Newark: Sex, Drugs, Violence—and Edgy Art?

Manhattan's art scene is epic, but the island is still too expensive for most struggling artists. Brooklyn's art collective has long emerged and is also pricing out the up-and-coming set. Newark, however, is equal parts affordable, gritty and authentic. That is if you don't mind getting inspiration from a higher crime rate and better access to drugs.

"I had to leave my midtown studio," says Danny Glix, a psychedelic artist, who also specializes in user interface design. "Newark has cheaper rent. I paid more than double [what] I pay now." Currently Glix has a 3.5 bedroom loft and pays $2K a month. It's been over a year in Newark and Glix has mixed feelings about staying much longer. "Safety is a factor," says Glix.
Still, in his short time as a Newark resident, Glix has connected with a bevy of artists and organizations. Glix calls Newark "a hub" for art because of it's decadent artist scene. "It's a more hedonistic city. You can access whatever dopamine you need to get your art done. There are freaks, trannies and hippies around for good inspiration."

Newark art historically has been best represented by found art artists like Willie Cole and Chakaia Booker."There are two kinds of art that have grown from this city," says Matt Gosser, an art professor and found object sculptor who has lived in Newark for 20 years. "Graffiti. There are abandoned buildings with art begging to be painted on. And industrial objects that are just waiting to be picked up and turned into art." Now with Manhattan and Williamsburg artists nesting in Newark, the city's aesthetic has widened.

Before the art scene in Newark took off, the gallery spaces expanded. Take Rupert Ravens Contemporary: It has 30,000 square feet of space. And with so many empty spaces, landlords are letting artists showcase in their storefronts to utilize the otherwise wasted space for free. "It's cheap for these landlords to just sit on their spaces," says Gosser.

Where Cole and Booker are old school Newark sensations now enjoying international fame, a new generation is making waves in Newark. One is German Petri, an artist represented by Ravens, who takes old stuffed animals, attaches them to canvas and covers them with tar so that the mostly black pieces allow bursts of bright colors to peek out. Jerry Gant, a self-taught street artist has a public portfolio all throughout Newark. His stenciled and spray painted works have an African tribal feel, says Gosser.

Newark is similar to Williamsburg, says Glix. "They have the same art brut spirit." The abstract expressionist works and found art installations are there, but "Newark lacks that ease and free wheeling hippie culture of Williamsburg."

"There is a strong connection between Newark and Berlin," says Gosser. "Glasgow feels similar. Cities with similar industrial economic devastation, with old factories, abandoned industrial structures have a similar feel. Patterson, N.J. has an emerging and noteworthy art community and is like a sister city," says Gosser. Jersey City meanwhile, has become "too much like Brooklyn."

Newark's art scene is concentrated within a quarter mile of the Broad Street train station. A few blocks in are a dozen galleries including Gallery Aferro and Red Saw Gallery. Gosser is personally responsible for a series of murals sponsored by City of Walls. The 60x34 foot tall mural across from the Broad Street station is a Gosser original. The Rutgers Gallery, Newark Artists Collective and Newark Arts Council, have a strong presence and access to a nice chunk of grant money.

Despite Glix's plans to eventually return to Manhattan, he does appreciate the easy mobility between the two cities."Newark is just 20 minutes from midtown."

Artists flocking to Newark for room to live, work and grow [NYDN]
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