Artists and Fleas: Williamsburg Art Scene Pops Up in Chelsea
This isn’t your grandmother’s flea market. Head into the depths of Chelsea, where small cafés spill out onto the streets, where old brownstones mingle with flashy skyscrapers, where the High Line towers above 10th Avenue, and where the blue of the Hudson flashes in the space between the buildings. Here, the streets widen, the crowds are sparse, and a certain peace and quiet permeates Manhattan.
At 15th Street and 10th Avenue sits Chelsea Market, an indoor food haven with bakeries, coffee shops, and the occasional pop-up market. This December, Artists and Fleas, an art market usually housed in a warehouse in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is popping up in the midst of Chelsea, showcasing various independent designers and artists for the holiday season. “Brooklyn’s best are coming to Manhattan,” advertises the promotional poster. And this ever-changing market with new vendors being added regularly is a far cry from the holiday markets at Bryant Park, Union Square or Columbus Circle.
The market is alive with a profusion of colors, goods, fabrics, and artwork; however, I was surprised at the small number of vendors (only about 30). Apparently their normal warehouse in Brooklyn is the same size, but more jam-packed. At the entrance to the Chelsea location, there is a display of huge wooden signs declaring “DRUGS” and “STOP,” parts of a carousel, and an informational poster promoting the market. Nearby, a few vendors sell t-shirts for $25-30 with deals if you buy more than one. One t-shirt artist, GoLLY, sells t-shirts made from old vintage shirts from the 20th century. GoLLY’s art studio, based in the Lower East Side, cuts up designs from vintage t-shirts. Characters from Superman to Curious George are then sewn onto modern, colorful t-shirts. “Yes, we can customize the Princess Leah cocktail dress,” the vendor tells me, pointing to the Star Wars-themed dress on a mannequin. “This is like pottery shards and arrowheads,” he exclaims, marveling over the fact that Curious George is now vintage enough to be a novelty.
Another t-shirt artist, Simeon Lynn, is a screen printer who bikes around Manhattan and Brooklyn and takes photographs which he then color separates in Photoshop and screen-prints onto t-shirts. The images are of bridges, skylines, and crows, printed on light, colorful fabric. He also creates canvases of the various scenes around the city thrust together in a Cubist-like fashion.
Yet another t-shirt artist, Jason Laurits, juxtaposes bizarre imagery together and prints it on shirts. A canary plays a trumpet, or a donkey grins while wearing hipster glasses. His company is called PASTE, speaking to the collage-like nature of his art.
Sharing a studio with Simeon Lynn is Bryan Close, a photographer who not only photographs places around Manhattan and Brooklyn, but creates his own beautiful wooden frames for his work. One of Close’s photographs is of a mural of a gray and black portrait of a girl, near Bowery and Spring Streets, outside the apartment building of renowned photographer Louis K. Meisel. Close’s company is called The Light Dynamic, and he’s currently collaborating with writer Heather Jacks on a forthcoming book called The Noise Beneath the Apple, which explores buskers and street performers in New York City through photography and text.
Also at the market are jewelry makers, such as Astali, who creates hand-crafted jewelry from bullet cases and beaver teeth. The vendor jokes with me that “no one was harmed in the making of this jewelry,” referring to the bullet cases. Stern Design Works, another vendor, captures small railroad model animals in glass and makes them into necklaces. Jenny Topolski, an artist and designer, collects dead bees she picks up from a local bee farmer and freezes them in glass, which she then makes into necklaces. She also has a series of murder mystery jewelry, with images of criminals captured in earrings or jewelry, and small knives or other weapons dangling from the earrings. Her “suicidal writers bookmarks” are what you might envision: small pendants framing images of writers like Virginia Wolf or Ernest Hemingway.
Other booths display both jewelry and fine art, like hélène pé’s, an artist who has created a world of small, quirky creatures that she paints on jewelry, on greeting cards which read “I love you more than New York,” on canvases, and on sheet music. When asked about why she uses sheet music, she explains in a heavy French accent that it’s sometimes hard to paint straight onto white paper. Her unique style of delicate cartoony creatures painted onto waltz sheet music gives her art an attractive flair.
Another interesting vendor, Evolving Habitat, sells antlers, which they explicitly state are not hunted, but rather salvaged from deer after they shed. They also sell clothing, flowers in handmade vases, and small environments of succulents and cacti resting on greenery.
As you wander throughout the vendors selling everything from clothing to jewelry to fine art, eccentric music plays lightly in the background. All of the artists and vendors are eager to engage visitors and explain their processes. This is one flea market which is less cliché and commercial than most, proving that even jewelry and t-shirts can explore the boundary between arts and crafts. Many of the artists have Etsy stores and are highly successful, resulting in overpriced products. But the market is a great opportunity if not to buy holiday gifts, to converse and network with a group of interesting, successful artists creating unique work. The market’s website brags that they “never quite offer the same experience twice.” And with such an interesting hodgepodge of artists, designers, and collectors, it’s believable.
The Artists and Fleas pop up market in Chelsea is open through December 31, 10:30-7:30. The market is closed December 25, 15th Street and 10th Avenue. The Williamsburg market is open year round Saturday and Sunday, 10:00-7:00, 70 North 7th Street, Brooklyn. Admission is free. More information on vendors and the market is available at artistsandfleas.com.