Michael Bruhn’s Art Garden at 11th and Duane streets has taken seed with the relocation of Astoria Visual Arts and two other independent artists.
Oscar de’Masi started his gallery shortly after Bruhn bought the building, and after a long sabbatical from art. A native of Naples, Italy, de’Masi immigrated to New York City at the age of 15.
“I stopped painting when I came to the U.S.,” he said. “To go to another country, it’s traumatic.”
At 17, de’Masi joined the Navy. He later worked in the casino and restaurant industry of Las Vegas before relocating with his wife, Patricia, last year to the North Coast. He has a son stationed at the Coast Guard’s Aids to Navigation Team at Tongue Point and a daughter who works for Lum’s Auto Center. He started painting again four years ago and eventually ran out of space for his art at home before renting from Bruhn.
In front of his studio at 395 11th St. is a gallery filled with his paintings, from stories of Little Red Riding Hood symbolizing a child’s journey into adulthood, to horses escaping a carousel — a nod to his own escape from the rat race of Las Vegas. Along with his art, de’Masi hopes to eventually start selling Astoria-themed souvenirs on shirts, mugs and other items.
Next to de’Masi is Morrison Pierce, a bartender and artist who rents a small interior studio. Surrounded by his pieces, a sink and a toilet, the studio provides a private work space for Pierce, who has been coming in each morning at 7 to prepare for “America is Beautiful,” his upcoming exhibit about the side effects of war at the McVarish Gallery.
“I don’t really like to do pretty pictures,” Pierce said of his paintings, backed by pink to draw the viewer in but centered around recreations of horrific, real-life war scenes from World War II. “Pretty pictures don’t do anything for society.”
The newest tenant in Bruhn’s building is Astoria Visual Arts, which has been located in the Josephson Fish Station on Pier 11. Annie Eskelin, director of the regional arts nonprofit, said it had been looking for a new, more accessible location for some time before connecting with Bruhn around the time she was brought on.
While the group will keep studios for artists in residency on Pier 11, the new location will be more visible to the community and used for workshops, pop-up galleries and other events, Eskelin said.
She and Pierce see a growing hub of artists in the neighborhood, with the Astoria Makers and Audrey Long Ceramics recently opened next door on Duane Street. Another artists’ rental space is being built out in the former YMCA building several blocks east.
“It’s going to be a whole big collective of arts,” Eskelin said of the neighborhood.
Along with de’Masi, Astoria Visual Arts will open its new space at the Art Garden during Second Saturday Artwalk, featuring assemblage artists Susan Darms and Carol Scott. The group is taking proposals from the public at email@example.com on future exhibits for the Art Garden.
Although his plans for a market at 11th and Duane haven’t materialized, Bruhn said he’s pleased with how the space is filling out. Along with the artists’ studios are hot dog food cart Boomer’s All-American Cuisine and, starting this weekend, new burger and taco cart bAKos.
“I’m really excited about it,” Bruhn said of the lot. “We’re just going to keep improving the building and the lot.”