Meeting of Styles – The Collaborative Works of Zimad and Leanna Valente

Luis “Zimad” Lamboy is a veteran graffiti artist from the South Bronx. Leanna Valente is an artist, photographer and hard core graffiti and street art fan. Their shared love for the streets of New York City brought them together and inspired them to collaborate, leading to several joint exhibits. Here’s Leanna on their work together:

 

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Zimad and Leanna Valente

Tell us about your work with Zimad

LV: “Zimad and I met out on the streets about four years ago. Sometimes I’d see him painting with a graffiti crew, other times solo. Once he realized I was a serious photographer and artist myself, he would let me know about his upcoming walls. I also began attending his gallery shows, blogging on his events, and we became good friends. Zimad and I started working together in the spring of 2015. We found our styles worked well together and began to explore the possibilities of “photos vs. paint, markers, sprays, fabrics and whatever else – meshing together.”  Since then he has created characters, stencils and tagged over my photos (both of us using a variety of mediums) forming an on-going collaboration.”

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Keith Haring by Zimad and Leanna Valente

How do you see your styles of work mesh together?

LV: “We enjoy the same type of art and music, and have many similar ideas. I find it appealing and fairly easy to combine the grit of the streets on photos already lightly painted and embellished with flowers and fabrics. I have been painting for years before I became a photographer, so I understand a variety of mediums. I enjoy blending the work seamlessly.”

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Zimad and Leanna Valente

What’s special about collaborating?

LV: “I don’t collab much and it has to be the right fit. I feel collaborating makes me constantly think. When Zimad and I collaborate we brainstorm and ideas of little things just click faster. Bouncing ideas around elevates me to do even better and push myself to think differently versus doing the same things I might gravitate to. A collaboration is not a competition; it must be a good mix, almost seamless where you don’t always know who did what.”

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Zimad and Leanna Valente- Sold!

How would you define your work together, complementary or integrative?

LV: “Our work is both complementary and integrative; some pieces complement one another and we may add only a small design on a photo. In others we completely mix it up with a variety of mediums to a point where outsiders cannot tell who did what. We don’t carry each other we complement each other. Nicely!”

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Zimad and Leanna Valente

All photos courtesy of Leanna Valente.

Luis “Zimad” Lamboy is featured in the upcoming book 2Create – Art Collaborations in New York City.

Make and Own Your Road: Pa’Lante Green Cleaning Cooperative

The immigrant population in the United States stands at approximately 13.3% and over 26%, if you consider children of immigrants (data from 2014; for more stats see here). Many immigrants come to the United States from countries that have been hit hard by unfair trade deals, wars and civil conflicts, high levels of crime and corruption or some natural disaster. They come to the U.S. in search of decent paying jobs and a future in which they can fulfill their dreams in a respectable manner. However, many immigrants are exploited (see also here) and feel disrespected by their employers and the communities in which they live.

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Worker cooperatives serve to create alternative, nonhierarchical, democratic and employee-owned companies in which immigrants are not exploited, forge lasting bonds with their community and fulfill their dream of living with dignity in their adopting country.

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Here in Jackson Heights, Queens, Pa’Lante Green Cleaning is one such cooperative. Pa’Lante consists of Latino and Latina immigrants who believe that democracy in the workplace is essential. Conscientious of the environment, they collaborated with the Queens College Center for the Biology of Natural Systems to use organic cleaning techniques and hazard control. We were fortunate to speak with Ana Rodriguez, Worker Cooperative Office Coordinator:

When, how and why was Pa’Lante Green Cleaning formed?

AR: “Pa’Lante Green Cleaning was formed March 18, 2013. It was fashioned by the vision of the workforce team of Make the Road NY to provide adequate paying jobs to the immigrant community. The workforce team wanted to provide a safe haven where workers would not be exploited and were able to earn a decent wage.”

What is Make the Road NY, and what is its role in Pa’Lante?

AR: “Make the Road NY (MRNY) is a non-profit organization that helps the community in various ways. They helped us to develop a cooperative in order to earn a decent wage with good working conditions, they help immigrants with workplace justice, civil rights, LGBTQ justice, housing rights, fraud prevention and education.

Make the Road served as an incubator to Pa’Lante so that many immigrants could fulfill their dream of owning their own business. We were able to make our dream a reality by working with the MRNY workforce team and with Workforce and Worker Coop Project Director Saduf Syal.”

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I’ve noticed Pa’Lante has members from several foreign countries. How has Pa’Lante helped its workers integrate into American society?

AR: “Yes, the member–owners of Pa’Lante come from several foreign countries. Most of the members were exploited or mistreated at their previous jobs and did not have adequate equipment to do the jobs they set out to do. It helps integration by providing a dignified workplace.”

How are decisions made?

AR: “Decisions are made by the Coop-Members in a democratic fashion. No decision is made by any one member; we always take a vote.”

What are some of the challenges you face as a collective? How did you go about solving difficulties?

AR: “Though we are all Latino, we all come from different countries, and therefore we have to learn to deal with different cultures. Our customs are different; we have to be able to come together as members, partners and colleagues for the welfare of our cooperative. The important thing is to manage our business in a collaborative manner in order to have a successful future. When we encounter a problem, we rely heavily on communication and the honesty of our members in order to reach a just resolution.”

How is Pa’Lante involved in social struggles?

AR: “We contribute by serving as an inspiration to other immigrants who come to this country in pursuit of the American dream. We show that an immigrant can achieve the dream of working and even owning the company s/he is employed at, without being exploited as cheap labor with little rights.”

Where is Pa’Lante heading as a collective?

AR: “The aim of Pa’Lante is to grow in the foreseeable future and provide opportunities for immigrants. We also aim to inspire them to start new businesses and become part of their own business in a cooperative manner.”

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Days in the Life of a Duo

The work necessary for successful cooperation is ongoing and an inherent part of everyday life. We as humans tend to couple in a variety of forms to share the joys and burdens of our mortal experience, whether it be raising a family, balancing a checkbook, traveling the world, producing creative collaborations, or all of the above.  

Laurie Markiewicz and James Alicea are partners in life and art. They have shared the responsibilities of raising a family as well as merged their minds to create collaborative projects. Recently, they put together an exhibit at AvantGarde LES, a self-described “home for innovative and experimental ideas that push the boundaries of culture”. We asked Laurie about their work.

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When and how did your collaboration with James Alicea form?

LM: “In the spring, our friends at AvantGarde LES had presented the opportunity to create a show together and we happily obliged. The space provided us with ample amount of space to show both our individual work of painting/typography/photography and collaborate on a much larger scale than we have before. We were/are very excited.”

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Avant Garde LES; photo by Laurie Markiewicz

What do you bring to the collaboration and what does James bring that makes it work well? 

LM: “Our collaboration piece “Crossing” is how we perceive and cope with the organized chaos of our everyday runarounds in the city that never sleeps. We have always wanted to merge my photography with his hand style and characters. We both are very much inspired by each other’s work and find it complimentary. Regardless of the work itself, James and I collaborate every day and every minute, managing home life with three pre-teenage children. Our blended family is our biggest and main collaboration.”

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“Crossing”

How do you feel your own work is affected when you collaborate with the other person versus when you work alone?

LM: “There are times when I feel a line/title from a song, a word/s or word play, and would like to add them in negative space in my photos. James and I ebb and flow quite smoothly when it comes to selecting a photo or being drawn to a particular one and brainstorming on the words and what hand styles or characters make most sense. It’s quite simple and fun for both of us. We love that others pick up on that vibe. When we work alone we are in a serious zone and aren’t that vocal about our process.”

What is 596ArtistUnion

LM: “James and I met through mutual friends and started dating in 2010. Throughout our first year of dating we were constantly brainstorming on how we could work on projects together involving our artist peers and other people in our local communities of the Lower East Side and Northern Manhattan (where we currently reside). We also wanted to find ways of connecting with artists we both knew and didn’t know and bring all of them together. One night on our stoop in 2011, (building number #596) we decided to call our “project” 596ArtistUnion. As of now, it is a platform to push both of our work collectively and the work of others we enjoy or feel inspiration from. We are still in the process of building our mission and coordinating gatherings and events.”

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Laurie Markiewicz (art and photo)

Tell us about this present exhibition “Days in the Life”

LM: “”Days In The Life”, is a visual narrative of how we continue to drive and balance our art making while raising three children and maintaining a household. The work is the escape from the many stressors “trying to do everything” can cause. I carry a camera with me at all times. While running around either on my own, with the kids, just James, or all together. I am constantly taking in the beauty of real life around me. It’s also a relief knowing I am not alone in the everyday hustle. My pictures represent that. James never leaves home without a selection of markers, pens, or pencils and a sketchbook. He is taking in everyone around him either by sketching them while riding the subway, bus or sitting on a park bench. Often he will have his own interpretation of these people and build oddball characters and creatures. The words added to his drawings or paintings compliment the emotion of each piece appropriately titled, “Monday”, “Tuesday”, “Wednesday”, “Thursday”, and “Friday”.”

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James Alicea. “Skellies” (top); “52 Blocks” (bottom)

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Laurie Markiewicz (art and photo)

 

The opening was nuts, come to the closing party this Saturday!

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Photo by Leopold SOALife

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Photos as indicated other than photos of tiled works by James Alicea: Nic Lytle; Marc LaBelle; George Bates (tiled)

 

The Cooperating Hands of Artists

Many artists have similar journeys on their way to discovering their original creative voice. Initially, one becomes a fan of a certain form of expression. Then comes a period of acquisition and experimentation that serves to hone one’s skills by copying styles and techniques and developing personal themes of interest. Once a personal language is appropriately developed, collaborations become an act of sharing and mutual exploration.

Raphael Gonzalez (@zurbaran1 on IG) has been photographing street art and artists at work for quite some time. He is highly dedicated to the art form, and supports local as well as visiting artists who often come to New York City. Recently, Raphael created a series of collaborations that are part of his solo photography show “The Hand of an Artist”, on display at Fatty’s in Astoria, Queens.

 

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Giz (@giz_nyc) with Raphael Gonzalez

How did you meet your collaborators and what made you start working together?

RG: “While documenting street art I found myself increasingly running into artists on the street as they worked. I am fascinated by the creative process and the opportunity to capture it on film. Once I became comfortable with many of the artists it just seemed like a logical progression to see if we could work together.”

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Noir (@noir_bt) with Raphael Gozalez

What works for you as a photographer collaborating with a street artist?

“I give the artists an opportunity to see themselves in a way they can’t while they are working. They can examine themselves and their work from a different angle and add elements of originality, which enhance the captured moment in time.”

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City Kitty (@citykittystreet) with Raphael Gonzalez

How do you feel your own work is affected when you collaborate with the other person?

“When I work with highly creative people it encourages me to step up my game, to try and add my own element of creativity beyond a simple photograph. If I shoot with a collab in mind I generally look at the scene with a slightly different perspective.”

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Trans1 (@trans1graffiti) with Raphael Gonzalez

How does collaborating affect your own work?

“Collaborating enhances my work, no question. It’s a partnership from which I learn and can apply what I learn to all my work. I greatly enjoy working with artists and hope to continue to collaborate on new and exciting ideas in the future.”

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Raphael Gonzalez aka @zurbaran1

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A Family Affair

Dylan (son), Waleska (mother) and Jerry (father) out birdwatching together in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Dylan started bird watching when he was 9 years old in his home in Puerto Rico and now publishes his photos under the pseudonym “Tierra Viva”.

Armed with binoculars, Waleska spots the birds, while Dylan quickly and masterfully hones in with his super zoom lens to capture the shot.

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(Photo © Yoav Litvin)

The Creative Cooperative as an Alternative and Sustainable Business Model: Meerkats Got it Right!

We live in an age of the individual. Success is measured by “bling”, selfish ambition and greed, while failure is forever personal and never systemic. In this era of zero accountability: when Wall Street bankers can swindle millions of people out of their lives’ savings and get off scot free, when politicians answer only to multi national corporations, and when casualties of war take on the form of “collateral damage” on Excel spreadsheets, we the people are divided and in a panic to survive.

But not all hope is lost. New social movements are responding to these crises. Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, Democracy Spring and others are organizing and taking to the streets. The millions who have been energized by the Bernie Sanders campaign are looking for political homes to serve as outlets for their systemic critiques and enthusiasm for change.

Within this climate, growing numbers of people are exploring ways to transform the conventional hierarchical organization within the workplace to a more equitable structure. After all, we spend most of our day on the job, and if our work environment is not democratic how can we claim to be living in a democracy?

As a result, worker cooperatives have gained in popularity. They include a range of businesses such as artist collectives, construction companies, accounting firms and house cleaning cooperatives. Democracy at Work, an organization founded by economist Richard Wolff, has been an indispensible resource for those interested in egalitarian forms of collective change and action in the work place.

Nowadays, artists have it harder than most. Those who attempt to succeed independently are in for a long, grueling, sisyphic battle, while those who work for corporations or other commercial entities risk selling out (see here and here). Artist cooperatives serve to provide a home for creatives who seek to continue producing original work, while having the professional support and inspiration of a collaborative work environment.

Sometimes, inspiration comes from the animal kingdom. Meerkats are small mammals that belong to the mongoose family and can be found in Africa. They are a social species that are well known for cooperative foraging behaviors, in which one meerkat is a sentinel who serves to warn the rest of the group members in case of an approaching predator.

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Appropriately named, The Meerkat Media Collective is an artist cooperative. The following interview was conducted at The Meerkat Collective’s beautiful collaborative space in Brooklyn, New York City:

How and why was Meerkat formed?

MC: The Meerkat Media Collective was founded in 2005 as a creative arts community dedicated to challenging traditional hierarchies in the media industry. In our initial years we focused on collaborative authorship, making dozens of short films and a feature documentary directed by a team of 12 filmmakers. The collective was born out of the belief that we have more power together than apart.

MM_2What is the overall structure of The Meerkat Collective?

MC: Today we have two main components: an artist residency and worker-cooperative production company. There are currently 15 “Meerkats in Residence” who share access to our space and resources while making a wide range of film projects independently and collectively. The worker cooperative is a 6-person production company that does production work-for-hire with art organizations, non-profits, museums and companies across NYC.

MM_3How do you view the cooperative business model- what are its advantages versus the standard hierarchical model?

MC: In a cooperative model, decisions may take longer to initially be made, but once they are made there is incredibly strong buy-in and things can move much more quickly. There is a strong sense of ensemble and shared responsibility that creates a completely different work environment from a traditional hierarchical model where one or two people make the decisions and hire people to carry them out. As a collective we are a team that has a stake in the future of the organization. We all have a say in how to distribute our shared resources.

MM_4How are decisions made?

MC: Throughout Meerkat we make our decisions using a version of consensus process. This is a non-hierarchical form of decision making that prioritizes everyone’s voice being heard and results in group decisions that take into account all perspectives and have very strong buy-in from all the stakeholders. We have smaller working groups that make many small day-to-day decisions, but the full group takes ownership of larger decisions.

MM_5What are some of the challenges you face as a collective? How did you go about solving difficulties?

MC: Many of our first projects were extreme examples of collaboration. We had two long-term feature projects featuring 10-12 co-directors. It has been an interesting process coming to terms with the benefits, challenges and lessons learned from that kind of collaboration. After a few of those broad experiments we have shifted our focus towards supporting our members through making a diversity of their own projects. Alongside that shift, we recently restructured the makeup of the collective and re-worked our process for bringing in new members. For the first time this last year we did an open call process bringing in 5 new members with projects that will be supported by the collective.

MM_6Give an example of a project that you are particularly proud of.

MC: We are very proud of a lot of the films we have made alongside social movements here in New York City. During Occupy Wall Street we made a short film called Consensus that delved into the process at the heart of the general assemblies that were taking place in Zuccotti Park. We aimed to de-mystify the process in NYC, make it accessible to other people around the world and help contribute to a broad toolkit for the spreading of similar social movements.

What is the importance of workplace and how have you adapted the present space to suit your needs?

MC: We made the choice about two years ago to move into a large and inspiring space in Sunset Park, one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in Brooklyn. This was a bold move for us with the purpose of moving towards crafting a physical space that was an extension of our values and could serve as a home to grow into over the coming years. We now have a large workspace that meets the needs of the collective as well as the production cooperative. We’ve got a kitchenette and large table, a wood burning stove, a large projection corner for screenings, as well as a few smaller separate rooms for meetings or quiet project editing. The space is managed by the collective and furnished with materials we’ve found or purchased together. The physical makeup of the space changes and evolves week by week based on our shifting needs. Sunset Park is a community grappling with forces of gentrification, and with a home base here, we are in a unique position to forge community relationships and find ways to support the work of longstanding organizations that have been in the neighborhood for years.

Where is Meerkat heading as a collective?

MC: After ten years as a collective, I’d say we are in a time of growth and new energy. This year we brought in a number of brand new members with inspiring and fascinating projects, are still settling into a new space and engaging with new projects and clients. A lot of our work has been around fortifying a foundation so that the collective can continue to adapt and evolve for years to come.

Check out more works from The Meerkat Collective:

Feature Documentaries:

Brasslands: documenting the musical and cross-cultural complexities of Balkan Brass music.

Stages: discover the power of storytelling.

Short Documentaries:

Into the Streets: on the climate march.

Production for hire:

Lower East Side Tenement Museum

Photographs ©Yoav Litvin

 

 

 

Astoria Vibe

NOIR and TRANS1 demonstrate the potential of intermixing two very different styles into an explosive yet coherent graffiti masterpiece. Their unique techniques have been shaped by the streets and speak directly to them. NOIR is colorful, TRANS1 works with shades of gray. They are opposites that artfully complement, challenge and enhance each other. We got a chance to speak with NOIR:

How did you meet each other and what made you start working together?

NOIR: “I came across TRANS 1’s work on line on Flickr. I was very impressed with the monochrome images he produced and was eager to collaborate with him on a few projects. After meeting up with him we realized that our styles complimented one another and our friendship began.”

DSC_7905What do you bring to the collab and what does TRANS1 bring that makes it work well?

NOIR: “I bring the letter form and the brightness to our work. TRANS 1 uses grays and I like to bring a full color range to blast the wall and tantalize our audiences. TRANS 1 brings the technical and figurative side with his faces and I bring the funk.”

How do you feel your own work is affected when you collaborate with TRANS1?

NOIR: “I’m at ease when I paint with TRANS1. We’re like brothers so we don’t need to say anything to each other when we create our art. We look at each and just know what’s expected of us. There’s no instruction or discussion, we just create.”

What is this particular mural about?

NOIR: “The Welling Court Mural Project wall was designed for the good people of Astoria, Queens. You can feel the vibe on the streets but also the strain of everyday life. The letters and colors come from the vibe we feel when we paint here. The character expresses the frustration that folks have in the struggle for a good life, a better life.”

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Standing in front of another collaboration. Photo © Raphael Gonzalez

Welling Court Blues

Joe Iurato and Rubin415 have been painting together at Welling Court for a few years now. Their collaborations are always a seamless fusion of two distinct, clean styles into a unified and beautiful masterpiece. We got a chance to talk to Joe:

How did you meet each other and what made you start working together?

Joe: “We painted together for the first time about 5 years ago in a friend’s backyard. It was a collaborative piece between Rubin, Chris Stain, and myself. We felt there was a nice flow and synergy to the work, not to mention we also got along really well. Since then, we’ve become good friends and have steadily collaborated on a number of walls and projects.”

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What do you bring to the collab and what does Rubin bring that makes it work well?

Joe: “I think it works well because, visually, our styles are so different, but we’re both super critical about clean lines, balance and composition. We approach the work with the same mentality: There’s no front and center. It isn’t about you or me. The only thing that matters is the final piece.”

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How do you feel your own work is affected when you collab with Rubin?

Joe: “We’re both really into music. I look at it similarly as when musicians collaborate. Separately they have their own voices. Together, those voices are still identifiable but a unique sound is created. And as long as there’s harmony, it works. At least, that’s what it feels like to me.”

What is this particular mural about? 

Joe: “It’s inspired by the band Graveyard’s “Hisingen Blues” album cover. I recently discovered their music and have had them in steady rotation for a few months now. If you haven’t heard them, these guys kick rock and roll ass, and it turns out they’re also from Rubin’s hometown in Sweden. So our piece is basically that album cover re-imagined.”

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Check out Rubin’s new book HERE.

Photo of completed piece © Joe Iurato

The Gulabi Gang

Today we bring you NY-natives and friends Danielle Mastrion and Lexi Bella. Their works tackle a variety of social issues with a focus on the empowerment of women and girls. Danielle and Lexi will be featured in the documentary Street Art Heroines (see HERE), and we were fortunate to speak with them:

How did you meet each other and what made you start working together?

Danielle: “Lexi and I met through Art Battles (live painting) a few years ago. We both painted at an all-female Art Battle called Femme Fatale. We continued to paint and show together in gallery shows, but we really became friends after a 2012 Art Battle in Paris.”

What do you bring to the collab and what does your collaborative partner bring that makes it work well?

Danielle: “We both listen to and respect each other’s opinions and ideas. One year, I brought the idea to the table; the next year, Lexi did, and vice versa. I trust her vision and she trusts mine. There’s no one else I would rather paint with because we have such similar visions.”
Lexi: “At this point, Danielle and I have worked together for a while so we just flow. We share similar ideas and visions for our work so when we come together and make something special it’s always an exciting and an easy process. I think we both bring friendship and love and no egos and that’s the root of what works.”

How do you feel your own work is affected when you collab with the other person?

Danielle: “I think the energy and the power of the piece is elevated when we work together. She challenges me to make the best work I can. Our energy and dedication to our work is already at 110%, so put us together and you get at least twice that!”
Lexi: “Collaborating with anyone makes me a better artist- but with Danielle we trust each other and know each other so well that I can push myself further than I normally would because I have a trusted confidant working with me I can bounce ideas off of.”

What is this particular mural about?

Danielle and Lexi: “We wanted to continue our theme of the last three years of international women’s rights. The Gulabi gang (from Hindi गुलाबी gulabī, “pink”) is a group of Indian women activists. The group first appeared in Bundelkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and was founded by Sampat Pal Devi (the large portrait) as a response to widespread domestic abuse, gang rape, and other violence against women in India. The group has spread and since 2010, is active across North India both on the streets and in (local) politics.”

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Imagine Flint

Katie Yamasaki and Caleb Neelon have collaborated at Welling Court Mural Project several times to produce powerful and socially relevant pieces. We asked them about the most recent one:

How did you meet and why do you like collaborating?
Caleb: “Katie and I met in Spain at a mural festival where we were both painting. We hit it off and live not that far from one another so it was natural to try and collaborate a bit more both at Welling Court and closer to my home in Cambridge, MA where we have done a few larger ones. I love to paint with Katie because I just get to stay in my lane and paint the dotted background that sets off her portraits. Painting partnerships with roles that feel easy are pretty rare. It feels good!”

What’s this latest mural about?
Katie: “The mural is about the Flint Water Crisis. We wanted to draw people in by a light, joyful image of a child in the water and then remind them that clean water, free of lead, is a right that must be provided to all people. Everyday in Flint, children and families are exposed to lead in their water.
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They are asked to bathe in bright blue, chemically treated water that burns their skin and makes them sick. It is out of most major news cycles at this point, but we wanted to create a reminder that the issue hasn’t been resolved and that it needs to be. The painting is meant to do that in a way that asks people to imagine, what if it were their child, their family, their faucet.”

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