Discovering the Jersey City Artists Studio Tour Or, My Best First Date Ever

Last weekend was my best first date ever. With whom? The Jersey City Artists Studio Tour. It’ll be my second year covering local arts come December, but this was in fact my first JCAST ever. In 2010, I wasn’t even covering art and in 2011, I was visiting my best friend, former JC photog Doug Bauman, in Pennsylvania.

The courtship began on Friday with the opening party at Tenmarc. When I hopped on the shuttle bus at Grove Street and the driver, Venus, literally cranked up the heat and started blasting LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It,” I knew it was a good sign. When we arrived, I found all sorts of goodies. I walked down the main hallway and popped into the Not-Yo-Mama’s Blitzcraft Pop-Up Shop and exhibits by _gaia, hob’art, John Ruddy, Daniel “Kodaq” Morteh and more. One of my favorites was “The Artist at Work,” curated by realist painter Joe Velez, with sexy sketches by Bonnie DeWitt, a seriously surreal scratchart triple portrait of Salvador Dali by Dorian Monsalve and an epic yet irreverent self-portrait by Jersey City Art School (JCAS) founder Thomas John Carlson that will probably be, for better or worse, emblazoned onto my mind forever.

The main room–half gallery, half living room–showed me that art is really at home here in Jersey City. Exhibits by the Rise Up Gallery, Uptown Crew, the JCAS and some of Pro Arts’ best had everyone talking–actually stopping in front of works and talking about them, something we often forget to do. Also turning heads were antique cameras installed throughout and a complex, pseudo-homey installation by Irene Borngraber of the Distillery Gallery, “Refuge,” featuring oddities like an old-fashioned oven blasting faux flames and a miniature stairway to nowhere.

As I scurried out prematurely (to see J CITY Theater’s new play, Regrets Only–check out my review here!), I knew this tour was going to rock.

Check out my photos from the opening party at Tenmarc:

The next day, I helped man JCI‘s table at the 4th Street Arts and Music Festival. Between handing out free issues of NEW Magazine and getting people to sign up for our weekly newsletters (type your email in the box near the top right of your screen to opt in), I got to see artists at work like Gocha Tsinadza and Mack Megaro who stacked wood throughout the day to create a sculpture that not only looked like Jenga on steroids, but also was an awesome backdrop for projected video come nightfall. I also watched NEW‘s own “Jive Train” cartoonist Dan Strauss and others duke it out in drawing game Battle Lines. I munched on delicious “Princess Cupcakes” baked by the PS #5 PTA and listened to some slammin’ tunes by several bands before making my way uptown.

I performed three-fourths of my one-woman show Kookspeak at the Jersey City, Land of the Freeform Arts and Music Festival in Riverview Park before heading “next door” to 500 Palisade Avenue, an old industrial building that was once a lace factory and later, a plumbing company. Here, Peace by Piece Studio (also the brains behind the Freeform Fest) was showing “sex&drugs&rock&roll,” one of my favorite shows of the tour. I made the rounds twice at the venue, oogling high-energy concert photos by Joe Russo, an entire wall with rock ‘n’ roll paintings by Robert Piersanti and hard-rockin’ custom guitars by Meghan McKee. I also really loved Greg Woolard’s sexy, mind-bending pieces which included an oversized painting that delivers a sinful, kaleidoscopic, phallic overload; an optical-illusion drawing of a man bathing; and a porno quilt. Yes, a quilt made out of pornographic magazines.

Speaking of unorthodox quilts, curator Tina Maneca also proudly showed off one made with 2,000 drug bags which she and some cohorts found over the course of a year on JC streets. JCI publisher Cat Hecht, who was my touring buddy, and I tried sitting on it. It was pretty comfy, I guess, for a drug bed. It must be pretty warm, too, since Maneca told us she once found a squatter sleeping in the bed one morning while hanging the show!

And remember my buddy Doug who kept me from last year’s tour? He was part of a show this year, “Photojournalism” at Mary Benson Gallery, which was by far one of my favorites and a great display of seven local photojournalists’ artistry and powerful storytelling abilities. As a journalist (and sort of photojournalist; don’t think I’m quite there yet), it’s nice to be reminded that we’re telling stories that need to be told and giving people glimpses into each other’s lives that help us all remember our shared humanity.

Through the day I also hit up Steam Cafe, the JCAS Workshop, Fish with Braids, Made With Love, _gaia’s studio, Yelp’s Artoberfest at Mana Contemporary (which boasted an awe-inspiring fossil-inspired installation and delicious eats), and the unofficial, official after-party at Rock Soup Studios. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to continue touring on Sunday, but I had ways more fun in one day than I thought I could. I saw so much amazing art, I could probably go on and on! If you run into me, I’ll probably rattle on about it, because seriously, I think this could be love.

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Check out my photos from Saturday:

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Photos by Summer Dawn Hortillosa

Summer Dawn Hortillosa

is a freelance arts and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in the Jersey City Independent, The Jersey Journal, the International and other publications. She is also a creative writer and theatrical director.