 seasons are breaking attendance records. More people in town as well as nearby towns  are coming and those who came are now coming back.  There’s a lot of milling about and chatter. The music becomes a sound track to this manifestation of community, great for us but for the musicians, it’s a tough gig, especially for an artist like Kelly. Her music explores an emotional territory – the romantic regions of the human heart – and requires an intimacy with the audience that can be difficult  to sustain amid the bustle of the Grove Street PATH Plaza.

Her showmanship talents compensated for the innate distractions of the setting. She was in great voice, emotive yet subtle – and the band was having a hot set throughout. But just as I was thinking that some of the poignancy of her songs was getting overlooked, a remarkable concert moment occurred with the pairing of two recent, original, and darker songs – Bottle of Wine, followed by, How Bad is Bad. 

Bottle of Wine, a countryish ballad, is a genuine weeper, where the narrator (“tonight it is just me, a bottle of wine, and your ghost”), waiting for the time – “you find your way back to me.” A similar theme of longing and regret but without the relief of a tongue in cheek attitude carried into How Bad is Bad, an emo-styled rocker – dramatic pauses between blistering rave-ups.  A bad hurt has been inflicted and the singer is measuring the damage, as in, we know it’s bad, but how bad (how bad is bad). Can the love be repaired? We’ve all been there. Does this relationship have any hope, which is really another way of asking, how authentic were our feelings (which implies the darker query: were mine more genuine than yours?).

 The narrator is nearly devestated when she realizes how much she misses him: “I’ve been bleeding since you left me,” and is left with only unanswered ponderables: “how bad is bad, can you handle me or are you too far gone for forgiving.” (dig those internal, alliterative rhymes at the end of that line).  

Even though she concedes that her actions require forgiveness, her penance includes the challenge: “Are you too damn proud to see, me?” Her heart is fragile; the woman is anything but.







Kelly fearlessly exposes her sorrow, but she doesn’t wallow in despair. The dark night of her soul journeys towards the deeper truths one needs to survive heartache. Her vocal on How Bad is Bad was relentless, adding layer upon expressive layer as she approached the crescendo. She has a startling way of interspersing high notes when you least expect them, sonic counter-points more familiar to contemporary R&B than her post-Lilith Fair folk-rock leanings, which only makes her singing more captivating. The people who had gathered around the platform ignored all the typical GOG distractions. Kelly enthralled us. For a few moments at least, her honesty silenced the din. Following the song’s carthisis-like conclusion, there was a pause before the applause, as if everyone needed to take a collective breath. Kelly slipped the fingers of one hand behind her sunglass to wipe tears from her eyes. She whispered into the microphone, “I guess that one still hurts.”

Bob Dylan once said he wrote the songs to perform the songs. The impact of the autobiographical roots of a song diminish with time for the performer, but  maybe sometimes they return, maybe sometimes the feelings of the song and the feelings of the singer again coincide (or at least appear to). Her performance and her reaction to its intensity was a rare – and profound – display of sincerity that can only be described as brave. We recognized our feelings in her lyrics, then she gave voice to those feelings. It was a singular and unforgettable moment. Life turned into art.

Dancing Tony, promoter, booker and MC, came on stage to take the mike and thank Kelly& Company. The applause and cat-calls still lingered. We expected Tony to announce upcoming gigs of the artist and plug the Groove on Grove sponsors. He does this after the last song of every set. Instead, a rare thing happened – a breaking of GOG protocol – Tony requested one more song. His idea met with applause and the crowd’s unabashed approval. Yes, an actual encore. Because of time constraints – three bands, each requiring their own set up – and strict city ordinances limiting the length of the event – encores are the very rare exception at this JC weekly music-fest. But sometimes the performance makes no other option acceptable. Kelly invoked feelings we all shared and we needed them to last at least one song longer.

My only complaint is that no one intrdouced the band!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Like So Much Lost Time by Erin Parsch

A lone stool in a spot light. A small cloud of fog drifts across  the scene, eances the dreamy atmosphere. A wistful dream unfolds.
She floats in like an apparition to the stool, her shoulders and arms painted white, matching the white mask which is on the top of her skull like a hat, not yet a facial disguise.
She orbits the simple, three legged chair to a languid, ballad-like instrumental track, the fog gradually clearing. The stool becomes a prop, then an apparatus to the dance as her body contorts, coils then stretches.
The movements are elegant, always fluid but they shift from a preternatural hover to very physical and human, gyration, graceful, smooth, followed by a strained pose. The tendons and muscles in her well toned back and arms,, visible, apparent, rippling beneath her skin.  You could almost see her pulse from across the room.  All too human indeed, then it’s back to a more ethereal physicality.
Erin Parsch is a dancer, visual artist and performance artist, whose website is here.


Like So Much Lost Time was a performance dance piece featured at Fish With Braids, whose gallery space will be closing imminently. A rare but not uncommon performance art work at this space, a former warehouse, has a nice urban feel, shadowy light and painted over brick walls. The humanity of the artist seemed emphasized in this repurposed vestige of our industrial past.


The slow, moody dance – modern but accented with ballet flourishes – had a whiff of tragedy. The title -- Like So Much Lost Time – evokes a feeling of regret. At the conclusion of the piece, the dancer slips the mask over her face, which I took as symbolizing death. The inevitability of our shared mortality underscores the sorrow when we realize the reality of time. Lost time is lost forever. Lost time is not found again. What moment isn’t fleeting?  All we can really know is our own mortality. She sits on the stool and waits. Eventually only the stool remains.

 Website: Erin Parsch

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Abstract Devices

The WhiteStar Bar is dimly lit and the pieces are hung high above the heads of patrons, which makes it difficult to appreciate the moody, at times darkly emotional, aspects invoked by the work, a series of uniquely made abstractions by Luca Cusolito.

The opening of Left to My Own Devices / New Works by Luca Cusolito was delayed by the relentless spring thunder storms; it was originally scheduled to debut the first week of June.  It is now up at White Star on Brunswick Street for a few weeks.

Luca, who hails from Florida, is an art organizer and advocate, has been part of the Jersey City art scene for the several years, but was reluctant to show her pieces, especially in an exhibition devoted exclusively to her own work. Previously, she had only been part of group shows. But guess what. The work started selling; she started getting more inspired.
While having little to no formal training in art, Luca has been making art since her teen years. The current abstractions – which are layers of paint on canvas beneath a glass surface – began under unusual circumstance: quarantine and pox.

About two years ago, Luca was stricken with adult Chicken Pox. Spots covered her body and she was under doctor orders not to leave the body until her complexion normalized. With the only the paint and other scarce art supplies at hand in her home, she constructed her first abstractions. A friend and neighbor who also dabbled as an art curator saw the work and persuaded Luca to sell her the piece and adamantly encouraged her to produce more. The pieces were included in subsequent group shows. All the original abstracts produced during the pox phase have been purchased.

The core of the Left To My Own Devices show are  4” x 4” canvases, which clustered together on one of the brick-red wall of the White Star Bar seemed to be a single, mosaic-like work of art of its own. They also exemplify the work itself. Using different types of paint – acrylics, oil, water, etc. – she layers the various substances and colors – 28 layers in some cases – and once the desired effect is achieved, she places the glass on top of the paint, which by drying affixes it to the work, essentially creating a glossy result and a protective cover. “It has to be timed just right, or else the time is wasted,” she says.

In other words, unless each step is properly timed, there is no art. While the steps are the same, each piece is distinctive. “It is intentional to some degree, but it is also accidental each one comes out.”

Do the at least partially spontaneous outcomes also result from a deliberate expression of feeling? While deliberation seems to be at a minimum when it comes to inspiration an abstraction jag, feeling does provoker to produce. “When I am in the mood, I work on the art, I tend do a lot at one time.”

Outlet or urge, in the final analysis does the root motivation really matter as much as the clever and creative result? In addition to the 4” x 4” 's, there were larger pieces using the same glass and canvas production methods. Others used a resin finish instead of glass; the abstractions resembled drips and splashes but had a more textured surface. Another piece featured gel-caps filled with glitter within a brownish-pink color, invoking a bleak decadence (this party did not end well).

The pill pieces may have been unusually blatant, the oft-obscured dark mood dominated many of the pieces making up the “Left to My Own Devices” exhibition, which seemed to contradict the upbeat enthusiasm Luca radiates. She is a bit of a jack-of-all trades, involved with several Jersey City based organizations as well as entrepreneurial  endeavors including Creative Enabler, a digital public relations company serving creative types and Lollibomb Beauty, a line of hand-made soap and cosmetics.  

Until now, her art was secondary on her agenda. “I think I’m going to be spending more time with it.”





Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Abandoned Warehouse Graffiti

Always fun walking around the mostly abandoned warehouses. Every few months new graffiti seems to appear. Graffiti is often both obvious and obscure – how many other forms of communication can say that about itself?
Some tags are familiar, others fresh to the eye. Something brave and obstinate in this the oldest form of street art. Why can’t art be both art and vandalism? Maybe more art should aspire to vandalize, at least challenge and provoke conformity. No real testament to Visigoths here. But as in centuries past, an individual break with the social order, the latest iteration of Kilroy was here.



I’m an individual, no matter how illegible or personally referential or ethereal, I am here. I exist. The urban landscape of old concrete, rotting bricks and cracked warehouse windows – the vestige of the industrial past not yet refurnished into condominiums and mix-used projects – a self-proclaimed artist – is there any kind, really? – scrawled a souvenir of a life, evidence some one was here and that some one was I and I needed proof even if that proof be briefly amusing strangers looking at old building while going from one neighborhood to another.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

313 Gallery, Post-Hattery

This eastern box turtle shell was part of a gallery within a gallery, curated by Bunny Pearlman that featured folk art and crafts and some found art pieces, like this shell. I love turtles and used to have a box turtle pet as a child I named Tank.
I’m jumping the gun on this blog with a pure turtle love digression,  in memory of Tank, gone more than 40 years now.
The 313 3rd Street branch of the Jersey City Art School opened two years ago as a workshop space and sometimes gallery. The opening was a fun event that I wrote about here.
The 2013 313 re-opening for this may have bee a little more staid when it than a couple of years ago, but there was more art to see.  The big news is that the gallery portion has become more permanent. The 313 Gallery will now be open Saturday and Sunday. The gallery is the latest outgrowth from the Jersey City Art School, and word is that it may the first of a trio of spaces with art for sale on a regular basis. Artists have lived and worked here for years, and people visit to see the work and meet the artist at various events throughout the year, but an ongoing gallery with regular hours and art for sale that people will come to and purchase outside of an organized event, like the Studio Tour… well, regular gallery hours just like you find across the Hudson... that’s new and probably about time.

Construction for the gallery also include the addition of a massage therapy studio Evolve|Revolution Massage by Ceallaigh Pender (Pender also runs the school’s ceramic program) and the gallery opening also included the grand opening of this by appointment mini-spa. 
The space is nicely repurposed, tall  ceilings, painted walls of brick  and cement. The artist work spaces are in the back, behind the back. Makes you wonder what used be here.

Millinery Manufacturing

But not at first.

A visit to the  New Jersey Room, at the main branch of the Jersey City Free Public Library tells the tale, or pieces to the story at least.
Originally it was a stable, at least in 1887, the date of this city map. Yes, it is hard to tell, but look closely, using the pen as your pointer; This is a map of 313 Third Street way back then. See the X, according to the key, that designates a stable, for horses one assumes.


By 1893, a listing indicates it is now the location of a Samuel Wachtel Hat Company; In 1910 it is listed as New Jersey Hat Company. By 1926, it is Modern Hat Company and Modern it is a name that seems to have stuck, although with variations such as Modern Hatters, which appears in a local program for the Italian Village feast in 1979. It sometimes appears as A1_Modern Hat Company, the aA1 being a common device back then to get a company listed at the beginning of an alphabetical listing.

In 1956, the City map lists it as Felt Hat Facty (factory).

313 3rd  Street circa 1981, Modern Hatter still making hats in Jersey City. (Joseph Brooks photo.  New Jersey Room, Jersey City Free Public Library).
 Men used to wear hats all the time, until 1960, fashion historians say, with the election of John F, Kennedy, who famously did not wear a hat for his inauguration and was rarely seen with one. He wanted to project a youthful image and thought the hat made him look old or least a member of the old guard. As a result, hats fell out of favor – not that the wearing them entirely disappeared, there was always a market, but the 60s and 70s were tough times for hat manufacturers. The hat business started to come back after Indiana Jones brought back the wide-brim fedora and Urban Cowboy revitalized the Cowboy hat. Around the same time, the casual wear of the baseball cap became ubiquitous. Hats as a fashion item have returned in the 21st century, but by then Modern Hatters of Jersey City had gone the way of the Brunswick Street Blacksmiths. Except for say Stetson, most hats are now made overseas.
But these Jersey City Milliners lasted a long time.  Modern Hatters was still listed in a 2001 Jersey City Yellow Pages directory. More than 50 years under one company name. Modern Hatters must have made good headwear.

The cement walls, open space, industrial feel still exists in the building, giving the gallery a kind of steam-punk feel, a sense that art is the contemporary manifestation of urban productivity. But like I said, I was most taken with the gallery within the gallery by Bunny Pearlman, and her mix of found and folk art, as well as her small, wistful paintings. Hats were once made in this space, finding their way for sale across the country; now art from or at least reflective of rural America has made it way here for view and purchase.