Dancing on Air: Amid COVID restrictions, local family of circus artists turns their yard into a stage

Twinkling lights spin down from the trees then disappear, while ribbons of music infuse the night – Rise Like a Phoenix, a three person, multi-act circus show, ran for four magical nights in June 2021. The performance was the work of Air and Silk, a family trio of circus artists who brought the enchantment of the circus into their own backyard. 

The idea began in 2020 as an effort to reach out to an elderly friend in NYC who was isolated and cut off by COVID from the theater and concerts she loved. Simone Jogl, along with daughters Skye and Anneken, created a story in movement as a gift for her, tracing their friend’s life story as an immigrant. They called the production Cirque for Sophia

“We took all the routines that we already knew and put that together with the story,” Anneken says. As the trio began working, the idea got bigger – with costumes, music and professional rigging for aerial silks. After filming a few runs to make a video for friends and family, the trio got even more ambitious: “Let’s do another story!” They began developing their ideas in February 2021. Rise Like A Phoenix is the breathtaking result, and the speed at which the production came together was astonishing.

Simone explains: “This only works when it’s pretty warm, and because of the pandemic, there was limited aerial time to rehearse the acts.” As a result they had only weeks to develop the full concept – but the trio had years of training and skills to assist them.

Simone and her husband, Gerwald, were both competitive amateur ballroom dancers in Austria, though not as a team. Their careers overlapped only by a year or so, then Gerwald went into martial arts and Simone focused on Latin American and 10 Dance, making the Austrian national team in both disciplines. Anneken inherited that same love of movement – she began aerial silks when she was 9, and later on began training in contortion as well; she is a Trouper at Circus Smirkus camp in Vermont this summer and she hopes to make this her career. “I’d like to do it professionally, maybe go to a circus college.” There are circus colleges? Anneken nods. “There’s a lot in Montreal, that’s the center. There’s one in Vermont, and in San Diego, but there aren’t that many in the US.” Does Skye have any ambitions to perform? “She is 14 so her ideas shift and change a lot,” says Simone, “but she loves performing and is thinking to fold that into her life for a few years, maybe as a street performer.”

Air and Silk is a remarkably versatile trio. They do everything themselves, from building the staging, platforms and green-rooms, to the design and set-up of lights. Air and Silk have produced some impressive multi-act circus shows as Lafayette Backyard Productions, and they are available for parties, corporate events and site-specific performances.

To see a trailer and stills from Rise Like A Phoenix, visit simone0023.wixsite.com/website/blog/. To receive a recording of the entire performance, contact simone@rolfing-providence.com.

Providence Art Revolt: A summer celebration of art, music and community

On July 24, from 3pm until midnight, Providence Art Revolt will take over Revival Brewing in PVD.

The idea for Art Revolt came from the three co-hosts of the local podcast Providence Leftist Radio. It’s a political podcast that never hosts politicians. Rather it hosts local mutual aid organizations in hopes of helping them connect to like-minded listeners. The Providence Leftist Radio hosts wondered if they could bring this type of connection into the art world.

“We wanted to host an event where people could get together and appreciate the art that’s coming out of our community,” said Art Revolt organizer and Providence Leftist Radio co-host Alex Herbert. “People buy art for their walls all the time, but my question is: If you really want to support your community, why not display a piece from a local artist?”

Art Revolt will allow people to do just that. Ten local artists will have their work displayed and available for purchase at the event. In addition to the artists displaying their work, there will be vendor tables and food trucks, and bands will play all afternoon into the night. “The point of Art Revolt is to celebrate art from the community, and the vendors, musicians, even the food is a type of local art,” said Herbert.

Will this become an annual event? “We’ll see how Saturday goes,” said Herbert. “The enthusiasm has been really cool. The vendors, musicians, sponsors and artists are really excited. And as long as the community-funded and community-oriented aspect of it remains, I don’t see why we couldn’t do this year after year.”

Art Revolt takes starts at 3pm at Revival Brewery, 50 Sims Ave, PVD. Gallery artists include Derek Raymond, Vickie Smalls, Still Hear, Dsfcult Dopesicksf, Doodle in Your Head, Marius Marjolin, Hell Dweller, Gostgod, Anobelist and Wormo. Performing musicians include Dirty Mushrooms (in their first ever performance!), Baby Baby, Burr, Darklands, Bochek, DJ For All Masters, John Prince, Von the General and Satin Suede. For more info, go to fb.com/plrpod or @plrpod.

Lens Flair: RI street photographers see the city through a different view

Local photographers are changing the ways we see Providence, making an old New England capital feel new again through the time-honored practice of street photography. Almost as long as there have been cameras, people have been pointing them at city streets, iconic architecture and pedestrians.

“What I love about street photography is you can do it almost anywhere,” said Jared Winslow, a Providence street photographer. “[It’s about] capturing everyday life in a public space.” Winslow has photographed Providence’s streets for a couple of years now. His day job is working full-time as a graphic designer, but he spends any free moments (and sometimes lunches) prowling the city’s storied neighborhoods waiting for the right moment. Winslow’s gear of choice is a DSLR, the Canon T7i coupled with his 15mm-75mm lens. He’s amassed more than 1,500 followers on Instagram (@winslow_j), and his work has been featured in local publications. 

Originally from Somerset, Winslow grew up mainly in Rhode Island. He credits his interest in photography to people-watching with his mom as a child. Sitting back in a public place, together they would make up backgrounds and stories and dreams for the people walking by. He picked up a camera in college for a class three years ago and searched Instagram for different photography accounts, finding a number devoted to street photography. That’s when it clicked for Winslow. Street photography was a way to combine the art and science of photography with his love of storytelling. Although Winslow will take a short trip to shoot, he has a special love for the city where he feels he found his independence. “I’ve always had an open mind and I’ve always liked to tell stories in some way,” Winslow said about his work.

“Providence was the place that I needed and the place that I love,” said Rafael Medina, another prominent local street photographer. Medina lives in the city’s Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, but he was born in Europe, moved to Providence as a child, and spent a lot of time in South Providence. HIs parents are Dominican; his mom works as a hairdresser and his dad owned and operated a car shop. Despite his confident and relaxed demeanor, Medina said he didn’t think he could do a lot of things before he got into photography. He had no formal art training, but he found his street photography spark four or five years ago when he saw on social media the things photographers in other cities were doing. 

“I didn’t think it was possible in Providence at the time,” said Medina, but it wasn’t long before he got over the thought and dove headfirst into capturing Providence’s streets. He goes out to shoot whenever he has time, at least once per week. His Instagram account (@rafeakspvd) has more than 1,800 followers. 

Medina uses the Fujifilm X100 series camera, a compact camera that makes it easy to stealthily snap candid photos around town. The lens is built into the body, so unlike most other digital cameras he can’t swap out the lens, but he prefers this to what he used to use: the Canon 80d, which a very big camera to deal with when shooting candid photos in public. In addition to street photography, Medina shoots portraits and concerts, enjoying the different photographic challenges that come with each one. He cites a Bad Rabbits show in Boston as the best concert photography he’s ever done.

“Instagram gave me a big push and that’s when I realized this genre was even a thing in the first place,” said Winslow. The platform is a vital tool to connect photographers working in the same genre. Winslow cites the work of Paola Franqui (@monaris_), based in New York City, whose photography captures strong and poignant emotions. Medina cites Ray Mercado (@raylivez) as a photographer he tried to imitate in his early days.

During the COVID lockdown, Medina began engaging with the late, great masters of street photography, among them Gordon Parks, Robert Frank, Vivan Maer, Fred Herzog’s kodachrome-saturated colors, and WIlliam Eggleston’s emptiness. Studying their works transformed his outlook, showing him the type or quality of the camera didn’t matter.

“It opened up my palate a lot to just see things a little differently,” said Medina. He’s started looking for smaller details, cropping more and working on his composition. His current pictorial obsession is harsh shadows with lots of contrast. Other sources of inspiration for Medina include old movies, and he cited some of the cinematography and shots from Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull as a particular influence on his art. 

Both Medina and Winslow are planning more exhibitions of their work, including a joint exhibit in Cranston to be announced. Winslow is also the moderator of Providence’s first photo collective, @instameetpvd and is soon to launch a website for his work (winslowj.com). Medina’s website is rafeaks.com. Follow them @winslow_j and @rafaekspvd.

Artists Commune: The art of creating collections of artists

“The pandemic reminded us how important it is to be near each other as humans,” says Logan Will, who co-founded The Reliquarium in Lincoln with his partner, Ivy Ross. For artist collectives like The Reliquarium, community has always been a core principle. Creativity and community go hand in hand, and a collective can give individual artists the supportive environment they need to realize their artistic dreams. “The only way I’ve found to get the mental freedom to create a thing is to work together,” says Rick Scianablo, founder of Studio Blue in Providence.

Photo of Ivy Ross by Adrian Feliciano and is used with permission. 

This past year has spurred reflection and adaptation for many artists and artist collectives. It’s no secret that artists, already underpaid for their work, have been hard hit by the pandemic. As the economy crashed, people spent less money on art. Many artists found relief from grant programs like RISCA’s Artist Relief Fund. “I was filling out grant proposals for artist assistance for 15 people in my office, one at a time,” says Scianablo.

Every artist I talked to expressed gratitude for their existing communities, which helped them survive the year. “Everyone was stuck,” says Scianablo. “We were lucky because we were stuck with each other.”

Ross concurs: “We were all quarantining together. We were able to hunker down and get into all these ideas.” For The Reliquarium, which traditionally generated income through large-scale set builds for concerts and events, the lockdown meant a complete shift in artistic focus. “We were in Costa Rica finishing up a massive stage made of bamboo,” says Will. “We got on a plane to come home and the borders closed.”

Luckily, Ross, Will and their cohort already had a monumental project on their hands: an immersive 25-room gaming facility for R1 Indoor Karting in Lincoln called TimeZone. TimeZone “really took over The Reliquarium,” says Will. “We were able to pull a lot of people in, I think 30 to 45 of our friends and other specialists, to really sink our teeth into this project all throughout the pandemic. We were very fortunate to be right in the middle of something that was local, and also this great opportunity to flex our creative muscles.”

The pandemic almost spelled financial ruin for Studio Blue, which houses 20 artists in their Summer Street space. “We were a few days away from opening up a new venue called The Fifth Dimension when coronavirus hit,” explains Scianablo. A series of frustrating accidents prevented Scianablo from signing the lease in time, inadvertently saving the organization. “We would’ve been on a five-year lease for $5,000 a month and we would’ve been dead,” he mused. “You realize the universe takes over a little.”

In spite of the difficulties this year has presented for collaboration, artists throughout the state have found different ways to create together. Jonesy Mann, director of the Live/Work program at AS220, described some of the work done by AS220 resident artists this past year. “Early in the pandemic, a bunch of people came together to make PPE. We had residents making face shields, residents sewing masks. In the summer, when the reckoning with racial justice was happening across the country and in Providence, we activated our print shop, and a lot of our residents made signs that were seen throughout the city in support of Black Lives Matter. That was a way that our community came together.”

Photo courtesy of Studio Blue

AS220’s Live/Work program rents out 47 residential artist studios. “Our mission is to nurture and create a forum for the arts in Rhode Island,” says Mann. “It’s really important for artists to have affordable places to live in this state, which is a really challenging thing with housing prices going up. The Live/Work Program is a way to address that.”

For Ross and Will, the hunt for space is what brought The Reliquarium to Rhode Island in the first place. “Logan and I met at school in Boston,” explains Ross. “We ended up moving to Rhode Island as a way to house more people and to be able to create art.” The Reliquarium started with a single space and six artists and has grown to encompass three spaces: Relic Works, their business, Relic Studios, a cooperative work space, and Relic Ranch, a small, sustainable farm.

The Reliquarium is a 24-hour operation, says Will: “The circadian rhythm for every artist is different. At any given time in the studio there are people working: welding, ceramics, casting, printing, we’ve got a music dungeon, glass blowing, painting, digital media production, culinary arts — it feels like an ant farm sometimes the way people have come in and added their specialized skill sets. There’s this constant flowing of opportunities to collaborate with each other in ways nobody would have initially expected.”

Every organization I spoke with defined “art” broadly. “We take a non-exclusive approach to that term,” says Mann. In evaluating Live/Work Applications, he says, AS220 considers “anybody who applies their creativity toward a passion of theirs in their life” to be an artist. That capacious definition allows the collectives and communities I spoke with to become as diverse and vibrant as possible.

Scianablo takes a similar approach. An artist, he told me, is “someone who’s trying to push the boundary of what reality is.” While Studio Blue welcomes many artists working in traditional media like painting, sculpture and music, they also work with artists using their creativity to do more than just entertain. “One of the guys we’re working with is developing a case that’s designed to keep organs colder for longer when they’re being transported,” he told me, and Scianablo himself has experimented with using sound frequencies for medical purposes.

Building an artist collective, for Scianablo, means “providing the freedom to have your environment the way you want.” Creating that freedom comes with challenges. “Twenty artists living in 10,000 square feet maybe seems crazy, but it’s crazier than it seems.”

Last month Studio Blue made a million dollar offer for the building they occupy, but lost it to a developer. “Our fate has always been on the edge of existence and annihilation,” says Scianablo. “We have to be comfortable there because that’s the only place we can be. It doesn’t seem like we’re destined to be comfortable and that’s okay, because it makes for good art and music. That’s where your energy comes from.”

In spite of this precariousness, Scianablo and his fellow artists continue to explore new vistas. I met Scianablo at The VR Zone at the Providence Place Mall. This new virtual reality gaming facility features walls chock-full of art by Studio Blue residents among a number of immersive video games. Scianablo seemed excited about the creative possibilities of virtual reality. “You’re in a virtual reality lab giving an interview about community spaces — this is the future of it.”

All of the artists I spoke with were enthusiastic about the future of creative collaboration in the state, and the new opportunities that are beginning to emerge. “We do need each other to survive as artists,” says Ross. “I’m excited to continue to grow as a community.” Logan compared the momentum of their cooperative to a dung beetle’s ball — growing as it moves forward. “It’s sacred,” he says. “Every day is a beautiful ball of shit.”

A Room of Their Own: Pawtucket gallery puts queer artists at the forefront

The Queer Art Collective, set in the historic Exchange Street District of Pawtucket, is open to all visitors. There is no sense of exclusion upon walking through its doors, and the artwork of the current exhibit represents a very diverse collection of voices and views, from Joe Welch’s evocative, prolapsing sculptures to the surreal and timeless photographic images by Darrion Rose. But the gallery has an unusual submissions policy: Queer Artists Only Need Apply. 

Gallery owner and director Taylor Davis takes a decisive stand in her mission statement at the company website: “Here, at The Queer Art Collective, we put queer artists at the forefront and refuse to have their true stories silenced. It’s our mission to break down heteronormative art culture and create a space that doesn’t tokenize sexuality for means of diversity. Queerness is not a performance to be commercialized and capitalized upon.”

What makes this space truly unique is that in her quest for an LGBTQIA+ sanctuary, Davis has also managed to create a space where everyone who enters feels welcome.

“I opened during the pandemic – because of the pandemic,” Davis told me. Admission was by appointment only at first. “It was for COVID at the time. People needed to get out of the house, they were getting so depressed, lonely and isolated. Here, they could come in, walk around and see art. One thing a lot of people have said to me was, ‘I haven’t seen art in person in over a year!’”

I asked if there had been any protest from straight artists or accusations of discrimination. This is something that Davis readily admits. “That’s right, they’d be correct in that.” She added, “It’s not our intention to discriminate against heterosexuals. However, it is making the statement that this is our space.” Davis has seen a general lack of representation for queer artists, and sees this gallery as a step toward balance. “How often do you hear about places that discriminate and only hire straight people? And if you aren’t straight, they will treat you poorly. Well, this is a space where LGBTQIA+ artists don’t have to feel that way.” 

Davis is amazed at the support she has found since moving to RI. ”I feel like I have a community here now – I’m meeting all these other people with stores and galleries. I’ve never seen so many workers’ unions. cooperatives and collectives as I’ve seen here, and it’s really exciting to be a part of that. It’s like finding your people. And now I have a company that I am bringing others into; it’s changed me as a person along with my perspective on what community is and what I want to do here.”

The current exhibit runs through October 5 and has an intriguing theme: When The Colors Fade: A Queer Riot Against Corporate Pride. Davis explained, “It’s in response to the companies that don’t support LGBTQIA+ people normally, but they want to capitalize off of us, so they’ve come out with gay pride rainbow merch to cash in.”

The gallery is booked through January, which is when their current lease is up. But Davis has big plans for the future. “I’d like to get a license for a wine bar; hopefully we can open the gallery portion and keep that going during construction. We’re looking at property now in Providence proper. I do love Pawtucket, but I don’t get a lot of foot traffic, so I need a place that’s more centralized for people who just walk in. Things are really opening up.”

As the world struggles to find its way back from COVID, Davis has established her own new normal for a group that has too often been targeted or marginalized. “As human beings we all experience classism in different forms; this gallery is about my own community and what I can do for them. Queer people deserve to have safe spaces. They deserve to have companies that care about them and their voice.”

This is one company that does.

The Queer Art Collective is at 172 Exchange St, Pawtucket. To reserve your tickets for the July exhibition open house visit thequeerartcollective.org/upcoming-events or go to fb.com/TheQueerArtCollective for more info.  

A Full 180: REVOLVE Dance Project turns away from standard approaches to dance

The REVOLVE Dance Project is drawing us out from a year-long winter into the warmth and brightness of a stunning music and dance performance, set against the backdrop of a Rhode Island summer. Project director Kirstin Evans is thrilled to bring her “brainchild” to life at the Temple to Music at Roger Williams Park on July 24.

This show was born from Evans’ desire to give the dancers in her company a way to stay involved with their craft during what is normally a dance company’s off-season, but there is also a deeper and more personal reason for it. Evans is working toward acquiring nonprofit status for the Revolve Dance Project in order to expand the educational aspect of her work. She wants to remind young dancers what their art and passion are really for: themselves. Dance is an all-consuming art form that requires extraordinary amounts of both mental and physical dedication, and these requirements can make for a stressful and sometimes toxic environment that emphasizes perfection. Instead, Evans believes that dance should be about learning and growth in the classroom. It should be about progress, collaboration and pure love for the art form more than it should be about putting on perfect recitals and competitions. Evans says of her company, “I aim to create an environment for dancers where everyone feels comfortable and to give them a chance to be challenged to grow while enjoying the experience of progress along the way.” Evans eventually hopes to host artist talks, provide open rehearsals and workshops and give free tickets to kids to come and learn more about dance in a friendly and supportive environment.

Evans confessed that, above all else, she wants her dancers to focus on the creative process. And in combining dance with live music, she says the real experience she wants to provide is for the artists “to be able to use each other’s art forms to learn more about their own.” She hopes to get everyone involved in the performance to approach each of their art forms with a greater understanding of how dependent they are on each other.

Six professional dancers from around the world will perform at Temple to Music: Azamat Asangul, Brenna DiFrancesco, Kirsten Evans, Kailee Felix, Mamuka Kikalishvili and Alex Lantz. The five choreographers are Kurt Douglas, Dara Nicole, Jorge Rullán, Viktor Plotnikov and Alex Lantz, and the four musicians who will playing live are Daniel Hass, Josh Knowles, Cameron MacIntosh and Chrissy Stewart.

The Revolve Dance Project provides a unique opportunity to get people out of their houses and be fully immersed in art again, and Evans hopes to remind everyone how necessary and irreplaceable art is to a community. 

The outdoor performance will premiere on July 24 at The Temple to Music at Roger Williams Park, with a showing at 4pm and at 7pm. The performance will consist of five original pieces, four of which are world premieres. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to revolvedanceproject.com.

Breaking the Rules: Artist Tate Won Chen learned the rules just to break them

Tate Won Chen was introduced to art through calligraphic Chinese painting. “In the practice of Chinese ink painting,” she explains, “there are right and wrong ways to do things. There are materials to prepare. There are ways to hold your brush and posture. There are ways to think about open fields balanced by tighter weights and how you place them. It gets to be very lyrical and poetic, and that’s been my foundation.”

Pablo Picasso is credited with saying, “Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.” As Tate describes the way her art has evolved, it seems she’s taken that advice to heart. “I love being aggressive with a pencil and dancing around a page — not holding it too tight or letting myself get too close so I can let something happen and let it be scrawl. I love organic shapes where there’s no right or wrong. I love plants. I love figure drawing. A lot of it really is about keeping your own heart alive and hopefully being able to have that resonate in someone else’s soul.”

Though Tate identifies as a painter, she pursues a lot of different crafts. “Everything I do goes under this umbrella in my brain as fine arts,” she says. Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, she’s been putting all her free time into mask making because LifeSpan contacted her with a pattern and asked her to help. “Sewing can be empowering right now and a way to make small contributions to a community that seems disconnected. When we’re full of fear, that’s a way to keep my hands busy.” 

She also crafts small-scale mobiles that are made out of mostly found objects. “Bits of metal and shells, glass, coins, ends of shoelaces. Bits and bobbles. They’re arranged like you’d balance a mobile,” she says. “They’re formal studies meant to be suspended thoughts. Like being suspended in time. I’ve been thinking about them as dreamscapes.” 

She’s momentarily distracted from our interview by her pet pigeon, Hermes, who flies free in her room. “She had a broken leg as a fledgling, and now she’s 9. She’s been the most intelligent and loyal and social animal I’ve ever had. She’s just living her little life on my pile of scarves.” 

In describing her pigeon, Tate expresses reverence for the natural world. “We can talk in scientific terms to explain nature, but when you see a rainbow, you’re just struck by raw awe.” That, she says, is a philosophy she shares with The Reliquarium, a live/work art collective with which she’s been involved for four years. She’s currently working with them on a massive project in Lincoln, called TimeZone. They’re building a multiroom game experience in which participants will have to face challenges in order to move through the game and earn points. It soon will be unveiled at R1 Indoor Karting.    

“What’s neat about The Reliquarium is a desire to re-enchant the world. The collective and I both come from more organized places, but we try to find that whimsy in the cracks of the sidewalk. We started off with that same song in our heart of the awe of nature and the natural world,” she says.  

She speaks with excitement about the great communal push she experiences through her work with The Reliquarium. “Everyone has their own little specialty, so there’s always someone who can tackle that thing. A certain part of me feels empowered by working in a collective because of that trust. A mixture of introverted creativity and extroverted participation really gets the sparks going.” 

No Faux: Artist Gina Viletti tells the truth about faux finishes

Faux finishings are often the last thing people think of when it comes to interior design and art, but for artist Gina Viletti it’s been a vocation and a craft. Whether it’s working on local businesses or Newport Beach mansions. “It’s all part of working in the arts,” she says. “It’s all artistic whether it’s decorative painting or what have you. It’s in my wheelhouse and there’s nothing I haven’t been able to do.”

Born in Rhode Island, Gina always loved painting, whether it was realistic portraiture or figurative painting. She attended the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, but craved a more structured education. In those days, the painting curriculum was pretty freeform, so instead she studied illustration. She continued painting and illustrating after college, but found it lonely. Gina missed working with people to take on creative problems.

The solution came when HGTV gained popularity in the late ‘90s, and Gina discovered she liked working in interiors. “It’s been around for centuries, decorative finishing,” she says. “There are stone columns in Vatican City that are painted to look like marble.” That’s the part of her artistry that Gina loves. Working with the right products to make textures and colors look authentic. Faux finishing is usually the last thing people think of, and the first thing any contractor cuts from the budget. That hasn’t stopped Gina from designing mansion interiors like Italian villas, painting murals, or even designing the interior of a helicopter prototype.

“It allows me to think of my own, creative finishes and how I would achieve it,” Gina says. She strives to make the finishes feel as authentic as possible. She achieves this entirely by hand, she uses no software or computers to come up with her designs. When studying in Italy for five years, Gina saw a blue patent-leather shoe with gold flecks in a designer store front. Struck with inspiration, she flew back to her studio immediately to recreate it.  She takes inspiration from real world textures and colors, whether it’s Italian shoes or aged doors. The key for her is how to get her work to look like the real thing.

“I love working with old world stone finishes,” she says. “It’s multi-layered and it’s very organic.” Gina was working in a house in New Jersey back in 2010. It was one of the more common job requests, giving an interior a stone finish like in a Tuscan villa. She used a special kind of finish for that job. She would apply the finish, and then as it dried overnight, it would naturally crack based on what was already present in the plaster. This gave the interior the illusion of real stone left out for centuries in the Mediterraenen sun.

Knowing which finishes to use to get which desired surface helps: Which one looks like sandstone and which one looks like marble and so on. Gina credits a lot of her work’s success to knowing her product line. For the past 20 years she’s used a line called Faux Finishes. This isn’t the kind of thing a person picks up in Home Depot. Faux Finishes has a wide range of finishes that imitate plaster, metallic surfaces, all kinds of stones or wood. It takes a high degree of training to use it. Their products are water-based, environmentally friendly and unlike other finishes, there’s no polyurethane. They also have a long durability as well. She’s never had someone call her back because the finish wore off too quickly.

Gina returned to the southern New England area in summer 2013, basing herself in Pawtucket. She returned to take care of her elderly father and to start her own business, although the business part has not happened yet. Gina took a textile class, wanting to learn how to include fabrics in her interior finishes and she’s kept busy traveling across the country. Gina works frequently with LDL Studio, an architecture firm in Providence that helps her get work across the nation. She joined the Reliquarium artists’ collaborative in Lincoln.

One of her least favorite assignments is working on cabinets. While the textures can be very beautiful, and Gina is a consummate professional with plenty of discipline, that kind of work can be anxiety-inducing for her. One wrong move in the finish and you have to do the whole thing over again. It’s less artistic and more technical. One of the weirder assignments Gina says she’s gotten as a professional faux finisher was working last year at a home in Highland Park, New Jersey. It was a long project involving many different finishes. The client envisioned a large mural with himself as Spartacus on a horse leading the troops, and one of his sons as a warrior. While it never came to fruition, it stands as one of her stranger requests.

Gina still does painting and illustration and has a gallery of her work on her website. She does commissions, as well as some consulting on the side. All can be arranged through her website at ginavilletti.com.

Queer as Art

The Queer Art Collective Gallery opened its doors on Exchange Street in Pawtucket on March 5. It was an act of sheer optimism in the midst of many closures. The gallery founder, Taylor Davis, is a remarkably focused young entrepreneur on a mission – to create a safe space for queer art, where artists are not tokenized or distorted through the screen of cultural preconception. So far, it has been a surprising success.

The decision to open the gallery came after Davis saw artist friends suffer when COVID shut down their means of support. Every show had been cancelled, every venue for sales and display went dark – but a light went on in Davis’ head. She’d been wanting to open a gallery for a long time, and necessity proved to be the mother of invention.

The Queer Art Collective launched online in December 2020. The site did so well that Davis took the next step and opened an in-person space. The Gallery is now open to the public with a 20-person capacity, and Davis has plans to open a wine bar and coffee cafe as well. Keep your eyes open ­– this is a visionary who can get the job done. 

The Queer Art Collective, 172 Exchange St, Suite 101, Pawtucket; 401-236-5093; thequeerartcollective.org; @theqacollective

A Suite of Artists

AS220 recently released the “Murmurations Community Tarot Project,” a collaborative tarot deck created by Providence artists as a fundraiser for the non-profit community arts center. “I wanted to pull the community together,” said LUMUKU, an AS220 resident who organized the effort. “I hope it’s a fun way for people to reconnect or even become aware of contributors to the deck that they didn’t know before.” 

José Menéndez and Tati Gómez both contributed to the deck and collaborated on its branding, card backs, layout and packaging. “We hope people can see the diversity of visual artists connected with AS220,” they said. “It is an amazing collaborative effort to support our local arts organization. All this beautiful work is combined in a functional tarot card set that we hope a lot of people order.”

Amanda Soule, a local artist and contributor, said that she “hope(s) that this tarot deck helps people have introspective conversations with themselves while also hearing the voices of their community. I have found the tarot to be an immensely powerful tool for gaining awareness of my own hopes and fears, desires and aversions…I’m really excited to have the input of so many other artists involved in that dialogue, through their interpretations of the cards.” 

More than 80 artists participated. The deck can be purchased at as220.org/tarot, and artwork from the deck is available for viewing by appointment at the project space gallery.