ART; More Room to Grow Creatively

The New York Times
May 22, 2005


Published: May 22, 2005

ART; More Room to Grow Creatively


POUGHKEEPSIE is best known as an old, working-class Hudson River town that time and stagnation have left in disrepair and disrepute. But these days it is also home to Huma Bhabha and Jason Fox, a successful New York artist couple who were looking to escape the punishing cycle of ever-rising rents on their Manhattan studios and a depressing tenement apartment.

New York artists have been migrating to leafier surroundings for more than half a century; Jackson Pollock moved to the East End of Long Island in 1945, and Richard Prince moved to an abandoned ranch-style building on 80 acres in Rensselaerville, N.Y., near Albany, in 2001. But moves like that of Ms. Bhabha and Mr. Fox -- to towns not particularly recognized as havens for artists -- are the latest wrinkle in this exodus. And they are far from alone in taking shelter in an unlikely place.

Timely evidence of this development may be found in ''Greater New York 2005,'' the survey of more than 150 emerging artists from the greater New York area now on exhibit at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City. Some live in the recognized artists' outposts of the last decade, like Peekskill and Beacon, N.Y., or Jersey City. But others have chosen an unexpected town or area -- like Poughkeepsie, Guilford, Conn., Asbury Park, N.J., and the North Fork of Long Island.

Artists make the move in search of space for studios and living -- so expensive and rare in New York City. Although many find they miss the cultural stimulation of the big city, they also discover, in some cases to their surprise, that they can concentrate on their work more intensely in calmer surroundings. Some even find new inspiration.

What follows is a profile of a group of young and emerging artists who have moved to unlikely regional towns. Some are included in ''Greater New York,'' while others are represented by recognized city galleries and have blossoming careers. But all have shifted their creative center of gravity away from the city.


''My work has definitely gone in a good direction since we came here,'' said Ms. Bhabha, a 42-year-old sculptor. ''I have just got a gallery in New York to represent me, had my first show with them, and have been showing more in the last year or so than ever before.''

Ms. Bhabha was sitting in a spacious studio off the living room of her third-floor loft-style apartment in a converted department store, with sunny windows looking over buildings and a parking lot. Here she makes her figurative mixed-media sculptures, some of which are featured in ''Greater New York.''

Ms. Bhabha came here two years ago with Mr. Fox after a New York landlord threatened to triple the rent on their TriBeCa studios. They were drawn initially by the town's abundance of industrial buildings for rent, many at affordable prices, but have since come to appreciate its character and charm.

''When we first came here I used to joke that we had gone into the witness protection program or something, because we were living in this strange, quiet place where we didn't know anyone,'' Mr. Fox said. ''But it worked out O.K., as there aren't so many distractions and you can concentrate more on what you are doing.''

Since 1991, Mr. Fox, 40, has shown his figurative paintings at Feature Inc. in New York City. His work is also included in ''Greater New York.''

The couple return to the city regularly, mostly for socializing, but are always glad to go back to Poughkeepsie.

''New York is so competitive for artists, and you feel like you are always in a race,'' Mr. Fox said. ''You are very aware of it down there, but up here we can sort of decompress. Even though it is not that far away, it feels sort of far away mentally.''