Art and business combine to burnish Bronx image

By on June 3, 2011 1:57 pm

Artist Sean Paul Gallegos displays a mask he made from thrown-away sneakers at the From the Bronx website launch, held at New York Graphic Studios. (Photo by Stuart White)

Mott Haven studio offers a showcase for emerging artists

Why’s there no love for the Bronx?

That question struck Bronxite Paul Ramirez when he graduated from college and realized he had no positive images of his home to show outsiders.

“There are only two boroughs with character,” he said–“Brooklyn and the Bronx. So why are we getting stepped on right now?”

Rather than throw up his hands, Ramirez—along with other Mott Haven entrepreneurs—is setting out to change that.

Headquartered in a nondescript building in the shadow of the Major Deegan Expressway, New York Graphic Studios is indistinguishable from the buildings around it.

Inside, however, owner Jamie Jones is offering gallery space to local artists, partnering with media companies and community activists, and building bridges to local government in hopes of turning her business into a shared community space that will elevate the visibility of South Bronx arts and artists, and eventually, the borough itself.

Also under the studio’s roof is Ramirez’ Mainland Media, a business that helps promote Bronx pride. Their recently launched online store, called From the Bronx, sells Bronx-born merchandise ranging from mugs and t-shirts to prints from Bronx photographers and posters of artwork by Bronx landscape painter Daniel Hauben.

Formed by Paul Ramirez’ brother Anthony and his friend John Martin, Mainland Media’s From the Bronx Facebook page has over 80,000 fans.

According to Paul Ramirez, “We’re going to break 100,000 by the end of May.”

Jones recently converted the lobby of her screen-printing and graphic design firm into a brick-and-mortar From the Bronx store, selling the same goods as the website.

“We hope to achieve maximum exposure for the artists and the borough, and not just the artists, but changing the face of the borough as a whole,” said Ramirez. “We want people to look in and not just see the Bronx is burning.”

To that end, Jones also uses her space to showcase local artists like Sean Paul Gallegos, who says the city at large doesn’t associate the Bronx with art.

“They see it as graffiti and hip-hop,” he said. “They don’t even know there’s a Bronx Museum of the Arts.”

Street to studio: Bronx art made from Bronx kicks

By Stuart White

Cool kicks are already sacred to some, but Bronx-based artist Sean Paul Gallegos elevates them one step further.

Gallegos takes apart cast-off sneakers and refashions them into artworks that mimic such cultural artifacts as religious relics and samurai masks. His art is uniquely Bronx-born. Ninety-five percent of his materials, he says, come from the borough’s trash.

“There’s so much history with shoes, especially with Jordans and stuff,” said Gallegos, who has been working in the Bronx for 13 years. “People getting shot for their shoes, people getting mugged for their shoes. People can’t pay their rent, but they’ve got their precious kicks.”

Gallegos’ artistic goal is to lead people to question how they spend their money.

“Part of it is the reveal,” Gallegos said. “People see my work, but they don’t know it’s sneakers. When they make that connection, it opens up into something deeper. It opens a dialogue.”

To overcome those perceptions, he struck an innovative deal: he would work one day a week at New York Graphic Studios in exchange for the opportunity to showcase his work there.

“Definitely a win-win situation,” said Gallegos of the work-exchange. “Moving forward without money: that’s key for me.”

Recently Gallegos’ work was featured by blogger and hip-hop figure Set Free.

“If it wasn’t for Jamie, if it wasn’t for Paul Ramirez, I would’ve never met this guy,” Gallegos said.

According to Gallegos, the relationship between himself, Mainland Media and New York Graphic Studios has been mutually beneficial.

“Collaboratively, everyone who’s in that space has brought clients to one another,” he said, stressing the importance of Bronxites helping Bronxites. “It’s us helping one another grow within the Bronx.”

Keeping it in the Bronx is part of what New York Graphic Studios is about. When Jones first opened her screen-printing business, she saw Bronx businesses and artists exporting their printing jobs as far away as Florida because of the popular perception that no one in the Bronx had the ability to do quality printing. Now, however, that perception is changing.

“I get sought out for advice and help,” said Jones. “That’s always a good feeling, because that was the goal. People are finding out that we’re more than screen printing.”

Another goal is raising the visibility of Bronx artists.

“There are a lot of talented artists that I consider hidden because they’re behind these commercial buildings,” said Jones, gesturing to the industrial spaces surrounding her 135th Street offices.

This month, Jones plans to unveil her own artistic venture: a line of t-shirts she designed called Addic’tus Addicere, which deals with the theme of addiction in unexpected ways. She hopes the line’s success translates into success for everyone involved.

“The goal is to pay the bills so we can keep the space going,” she said.

Like Mainland Media, Jones hopes to utilize partnerships among artists to improve the neighborhood at large. She plans to open a permanent gallery at her studio, and envisions future neighborhood beautification projects.

Mainland Media has already spearheaded one such project. They built relationships with local government and collaborated with muralists Tats Cru on an “open-air museum,” on 163rd Street. They are currently planning another mural project in Mott Haven.

Jones also shares space with Michael Brady of Brady & Company, a governmental relations agency. Brady is helping New York Graphic Studios build permanent partnerships with the borough president and nearby community boards in the hopes of expanding the studio’s impact.

Brady says he believes Jones—who spent two and a half years choosing her associates—has assembled the right crew to make the studio a community asset.

“There are very few businesses that have come from the South Bronx, stayed in the South Bronx and really taught the community to take care of itself,” Brady said. “That’s really at the heart of community organization.”

A version of this story appeared in the June/July issue of the Mott Haven Herald.

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