Artspace’s City Wide Open Studios lives up to its name — it takes advantage of parts of greater New Haven that Yale students are likely not to have experienced. Last weekend’s CWOS took place at Erector Square, which used to be an Erector Set factory until the 1960s. If it weren’t for Artspace, the large majority of New Haven residents would never get a glimpse inside of the warehouse-turned-studio complex that is Erector Square. This past weekend, though, Artspace kicked off its 14th annual series of CWOS weekends by opening up the three-story brick house to the general public. To get to Erector Square, you can either walk round-trip for two hours or take a cab. The trek is either arduous or $30 — but it’s very much worth it.
Once there, the premise of CWOS seems simple: art is meant to be shared. And so once every year, artists all over New Haven unchain their rusty doors, pile up some of their best work and welcome the Elm City into their creative lairs. Artists make no apology for the cluttered studios or the disconnected themes — not even for the toxic-tasting boxed wine in the corner. These are their workplaces, the birthplaces of their art. Every little bit is part of a greater something.
Erector Square doesn’t look like much from the outside. It very well could be mistaken for an apartment complex. The surrounding area is gritty, but not to the degree that the building seems like an edgy artists’ commune. The neighborhood of Fair Haven (aka “Clamtown”), too, is nothing to write home about. Still, the artists that inhabit the hundreds of spaces here have nothing but love for their second homes.
Scott Andrews, an abstract painter, speaks especially enthusiastically of the place. After college, Andrews originally planned to pursue an MFA but ultimately decided against it due to financial reasons. Now, 15 years later, he has returned to New Haven and has found no reason to stop him from pursuing that longstanding interest in the arts. To him, Erector Square has been nothing short of greatness.
“[Erector Square] is the best place to get space,” Andrews said. “There are some people who are artists, some who are working folks and some who are just interested in art.”
According to Andrews, unlike other studios in New Haven, only Erector Square gets the limelight of CWOS. From professionals who give demonstrations to volunteers who direct the visitors, resources from all over the city are pooled together on the occasion of CWOS. These events, in turn, draw thousands of people every year.
Rita Brieger, who specializes in non-objective abstract art, has taken full advantage of Erector Square’s connection with Artspace’s CWOS.
“This is my seventh or eighth year at CWOS,” Brieger said. “I think CWOS and Erector Square are fabulous.”
And indeed, Brieger’s work and personality exude a veteran-like sentiment. She speaks calmly and thoughtfully on the influence of Shel Silverstein’s poetry on her abstract work and points to pieces that developed over several years. It comes as no surprise when she tells me that she has was born in New Haven and has lived here ever since.
Like Brieger, Oi Fortin also wound up in New Haven serendipitously. She moved here in 2003 after her husband joined the faculty of the Yale Medical School. For her, New Haven has provided support, camaraderie and an environment for her artistry to flourish.
“[New Haven] has a great community of printmakers and artists who are so supportive of each other,” Fortin said. “On top of that, we also watch out for each others’ careers — whenever we get an exhibition, we refer fellow artists to also get an exhibition.”
Andrews, too, has found the warmth of the artistic community to be especially appealing. According to him, New Haven is a one-of-a-kind city for artists: there’s community support, and other artists are always working together, and that’s rare to find outside of New Haven. Fortin also found New Haven to be uniquely helpful for the progression of her career, but for a different reason: Yale.
“The Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven bought a bunch of my prints for their laboratories and for the hospital itself,” Fortin said. “There’s great support from the Yale community.”
But for the New Haven artists, perhaps their favorite part is having CWOS. While CWOS is not just a New Haven festival, there are a few particular differences between similar events in other cities. Fortin said she has been to CWOS in New York, and found that New Haven offered a smaller, more intimate feel.
“Ultimately, the community in CWOS here is more supportive,” Fortin said.
Fred Giampetro, owner of the Giampetro Gallery in Erector Square, which exhibited an art show during CWOS, agreed with the notion that the New Haven CWOS is the finest of them all. Giampetro said that there is not the sense of mega-established artists dominating the scene, nor is it filled with amateurs.
“[CWOS] doesn’t exist in this complexity and intensity anywhere else,” Giampetro said. “It offers a level playing field where very young and undiscovered artists and some very established artists all intermingle and learn off one another.”
But of course, for the viewer, the best part of CWOS is to chance to view the work, work that often times is unlike anything you’ve seen before.
The studio of Joseph Saccio was especially buzzing on Sunday. Half of his studio is filled with branches and trunks, some reaching 20 feet high, leaning against the wall — and this wood is his medium. Wood creations line the walls, from a wooden book model to a wooden quiver. Saccio describes his art as “mostly biomorphic, using wood primarily but a whole variety of materials, found objects and synthetic materials.” This is his fourth year at CWOS, and he doesn’t plan to stop entertaining the public with his fantastical works.
“A lot of people think this is a fantasy land and they come each year because it’s so magical,” Saccio said. “The materials and the tools are especially interesting to the men.”
CWOS at Erector Square also offers the aforementioned Giampetro Gallery, which exhibited the works of Mary Barnes and Jonathan Waters. Each of the artists draw the viewers in: Waters uses sensational geometric shapes, and Barnes paints on both sides of the paper to create depth. Both are renowned in their fields.
“Having artists like [Barnes and Waters] brings a lot of people into CWOS who might not have come,” Giampetro said.
Ultimately, CWOS, especially at Erector Square, offers the unparalleled experience of getting inside the minds of artists that one might not have encountered. It continues this weekend, with a bike tour leaving from Devil’s Gear (151 Orange St.) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and the next, with a site-specific installation at the Coop Center for Creativity (196-212 College St.).