The Making of Window Studios

In case you missed last night's lecture at WINDOW STUDIOS, here's how it got started.

By Nicholas Rispoli

WINDOW STUDIOS: How two Academy alumni connected to start a storefront community art center in  Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn

Date: Wed, 13 Oct 2013 02:47:16 -0700
To: (me)
Subject: Studio                               
Hey Nick, yes it is the same Anne! Nice to hear from you! Would you be able to come see the studio tomorrow (Thurs) any time before 3pm? If so, give me a call.
Date: Wed, 16 Oct 2013 09:29:31 -0700
Subject: Studio

Hello Anne!

Is this the Anne LaFond from NYAA? Either way, I hope you are well. I am very interested in the studio and would love to take a look ASAP.

Thanks so much.



And so began a partnership and year-long journey, dedicated to developing WindowStudio into a unique art space that offers much needed resources to local artists, youth, and families of all economic backgrounds in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

Anne and I attended the Academy together from 2008-2010 where we were familiar with each other’s work but never really had the chance to connect. She was attending the Academy while keeping her job and raising her children, so there was less time for her to spend around school. I was preoccupied with teaching in Harlem and my own personal shenanigans. When Anne admitted to me recently that she considered my crew and me to be the “cool kids,” I didn’t know whether to be offended, embarrassed or flattered (She says, she meant it as a compliment!). I am sure this didn’t help build our relationship at the time…

At any rate, when we reunited a few years later by that fortuitous email inquiry, Anne and I quickly discovered our shared vision to implement a supportive and inclusive community art center that offers artist residencies, workshops, and exhibition opportunities to artists who may not otherwise have access to such resources. The notion of “professional practices” never became more relevant here, since starting a non-profit from scratch requires 24/7 maintenance and management. The endeavor involves colossal strategic challenges, from budget control, building partnerships, fundraising and marketing, to staffing and program development, among other items. Luckily, our unique set of experiences made us the perfect team. Anne has saved us on a number of occasions, and I’d like to say that I at least aided in Window Studio’s development for the better. But truthfully, I was inspired by Anne and the incredible impact she had already made on the community. She empowered both of us to strive to create something authentic, inspired and artistic, and something more profound then we are. For that I am forever grateful.

Anne founded Window Studio in September 2012 to create what she called a “collaborative portrait” of the community, with the Academy’s emphasis on working from life as part of the inspiration. In its initial phase, Window Studio engaged passersby through seeing her at work in the storefront window as she painted commissioned portraits and other artwork. Anne actually continues to paint portraits of the community as the first Artist-In-Residence at Window Studio.

Anne LaFond, Inside/Out (Portrait of Griffin), oil on canvas, 48X35 in, 2014 
Working with Anne to foster her vision coincided with my own interests and prior experiences in the arts non-profit sector. I’ve seen how the number of people who regularly came in has grown from a small handful to upward of 15-20 each day, and it is very exciting to be able to start a community art center to meet this interest and demand. This past summer we organized an Indiegogo fundraising campaign, and thanks to the help from all our friends, family and neighborhood supporters, we are finally ready to start programming this fall with a new artist-in-residence, workshops, and special event. 
Our first exhibition, Shall No Perish, opened September 13, 2014 and was a smash success with over 120 people from the neighborhood and across the NYC area joining us. The show included several Academy alumni: Antonia Andriotti, Jessie Brugger, Nicholas Holiber, Will Kurtz, Rob Plater, Jessie Brugger and Miles Yoshida, in addition to Anne and myself. If you couldn't make the opening, there is still time to see the show! It will be up till October 18, with more events surrounding the exhibition in the works.

As we develop Window Studio, Anne and I look forward to working with Academy students, faculty, and alumni by partnering for events, exhibitions, and other artist opportunities. We invite Academy students and alumni to pursue all the resources available at Window Studio and hope to be another outlet for the Academy students to pursue new opportunities and expand their network of artists! I am grateful to have sent that, “Is this the Anne LaFond from NYAA?” email a year ago! 

Nicholas Rispoli (MFA 2010) and Anne La Fond (MFA 2010) took their careers and matters into their own hands creating a space to show their work along with those in their community. 

Studio Portraits: Kyeong Keun No (MFA 2015)

 Kyeong Keun No, Class of 2015
Studio: 3rd Floor

Studio Portraits: Michael Black (MFA 2015)

Michael Black, Class of 2015
Studio: 3rd Floor

Istanbul: A Mix of Ancient and Industrial

By Erinn Heilman (MFA 2015)

We arrived in Istanbul at the start of Ramadan. Sarah and I both have rooms in a girl's dormitory in the Ortakoy district down the street from a small mosque. The mosque's call to prayer happens around 5 times per day over load-speakers and the dogs on our block start howling back to the prayer, mimicking the sounds. It's really haunting and peaceful.

Fatima from the front desk speaks no English, but managed to invite me to break Ramadan fast with some of the other women in the dorm at 3 AM. I initially declined due to the late hour, but thought better of it and woke up with the others. It was cool to participate in their tradition for the night. The Ramadan drums clanging through the streets each morning at 2 AM and the jet lag made for a particularly interesting first week, especially while adjusting to the 9am-4pm studio hours at Mimar Sinan.

It would have been extremely difficult to get situated without Erdal Kara, the Mimar Sinan lithography professor, showing us the ropes and helping with our first art supply trip. It was also a pleasure to meet the dean of the department, Mahmut. The two of them set us up comfortably in our studios and we got to work.

Preparing for this residency, I didn't consider how much the language barrier would affect us. It was way more difficult than I anticipated. Through the last weeks I have been replacing hand gestures with actual words. I had a complete (yet simple) exchange in Turkish the other day, but I have so much on my mind lately that learning the language is slow going. Last week we saw Planet of the Apes. It was hilarious. We didn't realize that half the movie portrays apes using sign language with Turkish subtitles. Luckily, the plot was simple and we got the gist. That is exactly how I feel all the time here: a pantomiming monkey with seriously limited vocabulary.
When we are not in the studio, we walk and walk and walk and explore and walk some more. One of my favorite historical sites so far is the ancient underground cistern. Built in the 6th century, it provided water to the city during the Roman Empire. I can't describe it, so hopefully some photos will convey the space.

The city is a mix of ancient and industrial: gritty, loud, hot, mysterious, and romantic. The kittens, cargo ships, dome shaped architecture, cavernous cistern, vertical cobble-stone streets, layers of industrial buildings, and the general nautical vibe make it seem like we are walking through a Terry Gilliam movie most of the time.

Sarah wasn't exaggerating about the cat thing. They are communally looked after by the people of the city and they really are everywhere. At the bus stop, under your feet, in the cracks of the sidewalk. Our first day at the studio, a cat was drinking out of the water spiget in the squat toilet. Most of them have crazy bright green eyes and they add a mystical aura to the city. It's like a really cute plague.

Nick and Jake are staying at Ali's place, a patron of the Academy. On our day off, Ali invited us to his family's house on an island a short ferry ride from the city. We spent the day in their garden with Ali's sister and her family chatting about art, movies, and philosophy while Jake played with Ali's nephew, an adorable three-year-old. (listen up all you ladies out there...Jake's a natural with the kiddies:) In the garden were plum trees, apple trees, lemon trees, pear trees and grape vines. Our hosts cooked us a homemade dinner with roasted eggplant salad, different meats, and a yogurt dip with herbs from the yard. It was incredible food. Partly due to Jake's mad rent-a-dad skills we were invited back for a movie night sometime soon. We were being so pampered we almost missed our ferry back to the city. Running to catch it in time, it left as I stepped onto the deck.

As fantastical as I make it out to be, Istanbul is still is a modern city and has its own issues like anywhere else. Locals make me aware of certain political and gender issues, at any given moment someone is drilling into steel or stone with a power tool, and plastic bottles float in the Bosphorus. Also, the many street dogs are in sad shape. However, my personal experience has been pretty beautiful, and I have been treated warmly and kindly by just about everyone I have encountered.

In regards to my artwork, I usually work from a memory of a place, observation, or past event. I almost never work while simultaneously living in a new environment, experiencing strange and inspiring things each day. It's a very cool mental experiment and I wish I had more time in this frame of mind. I wonder how working in this setting (and this delirious heat) will affect my art. Will I start making heat induced psychedelic color fields? a nautical series? Am I going to start endless paintings of kittens? Time will tell... of the best parts of the trip has been traveling and working with Sarah, Jake, and Nick. I haven't laughed this much in a long time. It's lovely sharing this experience with them.


Erinn Heilman (MFA 2015), Nick Lepard (MFA 2015), Sarah Schlesinger (MFA 2015) and Jacob Hayes (MFA 2014) spent their summer in Istanbul on an Academy sponsored residency.  Work inspired from their travels is currently on view in the Academy's lobby.  To learn more about their experiences visit the archive on the Academy's blog and the residency page on the Academy's website

Beautiful Beast

by Claire Cushman, MFA 2015

“Artists have a limited amount of studio time, so we have to be selective about which shows to see,” says Peter Drake, Academy Dean and curator of Beautiful Beast.
“I envision going to shows as part of an artist’s studio practice – and seeing shows that don’t inspire you is like losing time in the studio. With any show at the Academy, it’s important that the work presented gets people back to their studios wanting to make art.”

During the February 3rd opening of Beautiful Beast, it was clear from guests’ reactions that this show had succeeded in inspiring artists. I overheard more than one guest remark, “This is THE BEST show the Academy’s ever put on.”

Beautiful Beast brings together 16 of the most compelling and influential figurative sculptors of our era. With wildly different visions, materials, and processes, the artists in this show slip back and forth between the beautiful and the grotesque. The works, which range in material from carved wood to stainless steel, foam rubber to video installation, ask audiences to question the meaning of these two paradigms and all that lies between.

During the Opening

Last week, I sat down with Peter Drake to discuss three of the pieces that caught my eye and left ME itching to get back to the studio.

Lesley Dill - "Rush" metal, foil, organza and wire (size?)

Although Beautiful Beast is a sculpture show, Lesley Dill’s 2D wall installation, “Rush was the first piece Drake thought of for the show. “Often sculpture shows can feel monotonous, because there tend to be a lot of works of roughly the same height,” he says.  “This piece, which covers the whole wall, activates the space so that anything happening in the rest of the room becomes part of a spectacle.”

In “Rush” a small metal cutout of a seated figure occupies the left corner of the wall. Hundreds of different cutouts pour forth from his back, overlapping and flowing into one another in a cloud of swirling imagery. Dill grew up in Maine, and says the vastness and grey luminosity of the sea has stayed with her and influenced her work in metal.

Dill sees the small figure as one of us. The work deals with the limitlessness and wonder of the creative impulse, and the need to just get ideas out of one’s system. She based the piece around a Kafka quote:

“The tremendous world I have in my head. But how free to myself and free it without being torn to pieces. And a thousand times rather be torn to pieces than retain it in me or bury it. That, indeed, is why I’m here, that is quite clear to me…”

“This figure needs to have this purging experience in order to live and survive,” says Drake. “There’s a rush of cultural activity exploding out of him –Indonesian art, European art, American art, Mexican art – all these different icons of creativity.”

The overall effect of this piece is one of overwhelming beauty combined with frustration and confusion at this cloud of ideas. Just as the viewer can’t parse the imagery out into discrete units, as artists, we often don’t know quite what it is we’re trying to make or say, just that we need to get it out.

Folkert de Jong - "The Piper" 2007, polystyrene, plastic, pigments and adhesive, 80x40x40

In the far corner of Wilkinson Hall stands Folkert de Jong’s “The Piper.”  Its placement in the corner is no accident – with playful, candy colours and an enticing variety of materials, The Piper is incredibly seductive from afar. “It acts as a magnet and pulls people into the space,” Drake says.  

De Jong creates an entire world out of cheap materials such as polyurethane and Styrofoam. “Many of his pieces are anti-war themed,” Drake explains. “He does something that few people can do – he makes very powerful social statements, but you don’t feel like you’re being preached to.”  

The pipers de Jong refers to are the musicians employed to encourage soldiers into battle. “The piper is both musical and beautiful, but for a very destructive purpose,” says Drake. “The head of this sculpture is based on Abraham Lincoln – a strange contradiction, considering that Lincoln was a crusader for peace.”

While this piece immediately draws you in, up close, it’s downright frightening. The range of textures is at once gorgeous and repulsive, with wax that depicts flesh peeling away in some areas. The body is the size of a human form, but the swollen looking head is larger than life, and leans forward toward the viewer. If you stand right in front of the sculpture, you feel as though it might to topple over onto you, invoking a harrowing physical experience.

Monica Cook - "Snowsuit" wax, pigment, fur coats, aqua resin, fiberglass -28x30x40

Monica Cook crafted “Snowsuit” specifically for Beautiful Beast.  It began as a smaller figure, but grew to life size as she worked. “She had in mind the idea of shedding the skin, the rebirth and renewal that you must do in order to grow as a person,” says Drake. “But she was adamant about not leaving the skin behind looking like some discarded thing – she wanted to construct it in a confident posture.”

At first this piece, with its furs and zippers, reminded me of a piece of clothing I might see in a winter couture show. However, after spending some time with it I began to feel a bit sick. Cook incorporated flesh coloured pigment into the resin, which reminds the viewer of human skin. The scale of the piece makes it impossible not to think of our own bodies while viewing the piece, and the large chunks of the legs, arms and torso are cut away to reveal what looks like a layer of viscera and organs. I couldn’t help but think of “Silence of the Lambs” suit made of skin.

Monica Cook was originally thought of as a painter, but has undergone massive transformations as an artist. “She started making sculptures for stop action animation, so she had to learn all these new techniques at the same time,” says Drake. “This piece is about her journey as a creative person – she’s constantly learning and trying on new things, becoming expert at them and moving on.”

While the opening certainly succeeded in inspiring Academy students and viewers alike to get back to the studio and make things, it also provided a fantastic opportunity for the artists in the show to meet each other. “Many of them have had work in shows together or followed one another’s work over the years, but have never met in person,” says Drake. “So there was a really nice energy in bringing them together.”

Beautiful Beast is on view daily in Wilkinson Hall until March 8th, 2015.

Studio Portraits: Hannah Stahl (MFA 2015)

Hannah Stahl, Class of 2015
Studio: 3rd Floor