American Arts Quarterly, Spring 2004
The Harlem Studio of Art
The Harlem Studio of Art is located in an almost forgotten section of Manhattan, tucked between Jefferson Park, which runs two blocks along the East River Drive, and the Triborough Bridge complex of warehouses and small industrial sites. Until recently, this tiny Harlem neighborhood consisted of three- and four-story residential buildings clustered along four short city blocks known as Pleasant Avenue. The Harlem Studio was established in November 2002 by artists Judy Kudlow and Andrea Smith. “Space downtown was far too expensive for artists,” Kudlow explains. They found what they were looking for in a 1,800-squarefoot loft on the top floor of a hundred-year-old cabinetmaker’s building. For a long time Judy, who is married to economist Larry Kudlow, was active in government and Washington politics. She served in the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission before focusing on her true love, painting. Studying first with one of the deans of academic realism, Harvey Dinnerstein, and later with Jacob Collins at his Water Street Atelier, she got a solid grounding in the nineteenth-century academic tradition.
Andrea J. Smith originally from Australia, had studied with Daniel Graves at the Florence Academy of Art, and subsequently taught painting there for several years. The two women shared a desire to create a center where students and established artists could work together, pooling their talent and knowledge. The central area of the loft is occupied currently by six students, while Kudlow, director Andrea Smith, and portrait painter Missy Burton have their own private studios.
The formal course administered by Andrea Smith, is adopted from the Florence Academy curriculum. It begins with intensive pencil studies of Charles Bargue’s nineteenth-century lithographs of the human figure, originally created for the atelier of Jean-Leon Gerome, one of the leading painters of the French Academy. Under Smith’s instruction, students then move on to a series of cast drawings and monochromatic still-life studies. The curriculum emphasizes working from life, precise modeling, harmonious and accurate colors and values, sensitivity to aesthetics, and an appreciation of the great art of the past. The course is intended to train the eye, enabling students to develop larger and more complex compositions.
About thirty paintings by faculty and students were on view during the month of March in a group exhibition at the Union League Club in New York City. Proceeds from the sales were donated to the Friends of Africa Foundation, which provides educational training for young students in several African nations. The best works on exhibition were clearly the still lifes, including the outstanding Green Pears (2001) by Kudlow. In this large-scale painting, the pears themselves seem relatively small, in comparison to the horned animal skull looming above them. But the vibrant green color of the pears-set against the subtle grays, umbers and tertiary colors of the other objects and background- dominates the composition. Several other still lifes by Kudlow focus on personal objects belonging to her husband, most notably a small gem titled Larry’s Glasses (2001).
Smith had many works in the exhibit, including a series of four figurative paintings titled Spring (2003). Most outstanding were two of her beautifully executed still-life compositions, Garage (2001) features an old burnished oil can, a well-worn four-inch paintbrush with tape around its handle, and an ancient soda bottle half-filled with machine oil of some sort. All were painted with great care and integrated flawlessly into a subtle tonalist composition. Eggbeater “trompe l’oeil” (2003) is rendering of a 1950s eggbeater shown hanging from a nail hammered into a wooden board. Also attached to the board is a blue pin from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, instantly identifiable by its large classical letter M. Smith is represented by the Forum Gallery in New York City.
Still lifes by students Missy Burton, Maureen Hyde, and Hunter Eddy were all executed with professional skill. Other members of the Harlem Studio faculty are Richard Piloco, who teaches landscape and portrait, and Patrick Graham, who teaches drawing.
The Harlem Studio of Art is part of a rapidly developing phenomenon known as the second Harlem Renaissance. The current real-estate boom is quickly transforming the formerly depressed area with new housing, theaters, restaurants and cultural life. Harlem Studio of Art, 508 East 117th Street, New York, NY 10035. For information on schedules and fees, telephone (917)492-1923. On the Web at www.harlemstudio.com