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Brooklyn’s Bushwick becomes arts mecca
Abandoned warehouses transformed
NEW YORK — Brooklyn’s old Bushwick neighborhood has quickly become a new world-class arts mecca - with music, dance, sculpture and theater bursting from defunct warehouses and desolate streets where gangs still roam.
That hasn’t kept artists away from the affordable, industrial spaces - ever more rare in a pricey city.
“This was a ghost town, with tumbleweeds blowing down the street five years ago,” says Jay Leritz, co-owner of Yummus Hummus, a Middle Eastern-style cafe on a street filled with musician rehearsal and recording spaces.
“The streets were empty,” says Mr. Leritz, “and that was the big attraction - the lack of rules, like your parents went away for the weekend and it’s a free-for-all.”
Born-in-Bushwick creations have reached Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other top venues in the United States and abroad - even the tallest building on Earth, the 160-story Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
That’s where four canvases of Bushwick artist Kevork Mourad now hang.
The son of Armenian refugees in Syria is pioneering a special technique - a counterpoint of art and music he’s performed with cellist Yo-Yo Ma: Squeezing a tube of paint between thumb and forefinger, Mr. Mourad swipes his pinky lightning-fast across paper to improvise images to sounds, projected on a screen. Then a computer unleashes his hand-painted animation, turning the visuals into yet newer forms.
Bushwick is “very private, and you can go into your bubble, your world, here without being interrupted by the fast stream of New York City,” says the artist, whose abstract self-portrait sold for $20,000 in April at a Christie’s auction, topping an estimate of up to $8,000.
She’s watched him paint with greats like Mr. Ma, playing Bach. Mr. Mourad also teamed up with French guitarist Stephane Wrembel, who tosses off riffs in gypsy jazz style with off-the-cuff virtuosity. Mr. Wrembel, whose music is featured in Woody Allen’s film “Midnight in Paris,” showed up at Mr. Mourad’s studio to jam with singer-songwriter John Presnell and guitarist Spencer Katzman.
In the heat of a July night, their smoldering sounds filled the third-floor space on Meadow Street. The audience of several dozen people, sitting on a hand-woven Armenian carpet, was riveted.
“This is so cool!” said Quincy McQ, a Nigerian-born British music promoter.
Several blocks away is residential Bushwick, where families live in neatly kept homes or rowhouses. Enticing smoke from barbecues fills the air in a part of New York that is slowly being resurrected from decades of burned-out destruction.
A dozen years ago, this urban turf still struggled with crime and poverty. There were few banks, schools or social services - never mind the arts.
Then came help in the form of city money. Bushwick started to recover.
By Tom Fitton
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