Art, absinthe and aerial acrobatics. Reflections of a great night at the Essex Open House.

October 3, 2009

It was another great night at The Essex Studio’s fall open house. With over 100 artists calling The Essex ‘home’, it is nearly impossible to take in the entirety of the event in one evening, and thus they have two nights (Friday, October 2 & Saturday, October 3, 6pm – 11pm). Even on a slow night, an Essex open house can be a bit overwhelming. This time however, there was a different kind of energy coursing through the event.

Upon approaching the entrance, one is greeted by a bevy of beauties, all bathed in the light of a million watt bulb while dangling from the ropes, circus rings and strips of cloth that hang from the entryway awning. Known collectively as “The Amazing Portable Circus”, these women displayed their pseudo death-defying feats of acrobatics perilously over the concrete that leads to the mammoth doorway.

I watched as one girl climbed to the very top, with nothing more than two strips of cloth wrapped around her legs for support. At the summit of her climb, she inverted herself, and then suddenly slipped, nearly plunging head first to the ground. Of course, I was completely fooled. She had it under control the whole time. This apparently is the sort of thing that goes along with the choreography of what The Amazing Portable Circus does. A little thrill to go along with the grace of their art.

Heart beat returning to normal, I moved past the mini-Vegas that is the American Sign Museum and into the throngs of people looking at, talking about, bargaining for and making art. Its an easy thing to get lost in the cacophony and shear magnitude of the place, as it becomes a glorious assault on all five senses. A sort of old world bazaar of the bizarre and the wonderful.

Pushing my way past a million sights and sounds, and having made it up one of the several secret flights of stairs, I arrive at my destination; studio number 260, better known as the studio of my good friend, Bruno Zabaglio. As if by psychic powers, Bruno is standing in the doorway, waiting to greet me. He points to the wall behind me and says, “Wish him a happy birthday”. I turn to see Bruno’s incredible portrait of Mohandas Ghandi. I bid the great man a happy birthday and then enter the studio to see what Bruno had on display.

Bruno’s studio at The Essex is half art gallery and half workspace. Up front is the gallery area, ever-changing and yet carefully themed with Bruno’s work on three walls. In the back, you’re able to peer into his work area (or as I refer to it, ‘the engine room’), where Bruno paints, using the natural light afforded by the bank of windows that line the back wall. None of this however, would have caught the visitor’s gaze this evening. What first grabbed the attention of each and every newcomer to Bruno’s studio, was his magnificent new piece, ‘Reflections’.

Commissioned by the local group ‘Branch’ for the cover of their latest CD, ‘Reflections’ is a stunning painting of color and gesso. At once, it is an explosion of color and texture that pulls you in. An organic Rorschach that makes you want to both define it’s patterns and yet not dare to do so. As with any great painting, photographs are pale representations of the original. You must be in it’s presence, up close and personal, to fully appreciate it’s impact.

Throughout the night, visitors entered Bruno’s studio and inevitably were drawn like moths to a flame to this beautiful new work. Everyone tried to place either a meaning or a price on this brave new work. While delighted with the interpretations, Bruno avoided all attempts at affixing a price to ‘Reflections’, stating only that the right of first refusal went to ‘Branch’. My suspicions are that Bruno is reluctant to place a dollar value on anything he creates. To him, the world of commerce and the world of his art spin on entirely different planets and have nothing to do with each other.

Here was the energy. People felt compelled to linger inside the four walls of Bruno’s studio. After being dazzled by ‘Reflections’, they would inevitably wander over to his other works and inquire about their meaning or his process. Bruno would point out and say, ‘That’s my grandmother’ or ‘That’s my daughter’, and then begin educating his small audience, not only about his technique, but his motivations.

One man arrived and saw his own daughter in a painting of Bruno’s. It wasn’t that she was really in the painting, but something about the tone and imagery struck the chord of memory in him about his daughter. Like all men his age, he was proud of, and at the same time, missed his daughter, who he said worked in the theater in L.A. He was clearly affected by this painting and it was another wonderful example of the kind of energy blowing through The Essex.

I left Bruno with his would-be patrons and headed outside for a cigarette. On my return, I found that Bruno had wandered down to the studio of Lisa Molyneux another accomplished artist with a cozy studio. I found Bruno in the back work area with Lisa and her friend Ingrid.

“Do you want an absinthe, my friend?”, asked Bruno as he was mixing up the green stuff in two plastic cups. I declined, having earlier had my limit of wine in Bruno’s studio. Instead, I sat with Ingrid and we compared her relatively exciting college years in Manchester with my rather uneventful and pedestrian stint in college. I want a ‘redo’.

Three hours had blown by in the blink of an eye and it was time to leave. I had to return to the world outside of The Essex. A world that seemed to have far less energy and delight in it. But alas, there was editing to be done, alone and in silence. Its how I do my best work.

As I sped home, I realized that I hadn’t scratched the surface of all that was available to me at The Essex. That may both be the curse and the blessing. Like any good entertainment, you’re left wanting more when it is over. In this case, you know there is more and you are compelled to see it. Thank God there are two nights, though upon reflection, that isn’t nearly enough either.


  1. Thanks Scott!

  2. My pleasure

  3. Awesome blog!

    I thought about starting my own blog too but I’m just too lazy so, I guess Ill just have to keep checking yours out.

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