The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Know Thy Neighbor: Noel Hefele

Artist, poet, uncle and Clarkson II resident Noel Hefele paints a mean picture. While his background covers a wide swath of the contemporary artistic ethos, he's chosen landscape as his primary visual medium. Check out this gorgeous painting, to be shown in the group show at the old Mike's International after Brian Fernandez Halloron's solo show (and yes it could be yours if the price is right):
more pics and info at

I interviewed Monsieur Hefele recently, and his answers were so articulate and considered, and I'm so lazy, I though I'd drop them on you wholesale, with just a couple edits. Look for him on, roughly, November 1 at Mike's International on Flatbush above Lincoln.

What was your training as an artist?

Went to Boston University for 2 years as an Undecided major, where I learned how to paint. I transferred to Carnegie Mellon's College of Fine Art in Pittsburgh. The education there was very conceptually based. I also spent 6 years working in a fine arts research facility at Carnegie Mellon, where we worked on the 3 Rivers in Pittsburgh, running water quality, botany, and geology studies. The aim was to intervene in the redevelopment of the river fronts as Pittsburgh transitioned from industrial use to recreational use. Public perception of the rivers lagged behind the actual ecological health of the rivers. We worked to change that on a countywide level, all the while framing the effort as art in the tradition of Social Sculpture, where artists can create change in society.

I got my MA degree in Arts and Ecology in Devon, England last year, studying landscape, movement and perception. Ecology (study of home at it's etymological root) can be expressed as the study of the relationship between things; people, places, non-humans, and objects. It is a fantastically rich and relevant area to focus upon. 

Landscapes! That's an interesting choice in 2011. What led to it?

10 years ago, I never would have believed it myself. I see landscapes as the material manifestation of the relationship between natures and cultures.  Painting landscapes is a way of investigating that form with one of the simplest possible tools (moving colored mud around with a stick; using elements from the land to describe the land.) 

'Climate Change' has entered the public consciousness as an issue of our time. Science is one way of addressing that issue. The arts is another.
I believe in the lure of the local in cultivating a sense of place. I believe sense of place is important if we are ever to go about repairing our relationship to the environment. 

Landscapes resonate with people. It is amazing to me what I can learn about a place when people respond to a painting. That keeps me going back. Everything we do relates to landscape in some fashion. Even this virtual text that I am writing now is rooted to the land somewhere.

Painting itself is an interesting choice—a slow medium in the age of ADHD and the internet. Remember when people used to read books?

How do you juggle making a living with making your art? Do you have a studio?

The short answer would be "poorly" - in both senses of the word. Since coming to NY, I've been tutoring highschool students in Algebra and Geometry. I've also been doing web and graphic design work. I want to move more into teaching, as I find it very rewarding. Combining the two would also be nice. Some years I've done better with my art than with my design work. 

Right now, my sister has allowed me to take over a corner of the apartment to paint in. I also like to go out and paint in the park when I can. Space is at such a premium in the city that it is hard to imagine having a studio at this point in time, although I would hope to have one in the future.

What do you think of Clarkson Avenue and the building in which you live?

Clarkson Avenue is interesting and very different from rural England, where I lived previously. It is busy, dense and loud. I like the wide range of people and cultures that you see. I love how close it is to the Park, where I run and paint frequently. The food is definitely better here!  The history embedded in the landscape is much longer in England. It's amazing how many different styles of buildings are spread out over just a few blocks, yet all of them seem to be only about 100 years old or so. I've developed quite an addiction to Mike's pizza over on the corner of Bedford and Clarkson, my favorite of the pizza joints sampled so far. 

There are these large wallpapered landscapes in the lobby of the building I live. One looks like a tropical destination, and another looks like a golf course. They signify leisure, but are landscapes divorced from our immediate surroundings. Perhaps it signifies a working class mentality when the building was initially decorated. Our apartment looks out over the inner courtyard, a miniature wildlife preserve with a mix of chirping birds, scary squirrels and feral cats, among others.

My neighbors are very friendly. It makes a big difference in to walk out of the building, smile and ask someone how they are doing. It's wonderful to smell the cooking in the warmer months when the windows are open.

Some people have lived in this building for all of their lives. The 'ecology' of the building is tightly woven—family members and neighbors have longstanding relationships and connections to this place. I'm fascinated by the overlap of histories; there are several different populations bringing their unique senses of place to Brooklyn. The histories seem accelerated and condensed; the short history of the US combined with the history of the neighborhood and various immigrant populations creates an interesting mix. Like no other place on earth perhaps, Brooklyn is a tangled knot of multiple cultures and multiple natures that I look forward to exploring.
You seem to really enjoy your role as uncle! Anything to share about that?

I'm so grateful to be a part of my nephew Felix's life as a five year old. He has a special way of melting away the stress of the day and reminding me of what is really important in life. He makes me feel more grown-up, but also activates the inner-kid. Each day is so big for a child. Even the small moments are ripe with the chance to create memories. 

He and I walk around the neighborhood frequently. He introduces me to all sorts of folks I would not otherwise get to talk to: a drunk toothless guy who can be a little too rough with him sometimes, a Senegalese store owner who genuinely seems to be his friend, a dvd merchant who gives him the latest pixar bootleg, a trio of stocky mexican children who respond to his "you can't catch me" with audible glee, the t-mobile sales ladies who turn him suddenly shy and sheepish, and his spanish babysitter who cooks amazing ribs...  the list of overlapping worlds and cultures goes on, all within a few blocks.

My nephew is growing up in an environment so completely different than suburban Connecticut, where I grew up. He teaches me spanish words and even slips into an occasional Patois of his own. I admire his ability to approach kids he doesn't know at the playground to enter into a game of tag. Things that would give me pause or intimidate me do not even register in his emergent persona: this is his world and he embraces it openly. Perhaps that is why I love the neighborhood even though I've been here less than a year. I question the boundary between a person and their environment, so seeing Felix interact with the neighborhood overtime has opened my eyes and heart to a layer I would have a hard time seeing on my own.... which is awesome. He is also fantastic art critic: very supportive, yet not afraid to say "I don't like that one, Uncle." When I stay up late working on a new painting, hearing him approve in the morning over his cereal with a "I love it when you make new paintings Uncle" is profoundly motivating. He recognizes what I am painting early, "Uncle, that's a forest! you should put more green..."
What will your contribution be to the group show?

I will be showing a few paintings of landscapes that are within walking distance of the show. I also hope to perform a spoken word piece or two (see here or here or here for latent musical experiments).  In addition to helping organize and get the word out, I'm designing the poster for the neighborhood show. 

I'm happy to be showing work in the neighborhood and working with neighbors to make it happen. It's a great feeling to get more involved in the community. Hopefully the show goes well and we can have more events like it in the future. I am excited, as this is my first painting show in NYC!

1 comment:

Bob Marvin said...

BTW, there's STILL room for a few more artists in the group show. If you're a loca artist and are interested please Email bmarvin{AT]plgarts{DOT]org

We're looking for local painters, photographers, print makers, sculptors, etc.