Industrial Evolution: The Changing Cityscape

By: Michelina Docimo

Stratford Avenue Bridge, by Mark DeRosa (photo contributed by artist)

Stark smokestack silhouettes, faded noxious scents, shuttered doors and shattered windows contribute to the je ne sais quoi of the factory form in the landscape that has fascinated Eileen Walsh, owner and director of The Gallery at Black Rock, for years.  Industrial Strength, Walsh’s current show, explores her secret attraction to abandoned buildings.   Rather than ignore these dormant giant structures, Walsh chooses to celebrate the factory as an American cultural icon.  As a Connecticut native, Walsh observed that other local artists were beginning to translate the industrial landscape with a genius loci that was either mechanized, or magical, or wasteland.  Industrial Strength pulls together a heterogeneous collection of works that examine the physical remnants of factory architecture, as well as the psychological residue that persists in our minds by seeing these once productive mills and plants lay waste vacant.

 The show is installed as an off-site exhibition in an abandoned leather tanning factory, converted to a boxing ring, and

Take It Back, 10x14, Ink on Paper, by Ted Mikulski (photo contributed by artist)

 now transformed to combination gallery and office space.  Purposefully selected by Walsh, the neighborhood adds a dimension where it becomes difficult to distinguish art from reality.   Located off the engine droning sounds of I-95, passing under railroad tracks to the other side of town, expansive streets flanked by akimbo telephone poles and electric wires embrace the viewer with a welcoming caution. 

Live music by Martin C. Early on opening night created an ambience of arrhythmic quiet tinkering pipes interrupted with deep, hollow drumming reminiscent of an assembly line.  Artist, B.M. Riley plays off this factory sound and visual imagery through his paintings based on David Lynch’s 1977 film, Eraserhead.  Following the pathetic life of a printer on vacation in an unknown barren city, few words are spoken in the film; the silence is a gray noise of rising and falling elevator shafts, hissing steam pipes, echoing empty spaces.  B.M. Riley’s motivation for his pieces are to relate a moving art form from the past to fixed canvases that show a storyline of urban decay and its affect on human mental manipulation.

Walsh recalls how in the 1980s, Bridgeport was affected by drugs taking over the city.  “It was a time when no one felt safe driving through the streets.  But as the 1990s came, cocaine went out of fashion, which resulted in less crime.”  Urban planning and politics helped build Bridgeport’s self-esteem and now feels on the brink of something good to happen.  The stigma still remains raw though, not only in the residents’ minds, but in the air, water, and soil.

Photo contributed by artist, Jeff Becker.

Photographer, Jeff Becker, captures this sentiment of concern through images of cracked windows, spiraling staircases, and illuminated incinerators in the night sky.  The image of a smoky red Bridgeport RESCO (a refuse incinerator and energy plant) recalls the EPA controversy in the early 90s of citizens taking action against the burning of toxic, illegal construction materials, emitting mercury, lead, asbestos, and other pollutants into the air.  Another of Becker’s photos, of a dark interior looking out a grid window to a small piece of sky and smokestack, provides a sense of not being able to escape inside or outside.

Other artists expose a more serene side to factories.  Artist, E. Fitz Smith, for example, displays three large archival prints (44×40) of abandoned factories but in cool pastel tones, clean simple lines, unobstructed from the grime and grittiness associated with derelict buildings.  Mark DeRosa’s Stratford Avenue Drawbridge, is another more whimsical, colorful piece; it feels toy-like, a moving mobile but stationary.  It is the viewer that moves around the wall-mounted sculpture wanting to see more reflections, but finds himself bumping into his own shadows on the wall.

Each artist brings a unique perspective of how factories have impressed upon our lives and affected our local landscape.  Amber Maida, for instance, seems to combine feelings of despair and hope in her collage paintings.  Using a mixed media of acrylic paints in soft hues of gray, blues and metallics, combined with organic materials like egg shells, twigs, silk and sand, Maida beckons viewers to look inside and figure a way out of this maze.  “Dualities (Where Does Time Live?)” outlines a smoggy landscape of hills and trees with two gold circles, reminiscent of binoculars.  In the “lenses” are labyrinths that look like manifolds.  Sediment, remnants, and systems are repeated throughout her paintings.  “Worldly,” a 30×80 diptych from the same collection, shows the split of a perfect circle in half.  Portions of Maida’s paintings divide, like a cloned cell, then come together, with mechanical strands entwined like DNA.

Worldly, 30x80, Diptych, by Amber Maida (photo contributed by artist)

Industrial Strength provokes discussion on how these factories have affected all aspects of our lives.  A show on architecture, form, and fabrication it also asks for creative sustainable solutions to recover brown fields, neglected buildings, and broken spirits; it asks, “How can we make this stagnant society function again?” 

If you have 10 minutes, watch a segment of Eraserhead:

Eraserhead part 2 HD

 List of artists on display:

Amber Maida

Liz Squillace

Sean Corbett

Jeff Becker

Allen Wittert

Ted Mikulski

Mark DeRosa

Michelle Beaulieu

Jessica Materna

Janine Brown

E. Fitz Smith

Ginger Hanrahan

Rachel Haymann

Suzanne Kachmar

B.M. Riley

The Gallery at Black Rock

2861 Fairfield Avenue

Bridgeport, CT 06605

Tel: (203) 814-6856

Industrial Strength is an off-site exhibition and can be viewed at:

51 Crescent Avenue, Bridgeport, CT

Every Saturday through March, from 12 – 4 pm.


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