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Coney Island Art Comes to BWAC in Red Hook

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Coney Island Art Comes To BWAC in Red Hook!


From: Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition (BWAC)

BWAC Contact: Alicia Degener, co-president and show curator

Contact email: adegener7@gmail.com

Contact Phone: 718-404-8026


June 25, 2021


Brooklyn, NY — You’d expect a show named The Art of Coney Island to chronicle the ups and downs of Coney’s amusement park and beach, and surely they are represented in this exhibition, at BWAC Gallery, 481 Van Brunt St., Red Hook, Brooklyn, from July 10 through August 15; stark depictions of steel and wood in motion juxtaposed with sea and sky, while seagulls and human visitors scarf down the same food along the Boardwalk. Yet there is, like Coney Island itself, an undercurrent flowing beneath the sand. It’s a definite feeling that you are not in Kansas any more.


From its inception as a resort area in the 1800s, Coney Island was a symbol of an escape from the realities of daily life, providing diversion and fun while at the same time infusing a certain benign decadence in food, culture and feeling. It is said that nostalgia for the Coney Island of years gone by portrays its strength to adapt from decade to decade. The arrival of the subway in the 1920s made it an easy getaway for New Yorkers, with areas opening that catered to each of the economic classes. Through subsequent years of boom, decay and neglect, and back again, Coney Island residents embody the adaptability of survival, especially among the artists and performers who made it their business and their home.


This feeling is best discovered in the works of the three feature artists in the exhibition: Marie Roberts, Philomena Marano and Richard Eagan. Each is a long-time, if not lifetime, resident of the area, taking inspiration from their surroundings to make art that speaks to the presence of this undercurrent.


Marie Roberts has family ties to Coney Island that date back to when her grandfather was the acting battalion chief when the Dreamland amusement park caught fire in 1911. Her uncle and father worked at the Dreamland Circus Sideshow. And it was in Coney Island where Marie was born. Is it any wonder that a child who grew up in a circus atmosphere would years later immortalize those sideshow sword swallowers, contortionists and otherwise amazing wonders in her paintings? The “freak show” of Coney Island was Marie’s life. Marie often uses the form of circus banners, painting on unstretched canvas set with grommets for hanging. Areas of flat color accent the figures that populate her compositions. There is a reverence and a wink in these renderings that requires a second, and a third, look. Marie is an artist-in-residence at Coney Island USA, and an art professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey.


Philomena Marano remembers riding her bike to Coney Island on practically a daily basis when she was a child. Her art takes inspiration in the angles and structures of the rides, signs and attractions in Coney Island. Using a papier collé technique of cut paper as her process, her work brings to mind the art of Robert Indiana, with whom she worked as an assistant. It also recalls the pop art of Ed Ruscha folded into the city structures of Charles Sheeler. Her Coney Island art is a world of strong color and shape that echoes the escapism and wonder as seen through a child’s eye, but now depicted at the hand of a master.


Richard Eagan worked as a show talker, game and ride operator in Coney Island, and as the long-time co-host of the annual Mermaid Parade as “Miss Kay Sera.” It was his childhood memories of Coney Island that drew him to it as an adult. Richard’s multi-media pieces are anchored to architectural influences of Coney Island past and present. His pieces evoke a sense of discovery, as an urban archeologist and pop culture historian may approach it. There is this undercurrent present, that what we are observing may not be a depiction of what is still in existence. Ghosts of Coney Island past mix with the present to evoke memories of what might never have been at all. Richard Eagan, together with Philomena Marano, founded The Coney Island Hysterical Society in 1981 as a way of preserving traditions and creating new ones for Coney Island. He is also an art professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey.


The BWAC Gallery, 481 Van Brunt St., Red Hook, Brooklyn, is open weekends from 1 to 6 pm. The Art of Coney Island is on view from Saturday, July 10 to Sunday, August 15, 2021.


There is an opening reception for the artists on Saturday, July 10, from 1 to 6 pm. In honor of this exhibition, Sing for Hope has donated a Coney Island-themed piano called “Luna” to BWAC. Sing for Hope invites artists to paint pianos and places 50 to 88 of them each year in public areas for anyone to play. At the end of their tour, the pianos are donated to schools and community-minded centers.


In addition to the piano, opening reception visitors will be treated to a magician, a sword swallower, mermaids and mermen in the gallery. BWAC is pleased to host these genuine Coney Island performers after their year of being unable to perform during the pandemic.


About BWAC

The Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition (BWAC) is artist-run organization and 501(c)3 nonprofit. For more than 40 years, BWAC has been exhibiting the artwork of local and national artists with seasonal mega-exhibits that include national juried and local member shows. These exhibitions present a wide variety of contemporary visual arts from the traditional to the experimental cutting edge. The gallery is housed in a massive Civil War-era warehouse on the Red Hook waterfront. Visit the gallery for the best view of the Statue of Liberty in Brooklyn.


The BWAC Gallery, 481 Van Brunt St., Red Hook, Brooklyn 11231, is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization operated by the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition. BWAC receives generous support from the O’Connell Organization and its many members and friends. Visit bwac.org for more information on membership and exhibits, or to donate, and follow us on social media.


BWAC 481 Van Brunt Street, Door 7A
Brooklyn, NY, NY 11215 United States

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