Beauty of Urban Life Highlighted in ‘City of Life’ Art Exhibit

If you stand still long enough, you can feel the vibration in the sidewalk under your feet–it’s that urban energy, the beat of the city. But you can’t stand still, of course; you’ve got places to go and all the cars are honking at you to cross the street.

A new exhibit at the Distillery Gallery and Artspace in the newly codified Riverview Arts District in the Jersey City Heights will give you a chance to stop and stare at the beauty of the city.

Exhibit curator Kristin DeAngelis came a long way from the concrete jungle and certainly knows what makes it special.

“I grew up in the country in a cowtown called Northford in Connecticut. We only had two high schools. I went to a public school and altogether, there were 100 people in my class. The biggest family in town were farmers. I come from a very opposite world,” she says. “I’ve also lived in the suburbs and was suffocated. When I came back to the city, I felt I could breathe again.

“I didn’t grow up as a New Yorker or out in a city, but living here is very much home. To be a part of this world here is so inspiring.”

DeAngelis works in New York City doing sales and marketing for a cosmetics company and then comes home to her Downtown Jersey City apartment, where she paints as a hobby (in the past year she’s had solo shows at Sawadee Thai Restaurant and the recently closed Made With Love). On weekends, she volunteers at the Distillery and teaches art to local kids. As she goes out and about, she finds small things to love about the city.

“It could be someone on the PATH train like some little child who has this fantastic laugh that makes you smile or seeing someone helping another person or seeing your favorite coffee shop,–little things that give you a smile throughout the day,” she says. “For me it’s a lot about the color and vibrancy. If I see something colorful, I give it a second look. I love living in this fast-paced, energetic environment.”

The first-time curator says this exhibit will show how those little things make the city what it is. “When you say city, a lot of people think high rises or a skyline but that’s such a small piece of it to me. There are so many things about a city that people can love,” says DeAngelis, adding that many of the pieces show how energy and nature–yes, nature–play important roles in urban places.

Maribel Guerrero's 'Cityscape'

Maribel Guerrero’s ‘Cityscape’

Highlights from the show include Maribel Guerrero’s “Cityscape” (seen at left). “It’s not what you think of when you hear ‘cityscape,’ but you can see the essence of buildings, and to me, a sun in the background. It’s a beautiful visual,” says DeAngelis.

Some of the art is obviously urban-inspired like Jay Rubinstein’s depiction of the Williamsburg Bridge, “Uncle Girdy,” or Roslyn Rose’s “Skyline,” which puts a spin on the classic view by focusing on the interior of a room where the city skyline can be seen through two windows. While some show scenes from Jersey City or other areas in Hudson County, others show urban scenes from as far off as San Francisco and Paris.

Others embody the city in less obvious ways. “In Caridad Kennedy’s ‘Letting Go’ (seen above right), you see a woman walking and on the side of the painting you can see outlines of buildings,” says DeAngelis, who believes the work shows how the city is a background for each citizen’s inner journey.

Another, a quilted textile piece by Julie McHargue, seems completely out of place, but DeAngelis says it will interact with the other pieces in a way that will make sense. Its title, “Still City,” also gives a hint at the true meaning of the work.

Other artists in the show include: John Crittenden, Geraldine Anderson Gaines, Stephanie Guillen, Daniel Guzman, Jason Henry, Beth Lucas, Kathleen Patricia Odenthal, JoanMarie Palmer, AJ Romano, Alexis Rotter and Richard Satz.

The exhibit also features what DeAngelis considers an important part of the urban world–nature. “There are a few pieces to me that just remind me of the reservoir area in Jersey City,” she says. “Last summer I took the kids I teach up there to sketch and paint and I thought, ‘Who knew this environment was here where people can enjoy nature?’ You have to remember there’s also nature and beauty in the city.”

The curator says she hopes viewers gain a new appreciation for their home.

“I hope people just appreciate everything a little more like the people they see and the emotions they have walking through,” she says. “I’m hoping that when they’re at a different bus stop or location, they’ll look at it with different eyes and just start to see the beauty in the things in everyday life.”

A reception for “City of Life” will be held Friday, April 5 at 6:30 pm at the Distillery Gallery, located at 7 Hutton St. The show runs through May 17.

Photos courtesy Kristin DeAngelis. Top photo: Caridad Kennedy’s ‘Letting Go’

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.