Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Julia Chesbrough

Julia Chesbrough opens the door to a light-filled apartment on a semi-sunny Saturday. She unwraps a pack of petite canvases and smiles. She’s going to teach me how to paint The Ladies.

“The Ladies” is Julia’s ongoing series of silhouettes, painted with the curves and swerves of gloriously imperfect female forms, in black gouache on stark white canvas. Her minimalist paintings play with how this delightfully, notoriously complex form can be revealed in just a few lines. The work has become a regular part of Julia’s artistic practice, which also occasionally includes the collages and poetry that hang on her walls.

By day, Julia is a marketing graphic designer at Hinge. Before that, however, when she graduated college with a psychology degree, she worked as a behavioral health technician for autistic children. Ultimately realizing she’d rather pursue a more artistic field, she moved to New York and did a graphic design bootcamp. After completing the course and taking on short-term clients, she was hired at Hinge a few months later. There, she’s been working in UX Design, which she feels is a happy marriage of her art and psychology experiences.

We start with our canvases, pencils, slim paintbrushes, and a tiny dish of water at a sleek white high-top table in her living room. It occurs to me now that the work we’re doing--all slim and petite and elevated and taking up little space--is perhaps the perfect practice for a New York apartment.

Julia adds a small dollop of gouache to a silver tin for me and for herself--a little bit goes a long way, she says. She draws an elegantly sweeping L shape on the canvas, an inwardly curving line for the back that evolves into an outwardly rounded line for the bottom, and invites me to do the same. I make an attempt that results in a much more lumpen, less refined shape only slightly improved after manic erasing jags, but Julia is kind and patient and waits for me. Soon we move onto the gouache, which we’ll use to outline the pencil on the canvas. Julia’s elegant lines emerge yet again...as do my lumpen attempts. It occurs to me that I am very definitely a photographer, but I enjoy painting and watching Julia paint. It’s a meditative experience, watching the black lines and their feminine shapes emerge on the canvas.

With paintbrushes poised, we talk about dating and marriage and the modern and antiquated versions of both. I’m more honest than I would be with a total stranger. I wonder if this is regularly what happens to people when they paint, that what spills from their lips is more unedited because their brains and hands are otherwise occupied, or if Julia’s warmth and kindness just makes for a comfortable space to share. Julia finishes her Lady and embarks on another, circular canvas piece.

Eventually, the gouache dries. Julia moves our canvases to her fire escape, spraying them with lasting sealant. And voila! The Ladies are done.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...For a Year and a Half!

As ever, a new six months brings us a fresh crop of outtakes from previous Miss Manhattan Hangs. It’s been a year and a half, but I only look forward to more. I’ll keep the text short at 250 words so attention can be paid to the images.

Thinking about it now, an interesting aspect of this project is how it’s become a way to maintain consistency. The life of a freelancer is not usually filled with such a thing, and yet here it is. Every week, despite a concussion or travel or what have you, another Miss Manhattan Hangs Out appears in your inbox. And here I am on the other side, editing photos and typing away, hoping to share a little sliver of someone else’s life with you and in the process perhaps a little of myself.

If people are making dumplings, getting into drag, or going to the theatre and that’s what brings them joy, then all the more power to them. I’m just happy I get to be there to see it all. I never believed the thing you get paid for should be the thing to define you if that’s not what you want or if it’s not who you are. We define and create ourselves, our stories, and there is no template for doing it “right,” no answer to what we “should” be doing. People who carve their own paths, in or outside of the work world, have always been most interesting to me.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Kaila Powell Frasco

When Kaila Powell Frasco tells me to meet her at Goldie’s in Greenpoint to play pool I imagine, for whatever reason, totally incorrectly, that it’s a dive bar. Rather, it’s a salute to delicious 1970s tack, with almost cartoonish painted portraits of icons like Dolly Parton, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Steve McQueen on the walls. Beaded fringe hangs from a canopy over the bar, a leopard sits primly in a spotlight for no reason, and the booths are red leather. “This place is so cool,” I text her when I arrive. She’s two blocks away. “I know,” she says.

Shortly she arrives, a white t-shirt with “here’s my cup of care...oh, look, it’s fucking empty” screened on its side. The shirt was too big, she says, so she ripped it, doubtlessly making it infinitely more interesting. She wears sparkly silver pants and black boots, her blonde hair and dark roots twisted into a towering mane, long black wings drawn around her eyes with silver stars underneath.

Kaila is a costume designer currently working on a number of Broadway shows, but her work as an independent artist and designer has also been worn by Lady Gaga. Originally she studied fashion, where she found her creative spirit constantly reined in. It wasn’t until she found costume design that she was able to fully express herself and she never looked back. Early on, she couldn’t afford to buy fabric, so would often make dresses of found materials, like old rolls of film, wine corks, and twigs. She also repurposes vintage band t-shirts and jackets into ripped and/or sparkly rockstar gear, forms headpieces from aluminum nails, lacquered money, and toy horses. Much of her work is inspired by her own dreams, she tells me as she sips a beer and waits for the pool table to open up.

Kaila got into pool after she injured her knee and was unable to work, coming to Goldie’s with friends for something to do. Her knee is much better now, and so is her pool game. Joining her tonight is Kristina, her friend since high school, who has never played. Kaila instructs, guiding Kristina’s gaze with a pool cue. They start by playing doubles and hold their breath when the other team aims their cues, hoping to keep the table. But they’re defeated, and retreat outside, soon to return.

Kaila shows me some of her tattoos, two of which are inspired by Fleetwood Mac (‘go your own way’ on her arm; ‘Mac,’ also the name of a beloved dog) and Prince (“all the critics love you in New York”), and one on her wrist that says “no fimage,” which for her means “no fear of image.” In her work, all of which is run through with a rock and roll spirit, she hopes to inspire people to be whoever they truly are. Just meeting her tonight, with her spirited laugh, warm hugs, and vibrant, expressive gestures, I can’t imagine she is ever anyone but herself.

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