Ornate, flamboyant footwear has been flaunted in royal courts, the runway, the stage, even in coffins, throughout eras noted for fashion innovation. Yet for all the outward extravagance, there are secrets to their construction. The Theatrical and Character Footwear class for fifth semester Accessories Design students “introduces students to another aspect of the footwear industry,” says Professor Vasilios Christofilakos who teaches the Monday morning class.
“The young Egyptian King Tut–What might he have worn in his short life as king, and what would he have been buried in?” There was use of exotic animals and jewels; they designed gilded Egyptian toe covers.
“The brother of Louis the XIV, the Duke of Orleans–What might he would have worn to show off the ‘transgenderism’ of the time? He was also a phenomenal warrior.”
Of course Marie Antoinette is part of the curriculum–not only what she wore to court, but perhaps to the guillotine.
There’s a Spanish period famous for black and gold, harkening back to Byzantium. Prof. Christofilakos makes reference to the Byzantine slippers of the emperors and their wives, like Theodora, the clergy and high priests.
Along with lectures and demos, students create concept and inspiration boards and five footwear designs throughout the semester.
“The shoes have to be telegenic,” says Prof. Christofilakos. “They should look good on stage, for the camera, and be successfully translated for the big screen, television, and electronic devices.”
At the 2016 graduating exhibit last year there was an unusually large turnout for Fine Arts student Hendel Futerfas. Gaiety and critiquing ensued among dozens of hip-looking exhibit-goers who spanned four generations. They endlessly arranged themselves to be photographed in front of Hendel’s installation while his 102-year-old great-grandfather looked on proudly.
“Hendel is a bridge between the art world and our community” said attendee Chavi Kaufman, 24, a pre-med student from the Lubavitch Hasidim Crown Heights community.
“These orthodox parents have to be pretty cool to send their kid to art school,” said Hendel’s sculpture professor Sue Willis, after meeting family members.
According to members of this tight-knit ultra-orthodox community, there is greater reverence for the arts than ever before. The impetus, they say, came from a dialog between Hendel’s great, great uncle, the artist Hendel Lieberman, and the influential leader, Rabbi Menaḥem Schneersohn, known as “the Rebbe.”
Three generations later, young artists benefit from this legacy.
“The Rebbe was well-educated and thought art was extremely important, that a true piece of art could change a person’s whole attitude,” says Zev Markowitz, director of the Chassidic Art Institute in Crown Heights.
Markowitz, who wrote a biography of Hendel Lieberman, says that passersby used to cross the street to avoid paintings in the Institute’s window. The nervousness was due to the Talmudic pronouncement that one should not worship graven images.
Markowitz himself contacted the Rebbe during this period. “As a result, he said “things changed overnight.”
Today there are about 25 arts events a year in Crown Heights, including pop-up exhibits and gallery events.
“Sculptors strive to be magicians. To make the viewer believe and suspend belief simultaneously. Hendel’s wooden objects do just that. He takes us on a journey taking us back to consider the history of his making, the history of cutting, bending and cajoling the hard wooden forms into sensual organic curves that defy the original life of the material. The final forms project both strength and fragility. One can’t escape the metaphors of inflicted pain, rebirth, evolution to beauty and transformation inherent in these works.” – Joseph Seipel, Interim Dean, School of Art and Design
Since graduating, Hendel has completed a six-week artist residency in Korea, has exhibited work in a group show at The Rosemont in East Williamsburg, and for the past four consecutive years, had his work shown at The Beach Minyan in West Hampton Beach.
“I’m currently working on a series on the concepts of growth and transformation that reflect my understanding of my community” says Hendel. “I use wood, which has the characteristics of being strong and stubborn, yet has an organic flow.”
Hendel then cuts and patterns wooden beams in a way that allows him to bend the wood in shapes and directions he chooses. “I combine and then carve different beams. There are contradictions in the process, which represent an internal process of transformation.”
While the back story of his uncle precedes the young Futerfas, he acknowledges its impact. His connection to Hendel Lieberman, for whom he is named, carries great weight. Lieberman served in the Russian army during World War II. His wife and two children died in the Holocaust. Lieberman then, to avoid Stalin’s repression of Jews, changed his last name from Futerfas, escaped and eventually settled in Crown Heights where he befriended the Rebbe.
Lieberman’s correspondence with the Rebbe (excerpted in his biography) shows the leader’s reverence for the artist’s mission. “An artist reveals…the essence and ‘being’ of his subject,” says the Rebbe. The viewer “realizes that his previous impressions of the object were erroneous. In this way [the artist] serves the Creator.”
Today there are greater opportunities and artistic activity in the Crown Heights Hasidic community. The price of Hendel Lieberman’s paintings have risen greatly.
Young Crown Heights Hasidic artists speak knowledgeably about the Rebbe’s statements to Lieberman and other emerging artists. “Artists have all heard stories like this,” says Elad Nehorai, a blogger and arts organizer. “They’re encouraged that there’s a powerful voice that’s supporting them.”
“In these two paintings, I explore the concept of duality, the contrast between two concepts or two aspects of something,” says recent Fine Arts grad Jennifer Lopez. The “something” in this dual canvas work created for her final thesis, is herself.
“I chose to showcase myself as how I believe others perceive me. The canvases, (which make up the diptych “Dualidad,”) are adorned with symbols that represent me,” she says. “I drew my inspiration from Frida Khalo with her flat busts of detailed facial features and nature and animals.”
School of Art and Design Dean Joseph Seipel, whose background is in fine arts and sculpture, noted without suggestion, the comparison of Lopez’s work to that of Frida Khalo’s.
“‘I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best'” Dean Seipel quotes from Frida Khalo as it relates to Lopez’s work.
Contrasted in her work, says Lopez “is a portrait of myself as a demonic entity, as Witchchrist, which I embody as a my artistic self.” There are hints of influences of other artists as well in Lopez’s work, such as Michael Hussar, David E. Rankore, and Blake Neubert.
“How courageous it is to look deep and find that inner-self that at times can be contradictory–sometimes scary and other times comforting” says Art and Design Dean Joseph Seipel. “Confronting and expressing that contradiction is difficult but empowering. Lopez’s paintings live in that world.”
As she prepared her thesis project, Lopez paid a visit to Anthony Santuoso‘s home and studio. “His conceptual art shows him as a character in his own rather surreal depictions of life. This was a huge inspiration,” she says.
Lopez found “there are multiple ways I can show who I am and where my style takes me. I have the ability to show people quite literally what I’m about or be a tad creepy and cryptic.”
Lopez’s work, says Fine Arts Professor Jean Fienberg, shows the range of students’ artistic expression. Their senior thesis project, “is an opportunity for each student to seek to express a very personal approach.”
Whether the result of a New York Times assignment or a class assignment, “legions of professional and amateur artists are trying their hand at political art right now,” says Illustration Prof. Anthony Freda. The impetus: the turbulent presidency of Donald Trump.
“The goal was to use Trump as a symbol of the age,” says Freda who doesn’t discuss politics with his students. “That’s not my job,” he says. Instead he shows examples of work with historic context of political art. Their tools: irony, parody, homage or satire.
For “Trump Marilyn,” Gina Ienopoli drew on a parody of the Hope Obama poster showing Trump with fly-away hair. “It sparked the idea of using a recognizable image. I didn’t want it to be political. He’s a celebrity. So Marilyn popped into my head.”
Says Illustration Chair Ed Soyka “The visual communicator often applies an established historic icon, as Gina has done, and alters it to make a new statement and meaning.”
Freda showed students the work of editorial cartoonist, Thomas Nast, whose critiques of the New York politician Boss Tweed helped expose corruption in New York.
“I want students to see illustration as one way we look back to understand a time and place. We can’t simply be anti everything!” says Freda.
Ienopoli says that Freda’s NYT’s illustration was “absolutely a good reference point. He had taken an iconic image and replaced it with a modern topic. He showed that you don’t need Trump’s face in order to be on the topic of Trump. That’s why I added the wig flying off bit, to relate to a memorable past event.”
Ariane Zhang says that “with the havoc Trump has brought, her work [above] is the future that I visualize.” Zhang used watercolor and gouache for a dreary and faded effect, and outlined the two survivors in white gel pen. She agrees that Freda’s NYT’s piece was “a good starting ground for the assignment with the idea of fear and terror.”
“I knew some students were sharing the emotions of fear and loathing that have permeated the zeitgeist,” says Freda. “My hope was that in creating a compelling illustration, the process would help to purge negative emotions.”
Catherine Choon was stumped until she remembered the first time she saw Trump on television. “I was irked at his skin color. Why is he orange? Who is he? I related that to Cheetos. I think it’s funny.” Choon says she’s not very political but “concerned about the President’s decisions.”
Ienopoli says she hopes that viewers of her work will see Trump as a businessman and celebrity. “His background will effect the way he does his job as president.”
In the NYT’s article that features Freda’s illustration (above), novelist Teddy Wayne says “Trumpian turmoil” makes people “feel as though they are part of something bigger than themselves.”
For Freda, that part of “something bigger” comes from interpreting momentous events. “I knew these talented students would come up with some powerful imagery, and they did.”
Not many clients these days “live above the store,” so to speak. It takes a sharply inquisitive imagination and some fancy skills to know how to deck out a full-floor apartment at the Met Life Tower, complete with a spacious wrap-around porch overlooking Madison Square Park.
For the redesign of the massive floor-through apartment Erica Ventura drew up some winning plans! The fifth-semester Interior Design student received the very first Centennial Design award from the prestigious Decorators Club.
The space was to accommodate the tastes of a senior arts curator of the Madison Park Conservatory, her documentary film producer husband, and two children. It would also have to impress a large posse of art world professionals.
“It was perfect for me!” says Ventura who is also a painter and muralist. “I can relate to building a space for someone passionate about art like I am. As soon as I looked at the art work available for the project, I was excited. Art was an option for each of the dramatic spaces.”
Some of the specifics that the judges noted were her exterior space, window treatments, textures, wall treatments and covering.
The formal living room was designed around the sculpture that was applied to the ceiling. It’s made of paper plates cut and slotted together. The piece by Tara Donovan, mimics the ways of nature, cellular growth, and molecular density.
Winning the Centennial Design award in its inaugural year was a tremendous high. “I was so excited. Everyone had such a different approach and all are really creative and beautiful,” said Ventura of the finalists.
“It is a huge honor for us to award our first Centennial Design Competition prize to a student as talented as Erica. Her design showed an excellent understanding and use of scale, skillfully incorporated the required furnishings and artwork, and most importantly, she carefully considered not just how the spaces would feel and look, but exactly how they would be used.” – Courtney Coleman, Co-chair, Decorators Club Scholarship Committee
Ventura, who says she “loves looking at floor plans,” gives some advise to the novice:
“To best read look first at the point of entry. In my case it’s the elevator bank [above] that leads to the foyer where a circular wall guides you to a living space.
Symmetrical pocket doors lead to a library that functions as a home office for conducting business meetings. Included is a built-in taupe lacquered bookcase where the husband’s 23 vintage atomic models and a vast book collection are showcased. The ceiling has a brass textured wallcovering that merges with the brass from Ron Arad’s Thumbprint sculpture.
“Her love came through for the client and the project. Erica understands the project and the art and interpreted it very, very well. It’s calm and sophisticated. Her strengths were her attention to detail, choice of furnishings and design of the wrap-around, outdoor space. – Carmita Sanchez Fong, Chair, Interior Design
The dining room has a custom glass-top table that seats 10 and can expand to 20 for events. The contemporary “octopus” chandelier by Achille Salvagni and blue wave console are accented with silver metallic window treatments and geometric color study paintings by artist Josef Albers.
“I wanted a series of lighting coves to give a wash of light down the walls,” she says.”The way I use the art is to highlight the space and build the floor plan around the art pieces.”
The bedroom walls are upholstered in a Scalamadre tweed gray fabric with a pair of industrial black sconces to flank the king-sized bed. Above the bed in a recessed space is “Charmed,” Atticus Adams’ aluminum relief sculpture. A pair of black Knoll Platner lounge chairs offer a space to spend a moment gazing upon the cityscape through French doors.”
“Every design is inspired by different things,” says Ventura who transitioned into the Interior Design BFA program after taking courses in 3D construction model making, foundation art that focused on design, and plaster perspective drawing.
From butterflies, evergreens in the frigid tundra to high school uniforms and 18th century chantilly lace, senior design students reveal the under layers of their inspiration.
RUNWAY ALERT!:Selected work from graduating fashion design students will be presented at the Future of Fashion 2017 runway show. Specializations include sportswear, special occasion, knitwear, intimate apparel, and children’s wear. The runway show will be streamed live on FIT’s website here: #FITFashionShow
“I think human bodies look best when in motion,” says Illustrator Jianrong Lin, (’16), of “Momentum,” his series of athletes in the heat of competition. Lin’s exquisite work evokes images depicted on ancient Greek urns. “What men or gods are these?” one might be inspired to ask, as the poet John Keats did of the “mad pursuit” of gods and maidens.
“I used different body forms to convey power, speed, and flexibility. I made this composition [above] in an arc form to emphasize the speed and momentum of the athletes. Perhaps this is the moment right after the runners take off,” says Lin.
Since graduating Lin has created posters and medical illustrations for the pharmaceutical company Merck, a storyboard for an AT&T campaign and a restaurant mural. And more good news: one of his illustrations was accepted into this year’s Society of Illustrator’s Annual Student Show.
“The foundation of Jianrong’s fantastic work starts with his observation of things as they are, then translated into unique images. He has a sense of color that’s his own that comes from hard work and a love for what he does.” – Ed Soyka, Chair, Illustration
“These swimmers [above] would have just plunged into the water. To charge forward, they turn their bodies into waves,” says Lin.
“I know exceptionalism when I see it and it was obvious from the first class with Jianrong that he was in that category. – Bil Donovan, FIT Illustration professor and Society of Illustrators board member
“When I think of football, what comes to mind are strength, physical contacts, and how the players can be piled up in weird ways,” says Lin.
“What I learned from the illustration program is a combination of so many things. It can be a technique I learned in a life drawing class, or ways to observe the object I want to draw. It’s even some words a professor said to me that stuck in my head,” he says.
“Volleyball players will do everything to save the ball. I’m always fascinated by how they’re willing to get on the floor,” says Lin.
Meanwhile, “Yoga is all about flexibility and mindfulness, so I tried to keep the figures simple and soft, almost feather-like. The composition [below] was inspired by cabbages — You know when you cut those purple cabbages in half and discover the wonderful patterns!” says Lin.
“For sure, without what I learned in FIT’s illustration program, I wouldn’t be able to create this series. I’m very grateful for it.”
Says Ed Soyka, Chair of Illustration, “He took what he learned and translated it into a personal, creative and fantastic artistic vision of his own.”
“It’s culturally and visually so stimulating, the smells and sounds are all overwhelming in an incredible and good way,” says Photography Professor Jessica Wynne. She was mingling with the nine students she led through India as part of the International Photographic Study and Practice course this winter intersession. Upon viewing each others’ photographs at a reception outside the Great Hall, they talked in exuberant detail about their study abroad experience.
“We took a boat ride on the Ganges at dawn. Just nine of us on the boat. It was magical,” says David Western, a Fashion Merchandising Management major. “There are men who ride around with bird feed trying to get you to buy it to feed the birds. There are people washing clothes and bathing” he says.
“We were going non-stop from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. everyday,” says Prof. Wynne. “We started in Delhi, then went to Agra to the Taj Mahal. We flew to Varanasi, famous for the sacred pilgrimages to the Ganges.”
“The Ganges is a sacred river for Hindus. It’s the highest honor to be cremated there,” says Wynne. “Hindus believe if they are cremated on the banks of the Ganges River their soul will be free from the cycle of death and rebirth. It’s all happening at once; they bathe, wash their clothes, let children play, and at the same time they are burning bodies.”
Western, a rock climber and skier interested in travel and sports photography, said “It was an opportunity to learn more about myself as a photographer. I’ve photographed climbers in extreme conditions. This pushed me to work on different styles.” A theme he focused on was images captured through car windows.
“I wanted to explore how people react to the camera in the East versus the West,” said photography major Sophia Pavlatos, who decided to make the trip “because it was unconventional…It was incredible to see how open they were to my camera,” she said.
For the photo of the man on the outdoor bed (above) Pavlatos said “I let myself into his backyard in rural Delhi and he welcomed me with a natural pose.
“‘Namaste’ and a smile got me far enough,” she says.
“Before photographing them we spoke, a mixture of facial expressions and light English. I met their families and asked to take their photos. It’s not posed. Their lifestyle allows for genuine photographs. They don’t have the media giving them an aesthetic–they give 100 percent of themselves,” says Pavlatos.
“I took a series of abstract photos, about 20 of just color and shapes of objects,” says Fine Arts major Pamela Stoicev. “I’m interested in the things people overlook. In my painting class we’re doing a culture painting, referencing lore and culture. So it worked out perfectly. I’m very happy that the two classes merged,” she says.
Some mischievous monkeys captured the attention of Karina Demirciyan, a Communications Design major. “We went to a yoga studio and these monkeys were jumping up and down going from the roof to the ground and then to the next group of buildings,” she said.
“It was like Wak-a-mole. I stayed there with my camera and took the shot. It was perfect timing. Then there was a tarp they were poking in and out of,” hence another capture.
Ziara Rosario, a Fashion Business Merchandising major was struck by shapes and passageways. “I focused on architecture because architecture carries the same weight as other forms of expression of the culture,” she said.
“I had a lot of fun looking at the in-between-stuff as you walk. This was leaving the Taj Mahal. There are alleyways, but you might not think to catch these places.”
The lions, wolves, lemurs, monkeys and birds from the “Upper Worlds” installation are gone now. For six months they beckoned passersby from the Fifth Avenue display window of the Mid Manhattan Library. Their purpose was a different one from the famed lions, Patience and Fortitude, seated diagonally across the street at the entrance way of the 42nd Street NYPL. They are an expression of reverence for Earth’s creatures on the brink of extinction. The creator of the Upper Worlds, artist and sculptress Professor Sue Willis, talks here with Fine Arts Chair Joel Werring about the installation:
“One of the most exciting things about the creative process is to find out where you’re going and what you end up with. You’re not always led where you think you’re going to be led. It’s the magical feeling of discovering something you weren’t expecting to happen.” – Sue Willis
“For me, Sue’s installation at the NY public library was a heartfelt and compassionate statement on the vulnerability and diversity of life on this marvelous planet and that we as humans so often take for granted,” says Prof. Werring.
What happens when you expect scenes of joy, and fate provides pathos instead?
“I thought I would be photographing a celebration,” says Alex Golshani (photography ’16), about the evening of the presidential election. “I expected to be making images of mothers and daughters witnessing an historic event and tearfully jubilant voters relieved after a close call with a nightmare scenario.”
Here are several of Golshani’s photos and comments about election night and the protests that followed. The photos are part of his “11/9” series that was recently published as a book.
“I was in the crowd outside of Javits Center and as the votes were being reported. This woman (above) was the first person I saw tearing up. I took it as a sign of what was coming,” says Golshani.
“His portraits illustrate the face of the country at this moment of time,” says Professor Curtis Willocks of his former student. “Alex is a thinker. He’s cerebral. He’s always looking. He’s always thinking. He is so observant of people and light. His work has always stood out.”
Outside the Javits Center, Khizr Kahn (above) and other prominent Clinton supporters gave speeches. “Mr. Kahn was of particular interest to me because of his role in the campaign and his bold opposition to discrimination and bullying,” says Golshani.
“Alex Golshani’s stark and moving black and white images of election night and the protests that followed poignantly and sensitively capture the mood of despair, disbelief and brewing anger of the moment.
When the crowd cleared, Golshani walked to Times Square where he found a mix of supporters from each side. “People were arguing and yelling. That man (above) in the suit just looked stunned, like he couldn’t believe what was happening,” says Golshani.
“His portraits illustrate the face of the country at this moment of time…Alex is a thinker. He’s cerebral…His work has always stood out.”
– Prof. Curtis Willocks
“I was feeling distressed and wanting to call it quits and go home, but I didn’t. This was history happening all around me and it didn’t matter if I was scared I had to document it,” he says.
We stand at a crossroads and never in my lifetime have I felt the critical need of the media and visual storytellers to portray our nation with calm, dignity and truthfulness. Alex’s work represents an approach that I hope we see more of.” – Ed Kashi
The following night Golshani went to the protest rally that started in Union Square and marched to Trump Tower.
“There were thousands of people on Fifth Avenue. Many had signs and were chanting. People wanted their opposition to be heard. Many were climbing scaffolding and lamp posts.”
Golshani says that at FIT he explored many “applications” of photography. “My work evolved a lot in four years. I had the benefit of some great professors who informed my many interests.”
“I admired him from Day One,” says Prof. Willocks. “He’d go out and experiment on his own with different cameras, with different film. We’d take the train to 42nd Street. Even on that short trip he’d be photographing. When I think of Alex Golshani I think of a Leica camera. He always had one around his neck. He knows his stuff.”
Golshani says he has been photographing protests since Occupy Wall Street in 2011. “The protests I have documented have been about issues like the economy, police brutality, women’s rights and even protests for food purity. Making pictures has been my way of contributing,” he says.
“I think this series is a time capsule of how people were feeling about certain issues. Today they mean one thing, in 40 years they may have a different meaning”says Golshani, who plans to do related works on the upcoming inauguration and the Women’s March on Washington.