Bill Rodwell is not looking to keep art alive in Jersey City. He wants to do more than that. Rodwell is determined to create a vibrant art scene with the help of his peers. He wants art to flourish locally and become one of the city's most important characteristics.
For more than a decade, Rodwell has kept a modest studio at 111 First St. in Jersey City. During that time, the abandoned warehouse has seen very little renovation and upgrade, while the neighboring Newport section of the city boomed with development.
The building's landlord has publicly threatened to relocate the building's occupants for several years so they may use the property to develop offices and condos. What makes 111 First St. unique and hard to relocate is that it houses the work-space of more than 100 crafters, painters, sculptors, musicians and photographers.
In spite of the threat of closure, 111 First St. continues to be Jersey City's artistic core. The annual studio tour in the city, held each fall, draws thousands to the downtown spot, and artists from more than 15 countries who have won a variety of distinguished awards refer to "111" as their home.
To continue to promote the works at "111," Rodwell teamed up with Jersey City's Cultural Affairs representative Greg Brickey in June to produce the show "New Kid on the Block...," where 111's artists display their works at City Hall.
The show features abstract oil paintings, modern watercolor art works, minimalist and surrealist designs, traditional portraits, and photography from more than 90 artists. Rodwell, the curator, brought the artists together and toiled to show their pieces at City Hall so "city officials and the public see what we're doing here at 111."
"New Kid on the Block..." proved to be so successful that Brickey extended the show's duration (originally June 30) until the end of July. At first, the pieces were hung on the second and third floors of City Hall. Currently, just half of the initial number of pieces are displayed on the third floor. Michele Provenzano's watercolor paintings have taken over the second floor. Also a 111 First St. artist, Provenzano's works are abstract depictions of City Hall's interior architecture.
"I looked at the walls and ceilings at City Hall and became more aware of its background and culture," Provenzano said. "It's fascinating to see how people preserve history and renovate it."
Provenzano is also showing a piece in Rodwell's show.
"New Kid's" philosophy is to show the difference and beauty of the art produced at "111."
"This show is very important to us. It's the largest collection ever at City Hall," Rodwell said. "We keep trying to get things going at '111' with galleries and exhibitions."
Some of the artists at "111" who are a part of "New Kid" have yet to sell a piece, while others are more established and exhibit throughout the region and the world.
One of the most noticeable pieces in the show is "Feather-Leaf," a sculpture which hangs from the Rotunda. Constructed by Robert Pfitzenmeier, it looks like aluminum foil, but it's actually made of anodized niobium and stainless steel. Near Pfitzenmeier's piece hangs Rikki Reich's photograph titled "The Haven II," a selenium-toned silver gelatin photographic print depicting a NY Waterway ferry transporting passengers from the World Trade Center during Sept. 11. Her other piece, "The Clock," shows the Sept. 11 attacks through a crowd of panicked Jersey City residents.
Rodwell follows Reich's lead with his own photograph remembering Sept. 11. His piece, titled "8 a.m.," shows the Twin Towers on a cloudy Monday morning on Sept. 10, 2001.
"The show is not only about abstract works. It also has meaning and messages," Rodwell said. "We all felt the effects of Sept. 11 and artists show their impact through their work."
On a lighter note, Edward Fausty's urban landscape piece "Rooftop Plumbing" puts the audience on the roof of "111" at night. Simple yet intricate, the graphically enhanced photograph is a romantic surreal portrayal of the decaying yet vibrant building.
Rodwell's wish for more exposure is already coming true. Deputy Jersey City Mayor Anthony Cruz said he has enjoyed having the artworks at City Hall and looks forward to working with more artists in future projects.
"City Hall is for the people. What the artists at '111' are doing is great for the city. This shows the city's commitment of improving the quality of life in its neighborhoods," Cruz said.
During a recent visit to City Hall, Bayonne resident and part-time art instructor at private New York City schools Nancy Davis was viewing the works of "New Kid" with members of one of her classes. Davis has asked her students to write a report on urban art venues.
"At this City Hall you get to see different factions of an urban art community at work. Government gives artists the opportunity to show their works to the public, who support the artists," Davis said.
"New Kid on the Block..." is located on the third floor of City Hall at 280 Grove St. in Jersey City. A few of the artists involved include: Heidi Curco, Gordon Moore, Maggie Ens, Wei Jane Chir, Naomi Campbell, Patter Helstrom, Nancy Wells and James O'Keefe. For information call (201) 217-1183. q