work from home – home from work

Let’s reinvent the office. I don’t like going there. I’ve always preferred to work from home and have seized every opportunity to do so such as uncomfortable late pregnancies and when my children were babies. I don’t like the office with its distracting chatter and politics, fattening snacks and energy draining structure. When I’m at the office tethered to my desk from nine to six (because it is no longer nine to five), I procrastinate whenever time permits. I surf the net. I read Gawker and the Huffington Post. I play around on Pinterest during conference calls. I ache to be gone from there. My focus flits from one thing to the next with each comment or question from an office mate shouted from across the bullpen that is the open plan room.

Sitting at a desk is as bad for you as smoking

Sitting at a desk is as bad for you as smoking

When I work from home I am at peace with my work and I enjoy it. I wake at seven and instead of spending an hour and a half getting ready and getting to work, I am at work by 7:30 propped up in my comfortable bed with my laptop and a nice cup of coffee on the nightstand. I have a full hour and a half to concentrate without having to respond to incoming emails, IM’s or the phone. When I work from home, my breaks brighten my home life, my real life. I might get up from the desk, stretch and go to the kitchen to stir a pot of beans. I take a break by putting in a load of laundry or taking the dogs down to pee. On lunch break at the office I stand on line with strangers to pick up food and wait for the elevator with other strangers so that I can return to my desk and eat. At home, I can ride my bike to the market or walk over to the bank and run into a friend on the way and enjoy a nice chat or hear some neighborhood gossip.

This is my friend's swimming pond and I can work from there.

This is my friend’s swimming pond and I can work from there.

I’ve been given the opportunity to work from home this summer. Which means a hiatus from Loisaida NYC and a retreat to an off the grid mobile home in the Catskill Mountains, my rural homestead. We come here on weekends and for vacation in August. The locals call us “seasonal folk”. Frank installed a solar system last summer for our electricity, but there is no running water and our refrigerator is a cooler. I will be here for a solid two months working from home. Yes, I am home from work.

kristin reed – interview with a community artist

I met Kristin in 1985 when we were working on a documentary film about Nicaraguan poetry (Azul) directed by another friend and neighborhood resident Roland Legiardi-Laura. Shortly thereafter I began to see Kristin in the neighborhood splattered with paint, hanging out on scaffolding with her murals blooming in the devasted landscape that was Loisaida at the time.

What inspired you to create large-scale paintings on walls?

I graduated from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn with an MFA in painting and had a studio in my loft. Although I was involved in several artist activist groups, I started feeling isolated. I had a friend from Paraguay who was very politically active with Latin American causes and our anti-intervention politics of the US in Central America coincided. One day I was griping to him about the lonely existence of the artist when he pointed out to me that only Americans and Europeans viewed the life of the artist this way. He opened me up to making art for and with the community in Latin America. So I started looking around for arts groups in NYC who were doing community work. I was reading a copy of a Spanish community magazine called “Ajá” and saw an open call for muralists. My friend, Robin Michals and I decided to contact the group “Artmakers” who was organizing the project and write up a proposal for “La Lucha Continua in Latin America, South Africa and The Lower East Side”. Artmakers is an artist-run, politically oriented community mural organization established in 1983.

Site of the La Lucha Continua Mural

Site of the La Lucha Continua Mural

What inspired you to make community art and what drew you to Loisaida?

The “La Lucha” project was to put multiple individual murals on this theme and one large group-produced mural in a large area where buildings had tumbled or been demolished between East 8th and East 9th Streets and between Avenue B and Avenue C. A park had been constructed by community residents there but it was a mess—full of weeds, used hypodermic needles and garbage. It was hard to keep the junkies out. Artmakers accepted our proposal and we collaborated with the group of involved artists to clean out the garbage and weeds, prime the walls of the canyon of surrounding buildings and get to work creating a riot of color on the walls. The bleak lot was transformed into a playground, outdoor performance space and a clean, safe place for the community to hang.

La Lucha Continua Mural

La Lucha Continua Mural

I spent the summer of 1985 making a public work which involved community members and was very popular in the neighborhood. Our wall was called “The Last Judgement” and depicted a jury of twelve overlooking a scene of grizzly looking white businessmen with missile toys at their feet in an abstract color field. For the jury we selected six leaders from Central America and South Africa: Daniel Ortega, Ruth First, Nelson Mandela, Rigoberta Menchú, Archbishop Oscar Romero and Winnie Mandela. And six community members who were recommended by the people who lived in the area. They ranged from the street mechanic who worked right next to the wall, a homeless man who inhabited the block, an elderly woman who had single-handedly started a thriving community garden around the corner and three other colorful and well-liked neighborhood people.
Our mural generated much publicity and interest. Our piece was written about in “In These Times” by art critic Lucy Lippard and I was interviewed by Jimmy Breslin for the New York Post. The highlight was when Rigoberta Menchú from Guatemala came to New York to give a speech at the United Nations. One day there she was smiling in front of our mural. Word had gotten to her somehow and she came down to see it and meet us in full Quiché dress.

The Last Judgement Mural

The Last Judgement Mural

The following summer Robin and I raised the funds for another much larger mural on East 4th Street and Avenue D. We used the same concept to get the community involved and chose a site where a lot between two buildings had been made into a park by the priest from the church next door. He created a brightly colored gazebo, brick pathways, put in a swing set and planted a garden for children from the community to play in. Unfortunately the drug trade had reclaimed the lot and not many children played there. We invited people to recommend neighborhood children to portray and then selected eleven kids. We spent the summer of 1986 practically living on a scaffold on East 4th Street. At first there was suspicion that two white girls were cleaning up the neighborhood to make it nice for a gentrification that would push them out. But our friends and allies from 8th Street let everyone know that we were cool. The drug dealers caused a dilemma when one of them insisted that his son and his toy gun be painted on the wall. After meeting with community members we decided to comply in order to keep us and others safe during the project. Then one day our friends told us not to come around for a few days. The word was that several busts had occurred in the yard and the “big” off-site drug guy was sure we were narcs planted there and that there would be a reprisal. So we laid low until we got the word to come back. There had been a negotiation on our behalf by community members to clear the way. Another day when we rode our bikes to the site and locked them on a parking sign, turning our backs on them as we frequently did while working—they disappeared. But the word went out among our friends and the bikes mysteriously returned the next day. We had the feeling that a force field of community support surrounded us.

The Enchanted Garden Mural

The Enchanted Garden Mural

KristinReedEnchantedGarden_Mural2

The Enchanted Garden Mural detail

The Enchanted Garden Mural detail

After the mural had been completed for a few months we received a call that someone had tagged the mural with spray paint. We spent a day researching how to remove Krylon from oil paint and hurried down to remedy the situation. A tag can be the kiss of death. It’s an invitation for others to do the same—one tag being the catalyst for a free-for-all. But when we arrived ready to remove it—it was gone. Someone from the neighborhood was faster then we were. By doing this kind of work, I made many friends in the community and with other artists that I cherish to this day.

What was the neighborhood like then?

When I arrived at the site for Artmakers La Lucha project it was the summer of 1985 and it was a blighted no-man’s-land. There were many abandoned buildings, empty lots where buildings had tumbled down. Drug selling frenzies were commonplace. Someone would walk out on the street with aluminum packages in his hands and the addicts would swarm with money held high in their fists. Cops just didn’t seem to care. There were blocks where the landscape was fallen brick, debris, graffiti and boarded-up buildings.
But it was an exciting time and many interesting community gardens and casitas were created. It was an invigorating nexus of politics, art and music.

What do murals do for a community?

The creation of a public work of art generates pride. Most people want to live in a nice place but can be overwhelmed by the degradation of things falling apart. When someone starts the ball rolling it is contagious. Colorful paintings that are relevant to the people who live there give a sense of hope and pride. But to make the magic happen it helps to involve the community, be open to their input and ask for and accept their help in the way they want to give it.

What inspired you to became an artist?

My father was an artist, as was his mother and he had me painting by the time I was four. At age six he enrolled me in art classes at the Museum of Modern Art. I thought I would be taught how to draw and paint the world around me. But it was the late 50s and Abstract Expressionism was in its heyday. The teacher had us make mini Jackson Pollacks by squirting paint from plastic ketchup bottles. I was thouroughly disappointed.

KristinReed_Artist1991

What are you currently working on?

In 2005 I became certified as a Reiki Master/Teacher and began doing energy healing work (www.HealingReikiBrooklyn.com). After this, my work changed drastically and I began making abstract work with geometric shapes and lines. I have a studio at the Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park Brooklyn through chashama.org and am currently showing twelve new paintings in “The Gallery At First” which is in the First Presbyterian Church on Fifth Avenue and 12th Street in the Village. The work will be there until the end of June and can be seen during the week and on Sundays at 12 West 12th Street.
I continue to work on projects with Artmakers. In 2005 I worked on “When Women Pursue Justice” with Artmakers in Bedstuy, Brooklyn. It’s a 3,300 sq. ft. mural that can be seen at 498 Greene Ave. at the corner of Nostrand directed by Janet Braun-Reinitz and Jane Weisman. It depicts 90 women activists, both historical and contemporary. My contribution was a 6-ft. portrait of Fanny Lou Hamer.

In 2008 I ran into you on East 3rd Street while helping to restore an R.I.P. mural created in 2002 for Eva Cockcroft, founder of Artmakers. You and I had met originally while I was working on the Enchanted Garden mural on your block in 1986.

R.I.P. Eva Cockcroft Mural on the Lower Eastside People's Federal Credit Union

R.I.P. Eva Cockcroft Mural on the Lower Eastside People’s Federal Credit Union

In June I expect to be working on a mural with Artmakers led by Camille Perrotet at PS 94 in Sunset Park Brooklyn.

One of Kristin's painting from her current exhibiton at The Gallery at First

One of Kristin’s paintings from her current exhibiton at The Gallery at First

This is Kristin’s website: www.kristinreed.com

happy birthday millie

I love Millie more than any other dog I’ve ever had. I feel a little guilty saying that because I have another beloved dog, Lolo, a gentle geezer who has eyes only for me. I love Millie more because of her disability. She lost her sight and developed glaucoma two years ago, and we made the decision to have her eyes removed to relieve the pain.

Millie photographed with the Hipstamatic app using the Tinto 1884 lens and the D-Type Plate "film"

Millie photographed with the Hipstamatic app using the Tinto 1884 lens and the D-Type Plate “film”

Millie drawn by artist James Cooper. studio cooper.com

Millie drawn by artist James Cooper. studio cooper.com

Love grew because she needs a little extra help. She won’t go down stairs, so I have to carry her down when I take them for a walk. She settles in the crook of my arm as relaxed as if she were lying on the couch. It feels like she is a queen being transported in her litter. Love also grew because she doesn’t let her blindness get in the way. She doesn’t feel blind. Millie lives to play fetch and is as good a catcher as when she had sight. She likes to hunt although she was never any good at it – being too spastic and wild. Stealth was never part of her strategy. She hunts pigeons on the sidewalks of New York by smell and the sound of their feathers. I let her lunge at them on her leash and when they scatter she looks up at me, delighted with herself for a job well done. She helps Lolo hunt squirrels and dig for moles when we are at our rural homestead, which is her favorite place in the world. We made this short video of Millie on a recent walk in the woods.

Frank says we love her so much because she still looks and acts like a puppy. That is true. Happy 5th Birthday Millie.

Millie at 3 months old

Millie at 3 months old

how to ride a bike in new york city: tips from a cowardly cyclist

I’m afraid of traffic. Because of fear, I didn’t learn to drive a car until I was forty. Whenever I have to drive to go upstate, I leave at five in the morning so I can avoid the traffic leaving the city. I white-knuckle it all the way up the FDR drive while listening to happy Motown music to soothe my nerves. So I decided that maybe riding a bike in the streets to work and back would dull some of that fear. A friend thought I was nuts, “Okay now, so because you’re afraid to drive, you are going to ride a bike in the streets of New York?”

The first time I rode a bike in NYC was during the blackout of August 2004 in search of food and adventure. The lights had gone out the afternoon before and that night the mood was festive in Loisaida. In Tompkins Square Park, people were dancing around bonfires. It was a balmy night, not too hot. In front of my building, a cluster of neighbors sat on beach chairs around a camping lantern and drank wine from Dixie cups. We swayed to the sound of the African drums coming from park.

By noon the next day, we were bored and hungry. I let Frank talk me into riding a bike over to the west side. I agreed because since the traffic lights weren’t working, the streets were devoid of cars. I hopped on one of my daughter’s bikes. It had a banana seat and high handlebars, just like the bike I had when I was a teenager. We rode all the way crosstown, from the East River to the Hudson. It was exhilarating to ride on the empty streets with my hair blowing in the breeze.

The bike lanes that started cropping up in the neighborhood got me to thinking I could do it again and now I ride my bike everywhere I can. I like knowing how long it will take me to get somewhere without being dependent on the arrival of trains or buses or fighting the crowds for a cab. I like the freedom of going here and there on my own. Bike commuting has saved me thousands of dollars. And it has helped lessen my fear of driving a car. Here are some things this cowardly cyclist has learned on these mean streets.

The #1 safety advice is: Be predictable and be visible.

Frank gave me the most logical and reassuring advice: “If you are in a spot where the traffic is aggressive, just get off the bike and walk it on the sidewalk till you get past the scary spot. Don’t soldier on.”

I wear a helmet – always. I do not want to end up a vegetable and burden my family with feeling like they have to visit me every weekend in a nursing home.

I use the bike lanes whenever possible. The more people use the bike lanes, the more bike lanes the city will create. Then more people will feel confident about cycling (like me). The more cyclists there are, the more drivers are forced to slow down, thus making the streets safer for everyone.

Don’t underestimate the determination and skill of bike thieves in New York City. It’s not for nothing that there is a bike lock named “fuggedaboutit”. Much as I might like that twee brass bike bell, it will call attention to my bike. I always lock it tight – both wheels and the frame. The seat is chained down and screwed into the frame. A thief will not risk spending time cutting your bike loose if it is not expensive and you’ve made it time consuming for them to try. They will bypass it in search of easier or more lucrative pickings.

As for drivers, I find cabbies to be the most careful – they know what to do. Be careful of drivers with Jersey plates out on a good weather Saturday, they don’t know how to drive with cyclists on the streets. Be wary around box trucks. Scariest of all are the death machines that are private garbage trucks – do not underestimate them.

When a pedestrian bumbles into the bike lane without looking (which happens a lot), the bike bell only works about 50% of the time in getting their attention. I find that shouting “Yo, heads up!” gets the best response. It’s a polite way of saying “Get the fuck out of the road”, but they think you are being helpful and usually move out of the way with a smile.

Don’t be an asshole and ride the wrong way on a one-way street and then make it worse by pushing the cyclist who is going the right way into car traffic.

Sometimes when you are bearing down on a pedestrian who is where they should not be, they get nervous and do a little backwards and forwards dance like a squirrel in the road so that you don’t know which way to aim your bike to avoid hitting them. I treat them like I would a dumb pigeon – I slow down and let them make their move.

my purple schwinn, purchased at Recycle-a-Bicycle on Loisaida Ave.

my purple Schwinn, purchased at Recycle-a-Bicycle on Loisaida Ave.

chalk 2014 – remembering the victims of the triangle factory fire

This is the second year that I’ve “chalked” as a remembrance of the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. On March 25th in 1911, one hundred and forty six young workers, mostly immigrant young women and girls lost their lives in a horrific fire stoked in greed that galvanized a movement for the safety of workers.

For the past ten years, artist Ruth Sergel has organized CHALK, a memorial project where volunteers  “chalk” the names and ages of the victims on the sidewalks in front of their former homes.  The colorful chalk memorials are a beautiful and bright tribute to the young women at the place where they lived, laughed and dreamed. The chalk memorials are numerous in our historical neighborhood of immigrants. They are on every block. It is heartbreaking to see so many of them.

This year, I felt honored that my friend Rita Bobry, the proprietor of my neighborhood yarn store Downtown Yarns asked me to accompany her to chalk the memorial of her great-aunt who perished in the fire at age twenty-one. Her grandmother’s oldest sibling Necha Dryansky had immigrated from Poland and arrived in New York City alone at the age of sixteen. Like so many others, both then and now, she worked to support her family in the old country. Necha lived with a relative on the Lower East Side  and sent for her next youngest sister Sarah, who arrived in New York as a teenager just six months before her sister died in the factory fire.

Necha Dryansky

Necha Dryansky

Rita and I began by chalking memorials for three young women who’d lived on East 5th Street. We were silent as we worked, smearing the chalk on the sidewalk. None of the buildings where these girls lived remained, but their addresses did. We chalked their names exactly where their homes stood once long ago. We wondered if they were friends and had walked to work together. They lived so close to each other and they were the only three on that block.

Fannie Rosen, 21 years old. Born in Russia, had lived in the US for 6 months

Fannie Rosen, 21 years old. Born in Russia, had lived in the US for 6 months

Violet or Velye, born in Russia, 21 years old. 9 years in the US. Union member

Violet or Velye, Schochet, born in Russia, 21 years old. 9 years in the US. Union member

Annie Pack, born in Austria. 18 years old. Lived in the US for 6 years. Union member.

Annie Pack, born in Austria. 18 years old. Lived in the US for 6 years. Union member.

Our last stop was the former home of Necha Dryansky, Rita’s great aunt. Necha lived at 104 Monroe Street. It was hard to find because that address no longer existed. The last number of Monroe Street that Rita and I found was No. 73. Then it turned into a pedestrian walkway for a housing project. There was a beautiful view of the East River. We could see glints of gold morning sunlight in the grey water. We remarked how in the early 1900’s, this place was full of tenement buildings and that people swam in the East River in the summer.

chalkmemorialtrianglefactoryfireflyerR Rita chalked the memorial to her great-aunt and I feel privileged to have helped a little bit with outlining in contrast colors.

Rita Bobry chalking a memorial for her great-aunt Necha

Rita Bobry chalking a memorial for her great-aunt Necha

nechadryanskychalkmemorial2014R

My post from last year’s Triangle Factory Fire Chalk Project is here.

the back bedroom

The back bedroom has always been the children’s room. When our building got its certificate of occupancy and we were cleared to move in, Camelia was a toddler. I’d just learned how to do stucco veneziano (venetian plaster) and the room was one of my first projects in the apartment. The first color for Camelia’s brand new bedroom was a beautiful peachy pink, very soft and not all at sugary. A perfect color for a little girl. The walls gave off a rosy light at night. In the morning, the room glowed golden from the sunlight coming in from the eastern facing window.

When we were homesteading our building in the 1980’s, there was a lot of drug dealing in the neighborhood (see my Pigeon Wars post for the backstory). Junkies broke into the squatter’s buildings and stole tools and pipes and anything that they could rip out to sell. It was near impossible to completely fortify the entire building against theft, there were too many spots where crumbling brick or boards could be pried loose. All you could do was to make it harder for them. During that time, the back bedroom became our tool room. We framed it out and created temporary walls of double thick plywood. The door was locked with a fat metal chain. That was the secure room, the place where we kept anything the junkies might want to walk off with.

Homesteader Jay Goodson at the tool room which became our back bedroom

Homesteader Jay Goodson at the tool room which became our back bedroom

The room grew up with the girls. After the babyish pink came a sophisticated light royal blue when the girls were in  elementary school. Then came a rich green right before Camelia left for college. Now, at the time of Oona’s going to college, I decided to re-do the stucco in a pale greyish lavender. Oona said “Mom, you always want to re-do the room when we are leaving for college”. Maybe it is my way of trying to entice them to stay home.

Oona applying stucco veneziano

Oona applying stucco veneziano

The old green being covered

The old green being covered

StuccoVeneziano3

This is a work-in-progress, stay tuned for updates.