If you walked into the Denizen Theatre Monday evening, you may have mistaken this black box theatre for an artistically renovated Guitar Center.
From 5:30 to 7 p.m., curious community members, theatre lovers and local artists gathered into the Denizen’s cozy lobby for the presentation of “Mixed Messages,” a thematically driven, fine art exhibit that revolves around local artists’ interpretation of the upcoming show, “The Arsonists.”
Naturally, the free wine and hors d’oeuvres were just a plus.
Written by Jaqueline Goldfinger and directed by the Denizen’s own Ben Williamson, “The Arsonists” centers around a father-daughter arsonist team, and is a powerfully poetic story of love, loss, forgiveness and letting go.
“I love this story because it’s poetic in nature, but it’s emotional in content,” Williamson said. “It’s an absolutely gorgeous story about how we need to let go and move on. It’s an overall theme that we try to explore with this whole season—just connecting with people before it’s too late.”
Because the father and daughter featured in “The Arsonists” are also guitarists, 14 local artists turned guitars into blank canvases to creatively interpret the themes that the play will explore.
Not one guitar hanging on the wall looked the same. The vibrantly colored and textured guitars provided an eye-popping contrast to the Denizen’s gray cement walls.
While Wendy Lipstein curated the gallery, the Director of Unison Arts Center Alexandra Baer “dropped the idea bomb,” as she liked to put it, and recruited interested artists.
The local artists who displayed their work include Matt Maley, Stacie Flint, Alexandra Baer, Izzy Cubito, Molly Bray, Russ Ritell, Tepper Saffren, Rick Rogers, Mark Williamson, Noel Carey, Marcy Bernstein, Dan Crowley, Shannon Olson Giunta and Stella Keskey.
“I was reading up on the play and learned it’s about a dysfunctional relationship between father and daughter,” Baer said. “So I painted the guitar with her [the daughter] playing a song and him [the father] reflecting upon what she is playing. She is trying to get his attention and he is a little bit shut out.”
A warm smile surfaced on Baer’s face as she put her arm around a young girl standing by her. “My daughter was a little bit of my model, with that long dark hair of hers,” Baer said.
Shannon Olson Giunta, the founder of Forever After Art, a New Paltz based art house that offers creative workshops, showcased her piece entitled “Flowers on Fire.” Her guitar encapsulated a unique blend of ink illustrations, combined with a variety of unexpected materials. Playing on the theme of fire, Giunta filled the neck of her guitar with rusted nails that survived a fire.
“It was interesting to create something based on a show that I haven’t seen before because it was my interpretation of Ben’s interpretation,” Giunta said. “It was really fun because I didn’t feel like I was stuck or that it had to be a certain way.”
Among these 14 artists was 13-year-old Stella Keskey from New Paltz Middle School. Her guitar entitled “Notes of Perdition” perfectly displayed her love for mandalas.
“I haven’t seen the play because I was caught up with school stuff,” Keskey said. “My friend Marcy Bernstein [one of the gallery artists] was explaining that I can do anything. So I focused on the fire, my love for creating mandalas and I just started painting.”
SUNY New Paltz alumna Stacie Flint utilized vibrant color, jagged marks and imagery of clouds and figures to depict the father-daughter relationship in her piece “Journey.”
“I like their relationship and what it says about their emotional journey from grief to redemption,” Flint said. “To me, the journey is from fear and the chaos of loss, to gradually transforming into forgiveness and joyfulness,” Flint said.
A silent auction for the work displayed at “Mixed Messages” will continue through the run of “The Arsonists.”
The “Mixed Messages” gallery was part of the Denizen’s “Artists Helping Artists Support Local Charities” initiative, which allows both the artists and non-profit organizations like the Maya Gold Foundation and Family of New Paltz to benefit from the auction’s proceeds.
Come to the Denizen Theatre for its last show of the season and flourish in human connection. “The Arsonists” premieres Jan. 31 and will run through Feb. 24. Performance times are Wednesday through Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.