By VITTORIA BENZINE, October 2021
Masculine and feminine energies undeniably exist. Once regarded like repelling forces entirely independent of each other, the rising Age of Aquarius tells a new tale about the dynamic balance they strike, ever-shifting within every individual and object. New York-based fine artist, muralist, educator, and women's advocate Alice Mizrachi explores this harmony in every essence through her intuitive line work and sage spirituality.
The artist’s first public sculpture, Renaissance Women, challenges our old matrix by honoring the women of the Harlem Renaissance through an elegant twist of decidedly masculine steel. “I'm really interested in highlighting both the feminine and masculine aspects of each one of us,” Mizrachi told me over Zoom just before last weekend’s unveiling ceremony at Marcus Garvey Park, where the life-sized Renaissance Women will live for the next year.
Across her interdisciplinary mediums, Mizrachi taps the subconscious while creating. Her paintings center around singular brushstrokes, elaborating sometimes with swipes of striking color, sometimes filled out with facial features, sometimes set against plush quilts of collage. Every element emerges from a deep archetypal place that also holds the lessons of interconnectedness espoused throughout her work.
Additionally, Mizrachi has devoted a large part of her career to the history of the Harlem Renaissance. “I fell in love with Harlem and the art that came out of there,” she explained. Shortly after she graduated from Parsons, African American art collector Russell Goings began mentoring Mizrachi, teaching her about the art of this historic era. Mizrachi has taken that education and shared it with institutions like The Studio Museum in Harlem, but also underserved public schools throughout Harlem and the Bronx. One female student Mizrachi had taught in elementary school showed up as an adult to attend the unveiling reception last weekend.
“The main point for this sculpture, conceptually, was that I highlight women of that time period,” Mizrachi emphasized, “because they were not highlighted.”
With the swoop of one single contour line, Renaissance Women encompasses Billie Holiday’s infamous gardenia, Nina Simone’s unshakeable grace, a tuft of hair evocative of Zora Neale Hurston’s hat collection. These features coalesce into an archetypal silhouette that regards most viewers squarely at eye level.
Mizrachi revealed that the sculptural medium itself pays homage to sculptor and artist Elizabeth Catlett. “She managed to straddle multiple mediums throughout her career and be so fluid at it, a master at her craft, understanding how to translate from sculpture to printmaking to line,” Mizrachi explained. “That, to me, is so important because I straddle multiple mediums as well.”
She partnered with the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance and curator Connie Lee to develop Renaissance Women, funding their endeavor through grants and community donations. During an early round of crowdfunding, Mizrachi received one message from a woman named Ife Mora, a grandchild of Catlett’s second marriage. Mora thanked Mizrachi for honoring her grandmother’s legacy in this way. “To get that acknowledgement from her next of kin felt really good,” Mizrachi beamed.
Renaissance Women also achieves a longstanding goal the artist has quietly held fast to since her youth in working class Queens. As a child, Mizrachi spent endless hours watching her father battle with the back breaking labor of auto body repair. “I learned how to use tools before I even learned how to properly use utensils,” she grinned. “I was always in the garage helping out however I could.” Throughout her studies at Parsons and Amsterdam’s Rietveld Academie, the artist harbored an undercover affinity for construction and sculpture.
The decades since, however, have brought back to back projects painting on canvases, building facades and even high fashion—all confined to a 2D picture plane. “In my opinion, a person that would be interested in doing sculptural work would paint three dimensionally or realistically,” Mizrachi mused. “My work is not realistic. It is completely linear and flat, more about the texture and the materials and the surface and how the line moves within that space.”
Her recent spatial code switch brought challenges that nourished her entire practice, illuminating the underlying theory from fresh perspectives. “Whatever I'm doing, I'm interested in documenting that moment in time without any judgment or preconceived notion,” Mizrachi stated. “Sculpture can't do that. You have to plan what you're doing. You have to be intentional.”
Last spring, she debuted her most recent solo show at WallWorks in the Bronx, titled The Divine Moment. With this exhibition, Mizrachi began bridging this gap between the picture plane and the real world with clay masks and assemblages, relief works crafted from found materials.
Garbage also halts balance. It doesn’t circulate—true trash counts as a dead object. Mizrachi liberates refuse from its false mortality by repurposing everything, down to the expired spray paint cans she sometimes snatches from train tracks. “I grew up in a house where if something was broken, we were going to fix it,” she said. “If we didn't fix it, we were going to reuse the parts to make it something else.” From her parents’ deeply rooted ‘waste not’ consciousness, Mizrachi acquired an early and profound understanding about the nature of material balance.
While designing Renaissance Women, Mizrachi opted for hand-forged steel over the digitally fabricated industry standard due to its unmistakable human touch, “because it's so in line with the improvisational music of the Harlem Renaissance.” She worked closely with a fabricator from the Hudson Valley to oversee the construction. “He’s one of these rare artisans that knows his craft,” Mizrachi said, citing the smith’s 40 years of experience.
Weighing in at over 1,000 pounds between its principle structure and steel plate base, Renaissance Women pays one last tribute to balance by skirting the legal requirement to drill and mount it into the earth below. High-minded as it might be, public sculpture still lives amongst everyday life, and the park has to cover their liabilities by making sure no children hurt themselves on it.
Just a few weeks into its public lifespan, Mizrachi laughed that local kids had already taken a shine to climbing on Renaissance Women. Fortunately, she designed the sculpture to withstand the elements, including a final coating of urethane enamel to protect its pristine silver sheen through the seasons. For the next year, Renaissance Women will stand resolute in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park, perched in an intimate tree-lined semicircle and shining with feminine strength immortalized through hand-forged steel. WM
Vittoria Benzine is a street art journalist and personal essayist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her affinity for counterculture and questioning has introduced her to exceptional artists and morally ambiguous characters alike. She values writing as a method of processing the world’s complexity. Send love letters to her via: @vittoriabenzine // firstname.lastname@example.org // vittoriabenzine.com
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