Art Seen: Michelle Spina — Dancer, Teacher, Spiritualist

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“Selecting a dance instructor is a little bit like finding your own magic fairy”

Being a dad is a real adventure with a learning curve that surpasses much else that I’ve done in life. I’m suspicious of anyone who says otherwise. When my little boy told me he wanted to dance, I mobilized my energy and started asking around and visiting and interviewing different studios; there are lots of dance studio-school-classes around, and I’m sure many are really good and serious about what they do.  I’m a tough sell and my son is even more so for a then 6-year-old.

After visits to 12 different places, I chose several studios and tried them out for a period of time; I listened and watched and watched and listened until the selection narrowed, some of the reasons were scheduling, offerings, style of teaching, the environment and finally — the most important — the individual teacher.

When I was young, anyone who was cool or thought they were, was good on a dance floor. I was no stranger to dancing; I danced in dance competitions and did well. Later I entered the world of art and found myself often using and collaborating with dancers as preferred subject matter in painting and photography. I loved dancers and all that they did. As a professor in art, I had classes in photography meet with dance classes and have creative photo shoots resulting in magic. I was hoping for something that inspiring for my son, and I found it in Michelle Spina, owner-teacher-dancer and near angel, and my choice to lift my son into the wonderful world of dance at Extensions School of Dance in Bristol, Rhode Island.

Selecting a dance instructor is a little bit like finding your own magic fairy. They must be enchanting and always look better than you feel and give off plenty of positive energy like a star. Their philosophy on life should be the makings of the best of civilization, and a pure sense of dedication and love for what they do should be present in every word and smile. Okay, I’ll admit that from the very first conversations with Madam Spina, I was delighted.  She was open, lively, humorous and warm with that delightful magic that dancers always seem to posses when they speak, smile and move. She was the person I was looking for to take my little boy and expose him to his earliest dance experience.

Michelle Spina, artistic director, owns, operates and teaches at Extensions School of Dance on 490 Metacom Ave in Bristol, RI. She has been dancing for 43 years, and studied with Helen O’Neill, Lorna Deane Rozon and Herci Marsden, and took master classes with Steven Boyd, Frank Hatchett, Linda Giancaspro, and a host of others. Her Aunt Lorna owned Position 1 in Portsmouth and her sister owns All Star in Middletown. At 45 years old she has been married 23 years to Jay Spina has four children. She says of dance:

“There is a feeling … a feeling of freedom … of leaving the earth’s grasp for just a bit … The feeling in your gut, the excitement as your legs stretch long and slice through the air. Limbs escape their confines and the teacher is driven to share this feeling.” 

My son greatly enjoys his teacher, her attitude and her positivity.

“One thing that I have learned about people from teaching is that if you can find that one little thing to genuinely compliment about a person, that person will go out of their way to prove you right.”

Michelle Spina loves sharing her ideas, and of choreography Michelle believes, 

“Everyone can put steps together and make a dance, but to truly be a dancer is a much more complicated mixture. Technique, discipline, athleticism and a willingness to express emotion deeply are a few things that take dancers years to etch into themselves.”

As a hands-on dad, I press my eager face against the one-way studio glass to monitor all that my little boy experiences and learns, from his work-outs to his routines. I’m delighted by the results and all that I see there.

For more information contact call or visit: Michelle Spina, Extensions School of Dance on 490 Metacom Ave in Bristol, RI  02809, 401.253.5902Extensions-RI.com

Art Seen: Paintings by Colette Aimee


Artist Aimee is bending the norm with elastic, colorful surrealism

I get around a bit and with a lifetime of exhibitions under my belt, I like to catch non-gallery shows almost anywhere. It helps keep me sane and it’s often the place with the freshest stuff — regardless of style or origin. It gives folks who are not mainstream a shot at some eyeballs to feast upon what they do. As a painter and lover of art, I always have my whiskers sensitive to art I may find interesting or unusual or, what the hell — weird (I hate that word when it’s applied to art). Such is the case with the work I recently viewed on the walls of Julians on Broadway in historic Providence.


Artist Colette Aimee is originally from Kent, New York, and studied art at SUNY New Paltz in New York. She has a BFA in painting and is represented by several galleries on the East Coast. She also is recipient of the Visual Artist of the Year Award for RAW BOSTON — all pretty cool.

“My artwork comes from a dream world that conveys lifelike situations … as well as a private universe in which my surreal characters come to life through extremely elastic …colorful views,” says the 29-year-old Providence resident, Aimee. 

“Colorful” here is poetic license, as this woman goes at color with an animal rawness, holds back nothing and basically breaks most of the sacred rules. Surrealist and modern painters often learn to defend themselves with explanation in this less-than-kind art climate of over intellectualism.

Baloon HeadsStylized and anthropomorphic might actually apply here where the figures in Aimee’s paintings are human, but they are not quite. But perhaps they are trying to be or they are coming from once having been human or trying hard to reform. Voila: Quasi Moto, or almost human. This might make the work fascinating, but it’s not the reason I like them. I think the primitive nature of them gives a great deal of breathing room to the art. The fact that it’s pretty crazy– looking demands your attention and then draws you into the carnival — is probably what I enjoyed. I never stopped studying them while enjoying my lunch.

Usually when I write about work, I’ve met the artist. Sometimes it’s dangerous to know the work separate from the person, but in this case I’ll trust my instincts that the artist and the work are attached at the hip — as in being hip not the body part. The flamboyant and circus qualities of the work are very entertaining and I would be deflated to find the artist to be any less entertaining, especially after enjoying the images of herself that she supplied (upon request). That consistency says volumes to me.

Art is like a mirror through which we view other worlds. Sometimes we see what we need, or want to see. Sometimes we learn something and often we are catapulted far away into another universe. Such is the case here. If you have a chance to view her work, please do so. It’s stimulating and fun; a private Mardi Gras.


That’s much more than I can honestly say about what I often review.


Dash Around Town: Julians on Broadway

juliansOkay, I’m an old crusty beatnik. You’d have to drag me into a Starbucks (here come the lawsuits) kicking and screaming. And yet, a place like Julians on Broadway in Providence, well, I can’t wait to return to. I’ll explain. For me, Starbucks is little more than a Burger King or McD’s that sells overpriced bitter coffee, that reeks of bleak, generic corporate design and often is staffed by androids. I’ll only go there if I must.

Contra-posto: A place like Julians is warm, irregular, tasteful and filled with great things to eat, great coffee and a delicious unpretentious menu with service of a 5-star ocean liner. Each time I’ve eaten at Julians, I just can’t wait to return.  I’m not looking for perfect humans or perfect anything, but I do like character and irregular qualities; it seems that hip environments feel more like a celebration of real humans rather than a zombie funeral. Me and the Mrs. can prove to be your favorite clients or your worst nightmare depending on how engaging the servers are, how tasty the food is and how thoughtful the owner seems in the presentation of his or her eatery. The crown jewel for me is the real artwork on the walls. In a real restaurant, there should be space available to show off the work of some local creatives. And what they bring to the space is part of the meal: visual stimuli. For me this is a major plus.

Hey, Providence has a good supply of restaurants. Julians is not alone as a hip spot, but it is special in many ways and if you haven’t been there, you should treat yourself nice and check it out.

Art Seen: The Magic of Richard Benjamin


Local photographer captures the beauty of Rhode Island

I was wading in the water along the shores not very far from Scarborough Beach out near Narragansett, shooting pictures and wandering with my dog Ali.  It was a hot summer day and I was a young upstart shooter just as the big surge of photography was in its early stages of being. The year was 1969. As I made my way along the shore with the sun beating down on my uncovered back, I began to watch another photographer basically doing what I was doing – working the shoreline for subjects. In his hands was a camera not unlike my own, but attached to the front was a huge optical monster that was a first for my eyes. I walked closer and when my curiosity reached its peak I called out, “Hey! What the hell is that thing on your camera?”

The “thing” was a 500 mm mirrored lens, indeed a monster in its day, and the shooter was photographer Richard Benjamin, who went on to become one of the premier photographers of Rhode Island in modern times. What commenced was a short, friendly and mutually enjoyable conversation that started a friendship that has lasted 45 years. I am proud to know Richard Benjamin. His skill, knowledge and accomplishments in the world of photography pretty much made him The Rhode Island Photographer. With many books to his credit and his work available in almost every printable form, he is prolific and terrific at what he does.

Sure, you can always talk about Arin Siskind or Harry Callahan (RISD cats) as being the prima donnas of local photo lore, but I am confident more local folks know the name Richard Benjamin, and for good reason. With a full career at the Pro-Jo; multiple book credits; and numerous sales from some of the best galleries, representatives or organizations, my money is on Benjamin. I admit there may be some prejudice involved based upon the longstanding friendship and interwoven events in our lives.

1Both Dick and I had our humble photo beginnings in the military. Much of our work has been people-oriented and seasoned with journalism. We’ve exhibited together and even sat on panels to debate topics or help out with big pro-bono activities like Flames of Hope. But that’s not at the root of my admiration. In addition to the long-held success of his marriage, and his success as a father and granddad, he’s always had both feet on the ground. Though Dick was one of the first to change horses and leave wet-lab photography for the digital tidal wave, he remains a nuts and bolts kind of guy without even a drop of pretense, arrogance or insincerity. Our agreements and disagreements about photography have been based on real issues and real observations, not even a tad of elitist intellectualism. He rises every day; hunts the ideal location, light and the time of day; and does it with such a work ethic he could have been the model used for all photographers. I believe that Richard Benjamin has a complete and detailed map of every inch of Rhode Island, including any alteration made during the past five decades. That’s not a joke.

I have at least 10 stories of how Dick has flagged me down on the road only to whip out his latest gadget camera that he’s having a honeymoon with. “Look at my latest,” he’ll say. He recently stopped by to give me my annual Benjamin calendar of Rhode Island and then proceeded to shoot a wonderful little family rendition of my wife, my son and me before scooting out the door just as quickly as he had appeared, in the fine style of Peter Pan.

Suffice is to say, that if you are not familiar with the name and the work of Richard Benjamin, you must be a new arrival or have been hiding under a doormat somewhere.  If you possess a love of scenic photography, catch his work at Picture This on Wickenden Street in Providence or purchase one of his many books on our wonderful little city state.

Richard Benjamin is Rhode Island’s premier shooter on the subject of Lil Rhody and never stops working at his craft. In many ways he is the magic of his own toil – he is the art form and the photographs are merely a sampling of the man himself. For a happy new year, please treat yourself to a Benjamin calendar and gaze upon it all year long. You may just want to return for an authentic Benjamin print; it’s well worth the trip.

Art Seen: Boheme’ Salon of Art in Warren

“ I want a piece of art to speak to me … to evoke something in me … to [make me] feel something,” says Valcourt of her art choices. “Many folks have discovered Warren so I am working within that process. And there’s a great artistic energy here,” says lovely Karen Valcourt, owner of the new art gallery in Warren, Boheme’ Salon of Art, which has been well received with strong local support during its first six months in town.artscen122img1

Valcourt instituted her inroad at Boheme’ art salon located at 504 Main Street in Warren, Rhode Island.  There are creative energies everywhere, but the East Bay of Lil Rhody, and in particular, Warren, has become a Greenwich Village of sorts and I dare say, middle class yuppies beware because this is a hipper crowd.  If you throw a piece of homemade pie from the Square Peg, you’ll probably splat a painter or a photographer or a musician or some old beatnik right in the face; they’re everywhere.

Currently on-view in her modest salon, there are about 12 artists represented in a variety of art, including painting, jewelry, photographs, ceramics, attire and gifts. This would be the perfect place to jump into that holiday shopping mood as you’ll find a nice assortment of offerings. Remember, when you shop locally and buy locally, you are truly helping in the most direct way you can.

Valcourt first came to the idea along with her daughter in-law and her sister who shared the idea with Karen but never left the starting gate. Karen started up her little gallery when she decided to go it alone and give it her all. She is energetic, positive and friendly with a great attitude and a pleasant persona. Her reddish-blonde hair, big blue eyes and great smile give an inviting welcome to the newcomer and potential client, and her openness is quite refreshing indeed.artscen122img2

Within a short distance you’ll find Muse, another Warren Treasure of fine jewelry and gifts and the Imago gallery as well, with full scale professional exhibitions.  The Hope Gallery in Bristol is only a few minutes drive from here, and there are many such small shops and galleries that dot the East Bay area. With plenty of parking and great eateries, this is an ideal way to shop locally while you feast your eyes on local products and art.

Boheme’  is right across the street from Coffee Depot, a favorite hang-out for local creatives, and a good road side stop over.  If you have never, or have rarely, hit this area, put it on your shopping list of things to do and go look around. I am sure Karen Valcourt will greet you with enthusiasm and welcome you to her art gallery for a nice look-see and the start of a Happy Holiday Season.

Dash Around Town: Free Birds

free birdsAs part of parental modern duty, knowing, sampling and viewing media is an ongoing challenge. Not everything that is appropriate is always tasteful or worthwhile. But when it is, it is! Free Birds was a joy and fun for everyone. What’s truly pleasant about these modern forms of animation is that they are high in moral fiber and half the lines are for kids while the other half needs the age and experience of an adult viewer. This fun-filled sci-fi adventure goes where no man is supposed to go … err … into the past and messing with the locals. There is homage to all sorts of things filmic in this, loads of good humor and a serious about-face in our own mis-reports of the Euro trash invasion of the “First Nation” people and their livestock, and poultry division as well. Turkeys traveling through time to save their feathered friends from the doom of T-day feast-ibles. It follows the same high road as Up with references to such classics as “2001 Space Oddness” and inside gags like “Run Chicken” of Ardman fame. Take the kids or grandkids and be prepared to enjoy it yourself, happy through space, time and the continuum.  My son loved it tremendously, and he’s always beaming up. Gobble, gobble!

Dash Around Town – Dias Photos at the Hairspray

logo_only2This old beatnik likes hitting those little out-of-the-way areas that function as a business and a show area — gallery space that allows local art types the access to a wall that perhaps they would not have otherwise. The Hairspray Salon on 259 Wickenden Street does exactly that. It allows artists to hang and display work of different types. Presently you can see the photographs of Earle Dias of nearby Rehoboth. It’s mostly scenery. Some is local work, some are from the old world. All are pictorial in nature and not very complicated or conceptual. The pictures are pretty straight forward and not intended as an academic singular (unified) body of work or ideas, but more like a sampling of his photographic activities.  I have long ago abandoned any notions about “high art” or “low art” and try to see what I see and make sense of it.  Though I prefer and enjoy intense and serious work in photography, I have learned that most people do not and therefore, in many ways, the popularity of the images may deal more with comfort zones than concepts. And so be it.  Go check out this work, which will be on view through the holidays, and visit the nice people at this salon. By the way, they are considered one of the best places for a hair adjustment. Tell Luz Angelo sends his best regards.


Art Seen – Stephan Brigidi

BRIDIGI B&W TRADITIONAL SIVER PRINTPhotographer, artist and entrepreneur, Stephan Brigidi has a show of recent work in (real) Black and White from October 17 through November 16. It is nicely produced and presented and is a pretty straightforward folio of his artistry, along with other constructions and collage and a simply stunning book on Venice. It is back for a one-stop show at the Gallery Z in Providence, which is entering a new era – a metamorphosis into another new location – as Studio Z, which officially opened October 19 with Self Portrait; Drunken Horses paintings by Ron Ehrlich, in the Eagle Street part of town. Ah, the vision of Berge Ara Zobian is endless.

In the past 40 years, I’ve watched Brigidi emerge as a strong influence in the Rhode Island art scene with his exhibitions, publications, teaching and work in photography. His often-somber demeanor is his hallmark, and the serious way in which he approaches his subject is as a dedicated viewer of the passing of time. “The City,” the title of his current show, is as serious as its maker. The near casual presentation of the silver gelatin prints is undisturbed as it presents in each handsome frame, to be looked upon as a near archaeological find, a capsule or parcel of a suspended moment, forever recorded on fiber paper and offered up with the classical approach to art in full view.

With only a handful of traditional (now also referred to as analog, wet-lab, old fashion, real, messy, pictures) truest purest “photogs” remaining, darkroom work has returned as a serious form of alchemy from which it came more than a century and a half past. Darkroom photography no longer is in the hands of the amateur, the shutterbug, or hobbyist. It’s where serious photography results from magic; voodoo, hocus-pocus. The realm of art alone has reclaimed the tradition — chemical based work as a well-established tradition, unlike its fancy new cousin, digital imaging. There are no pixels or programs here. No tricky apps. No auto anything.  Basic black and white is about basic machines and clarity of thought – poetry between the eye and the subject.

Stephan Brigidi has long earned my respect as a person with a camera making art. This new offering of his work is no exception to the rules long ago established by the masters for the minions. The stark neo-realism inherent in his every image is possibly wasted on the unknowing or unsophisticated eye. There’s no eye candy here, just forms, light, shadow, tonal range and sharpness – the vocabulary of the purest. The subject-oriented images are well claimed and technically sublime. Well done.

Brigidi’s book is a small masterpiece filled with delights from my favorite city in the world: Venice, Italy. This is a great read and a real collector’s piece. His written work is as tasty and meaningful as the images that embellish and portray the book itself. In many ways, Stephan Brigidi’s book may be his finest moment indeed.

This show is well worth the visit, but only if you want to see what photography was really destined to be as an art form. There is nothing flashy, techno-gimmicky or irresponsible in this work. It weighs much, but is priced very reasonably for the true art enthusiast. Great shopping for the holiday season.

Dash Around Town – New Urban Arts

DASH-Papier machet statue of liberty by Asia Jordan at the _NEW URBAN ARTS_ center

Mentors’ and students’ collaborative art

Do you want to make a difference? Well, if you don’t know anything about the New Urban Arts Center for mentors and students, shame on you. Many of the mentors are from Providence, like Rhode Island poet laureate, Rick Benjamin. These mentors foster creative talents in interested and dedicated high school kids.

Go and check it out. It’s very impressive place filled with interesting and energized folks like development director Daniel Scheiber, director Elia Gurna, and Tamara Kaplan who is in organization and finance. These people, among others, work hard to make a difference with the people who matter the most – the new generation of young people. Paving the future is not easy, but “… we want people to find out what their values are and what drives them, and to merge and build a community that empowers youth so they can develop a creative practice that they can sustain for life, even if they are not necessarily going onto art school,” says Daniel Schleifer. And he means it. So go check this organization out and see what you might be able to do to make a difference. Tell them Angelo sent you.

The New Urban Arts Center can be found at 705 Westminster Street in Providence.


Dash Around Town: CD Review – Halfway Home

insideJacketLocal musicians David Furlong and Joe Caron have made a stunning CD, Halfway Home, which contains 11 well-produced tunes and was recorded at the Richmond Room.  A second CD is underway.

These two accomplished local “musos” have joined forces inlaying tracks (also with cameos by Laura Furlong on other strings; John Brough on drums and tech wizardry by Paul Henry) into a finely woven tapestry of terrific sounds with lite homage of C.S.N.&Y, Dire Straits, Jackson Browne and perhaps a shadow of Django. This is an awesome musical collaboration.

After several days of listening to and scrutinizing this CD, I concluded that these two accomplished local “musos” have taken a step above all the mediocre studio blend-o-matic spam being produced today, locally or otherwise.  This album beckons to be listened to and enjoyed. In the Brave New World of fast-moving technologies that put too many monkeys at the wheel, this album is a refreshing course in how much talent you need to make something of quality, no matter how long you have been around.

With a second album in the works and with Joe Caron busy with some solo recording, I expect we will be hearing more from these guys. It’s already being aired on some Boston radio stations. Let’s hope to witness the same courtesy from our local people in airing Halfway Home.