Bellport Village

A bold art debut in an unlikely place

The Something Machine is a new gallery at the Istvan Gas Station on Station Road

Linda Leuzzi
Posted 6/17/21

The painting, 15-by-8 feet, is riveting. Papay Solomon, a self-taught African painter, created “As We Are” as his inaugural exhibition piece.

The subject is transporting, and you would …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

E-mail
Password
Log in
Bellport Village

A bold art debut in an unlikely place

The Something Machine is a new gallery at the Istvan Gas Station on Station Road

Posted

The painting, 15-by-8 feet, is riveting. Papay Solomon, a self-taught African painter, created “As We Are” as his inaugural exhibition piece.

The subject is transporting, and you would want to spend time with Solomon and his significant other—she painted in full-figure regal poses, he similar to a Medici prince—his partner, with her back to the viewer, her face partially seen, a proud, exotic queen. They emerge on canvas in vibrant colors, enhanced by radiant costume and fabric designs, but also with clues to a significant story.

It’s the sole art piece in The Something Machine, a new gallery at the Istvan Gas Station (next to its convenience store), on Station Road in Bellport Village. Owner Jeffrey Uslip, whose art curator chops are impressive (senior curator, Vancouver Biennale 2021, nominated in 2017 with Hurvin Anderson as curators for the Turner Prize, curator at large for the Santa Monica Museum of Art), grabs your imagination to another era and place with his impassioned explanations.

Uslip has just been announced as part of the curator team for the Malta Pavilion at the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia 2022.

Uslip and Keith Sciberras, through the creative collaboration of Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci, Arcangelo Sassolino and the composition of renowned Maltese conductor and musician Brian Schembri, will be re-articulating Caravaggio’s seminal altarpiece “The Beheading of St. John the Baptist” (1608).

For the Malta Pavilion, they will be creating a conceptual, immersive, site-specific installation that bridges biblical narratives with contemporary culture.

(That he is riveting with his observations is an understatement. He admitted he doesn’t sleep much.)

“I wanted to start with Papay,” he said, as we stood before the painting. “He experienced the Second Liberian Civil War and grew up in United Nations refugee camps. He comes here at age 14 with his family, with the promise of America.”

Solomon was born in Guinea, West Africa, in 1994, and now lives and works in Phoenix, Ariz. He received the 2018 Friends of Contemporary Art Artists’ Grants Award from the Phoenix Art Museum and the Erni Cabat Award from the Tucson Museum of Art.

Fashion designer Ndifor Chesi, Solomon’s friend, created the stunning apparel in the painting, which celebrates the communities closest to the artist.

Uslip focuses on significant details, including the peacock in Chesi’s gown (“Why did he choose the peacock? It’s his profound pride in Africa”) and the blanket Solomon wears “that’s elevated to couture.”

“There are also elements of non finito; you can see that in her glove, his collar and the raw canvas they are standing on,” Uslip adds as he points especially to Chesi’s over-the-elbow-length gloved right hand, devoid of completion, and also the keloid on her right shoulder. “We are not complete, we are on a journey,” Uslip said of Papay’s life story, subtly implied, but also our own. “I hope that people see that. Sometimes details are very much in focus, sometimes not.”

Solomon’s subjects are dignified and beautiful; in this case, perfectly incomplete in its clues and “as we are.” His painting asks viewers to celebrate inclusion.

Uslip is a brilliant curator and will fill you in on other details. The “As We Are” exhibit will be displayed to June 26, Wednesdays through Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. His next exhibit will feature huge works by sculptor Hede Bühl.

So how did Uslip choose a gas station as an arbiter of art? (His partners are Esther Flury, Robert Zungu and Peter Boris.)

“I spent the last five years living in Bellport, thinking through if art mattered anymore,” Uslip said. “What was its new and renewed agency? It’s the artist at The Something Machine who will show us.”

“I was trained by Alanna Heiss, the founder of P.S. 1 (now MoMA P.S. 1), who lives in Bellport,” said Uslip, adding that was one of the reasons he settled here. “She taught us to be creative and to trust our gut.” Interestingly, Heiss founded the Institute for Art and Urban Resources Inc. in 1971, which uses abandoned and underutilized New York City buildings for art exhibitions and as studios.

Hmmm. Sounds like the impetus for Uslip’s unusual location.

“The idea of utilizing a gas station is in the American imagination since the 1950s,” Uslip explained. He mentioned artists like Edward Hopper and Ed Ruscha, who incorporated gas stations in their work.

“It fills you up and also talks about disillusionment,” Uslip said. “Over time, gas stations became an emblem in the American experience.”

He’s also a big fan of David Lynch (remember the gas station from hell in “Twin Peaks”?), and wanted the gallery to be a destination, akin to “when you come here, you are all transported to another part of the world.”

The gallery’s name, The Something Machine, comes from the thinking that “we are incomplete projects.” The clean interior space has new flooring and walls. “You can see the cinderblocks, but we added drywall, too,” he said. It’s a large enough area to walk around and ponder. He refers to the unusual lighting, “like [Stanley] Kubrick’s science fiction film, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’”

“Over the course of the exhibits, our mission will become more fleshed out,” he said. “Who is being seen, how are they seen.”

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment