by Tina Seligman
Due to rapid advancements in wireless technology and the nonstop pace of 21st century life, we access and touch the world with the palm of our hands. Curated by Cheryl McGinnis in partnership with Sprint, “Hypergraphia: The Cup Drawings – Studio in the Prow” explores how the gallery and art studio can be simultaneously anywhere and everywhere with an installation of Gwyneth Leech’s upcycled take-out paper coffee/tea cups. The exhibit is on view 24 hours a day through February 18 in the glass-enclosed prow space adjacent to Sprint’s retail store in Manhattan’s iconic Flatiron Building. If you don’t happen to be in New York, you can still follow the exhibit over 75 national and international blogs (and counting), which have become addicted to the project, as have thousands of passersby daily, many of whom choreograph their activities to return and watch the ongoing jewel-like transformation of the ubiquitous object they were about to toss. Drawing on cups in the window from 11am-2pm Tuesdays through Saturdays, Leech’s presence is not a performance or demonstration, but rather a necessary extension of her compelling “hypergraphic” need for mark-making wherever she is. Interestingly, that craving to draw, so publicly visible at the Flatiron, is contagious, and everyone seems to love the feeling of a cup in their hand. It’s a comfort. “When viewers find their way inside the prow,” Leech notes. “I often offer them an unadorned cup with Faber Castell brush pens for impromptu drawing workshops. It’s quiet and people become focused, feeling what it is like to be in an artist’s studio.” With a shared passion for making art accessible and mobile, McGinnis and Leech invite a dialogue about what art is and how it connects to everyday life.
Leech’s own blog, Gwyneth’s Full Brew, is an extension of the project featuring cup drawings with witty observations of the city, her experiences from the window, and interactive comments and images sent via web at all hours from viewer cell phones and professional cameras. Several photographs spotlight her grandmother’s hand-painted empty chair, surrounded by stacks of rinsed cups and a variety of drawing materials awaiting her arrival. As an artist, filmmaker, choral singer, wife, and mother of two daughters, like many women, Leech is constantly on the move. Three years ago, while sitting in a meeting without a sketchbook, she drew on the only available surface — her empty paper cup. Initially journaling her movements throughout the boroughs of the city, the project transformed when it travelled from the solitude of her art studio to conventional pop-up storefront windows in the garment center district and Upper East Side. Working now from a fixed, albeit temporary, position within the Flatiron’s glass peninsula, the city itself comes to Leech, widening her connection with viewers and bloggers who share their own experiences with the exhibit.
Born into a multi-generational family of women who created with their hands, Leech was infused with patterns and design from early childhood. Working from memory, observation and from within, her bottomless well of imagery spans flora, fauna, cityscapes, including vendors, passersby and fire escapes seen from her expansive vantage point inside the prow, as well as biomorphic and purely non-objective shapes sometimes inspired by the Flatiron’s unique architecture. As Leech’s fingers fluidly and deftly build and carve lines around the curved form, the challenge of working with existing shapes, colors and text offers infinite variation. Although using a domestic “pop” object, Leech’s process is the opposite of Andy Warhol’s. While he referenced marketing and advertising with multiples of a single soup can image, Leech takes the commercial object to its elemental form by incorporating and/or obliterating logos from a wide range of mom and pop delis, fast food franchises, and elegant high-end tea shops. Leech records the date, location and related circumstances on the bottom of each cup, which, when finished, will be dipped in encaustic (wax) for archival preservation.
As an art dealer, Cheryl McGinnis, has always chosen non-traditional gallery spaces that encourage viewers and collectors to discuss the work in a salon atmosphere while having a cup of tea. After conversations with Leech about possible installation ideas including stacks and pedestals, McGinnis felt that the cups should activate the space in movement mirroring the artist’s ceaselessly drawing hands. Suspended like molecules from the ceiling, with looped monofilaments, the cups slowly revolve and sway against a city in constant motion. Translucent or opaque depending on shifting light and weather, they are frequently reorganized by Leech to create new relationships between shapes, colors and subjects. Captivating numerous collectors who have installed smaller versions in their homes within Plexiglas enclosures, the purity and immediacy of Hypergraphia contribute to its mesmerizing allure. So grab a cup of your favorite beverage and/or web-device and visit the prow. For additional information, contact Cheryl McGinnis at CMGgallery@rcn.com or www.cherylmcginnisgallery.com and follow updates at www.gwynethsfullbrew.com.
To read the entire article, and view all the photos, please view the Art of the Times winter – spring 2012 issue as a PDF above.