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The Scoop on French Onion Soup: We rounded up the best options on offer in PVD

The colder months are ahead, and nothing warms bodies like a steamy serving of French onion soup. So our French onion enthusiasts rounded up a variety of some of the yummiest choices around. We restricted our research to Providence restaurants that serve this tasty concoction year-round, though you can find it off-and-on in many other locales as the season progresses.

Red Stripe

Red Stripe’s version of this delectable dish comes bubbling in a crock with a mouth-watering presentation and steamy aroma. Gruyere cheese blankets a fresh baguette slice, and the rich, dark broth is packed with Vidalia onions, making it not only the sweetest, but also the chunkiest soup in town. 

The Congress Tavern

“Everyone here orders the French onion soup,” brags John, a waiter at The Congress Tavern. Their secret? Brandy. The brandy in the broth blends with white onions and gruyere cheese to create The Congress Tavern’s signature flavor. The soup is served in a crock with a slice of bread on top.

The District

The French onion soup at The District has a perfect combination of sweet and tangy flavors. It’s also one of the most affordable options on our list. One of the key ingredients in The District’s version of French onion soup is the homemade croutons buried beneath a layer of cheddar cheese. These little morsels of bread are baked in a wood-fired oven and sprinkled with parsley and garlic for an amazing addition to the dish.  

Murphy’s

Who would have thought an Irish bar could do French so well? Murphy’s, like The District, gives a lot of bang for your buck and offers two size options: cup or bowl. This soup features a helping of Swiss cheese on top, which makes this a perfect choice for those who prefer salty over sweet flavors in their French onion soup. The crouton that floats on top adds a a little bit of crunch. 

Pot au Feu

For those preferring to take their soup on the run, Pot au Feu, Providence’s premiere French restaurant, is the way to go. Bob Burke, the restaurant’s owner, reveals that the secret to their French onion soup is using chicken stock rather than beef. “The chicken stock allows the sweetness of the onion to come forward,” he says. Burke hits the “sweet spot” of flavors by allowing the Spanish onion to act as the sweet and the cheese to act as the salt. Though currently offering takeout only, Burke expects to open indoor dining again soon, with many COVID-friendly enhancements, like a special germ-reducing HVAC system. For now, patrons can enjoy this dish on the nearby pedestrian bridge.




The Preservation and Education of Art: Justin Bibee on building and sharing art collections

Justin D. Bibee is currently a PhD student at Durban University of Technology in peacebuilding and is a human rights advocate. A Cranston native, Bibee was nominated for the Peace Corps book award. Bibee spent time in the Peace Corps as a volunteer in Morocco for two years and has since explored many different regions. During these travels, Bibee has collected and catalogued art in hopes of preserving and sharing it with the general public. The collection can be seen online or in person on display in Vermont. Here is what Bibee had to say:

Amanda Grafe: Can you talk about what you are currently doing in the art world and how you got started in that?

Justin Bibee: I would have to say that my interest in art started with my interest in human rights. Studying human rights in college I was introduced to new cultures and that sparked my curiosity. That curious exploration of cultures has never faded for me. I’ve been very fortunate — however incommodious it may be at times — to work in a field that allows me to travel. As a human rights advocate, I often go on assignments for months and even years at a time. Moreover, my work takes me to some remote places. This is definitely an advantage in collecting art. From the moment I left the United States I have been captivated by the places I’ve visited and the people I’ve met. My favorite aspect of collecting ethnographic art is exploring and discovering the culture behind it.

AG: What has been the public reception to what you are doing?

JB: Earlier this year I began reaching out to local libraries and schools to see if they might be interested in displaying some art pieces from my collection for educational purposes. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all exhibitions will be postponed. But I have created an online gallery where all the pieces from my collection can be viewed. 

AG: Where are some of the places you traveled to acquire some of this art?

JB: Most recently I traveled to Tanzania where I was conducting research for the United Nations. I worked with Burundian and Congolese refugees in Tanzania’s refugee camps. The refugees made beautiful art and sold it within the camps. I acquired pottery, jewelry and fabrics to support them, and these pieces are now part of my collection. In March I was to travel to Durban, South Africa to conduct more research and I was looking forward to discovering some art along the way. However, that trip was postponed due to the pandemic. Right now, I’ve been keeping my eye on some online auctions. Just this past week I acquired an Igala Idoma standing female figure from Nigeria, and I have my eye on a few other pieces. 

AG: What has your success been so far? Who or what has benefited most from this project?

JB: I’ve probably benefited the most by finally having my art organized! With my work I’m often forced to store my entire life and move to another country. I had art stored at my parents’ house, in storage, in my basement, in my closet. I’ve gathered all these pieces together for the collection. This has allowed me to appreciate each piece again. Throughout my travels, I’ve left pieces of my heart here and there; looking at the art is very nostalgic for me. Also, the people’s whose art it is and the cultures that these pieces come from are able to be introduced to the public, which is great and the purpose of the project.  

AG: Where do you see your project in a year? How about five years? How do you hope it will help shape the art world?

JB: The Justin Bibee Collection is a very modest project. To begin, I hope to display some of the art I’ve collected in local libraries and schools for cultural awareness and educational purposes. In the future, I would love to host exhibitions and galleries to share the art. I hope the pieces in my collection will spark curiosity about the world’s cultures and contribute to cultural awareness and understanding. 

AG: Anything else you would like to share with our readers?

JB: I just want to say that I hope everyone is doing well and staying safe during these unusual times.

To view the collection and learn about the project please visit: bibeecollection.weebly.com and justinbibee.weebly.com.




East Providence High School Gallery Show: Art students undeterred by quarantine

View The Live Stream

It was not supposed to be the last day of school, but suddenly it was and Jade Sisti had to act fast. Sisti had planned a gallery night for her East Providence High School art students. It was kind of a big deal, an opportunity for the students to hang their work in three real local galleries and to have the experience of being part of a professional show. Except school was ending, months before the show was to happen and with little warning.

“I’d had a bad feeling about how things were going to go in February,” Sisti says, “so I pushed them to get their artwork in, even though it was two months early.” Sisti remembers the last day had a siege-like vibe – but for artists. “Students were running to the classroom between other classes, getting their work in as the announcements were telling them to go home. I took all the work with me in my car, which prevented it from getting trapped in the soon-to-be-locked-up school.”

Sisti has been teaching at East Providence High School for more than 10 years and runs the art club, which teaches students the business side of selling and showing art. Sisti has had some of her own success in the arts, particularly with her “red series,” which made it on episode one of “Undercover Boss.” However, Sisti’s inspiration has always been her pupils. “Building a student’s confidence in their art and own ability is no easy task, and to watch them achieve this over time is an experience I don’t think I could put into words.” So, when coronavirus hit, it seemed like all the achievements her students had worked toward throughout the school year would be cut short.

Sisti, who instills in her students that they can’t always get what they want in art (eg, types of paper, fancy supplies) and must work with what they have, took that same mindset and used it to make it work for her students. Her quick thinking and the generous support – post quarantine – of local gallery Sprout Co-Working have enabled the students to still have their day before the end of the year, although it will be a very different kind of gallery opening, one for the age of digital events and social distancing. “For my students, understand that being a part of a gallery show is a great triumph. It’s a testament to their dedication and countless hours spent on their art. They’ve worked all year to achieve this goal.” 

Students from intro to art, intermediate art and art club from East Providence High School are all being featured in the show, which includes more than 20 student artists. Kendrick Dias, a junior in intermediate art class, says he uses art as a way to release emotions rather than hold them inside. For Dias, this outlet may have been stunted if it wasn’t for Sisti’s quick thinking. “You are doing great,” Dias says of Sisti. It seems that Dias’ sentiments are shared by the whole class, all of whom look forward to sharing their art with the world. 

The show will be livestreamed on May 21. Find the link at motifri.com/ephsgallery




I Am Not Free: A Reflection on Being a Woman in 2020

Being a woman has brought with it both heartache and joy, but mostly it has shackled me to a role that does not fit who I am or what I am about. Prejudice exists for both men and women and being recognized as a self — one independent of these categories — might be impossible for most because our evaluation of others integrates physical appearance, emotional reactivity or sexual attraction, dictated by the roles assigned to that specific sex or gender. It is the latter assessment that gets me into trouble. Like most women, past and present, I have had my fair share of struggles simply because I am female. My unconventional personality, coupled with the adversity tied to my gender, makes it that much more difficult to align myself with expectations.

Recently, I was conversing with someone who took my divergence from shallow conversation as an opportunity to brand me “intense.” I say brand because it stung and was a reluctant mark against my character that seemed to stem from the fact that I chose to speak rather than sit silent and look pretty. “Intense” was not meant as “passionate” or “driven,” rather as inconvenient and unwelcome, something I have often heard used to describe women negatively. Ironically, it was not his own “tenacity” or “assertiveness” that he recognized as “intense,” but my embodiment of those same characteristics. The interaction left me feeling as though I would always need to censor parts of myself and I left saddened and confused over how using my voice could bother someone so much.­­

Whether directly tied to gender expectations or not, this familiar scenario caused the harsh realization that no matter how hard I try to conform, it is still never good enough. Those small cracks where my authentic self could leak through to disrupt the dichotomized culture let slip. For that, I was chastised and disowned. Yet, the conundrum is, that even if I have the freedom to unleash those contrary parts of myself, I will still be chained by the reactions of others and the accompanying consequences, whether from a supervisor, a friend or a lover. It is the harrowing results of these attempts at sharing the parts of me deemed inadmissible that make me trepidatious, alone and depressed.

Even more perplexing, it seems the guidelines for a woman are so complicated that whether I am following them or not depends upon the comfort level of the person across the table. As a woman, my boundaries, the way I express myself and the way I look must be composed in such a way as to balance my own well-being against the prospect of being called a prude, a bitch or a whore and suffering the fate associated with these misnomers. It is the feeling of being trapped, helpless to change deep-rooted beliefs that grow up like weeds, wrapping around my feet, keeping me in place and pulling me deep into the ground where I am left to suffocate. Yet, gender roles are so ingrained in our culture that people, myself included, consciously or unconsciously, succumb to and judge by the standards laid out by these doctrines. Sometimes, it is easier to accept an establishment than it is to dismantle and rebuild it. Still, the brave pieces of me imagine what it would be like to live in a world without the constant fear that, if I act outside assigned parameters, I may lose my job, my lover or my life.

So, here is what I wish for myself and for all women out there. I wish I could have an independent thought without being labeled intense. I wish I could experience an emotion, however big or small, without being called crazy or sensitive. I wish I could have romantic relationships without being a slut or sloppy seconds. I wish I could be flawed without being bad and strong without being a bitch. I wish I could exist in a universe where women’s bodies are not treated like objects and where a man’s sexual improprieties are not my fault. I wish I could be heard and not silenced, listened to and not ignored, seen and not gawked at and felt but not touched. I know these things are possible. I know because it was not too long ago that women could not vote, could not have careers and were prevented from pursuing higher education.

Destructive gender stereotypes are nothing new, but I am hoping this article may serve as a conduit of light held to an issue that should never see darkness, a beacon to let others know they are not alone, and a reiteration of words spoken by greater women who have come before me. My hope is that someday someone from a future generation will come across this article, or one of the many written on these subjects, and be inspired to make change. Even better, I hope that in that time those women will look back on this article and have no idea what I am talking about. They will not know what if feels like to be us. To be me.

A great compliment was given to me a couple of weeks ago. A friend said, if I were a woman a few hundred years ago, I would be burnt at the stake. I am sure this is true for many women today. If society still practiced such things, that might be my fate even now. Oddly, I am okay with that prospect, for it would not be too much a misfortune if it meant the ropes that bind me would be turned to ashes. No, for me, the greatest tragedy is that I am quite certain I will be long gone from this world before I ever know what it truly means to be free.




The Other Side of the Camera: A portrait of photographer Jonathan Beller

Jonathan Beller is a Rhode Island photographer specializing in stills, portraits and editorials. I recently worked with Jonathan and can testify to his professionalism and skill behind the camera. He has had the opportunity to photograph a handful of stars, including one of my favorites, Jason Isaacs, who starred in “Brotherhood,” a series filmed in Rhode Island. 

Before he became a photographer, Jonathan did some acting and modeling as a child. It was those experiences that sparked his curiosity in photography. As he posed in front of the lens, he wondered what it would be like to be on the other side of the camera.

His childhood interest eventually turned into a career. During the filming of Harvest Moon in Rhode Island, Jonathan took headshots of Paul Sorvino, Jerry Stiller and Ernest Borgnine. He also took trips around the globe, including to Sierra Leone, finding interesting and alluring subjects wherever he went. However, life’s circumstances and the way he processed them eventually got in the way of his career, and he stopped taking photos. 

In 2017, Jonathan was hospitalized with sepsis and was told by the doctor that he was “knocking at death’s door.” Like many great artists, Jonathan was able to find the beauty in his circumstances and began taking photos in the hospital he was staying in. This series is among his favorite because it highlights a part of his life that was both a tragedy and a triumph as it related to his photography. That same year, however, Jonathan’s mother had a stroke and his father passed away. It seemed no matter what had been gained something also was lost, and it is something Jonathan says he still struggles with. 

Despite the pandemic, Jonathan has been able to push forward and maintain a sense of self and purpose and has once again been inspired by unfortunate circumstances to turn back to photography. Lately, Jonathan has been taking photos in the confinement of his apartment, including stills and depictions of cosplay characters based on popular Netflix shows. Jonathan says that he plans on getting back into photography full time and is using his ongoing experience as motivation. When that time comes, I and the world will be waiting to see what he has in store.

To learn more about Jonathan Beller please visit: jonathanbeller.com/ or @jbellerphoto on Instagram.     




WRIK Entertainment’s Rick Lataille opens up about the effects of the coronavirus on the entertainment business

Rick Lataille, the founder and CEO of WRIK Entertainment, has profoundly felt the negative consequences of COVID-19. Lataille, who has made his living off of trivia, karaoke and DJing for local events since 1990, counts on social venues staying open, and his has been one of the many businesses affected by the recent pandemic.  

Amanda Grafe (Motif): Could you describe your business? 

Rick Lataille: We are an entertainment business that provides DJs, photo booths, lighting, game shows and interactive activities for weddings, corporate events and family functions. We also provide trivia, music bingo and karaoke nights to restaurants on a weekly basis.

AG: COVID-19, and the government’s response to the pandemic, is unprecedented. As someone whose business thrives on social venues being accessible, how has their massive shut-down impacted you professionally and personally?

RL: It has hit me and my business extremely hard. I literally have zero income and have not yet received any of the financial assistance that I applied for. It’s taking a long time.

AG: What is WRIK doing differently during the lock down, and how have your fans responded?

RL: We are trying to stay in front of our customers on social media by having an at-home version of our trivia game on Facebook while promoting our restaurants at the same time. We also have a WRIK Karaoke Korner Facebook group where you can post yourself singing a song.

AG: You have a lot of contact with bars, restaurants, entertainment venues and other people in the entertainment industry. What have they shared with you about their experience?

RL: Some of them are providing take-out and delivery, but some are not able to and are in the same situation as my business with zero income. 

AG: When bars and restaurants are allowed to reopen and society returns to “normal,” how do you think that will play out? What advice can you give to other businesses in the entertainment field that may help them?

RL: I’m not sure how going back to normal will play out. It will likely be a slow roll out of allowing customers back into bars and restaurants with capacity limitations. If this is so, then WRIK’s return to the bar and restaurant scene could potentially be delayed by months. Hopefully summer weddings will happen as scheduled and by fall, all events will be back to normal.

My advice to other entertainment companies is to get yourself ready for when the time comes to get back out there. Also find other ways to make money including reinventing yourself and your business. Check out IBM. They’ve changed the focus of their business a number of times.

AG: When this is over, I have faith that, just as people are doing now, the community will come together to support those who were deeply impacted by COVID. When that time comes, how will people be able to support you and your business? 

RL: Come out and attend as many of our weekly events as possible. Our schedule is always available at wrikgigs.com. I and all our hosts are looking forward to seeing everyone again.

AG: As a practicing DJ, what is your favorite lockdown song?

RL: Any song by Akon.

For more information on Rick Lataille and WRIK, please visit: wrikdj.com




Unfiltered: The life and photography of Ed Hughes

Ed Hughes, a native Rhode Island resident, is an enthusiastic nature photographer whose pieces wonderfully capture its candid moments. Hughes, who worked for 30 years as a charter captain, used this time to travel the world and develop a relationship with nature. When Hughes was diagnosed with cancer, photography became a way to help him recover. The result has been both beautiful photography and a beautiful life.  

Amanda Grafe (Motif): You mentioned in your artist statement and in the time I spoke with you that it’s the candid moments that are important to you and that nature provides those moments. What is it about those raw and unrehearsed instances that cause you to become so passionate about them?

Ed Hughes: Animals in a moment in time whether with them feeding or interacting with each other is what I try to capture. That special unique moment. It’s what I call shooting from the heart. An example of that was my bobcat encounter. There had been a report of a bear in Narragansett, so I went searching for it without any success. On the way home I stopped by Allen Harbor Marina, where I work. As I was leaving, a bobcat walked right in front of my truck. Now, I have been searching for one of these locally for years without any success. I jumped out of the truck and walked down the road to where I last saw it, hoping to get a shot. All of the sudden, it walked out of the brush 30 feet in front of me. I walked with that cat for about a mile and a half shooting it the entire time. What I remember most was it accepted me. I was not a threat. I got to watch it hunt, then watch it rest and finally casually walk past me and jump a fence and disappear. Those are the moments I live for.

AG: Do you have any formal training in photography?

EH: I do not have any formal training. How I learned was to shoot an hour a day every day religiously.

AG: Do you have a favorite camera you use? More than one? What role does the camera play in your photography vs. the role of you, the photographer, play?

EH: I use Nikon products. It’s what I started with. I shoot with a Nikon 850 and almost always shoot with a 600 mm f4 lens with a 70-200 f 2.8 for closeups. The camera and the lens are simply tools, very complicated ones. It’s important to understand how it works, but once you do that then it becomes part of you. Everything becomes muscle memory, which then opens the door to whatever nature allows.

AG: I was told that you were afforded an opportunity to photograph bears. I saw some of those photos and thought they were stunning. Can you tell me more about this experience?

EH: Alaska so far is one of my personal highlights. I have been very fortunate to have been in some of the most remote places on earth, but nothing compared with the remoteness of McNeil River. I won the lottery to be able to visit for five days. I had to bring in everything I needed to survive. All my food, tent, camera gear, everything. They fly you into a spot where the guides live. Then you set up your tent [which I hadn’t done since I was 12] and met the five other lucky lottery winners. The guide gave us the rules, which was meant to keep us safe at all times. I finished the update and walked to the perimeter of where we were allowed to go. I had my camera, not expecting anything except to take some landscape shots, when I saw my first bear in the distance. I just stood there and watched it come closer and closer. Now they told us never to run and that thought is screaming in my head as it stopped and looked at me maybe 25 feet away from me. And I’m shooting every step it takes. I wish I could explain that rush of adrenaline, but it’s not possible. For the next five days, it was one amazing encounter after another. Bears weighing over 1,000 pounds walking 20 feet in front of you, sometimes too close for my lens to focus. So many amazing encounters as we walked up the river — the 50 foot embankments, grass over my head, which had bears you couldn’t see. The guide was singing so we wouldn’t startle them. Yeah, just one of the most incredible experiences. I took over 25,000 shots.

AG: Is there anything aside from nature that you’ve had experience photographing? If so, how is it similar or different from what you usually photograph?

EH: I really didn’t when I was still having chemo. I kept hearing birds outside my bedroom window. I had a point and shoot camera and dragged myself outside to see what all the noise was. It was two recent robin hatchlings crying for food. I grabbed a ladder and started shooting and I haven’t stopped since. I look back and think my neighbors must have thought I lost my mind. I had tubes everywhere. I weighed about 130 pounds and I’m up a ladder, but I knew at that moment I found my way back. I did do a couple of weddings, which were fun, but not challenging enough. 

AG: You mentioned your experience with cancer lead you to photography. What was it about photography and its relationship to your illness that drew you to photography in particular? 

EH: Cancer opened my eyes to so much. The frailty of life, the pain that not only you, but your loved ones go through. Photography opened my eyes to the present moment. You have to be completely present in wildlife photography or you miss the moment. This [idea] transferred to all things in my life. Cancer was a gift. It taught me what was important in life and more importantly, what wasn’t. So, photography is a way to express what’s important in my life. Being present. 

AG: You mentioned that you spent a lot of time as a fisherman and traveling at sea. You clearly have a love of nature. Did your experience with cancer enhance or change that relationship in any way?

EH: Cancer definitely changed how I felt about fishing. I no longer wanted to hurt anything. Even though I was a catch and release fisherman, I just didn’t want to do it anymore, especially since I had throat cancer. It just didn’t seem right. In eight years, I’ve only gone fishing once and that time just reinforced how I felt. So, photography took its place. I get to hunt without harming anything. The challenge is even more intense. I get to shoot something, which is exciting in itself. Then I go home and process my photos to see if I did it correctly. The perfect challenge!

AG: How has photography helped you evolve as a person? What challenges has it presented? What lessons has it taught? What has it added to your life?

EH: Photography has given me my greatest passion. It has taught me patience and gratitude. But mostly I have learned to live my life in the present moment and to smile more.

AG: As an artist, as a survivor and as a human being, what would you say is the one thing, besides your beautiful photography, that you would like to share with others? What is the one thing you would leave our readers with? 

EH: I guess the one thing I’d like to tell people is to find your passion, find what makes you truly happy. We’ve got one run at this life with absolutely no guarantee of tomorrow. Have fun. You all deserve it. 

If you would like to view more of Hughes work, please visit his website: elhughesphotos.com.




Pet portraitist Scott Groome on weathering the coronavirus

Scott Groome is a local Rhode Island artist. Originally from Woonsocket, Groome got his start at The Stadium Theatre as a set painter and scenic artist. After two years of gaining experience there, Groome applied for a position as a scenic artist in television and film. After working on a 20th Century Fox movie and a TV show for AMC TV, Groome decided that his passion lay with experimenting with color inside his studio and connecting through art with the people around him. He currently owns his own business and makes his living by painting pet portraits. Unfortunately, the recent coronavirus scare has impacted Groome, like many artists, in a very negative way.

Groome, who depends on income from his business to support his family, is suffering the repercussions of the current social and economic climate. He has graciously agreed to speak with Motif about his art and how it has been recently impacted.

Amanda Grafe (Motif): Before I address how the coronavirus has affected you and your family, I would like to get to know a little bit more about you as an artist. When did you first discover you had a passion for art?

Scott Groome: Art has always been my way of expressing myself since I was young. I started with drawing characters at my grandparent’s to drawing graffiti in my sketchbook in my room. I was also raised in a musically talented family, which led to me playing music and studying what made the legends so great. I was inspired by landscape design and architecture as a teenager and had a knack for design from my parents, as they are very creative. I was accepted to some very good art colleges in
California but wasn’t able to get the financial aid to go to school, so instead I left home at 18 and moved to Florida. I started bartending, which led to my passion for food and serving people. I lived there for three years, then moved back to RI. I decided what I wanted to do in life was to be with people and share my skills. I bought an RV and sat in there drawing portraits for people. It wasn’t until my boss at The Burrito Company restaurant in Woonsocket, RI, commissioned me to paint a fine art nude for the restaurant, that I was challenged for the first time to pick up a paint brush. The rest is history. That painting revealed to me my purpose, and I knew that I could make a living if I treated it like a business and “went to work painting.”

AG: Do you have any formal training in art or is it just something that comes naturally?

SG: While I did take a very short class in LA for oil painting techniques, I am 100% self-taught in what I do. I learned by doing and experimenting with the mediums.

AG: You mentioned you spent time in Los Angeles. What was that like and how did it help define what you do now?

SG: I decided to move to LA when I was 26 to chase my west coast dreams. At the time, I was focused on studying wine and viniculture because I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant or wine bar. I managed a wine bar for the majority of my time there and rented a studio in Inglewood for some time, offering commissions over Facebook. My involvement with art was modeling for a portrait class and learning oil techniques. I tried to stay involved with art as much as possible. Of course, the real involvement was just living there and meeting all the unique people. You learn so much about yourself when you experience all walks of life. The last few months I was there, I was homeless, living out of my car. It was a very introspective and cathartic experience for me, and led to deepening my understanding of how I wanted to not limit myself to one area of art. Even though I ended up working on sets for the next three years, which was a great experience, it reminded me about what I had learned while homeless: there’s nothing better than to be in a studio, creating works of art that stem from developing deep connections with other people one on one.

AG: Why pets? Are there other subjects you paint or like to
paint: people, landscapes?

SG: The joy that comes from experiencing people’s connection with their pets, and welcoming me to pay tribute to both their living and passed on animals, is what motivates me to do this. The relationship we have with our pets is unlike any other. I’ve had many dogs and cats — even birds, fish and guinea pigs growing up. It’s true that they are your best friends. To be honest, it wasn’t hard to see how fast the industry for dog lovers has grown in the past decade.

More and more products for dogs are popping up, and social media has made the relationships with our animals even more fun. I had to find a niche for what was going to keep me painting in my studio. I knew people would never stop loving their pets and this would be an immortal venture. It started with one gift, and word of mouth took over. But I don’t limit myself to only painting people’s pets. In fact, before I started with the pet portraits, I was mainly painting figures and portraits of people. I had done a few landscapes but I found that I best express myself through the energy of people. With nature being my number one inspiration, I do have a long overdue desire to paint landscapes and nature-focused paintings very soon. So we will see if I can work that in there.

AG: What’s your favorite medium or one that you use most often?

SG: My favorite medium to see in other works of art may be oil paint and chalk pastel. The medium that I have been working with for 8 years is acrylic paint, though.

AG: You mentioned that your business in pet portraiture is not just a hobby for you, but how you make your living. How has the coronavirus impacted your business and what have the consequences been for you and your family?

SG: Yes, so the business end of this involves going out and sharing my business cards in local pet shops, vets, groomers, training schools, and even coffee shops. The best approach to a business like this is to basically go door to door and introduce yourself. Not all people are connected via social media and I don’t want to limit myself. The recent pandemic has prevented me from being able to come in contact with people for one, and the other, those businesses cannot open, which becomes a double-edged sword. Art is a luxury for most people and will not be their priority when they are hungry or scared. We are quarantined at our studio, where my girlfriend is pregnant, and we are doing our part to limit the exposure to people, as to not be a carrier if ever unknowingly coming into contact with the virus in any way.

AG: If things continue as is, what do you think might happen to not only small businesses, but the artistic community? Will there be changes you will have to make, or is it too early to speculate?

SG: It’s scary for anyone who owns a small business. As of now, a lot of us are suffering and some are even closing down — mainly because they survive on walk-in customers. Artists rely on selling their art or having design jobs or murals. A lot of artists show their work in galleries and those are shutting down, too. The internet is about to be our greatest tool if it wasn’t already.

Although many businesses have a great online presence — like our neighbors Ape N’ Bird, who make hats from home and sell online — there is still a huge decrease in sales. We can only hope that we are forgiven for what we cannot rush to pay, including rent and bills. It isn’t clear on how this will play out, but history is a great teacher for preparing presently for the future. It is our only hope that we stay connected and keep our hearts open and take care of our neighbors and community however possible. I have other skills that I could employ if it came down to it. I personally think that if things got a lot worse and people were fending for themselves and bartering for rations, that I would not accept a painting of my dog for a few meals. Art is powerful, don’t get me wrong, but it will not feed my family. So I have to keep an open mind and a logical sense.

AG: How have friends, family, and even members of the public
reacted to your situation? What does their support mean to you?

SG: I can’t point to this situation to be my own as it affects EVERYONE. I am among many of the affected. People have expressed nothing but comforting tones and are helping when possible, as are we. Our neighbors have included us in their thoughts when they run out to the market, etc. But they too are affected by the crisis. It doesn’t help that I sprained my ankle very badly this week and am using crutches to get around. My family has dropped off certain items that we need for the house when possible, and we are very grateful for that. My income is sure to come to a halt if this continues.  My girlfriend is a remote article editor and is able to still work. With a baby on the way, we take this very seriously and are doing our best
to stay positive. Any and all the support we receive is appreciated so much.

AG: Artist (musicians, actors, visual artists) who also make a living through their art may also be feeling similar effects to what you are experiencing. What would be your message to them?

SG: I don’t know if I’m qualified to be giving advice, especially financially. For sure inspiration is always needed.  The best thing for us all to do, is to not give up and to seek alternate ways to reach people. Strategize on what you can offer your clients. Go live on facebook and do a tutorial if you are an artist.  Maybe do a little skit to bring awareness, or to make people laugh if you are an actor. Go live and play music online for donation.. I’ve always
been a firm believer in not focusing on the problem, but focusing on the solution. Remember the renaissance period and how that came out of a devastation such as the Black Plague. It reminds me of the Phoenix, there will be rebirth out of this. Destruction brings construction.

In response to the coronavirus and in an attempt to support and unite our artistic community, Motif is hosting a virtual gallery on its Facebook page. Here artist and the general public can support one another. Scott Groome will be one of the many participants. To support Groome directly please visit fb.com/sgroomeart or donate directly to:
https://paypal.me/sgroomeart?locale.x=en_US.




Stone and Ippolito: On life, death, and photography

Photography is one of mankind’s most interesting inventions. Through cameras, humans can capture moments in time that would otherwise be forgotten. Photography is a documentation of history, experiences and emotion. Photography is the embodiment of life and death and the stopper of time. Photographs can be worth 1,000 words, 2,000 words or tell a whole story. They can say everything or nothing. For Skye Stone and Olivia Ippolito, two independent up-and-coming local artists, photography is all these things, and more. 

For someone who habitually stays off the beaten path, Stone’s photography and the detours it brings is a chance to be her authentic self. Her authentic self sees memories as still images rather than a movie reel, projecting herself through the lens and into her imagery. Though Stone had been taking pictures since the age of 10, it was a high school film photography class that helped Stone clarify her interests in the field. The class, where restraints on subject matter and disregard for candidness ran contrary to Stone’s personal expression of the art, nevertheless inspired. It was the raw, untamed and even dark moments that drew Stone to photography in the first place, and that would continue to drive her artistic endeavors. 

Stone often diverges from the acceptable to the macabre, bringing to the forefront things not everyone wants to face. Stone came eye to eye with some of these subjects at an early age. Her mother worked as an anatomy instructor, so it was not uncommon for Stone to come in contact with human bones and other effects post-mortem. This sentiment of these subjects translated to her fascination with urban decay.    

Fort Wetherill in Jamestown was Stone’s first experience with what would become the focal point of her photography. Abandoned buildings, urban exploration and the way these things began to succumb to time and to nature became common themes. The Ferris Wheel on Newport’s Second Beach best captures Stone’s style, where instead of editing, Stone manipulates the lens to achieve the desired effects. Stone, who is driven by curiosity, feels that it is her job to reveal and preserve that which is unknown or forgotten, while highlighting that which captures the juxtaposition of life (nature) and death (the succumbing of industrial to the natural environment). For, Stone, the latter is all too familiar. 

Ippolito shares similar sentiments with Stone, but in a much different way. Ippolito works as a pediatric nurse, where many of her juvenile patients are facing terminal illness. As one can imagine, this work can be extremely taxing on the human spirit. Ippolito, who has been taking photographs since she was a teen, says that photography helps her deal with the daily stresses of life. The solitude that sometimes comes when taking photos, especially in nature, is a welcomed chance for self-discovery and soul recovery. 

Like Stone, Ippolito is drawn to the raw, the candid and the disparity between life (beautiful) and death (ugly). For Ippolito, nothing represents this stark contrast more than her patients. Ippolito, a nurse who considers her patients her muses, is bound by HIPPA laws and cannot photograph them. Instead, the moments she spends with them stay as captured moments in her memories and in that way, she helps those who have perished live on. Like Stone, her work approaches this heavy emotional territory indirectly, finding images that conjure similar responses in her. As a compromise between herself and those she cares for, Ippolito photographs subjects or scenery that evoke similar emotions to what she experiences when spending time with her patients: hope, sadness, inspiration and love. 

What can be learned from these two photographers is that everything has its moment in time, but nothing is forever. How we deal with this is up to us. Whether you reconcile this reality by documenting it with photography like Stone and Ippolito, or through personal memories, or just through the human experience – it is a reality that touches us all. There is hope that comes with these unavoidable contradictions. Hope at preservation. For life is candid, and death, foreseeable and unavoidable, can also be that way.  




Randy Andy Presents: Bushfires & Earthquakes

On Saturday, February 29, Askew in Providence was alive with cheering, singing and dancing during a fundraiser held by drag king extraordinaire Randy Andy. The event, aptly named Bushfires & Earthquakes, was in support of relief for Australia and Puerto Rico, regions recently affected by natural disasters. The venue found itself packed wall to wall with long-time supporters, occasional visitors and even some newbies. 

Randy Andy performed to the song “Land Down Under” by Men at Work. The performance allowed him and his fellow performers to engage with the audience, which not only drove the crowd wild, but helped raise money for the cause in the form of ones (if you know what I mean). Among the performers who donated their time to the fundraiser were Randy Andy, Dick Dandy, Sergeant George, Wade Waterman, Man Lee, Hans In’Zeir and the talented Bobby Fre$h who finished up the night with some moonwalking to the song “Billy Jean” by Michael Jackson. There was no shortage of laughter, excitement, music and dancing, which left the audience in constant applause. 

Andy offers several King Maker workshops throughout the year, which assists aspiring kings with drag performance. The workshops, where kings like Bobby Fre$h got their start, last five weeks and culminate in recitals where new kings get to show off their skills. Workshops like the King Maker series, the resulting recitals and drag in general are important for many reasons, according to Andy, because “the personas that we [drag kings] put up on stage allow us to access parts of ourselves that we might otherwise have difficulty accessing.” 

Andy started their own journey in drag after moving to Seattle, Washington, in 2000. Seattle already had a somewhat established drag king scene and connected with those interested in performing by leaving signup sheets for participation in their events around the city. It was this type of grassroots movement that inspired Andy to step into the shoes of Randy Andy. Unforeseen conditions eventually forced Andy to move back to Rhode Island. Though Andy left many things behind, they did not forget to bring their passion for drag. Andy took their knowledge acquired in Seattle and began using it to cultivate a drag king scene in Rhode Island. In 2018, their first drag king show, RI Jollies, sold-out to a welcoming audience. 

Within the LBGTQ+ community, drag kings do not receive the same attention and recognition as drag queens. Eventually, Andy hopes to see more equity in areas like payment and opportunities to perform. Andy’s goal has been to create a safe space for the queer community. They do this by not only screening physical locations in which events are held, but by also making sure that the people allowed into the community are respectful and supportive. Even at the fundraiser, Andy was diligent in setting down rules with the audience regarding personal space, consent and physical contact with performers. 

The fundraiser was a huge success, raising $2,030 from ticket sales, performances and a raffle of goods and services generously donated by local businesses. As the coronavirus unfolds, Randy Andy is looking to reshape his productions in a way that will support the artists, venues and industries that have been hit particularly hard.

To learn more about Randy Andy, visit PVDdrag.com or find Randy Andy on Facebook.