A bouquet of artists signals ArtsWestchester’s 50th

In celebrating its 50th anniversary, ArtsWestchester is celebrating the foot soldiers.

“The artists work in the trenches,” says Janet T. Langsam, CEO of New York state’s flagship arts council. “The venues grab the headlines, but we owe a lot to the artists and the arts community.”

So much so that the arts council recently saluted 50 visual, literary and performing artists with grants of $1,000 each at its “50 for 50” luncheon. The criteria for admission in the golden group were straightforward enough. Quality was important. So was an established body of work. But key, too, were recent works. In other words, the bloom is far from off these roses.

“It was a hard decision,” she said of winnowing the list to 50. “There are so many that are qualified that nobody should feel disappointed if he weren’t selected.”

Langsam would like to see that list and the size of the grants grow. But then, the number of benefactors would have to as well.

Unfortunately, she says, “there are very few Medicis, and the arts often have to go asking.”

It’s an advocacy that she and the arts council will continue to embrace.

“We should support artists,” she says, “for the beauty they give the world.”

Here are the selected artists in their own words:

Tim Armacost, composer, Hastings-on-Hudson – “I have had the good fortune to live overseas for big chunks of my life and have been enriched by the ease with which jazz incorporates concepts from musical traditions around the world. I’m grateful to have had experiences in Japan, India and Europe that influenced my compositional style. …I like to say that composing and performing jazz isn’t the easiest way to make a living, but it’s a beautiful way to spend your life.”

Sidra Bell, choreographer, White Plains – “I view my company, Sidra Bell Dance, as a group of prolific artists that incubates new forms and ideas in contemporary dance for the next generation of artists. Over the years, I have strived to develop a unique voice in the world of dance as a progressive and forward-thinking choreographer and educator informed by a strong female vision. I am drawn to themes that are life-affirming and seek to create work that ignites the imagination and explores the complexities of the human condition.”

Derek Bermel, composer, Brooklyn – “I’m a composer of music in many styles and genres, from symphonic and theatrical to hip-hop and film. Growing up in New Rochelle, I studied clarinet with Ben Armato of The Metropolitan Opera and learned saxophone and piano by transcribing recordings of Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. …More recently, I’ve been exploring the boundaries of notated music and improvisation, seeking to discover pathways that connect diverse cultural traditions. …For me, the goal of composing is to make something beautiful that also challenges preconceptions and asks vital questions.”

Hayes Biggs, composer, Bronxville – “I compose music for chamber ensembles, vocal soloists, choruses and orchestras. I have striven to cultivate as extensive a harmonic and expressive palette as possible. To this end, I increasingly have moved over the past decades toward an idiom that embraces the full continuum of tonal and nontonal qualities. I am inspired by poetry of all kinds and by the possibilities of the human voice. …Most recently, I have begun to explore aspects of the popular music of my youth as well as its instrumentation (electric guitar, electric bass, drum kit, etc.) in more standard new-music ensembles.”

Chester Biscardi, composer, Bronxville – “My compositional activity continues along the path I began in the mid-1970s – a concern with integrating theoretical and technical elements of music with philosophical and literary ideas. …In the 1980s and ’90s, I began to differentiate between influence (in the sense of direct quotes from a specific composer) and resonance (through which I incorporate sounds used by other composers without imitating their music). …Henry Butler, Emily Dickinson, Denise Levertov, Allen Ginsberg, Muriel Rukeyser, even the American Songbook serve as inspiration and source material for my compositions.”

Nancy Bowen, visual artist, Purchase – “I am a mixed-media artist known for my eclectic mixtures of imagery and materials in both two and three dimensions. My sculptures and drawings exist in an in-between zone of form and idea, of abstraction and representation. My work offers a poetic commentary on our quickly changing material culture. Like an artistic archeologist in this age of globalization and post-industrialization, I salvage (often disappearing) ornament and craft traditions and incorporate them into sculpture and drawings.”

Suzanne Cleary, poet, Peekskill – “I want my poems to be entertaining and profound, hilarious and heartbreaking, well-crafted and wild, but when I begin a poem, I am simply trying to think, on paper, about something that has been on my mind. My writing process is one of discovery. I describe, free-associate, link, explore, circle and dive. I play with metaphor, image, spacing and form. This stage of writing is great fun. I welcome each word, each risk. Later will come the harder – equally fun, but in a very different way – stage of crafting the poem. …My favorite question is, ‘Can I get away with this?’”

Andrew Courtney, visual artist, Croton-on-Hudson – “My work ascends from an early background in painting, ceramic sculpture, teaching fine arts and activism for social change. It has been a provocative balance. For the past four decades, my medium has been photography, often documentary photography. My image making is concerned with those places and people for whom social struggle is at the edge of transition. …Often, my work has to do with storytelling. …Most often, I render photographs in full frame reflecting an actual conversational learning moment.”

Susan Cox, visual artist, Pound Ridge – “As an architect, and now as an artist, I am interested in constructed space and the effects of light. I begin a new work by identifying a significant personal place and building an object from what remains of it within my memories. The structures that develop investigate the evolution of my convoluted recollections concerning place, light, landscape and the passage of time. I think about both the physical and the psychological/metaphorical ideas that I want to convey. Doors, windows, passage, interior and exterior space:  The architecture of the idea and the movement of light are all important themes I investigate … primarily in cast glass.”

KJ Denhert, composer, Ossining – “As a girl growing up in the complex late ’60s, I wrote songs to make sense of my feelings. The death of a teacher drove me to write my first song at age 10. Today I write and record songs about what I know, joy and despair, rhythm and harmony. I call my music urban folk and jazz. My guitar is a best friend that keeps me vital and honest along with a wonderful band of nearly 20 years. …In the last 12 months, I have performed in Istanbul, Italy, Cairo, Nepal, Alaska and St. Barth, supporting my 10th album, ‘Destiny’ and reigniting my awe at the diverse world in which we live. Sometimes I wind up a little sleep deprived, living the dream.”

Thomas Doyle, visual artist, Mount Kisco – “My work combines my formal arts training with a fascination with scale models that began at an early age. My sculptures … utilize supplies and skills favored by model train enthusiasts, museum-diorama artists and dollhouse makers to create uncanny, ambiguous narratives. Typically populated with miniature figures contending with quiet calamities, I often merge quotidian vignettes of American life and scenes of destruction in an attempt to achieve an unsettling equilibrium. By using such radically reduced scales, I seek to evoke feelings of omnipotence in the viewer while encouraging the intimacy one might feel peering into a museum display case or dollhouse.”

Karen Engelmann, writer, Dobbs Ferry – “To work as an artist requires bravery and for years I was something of a coward – studying fine art, dabbling with language and working in commercial design and illustration. Nothing wrong with that. It was engaging and often fun. But it took decades to take up my real work – writing long fiction. It felt impossible and highly impractical but turned out to be an irresistible calling. …Mastery is a far-off goal, perhaps more an elusive label. …But the effort promises discovery, connection and the occasional thrill of revelation for artist and audience. Have courage. There is no better work than art.”

Marcy B. Freedman, performance artist, Croton-on-Hudson – “During my long career as an artist, I have explored many mediums, from painting and sculpture to photography and collage. However, for more than a decade, I have focused my attention upon video and performance art. These genres allow me to address a wide range of contemporary issues. For example, my one-on-one, face-to-face interactive performances are a statement against our growing reliance on virtual forms of communication, such as email, texting, and social networking. I create situations that demand old-fashioned communication – that is, conversation between real people, in real time and real space.”

Marcy B. Freedman, performance artist, Croton-on-Hudson – “During my long career as an artist, I have explored many mediums, from painting and sculpture to photography and collage. However, for more than a decade, I have focused my attention upon video and performance art. These genres allow me to address a wide range of contemporary issues. For example, my one-on-one, face-to-face interactive performances are a statement against our growing reliance on virtual forms of communication, such as email, texting, and social networking. I create situations that demand old-fashioned communication – that is, conversation between real people, in real time and real space.”

Richard Haas, visual artist, Yonkers – “I began my activity as a professional artist in the middle of the last century, first as a painter and printmaker and also as an art educator. Later, I added muralist and public artist to those activities. The architecture of America, and especially that of its inner cities, has been a major part of my artwork. …My series of murals in Yonkers, completed in the late 1990s, was a major part of my attempt to both honor that city’s history and improve the environment at the same time. I hope that these murals along with several dozen others across America will continue to be appreciated by the current and future residents of their respective cities.”

Michael Levi Harris, filmmaker, New York City – “As a filmmaker, I am inspired by the people I’ve met in my life to tell a story that I think is worth telling, knowing it will be different for everyone who receives it. …Perhaps most gratifying is when an audience derives (various) effects simultaneously. It is those audiences who usually like the film the best. I don’t play favorites though. If my film causes someone to think, to feel, to laugh, to act, to change, to cry, to be curious, I consider it successful.”

Marie Howe, poet, Bronxville – “We as human animals know that we are alive and that we will die. Poetry speaks from this condition. It holds the essentially unsayable complexity of our passage. I have hoped to write poems that hold that silence inside lines that celebrate our time here – to hold the contraries of love and joy and pain and loss and bewilderment and wonder in poems that are accessible to everyone.”

Carla Rae Johnson, visual artist, Peekskill – “For me, making art is simultaneously an act of rebellion and a gift. When I am in my studio working, I am defying logical, practical, socially acceptable norms. My work fits no trend or cubbyhole within the defining art establishment. It is neither formalist nor purely conceptual, neither abstract nor figurative, neither narrative nor Surrealist, though it borrows from each of these traditions. I love the spaces between sculpture and poetry, the dream and waking consciousness, movement and stasis, action and contemplation, masculine and feminine, art and science, intellect and passion, truth and beauty….”

Laura Kaminsky, composer, Bronx – “My music is often inspired by critical social or political issues of concern in today’s world. I find it impossible to be a creative artist and not make work that responds to the world in which I live. I have been moved to write numerous works that speak to my concern for the environment as well as works addressing war and peace, ethnic cleansing, the AIDS pandemic and issues of self-actualization (as in my opera, “As One,” with its transgender protagonist). It is crucial that I compose profoundly honest music that is both powerful and outwardly directed, in tandem with more introspective and intimate works.”

Martin Kruck, visual artist, New Rochelle – “My photographic projects often involve multilayered interpretations of place. Recently, my work has made a study of constructed habitats – those spaces designed to satisfy both the emotional and bodily needs of its occupant. Views of hotels, zoos, museums, parks and other human and animal environments are combined to create new scenes that explore ideas of post-naturalistic photography. More enclosures than landscapes, the works tend to reveal how extremely studied life is. Nature and artifice form inversions throughout the series, adding to the uneasy feeling test subjects have about the spaces we inhabit.”

Malcolm MacDougall III, visual artist, Dobbs Ferry – “My interest in sculpture stems from a fascination with the natural sciences, in particular microscopy. …The snapshots of bacteria and cellular platelets retrieved by this method are metaphors for my sculptures. …Conceptually, I am also drawn to tectonic plates and how their movement over time remodels the landscape as well as other geological processes such as the effects of erosion. …I seem to encounter gradual moments of realization and discovery through working.”

John Maggiotto, visual artist, Hastings-on-Hudson – “My earliest experiences with images in magazines, newspapers and television inspired the desire to recreate my world in pictures, pictures that matched the idealized lives I saw in movies and television. …I make photographs. Some are on stone, some are under beeswax, but most are on paper. They are objects to share, invitations to stop and look again. The world doesn’t move too fast; we do. …My best efforts convince some to take a second look.”

Brian Morton, writer, Bronxville – “I write novels in the belief that what D.H. Lawrence said a hundred years ago is still true: The novel is the ‘one bright book of life.’ There’s no corner of experience where the novel is not at home, from continent-spanning political struggles to the subtlest movements of the solitary mind. The novel remains our most sensitive instrument, the artistic form best suited to help us understand what we are and what we might become. I’m not saying that my novels can do all that, but this belief in the novel’s possibilities, along with my awe at what other novelists have done, is a big part of why I write them.”

David Neumann, choreographer, Thornwood – “My multidisciplinary performance work is an irrational response to our perceived place in the universe. I make dances from scratch, bringing to gesture, word and proximity a delighted embrace of our contradictory lives. I utilize experimental dance with a humorous outlook … to create complex, thought-provoking dance works that push the form. I value challenging my own assumptions on ‘how to make a dance’ by giving each work a distinct geography bending the habitual gestures around new shapes.”

Bruce Odland, composer, Croton-on-Hudson – “Think with your ears. The whole world is vibrating. The sounds around us are constantly giving us clues to nature, culture and the economy – how we use power and what it takes to keep our food cold, get us to work, deliver our Amazon books, light our cities and fly us to meetings or vacations. This whole story is available anywhere and any time we close our eyes and listen. My work is to remember to listen to the world around me, to find beauty and meaning in the sounds and to make pieces that reward the experience of hearing.”

Jill Parry, visual artist, Mamaroneck – “I am a figurative painter and fiber artist. In my figurative paintings and portraits, my intention is not just to create a likeness, but to express emotions and ideas. My figures are isolated, often confrontational, challenging the viewer to identify with them. ‘The Online Series’ is about the experience of being online, how the screen is seeing us and the isolation of that interaction. In the ‘Reflections Series,’ I am interested in the idea of the reflections of figures, suggesting the relationship we have with ourselves and an attempt to communicate with that self.

Jerry Pinkney, visual artist, Croton-on-Hudson – “Looking back over 50-odd years of creating illustrations, designs and drawings, I have explored many different subjects. …The pull toward my roots is understandable, as personal histories help color the lens through which I interpret the world around me. But I’ve also held a particular, sustained interest in light and how it reflects off objects, at rest or in motion; in nature’s deliberate designs in wildlife; and in facial and hand expressions, which play a central role in my figurative art. My intent is to explore and contemplate the role these elements have played in my work. Lastly, drawing and painting are a pure joy.”

Lise Prown, visual artist, Peekskill – “My recent artwork explores the intersection of technology, interactivity and everyday actions and objects. I often create transient artworks and technology-based installations that use the language of popular culture to examine expectations … in the modern world. The goal of my work is to reach as broad a cross-section of viewers as possible while creating artwork that is content-rich and artistically engaging. I often work with my partner, Curt Belshe, creating many indoor and outdoor art installations.”

Nalini Rau, choreographer, Yorktown Heights – “As a choreographer, dance is a journey into my innermost being even as I reach out to the world. ….Driven to express themes meaningful to me, I found myself writing, which was transformed into dance. I choreographed to poetry, to silence. My portrayal of strong women led me to experiment with music. …Appealing for peace in the face of war and equality among widening differences brought forth everyday movements and theater. …The deepest satisfaction comes when I connect with the audience and take them to the same space I am in. My hope is that it is as insightful for them as it is for me.”

Marilyn Richeda, visual artist, South Salem – “I work intuitively, allowing my imagination to dictate the direction of the work. I rarely start to work with a clear visual image of what I will create. I do, however, have an idea of what I want to explore or a feeling I want to express. I keep on working until I feel it’s right. The creatures I create are found not in forests, on the street, or in encyclopedias, but in my imagination. They are otherworldly. …The combination of strangeness and familiarity reveals human concerns and behaviors. The continual process of discovery is my internal drive. I see each of my works of art as a fragment of what will eventually become a lifetime statement.”

Christopher Robbins, visual artist, Bedford – “My work rests on the uneasy cusp of public art and international development. …In 2006, I co-founded The Ghana Think Tank, a public art project with the mission of ‘Developing the First World.’ My collaborators and I start by collecting problems in the so-called ‘developed’ world, and sending them to be solved by think tanks we established in Cuba, Ghana, Palestine, Iran, Mexico and with a group of incarcerated teenage girls in the U.S. Then we work with the communities (in the ‘developed’ world) where the problems originated to implement those solutions – whether they seem impractical or brilliant.”

Dyan Rosenberg, visual artist, North Salem – “The phrase ‘abstract realism’ has been used to describe my work. My innate sense of form and color guide me in all of my artistic creations. I consider myself a painter, but work also as a sculptor in wood, clay, paper and fiber and have made a recent foray into digital drawings and composites. All of my work is free and spontaneous. I’m versatile and comfortable moving from strong graphic shapes and patterns to loose expressionistic lines. I work in series that involve landscapes, still lifes and figurative pictures, real or imagined, all saturated with color. Color is where the excitement lies for me.”

Marisa Scheinfeld, visual artist, Waccabuc – “I grew up in Sullivan County. The area was a retreat for millions of Americans, predominantly Jews, from the 1920s to ’70s. Often referred to by its colloquial name, The Borscht Belt, the place was known internationally for its food, recreation and entertainment and was comprised of more than 600 resorts and hotels. In 2010, I began documenting the remains of the era, as I found them in various states of ruin scattered among the landscape. While the project originated with my interest in history and engages at times my own memory, this photographic series reveals the growth, flowering and exhaustion of things, and then their subsequent regeneration.”

Peri Schwartz, visual artist, New Rochelle – “It is essential for me to work directly from life. For the past 15 years, the subject has been the interior of my studio and a collection of bottles and jars filled with beautiful liquids. One might expect this narrow subject matter to be limiting. On the contrary, the exercise allows me to uncover a seemingly boundless reserve of compositions, colors and surfaces. The history of each image is often visible in the traces of grid lines or the ghosts of objects I reposition. The viewer has a sense of observing the painting or drawing as it progresses, as if working through the compositional puzzle along with me.”

Barbara Segal, visual artist, Yonkers – “Personally powerful images compete for my attention – elegant finery, pop and fashion icons, European architecture and Baroque excess. These images pervade my work in the intricate patterns, rich textures, layers of carved lace and soft, sensuous forms. I transform seemingly simple objects into lush, sensual memories of childhood, status and youthful rebellion. I share secrets of coming of age and entomb conflict and disappointment beneath patterned and tiered surfaces. The themes are universally personal.”

Michael Shapiro, composer, Chappaqua – “My position as music director of The Chappaqua Orchestra has enriched my musical thinking and compositional style and certainly provided instant lessons in orchestration and, simply stated, what works. As a composer, I am called upon to write for different ensembles throughout the world. These works vary in content, purpose and occasion. I usually know why I am writing a piece. Either someone asked me to write a work, or I write a piece because I want to and have the personal need. My music is definitely shaped by my background … but there is another quotient, something quite irrational that drives my creative impulse. I only have to listen for it, want it and not think too much. The next sound usually takes me where I most probably should go.”

Maxine Sherman, choreographer, Bronxville – “As a dancer and choreographer, I breathe life into the human form to express ideas and emotions that cannot be expressed in language alone. My most recent piece of choreography, ‘In a Nutshell,’ is a multimedia work that combines a spoken-word memoir, stagecraft, movement and original music. I transform my memories into a loose narrative and timeline through physical space. Some of my dances are funny, yet poignant. “Does This Make My Butt Look Big?’ raises questions about image and physical limitations as well as society’s campaign for the objectification and perfection of the female form.”

Bettijane Sills, choreographer, White Plains – “Having danced for George Balanchine in the New York City Ballet, I was exposed to the genius of his creativity. His impetus was always the music, and that is my impetus as well. I strive to project my own voice while, at the same time, using the tools I observed while working with Mr. Balanchine. I am steeped in the tradition of choreography as a visualization of the music and I use the classical ballet vocabulary to represent that concept. I do not choreograph “down” to dancers but attempt to challenge them and give them what they do best.”

Peter Sis, visual artist, Irvington – “I was born and grew up in a totalitarian Czechoslovakia. The idea of freedom and human rights became the inspiration for my art. My books and my public art projects and even my early animated films are about the world, which is not to be feared but explored. I began by making pictures for other people’s books and then began writing my own stories about my childhood, about leaving home and about exploring the world. I discovered that one doesn’t have to travel to new continents, but that people can explore in their minds even when locked in a prison cell. Books can be my home, my language, my country.”

Dave Steck, filmmaker, Yonkers – “Script, movement, light, composition, sound, color and performance. These are a few of the elements I use to tell a story when making a film. Another is vision. Every project starts as just an idea or feeling I want to convey. Once I can articulate it, I know I have a vision of what the project will be and how we will make it. Which makes the final element collaboration. Filmmaking is a team sport, and while sometimes we all wear many hats to fulfill a single artist’s vision, we work collaboratively to draw on our different skills and experience to make the best film possible.”

Susan Todd and Andrew Young, filmmakers, Croton-on-Hudson – We believe in the power of cinematic storytelling to create empathy and understanding about the world around us. Our current two projects are good examples of the varied shapes this process can take. One is a documentary about a bold new peace movement in the Middle East founded by former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants. …The other is a nature film that tells the story of 21st century suburban humans from the point of view of the plants and animals that live around them. These two films couldn’t be more different from each other in style, subject and approach, and yet, they are both designed to draw people together and to accelerate a new vision of a future where all life on earth is valued.”

Rebeca Tomas, choreographer, Sleepy Hollow – “In my work, I strive to find a balance between tradition and innovation. My goal is to remain faithful to the essence of flamenco while asserting my own voice and incorporating contemporary perspectives. In the effort to expose audiences to flamenco as an organic art form that lives, thrives and evolves outside of its context, my choreography employs traditional props in unconventional ways, challenges gender-specific stereotypes within the Spanish art and explores other forms of music and sounds, such as spoken word and children’s music.”

Eduardo Vilaro, choreographer, Ardsley – “My work has been a funnel for discovering who I am as a Cuban man extracted from his native land, whether it is creating movement poems that reflect the turmoil of assimilation or the joyous celebration of rhythmic traditions handed down by family and shared by my cultural cousins in Latin America. …My vision is to continue to create and promote dance work that reflects the Latin American experience through the joy of dance, and ultimately, to build a contemporary Latino language of movement that provokes dialogue and breaks stereotypes.

Neil Waldman, visual artist, White Plains – “When pondering the question, ‘Who am I?’ I think to myself, I am first an artist. … ‘But what type of artist are you?’ you ask. A painter, of course, I say. A landscape painter. For the earth’s landscapes brighten my darkest caverns. They are the beating of my heart, and their glorious color is the stuff I breathe. Raging rivers are my life’s blood. Fields of flowers feed me. Twisted trees and mountain meadows heal my deepest wounds. They are like midwives continually ushering me into sun-sparkled mornings.”

Chris Wedge, filmmaker, Katonah – “I’ve spent my career looking for new ways to make animation. It sounds quaint today, but along the way I have, with many colleagues, developed and applied technology that creates photorealistic representations of completely imaginary worlds. In a complex marriage of design and technology, ‘Epic’ creates a sensory immersion in a fantasy world that can be as compelling for an audience as the story that is told in it.”

Antoinette Wysocki, visual artist, Pleasantville – “My intention is to create abstract paintings that indulge in materials and focus on the expressive process itself. …Each work begins with action painting, with the focus around gestures and washes, balancing chance and consciousness. The second stage defines the abstracted imagery, pulling out elements, balancing the raw with the saturated. …I conclude the process by defining symbols through detailed drawings and brushstrokes, the insertion of dialogue and the deciphering of imagery.”

Ed Young, visual artist, Hastings-on-Hudson – “Like a tea leaf in boiling water, dancing in a new state, I was born into a world of chaos. …Academically, I shifted from architecture, visual communication and industrial design to picture books. Like a saturated leaf, I finally settled in Westchester and into storytelling for 40 some years. I see though the Far East and West seem contrary, they offer so much to the other. I started with paper and telegrams. Today’s digital world is pushing them into the past. I feel our future could use the past’s virtues with the present strength of innovation. We live in exciting times.”

Luca Zordan, visual artist, Hastings-on-Hudson – “Working with children has always been my passion in photography and has led me to travel the world, encountering children from every culture, every race and (almost) every continent. Through my camera lens, I capture the singular beauty that is present in their eyes, their smiles and their demeanors. Finding their joy shining back at me, and capturing it in a single shot, is the basis for all my work and a reward in itself.”

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