Meeting Mohamad Hafez at CCSU

How lucky am I to have to the opportunity to, not only meet the artists that we showcase at the CCSU Art Galleries, but also the artists who we (the art department) invite to present lectures for the students.

This week, as was the case, we had the honor to present Mohamad Hafez to speak about his most current body of work.

Mohamad Hafez Bio

When I first saw Hafez’ artwork at City Wide Open Studios in New Haven back in October and I was immediately intrigued.  It was as if gravity pulled me in closer to each piece.  The subject that his works portrayed revealed themselves to me immediately as I discovered a Middle Eastern citadel, shattered and ravaged by what one could easily identify as the trademark of war.

If anyone knows me they will know that I don’t shy away from politics.  In fact, I actually attempt to keep up with current events around the world.  And it’s not unheard of, amidst my friends and family, to have argumentative discussions about the state of world.

However, what I love more than politics is art with a powerful message.

A Refugee Nation - Shown at CWOS, New Haven, 2015.When I turned into the small room where the artist had his work displayed, I knew I had found a special treat.  This work by Hafez was skillfully crafted and installed in the perfect setting that is the Goffe Street Armory in New Haven.  A run down industrial space, the Armory space gave his pieces a sense of belonging, a kinship the works shared with the deteriorated walls, peeling paint, and rusty window frames and exposed structures.

The art history professor in our department contacted me to find a time frame for hosting an artist lecture in our gallery.  When I learned who the artist was that would be presenting a lecture, I was utterly enthused.  Admittedly, she was also a big fan of Hafez’ work like myself, and unfortunately she had missed seeing him speak at Real Artways in Hartford, so what better way to mediate that problem than by hosting his lecture for her students and the university body.

Both sides of the conflict. Shown at CWOS, New Haven, 2015.

detailShotIrrevocably, I loved everything about his lecture and message.  My favorite part of the presentation was his end goal.  He wasn’t just trying to make a statement with his artwork.  The work was born out of his necessity to feel closer to home, to his roots, and to his people rather than trying to spread his own idealistic beliefs.  He focuses his efforts on shedding these perceptions we have which corporate media has manufactured so wrongly in our minds.

He didn’t need to convince me, I was already on his side before I even saw his works of art.  I may not have first hand experience in the kind of suffering that war brings to cities, countries, multitudes of people but my empathetic heart stretches into a universe inside of me, feeling very helpless and wishing I could do more.  He did more by simply sharing his family life in Damascus with us.

He showed us the snapshots he took of every day life when he was finally able to go back to his country.  Homesick and nostalgic about the little details of his home country that most might miss if you’re not really looking, he shed light to his culture’s best aspects.  A culture where humility is of utmost importance is truly noticeable in the neighborhoods as you walk by front doors of houses completely clear of embellishment, they all look the same regardless of how much or little you may have.  He also shared how communities come together when there are neighbors in need.  He showed us pictures of a normal Friday night dinner with immediate family, gatherings of 15-20 people around the table having a grand meal and actively being a family.  It reminded me of some family gatherings I have been to myself, where family extends not only to brothers, sisters, and parents but also cousins, second cousins, uncles, aunts, and friends whom we consider family.

It was easy to relate to his stories, and though our cultures may be different, they are also so similar.

This was my take on the artwork and the artist’s presentation.  I am sure I could go on for another 600 words to critique the quality of the artwork but after all I have already said, I don’t think it’s as important as you (the reader/viewer) to draw your own conclusion and opinion.


In Memory of…

Life is short but it sure is sweet.

About a week ago the physical world lost a good soul.  Mark Strathy; artist, art professor at Central Connecticut State University, mentor to many artists and students, great boss to work with; peacefully passed away in his sleep.  My deepest sympathies go out to his girlfriend, and all of his family.

Strathy came into my life when I started to work at CCSU.  He was one (of two) of the gallery directors.  Working for him was always free of stress as much as it was always a lesson for me to simply be around him and his lectures to his students.  Those students who took his classes semester after semester talk about him as a great resource with awesome artistic skills which inspired them and his colleagues around him.

As we shared memories of Strathy, Monica Hewryk (a colleague and former student of the artist at CCSU) and I smiled at the thought of a warm chuckle from above because he used to say “You don’t get famous until you die.”

His artwork was always mesmerizing.  His large-scale oil paintings or watercolors have dreamlike scenarios in which he embedded his allegories that made you think deeply, laugh, or sometimes took you out of your comfort zone.

Let’s celebrate his life and his creative genius simply by admiring his work, through it he lives on.  After 20 years of living and having your studio in Brooklyn (Driggs Ave.), people will surely miss you.  However, you left a deep mark here in Connecticut too, and especially at Central (CCSU).

Rest in peace…


WPC: Converge

Converging cultures, thoughts, and ideas gives us some of the best outcomes that humanity is responsible for.

Visually, too, it can work beautifully when elements are juxtaposed within the frame of the lens (or iPhone).

Here is my response to this week’s photo challenge:

You can view others’ submissions here.

“You can see Rome”

Before the Art Faculty Exhibition comes to an end at CCSU Art Galleries, there is one more piece of art that I must show that I did not include in the visual recap post.

The reason I waited to post images of this particular piece was because, first, I needed to take good pictures of it and it was sort of tricky to do so.  Secondly, this one needed to have just a little background information.

The artist is Adam Niklewicz, who is an adjunct professor of illustration and painting at CCSU.  His piece being exhibited in our CCSU Art Galleries is titled ‘Rome’.  Here are some images of his piece.

As Adam spoke of his work, he explained an old polish saying for when somebody is cutting a slice of bread too thin. “You can see Rome through the holes of this [piece of] bread”.

That was all the explanation needed, but without it many people took the piece of bread for granted and passed it by even though there was a sign indicating the viewer to look through the bread.  However, once given a little more information, viewers left in wonder because the piece of art was more than just a piece of bread.  It was a well thought out concept on Niklewicz’s part, and left some people in awe as many of the comments from students’ mouths were “Aw, cool!”

This is the kind of work that Niklewicz likes present in galleries, though he is highly skilled in drawing, and illustration.  Check out this mural art he created in Hartford, CT.

Not only is it beautiful but it is über creative in the way it’s presented (it comes alive when [rain]water hits it) but it fits well within the Hartford historical context, while simultaneously adding dynamic public art to decorate our capital city.  Click here if you’d like to learn more about the Charter Oak Tree project.

If you are in the Connecticut area and would like to come see it, you can until October 9th, check out the CCSU Art Galleries website for directions and hours the gallery is open.  I know it isn’t the same as seeing it in person, but what do you think of this piece of contemporary artwork?  Would love to read your feedback!

Marketplace on Main Street Sketchers

Sometimes I forget how inspiringly beautiful Connecticut is.  Last week I was in the Mystic/Stonington area and every glimpse of sea water or downtown community made eager for a spot to be part of it.  Last night I ventured out to Torrington, CT for an event in a gallery I had wanted to visit.  Part of the Torrington downtown happened to be blocked off for the start of their weekly summer Main Street Marketplace and it allowed me to walk slowly and admire the stunning architectural details.  It was a street full of vendors, and families with great local music playing in the background and yummy smelling food getting served.

Recently I have noticed a trend, or maybe more like a revival of downtowns in CT, it’s very uplifting.  Each community is doing their part to become closer and stronger.  What are some of the things I have noticed?  A bigger art community everywhere, more local restaurants (even farm to table ones), community gardens, etc.  These are all great elements to engage a community and create a sense of solidarity of which the world could use more.

Moving on…The gallery was Artwell Gallery, a small space intending to show art from artists all across the country.  As it were, they were preparing for an opening reception tonight for a national juried photo show.  It was nice to get a sneak preview of the show since I won’t be able to attend tonight.  However, I must make plans for their next reception because I hear they are a fun time.

So what was this ‘Marketplace Sketchers’ event they were advertising on FB and their website?  I had yet to find out.  As we sat and waited for any other artists that might show up, I met and spoke to the artist instructor Janet Galasso.  She happens to be an art teacher at Berlin High School with a background in graphic design.  As she introduced herself she also explained the sketch session was inspired by the group “Urban Sketchers,” a group of artists who have started a movement of quick, live, in the moment sketching on a regular basis, and then blogging about it.

Janet’s goal is to captivate a group of artists with the idea of coming together in a culturally interesting scene so that they can start sketching.  Another important aspect of this exercise is to also collaborate with each other and constructively criticize each others’ work.  Opening a platform for dialogue among artists is one of the utmost important elements to grow and feed off each other.  Only then, I believe, can we start to form a world perspective that will inspire us to create world-changing art.

As an artist the idea of putting your skills to the test is a must so that you don’t lose motivation but also you may discover bigger and better potential you never thought you had.  Janet Galasso is on a quest to keep sketching.  Her goal?  She wants to do a live sketch of the 169 towns in Connecticut.  What an amazing objective, so check out her website and check out what she has so far.

Today’s event was centered on the marketplace sketching.  Why?  Because you can easily find many interesting things and people at a town event like the one happening in Torrington last night.  A quick doodle with as much detail as you can fit in a well-defined and thought-out composition was the goal.  She explained about the purpose and I became more enthused about idea of quick sketches everywhere and anywhere.  It was a great exercise in skill, a conversation starter, and a great self-marketing tool for an artist because, as she explains, there’s always somebody that will approach you with curiosity about what you’re sketching or why.

So we went out on the field and started sketching.  We thought it might be easier to start sketching architectural components than people.  We sketched for about 10 minutes and I already wanted to start my drawing over.  As artists sometimes we get caught up in trying to get perfection, and perhaps that is why I never went further in drawing/painting because I could not get it to look photorealistic.  Janet’s response to that was the same as her advice to her students: artwork does not have to be photorealistic to be good.  In quick sketching, especially, you can quickly and easily (if you’re committed) find a style that is your own.

Here’s an image of the three artists’ (including Galasso’s) sketches done last night.  You can tell who has done it longer than a day.

sketches day1

As I reflect back on last night, I am still very enthused with the idea and I will try to keep up with the sketching, however, last night I did not feel ready.  Low confidence issues?  Perhaps a little, but only enough to keep me grounded.  I did feel ready because it is not the medium I am accustomed to using.  My sketch book was also too big and intrusive for the type of sketching.  Next time I will be ready.  Today I will go into an art store and buy a few items that will be helpful like a smaller sketch book, and Janet’s Niji waterbrush that will make a great team with my watercolor pencils, what a great little tool!

Things I learned?  Sketches don’t have to be perfect.  A loose painterly sketch can be just as successful, if not more interesting, as any photorealistic piece.