Healing Through Art

As New York City reopens, Dhru Deb, a Postdoctoral Research Scientist in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, ventures out to the art galleries. He shares his experience below in a personal post in hopes to inform and encourage you to attend the new exhibitions in the City.

Fig. 1 “I want to feel alive again” at Lyles & King gallery on 21 Catherine St., NY, NY; Courtesy of the Artist and Lyles & King, New York. Photo credit: Charles Benton


As the COVID-19 lock-down is slowly and carefully easing up in several areas of our lives, it becomes important to acknowledge and express the trauma and anxiety we have been through. In New York City, some of the reopened art galleries are currently featuring works of visual and auditory forms expressing personal narratives. Even if you aren’t a pro art enthusiast, you may identify with these visual narratives as ultimately it comes down to human experiences of uncertainty. Acknowledging it – is the first step.

Fig. 2 “Graphica” at Foxy Production on 2 E Broadway, NY, NY; Courtesy Foxy Production, New York. Photography: Charles Benton

Perspective. I think that one word summarizes it all.

Walking from my apartment in East Village to the art galleries in Lower East Side and Chinatown, I noticed how the city I knew so well changed in the past few months. The empty retail spaces, the unopened restaurants and the off-Broadway theaters are pointing to that anxious question – “what’s next?” So, I was curious to see how the reopened art galleries are adapting to this situation. To find out their stories.

My first destination was Foxy Production’s Graphica. See the photographs of the show here. The title “Graphica” was inspired by the painter Charles Alphonse du Fresnoy’s philosophical and instructional Latin poem “De Arte Graphica” (1668). Inside the second-floor loft space on East Broadway, Foxy Production’s founders and directors, Michael Gillespie and John Thomson united works of four contemporary artists: Michael Bell-Smith, JODI, Cindy Ji Hye Kim and Glendalys Medina.

Fig. 3 Cindy Ji Hye Kim, Thirty Frames Per Second, 2016, ink on paper, 30 drawings, 6 x 3 in. each; Courtesy Foxy Production, New York. Photography: Charles Benton

As our recent experiences on the march for racial justice and equality in New York City had varied response, Cindy Ji Hye Kim’s black and white piece emphasizing gaze, focal point, field of vision, power and contrast immediately stood out to me. “The artist’s “Thirty Frames Per Second” (2016) is an animation flip book displayed as separate pages across one wall of the gallery. Recalling Hitchcock’s use of flowing dissolves that are read as one shot, the series of ink drawings has a circulating eye than can induce senses of both anxiety and freedom.”

The video documentation of the show is here. made by Charles Benton.

Fig. 4 “I want to feel alive again” at Lyles & King gallery on 21 Catherine St., NY, NY; Courtesy of the Artist and Lyles & King, New York. Photo credit: Charles Benton

My second destination was Lyles & King’s newly opened location on Catherine St. within only couple of buildings of Foxy Production. The show titled “I want to feel alive again” concerns the body, empathy, and human connection, using skin as the central motif.

Fig. 5 Jessie Makinson,  Skin Spy, 2020, Oil and pigment on canvas, 82 5/8 x 78 3/4 inches, 210 x 200 cm, Courtesy of the Artist and Lyles & King, New York. Photo credit: Charles Benton

“With the world grown uncertain, it makes sense to refocus on figuration, to take refuge in the facticity of our bodies (when pricked, we bleed: fact), but in the current situation it is a roulette wheel: our bodies could betray us and fail at any time.” – this sentence in the press release directly connected to the anxiety I felt as a cancer researcher during the COVID-19 lockdown! The carefully curated artworks for this show aligned with this message.

In the inaugural show, I had the pleasure of speaking to the Owner and Director, Issac Lyles. The outdoor backyard space, as Isaac will emphasize, is a must-see if you are visiting the gallery. The current show will identify with our cravings for skin-to-skin contact that’s impossible as we focus on safe, social distancing.

Fig. 6 “Phantom Gates and Falling Homes” at Chapter NY on 249 E Houston St., NY, NY, (in the middle) Cheyenne Julien, Mixed Company, 2020, Charcoal on newsprint, 18 × 24 inches (45.72 × 60.96 cm), 21 × 27 × 1 ½ inches (53.34 × 68.58 × 3.81 cm) (framed), Courtesy of the artist and Chapter NY, New York. Photo by Charles Benton

For my third destination, I walked along the Essex St. up until the Houston St. where Chapter NY found a cute and sunny location. The show titled “Phantom Gates and Falling Homes” by artist Cheyenne Julien presents a multifaceted view of the city life.

Fig. 7 Cheyenne Julien, Trini Slangs, 2020, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 38 × 34 inches (96.52 × 86.36 cm), Courtesy of the artist and Chapter NY, New York. Photo by Charles Benton

Perhaps the most direct link to the recent #BLM protest days from a population already angered, anxious and frustrated from COVID-19 lockdown is depicted in the artworks. You will realize these emotions on many levels as you stand in front the painting showing a hand holding a knife is stabbing the water bottles rolling out of a vandalized vending machine! Similarly, you will observe the subject in Trini Slangs, “flaunts her t-shirt which has been knotted to accentuate her tapered waist and curving hips. She holds her pose with confidence and ease.”

For viewing, in all these venues, I almost had the whole gallery to myself. Perhaps a rainy weekday afternoon added to the reasons along with the dedicated gallery visitors struggling to keep up with planning on online appointments and a fear of being in closed spaces. However, the gallery staffs were periodically cleaning the surfaces touched by the visitors and bottles of hand sanitizers were placed at the entrance.

Fig. 8 (on the right) Cheyenne Julien, White Noise, 2020, Oil on canvas, 52 × 60 inches (132.08 × 152.40 cm), Courtesy of the artist and Chapter NY, New York. Photo by Charles Benton

For a scientist-artist and a “New Yorker at heart” like myself, New York City still remains “the city of final destination” as you will read in E.B. White’s essay. While Jerry Seinfeld’s recent opinion piece on New York Times comforts me that New York will NEVER be over, experiencing the re-opening of art galleries that have been the beating heart of the social and cultural scene of this city, reassures that very notion. Thanks to Foxy Production, Lyles & King, and Chapter NY, I get to live this city life once again through the perspective of others!


Featured shows and galleries in this article:

Cindy Ji Hye Kim, Glendalys Medina, Jodi, Michael Bell-Smith “Graphica” at Foxy Production < https://www.foxyproduction.com/ > 2 E Broadway, 200, Wed – Sun, 11-6

“I Want To Feel Alive Again” at Lyles & King < http://www.lylesandking.com/ > 21 Catherine street, Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 11-6; Sunday 12-6

Cheyenne Julien at Chapter NY < http://chapter-ny.com/ > 249 E Houston street, Gallery hours: Wed – Sun, 11-6

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