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I met with Summer Rayne Oakes during a strange period in my life — shortly after launching Deviation in its new form, yet having no answers as to how I would provide for myself going forward. I had a mission but little stability in which to pursue it. (Instability is a reality for all missions, I’ve come to believe. Lacking risk, it’s not a mission so much as it’s a hobby or fleeting fancy.) Summer is also on a mission, I would learn.
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Peter Makebish is an easy man to find. On a sunny day he’s ordinarily seated in a fold-up lawn chair on the sidewalk outside the glass and steel facade of his dainty, 10th Avenue gallery. Cold or rainy and he’s seated just inside the front door. His is the kind of place that stands as evidence that the city of New York is not without its soul. It’s a kind of protectorate, as though, in a debate with a reminiscent friend who insists that all is lost, you could simply say “Peter Makebish Gallery” and you’d be drinking for free that night.
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I’m seated across from Sarah Cain and in the course of our conversation it dawns on me that I’m talking with a real and true artist, which admittedly is an odd thing to think. I’ve spoken with a variety of artists, each and every one of whom I could describe in the same way: as a real and true practitioner of the arts. With others, however, it’s possible to separate their work from other aspects of their life and still capture something of their essence. With Sarah there is little separation. It’s as though any number of seemingly disparate facets of her world — yoga, cats, vegetarianism, or rap music — are also fueled by the need to paint. Or that all of her motives are imbued with the same “it” that permeates her work. This singular focus is testament to how fully her work is an exploration; a means to mine deeper one’s own essence.
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Bret Figura’s home is one of those houses where the doorbell is always ringing, where neighborhood kids come over to see who’s around to play, and where a huge extended family gathers to celebrate holidays, birthdays and nothing in particular, too.?Bret seems to thrive off the energy, laughing easily and taking all the interruptions in stride. With a small, wiry frame and hair to match, he sits cross-legged on a stuffed chair covered with fabric in a musical instrument motif. His pug, Stella, snores impressively loudly on the chair behind him while Nanook, a giant white puffball of a dog, naps near his feet.
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I was impressed with James Carpenter from the beginning. Not merely because of his body of work or that he brought great ideas to our project. Quality speaks for itself. It was because he was open and approachable. That he was free of the need to impress is what impressed me the most. At the time I was living in Qatar, working on a fancy urban redevelopment scheme with teams of accomplished architects, engineers, planners, and construction-related consultants of every stripe. Among this esteemed, designerly crowd Jamie’s approachability was a rare trait, which made it all the more notable. We only met briefly but this impression stuck with me. When we fortuitously crossed paths a few years later in a TriBeCa coffee shop I had no reservations about re-introducing myself. And when I pitched him on it, the fact that he agreed to take part in this new Deviation thing was testament to his openness.
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It was a discovery, even though I was looking for it. While scouring the streets of Manhattan, a total outsider to the city’s art scene on a quest to write about the people in that scene, I encountered a simple black and white banner that said Postmasters Gallery. It was pinned to construction scaffolding near two understated, residential-looking doors. A plywood interior wall obstructed the view through the bottom half of the gallery’s front windows, above which a flatscreen displayed an image of a shadowy man standing in a street. The caption “…Art is lost in this town…” was stamped along the bottom of the frame. Despite my lack of familiarity with the terrain I knew enough to recognize an outlier. Inside was Magdalena Sawon, one of the gallery’s founders.
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A huge Puerto Rican flag hangs on the wall of the dark room as DJ Shyboi plays her set. I can barely make out Christina and Felton dancing next to me through the thick fog, each also donning shirts emblazoned with the flag. Techno music booming through the speakers vibrates my chest. I’m sweating, hypnotized by the pounding drums that form a lump in my throat. I don’t even notice that the DJs have switched. I pause for the time it takes to hang my jacket on a nail. Then my body continues to move to the steady, hard beat. Tall light-rods behind the DJ change from green to blue, red to white in a symbolic display for Puerto Rico. It’s the first time I’m raving for a cause.
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Kosmo Vinyl speaks with a richness that immediately draws me in. He’s energetic, in tone and cadence. A personality. As he describes his childhood — bearing witness to mod culture, his family, and the liveliness of the people in his community — a full and vivid image takes form in my mind. His words paint the picture for me and I gain a lucid sense of where he comes from, or where he’s coming from. Kosmo lives a rich life and I believe that the two are not separate, the richness of his experiences and the richness of how he speaks about them.
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Rad Roubeni was born in Iran in 1978, the heat of the revolution. “And, being Jewish and being supporters of the king…” Weeks after Rad was born his parents sought refuge in Israel, then settled in West Germany where several of his uncles were established in life and in business. His father held no delusions about their circumstances, saying to Rad’s mother on the flight out that they would never be able to return. So Rad grew up in Hamburg.
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Laura Sallade’s first commission happened in art school, not long before her graduation. I use the word “happen” because that’s the impression I get in hearing her talk about it — that it appeared from the ether. Laura was working in a materials shop, she helped a woman who looked a little bit lost among the supplies, and the woman ultimately made a visit to Laura’s studio.