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Madison’s Hot New Gallery Leads a Double Life

Coastal Connecticut Magazine and The Empty Spaces Project

USE questioning-mind-sculpture-marblebase-michael-alfano-marble-baseQuirky Wall Street in Madison, Connecticut, is no stranger to art, or even media. But 36 Wall Street is trying to bring a new vibrancy to both. This little building is home to the newly renovated, highly energized offices of Coastal Connecticut magazine and its parent company, Coastal Custom Media.

It’s a bright space. Sunlight powers in, illuminating a clean design that is practical, efficient, smart, and sophisticated. Editors, writers, artists, stylists, executives, clients, advertisers, and even readers are known to drop by. They’re meeting and working, dreaming and talking, and thinking in order to create a singular publishing vision.

It may seem curious that the huge bronze stags on the front lawn—so brawny and beautiful that they stop traffic—as well as the sculptures inside and the paintings on the walls were placed there by an organization called The Empty Spaces Project.

“Our intention is two-fold,” says Paul Toussaint, co-founder of the project that’s based in Putnam, Connecticut. “We look for vacant storefronts, usually in neighborhoods that could use more foot traffic, and we enter into an agreement where we can exhibit art there. Our hope is that we give a talented artist some visibility, fill those empty spaces, and hopefully rent those storefronts.”

The Empty Spaces Project has had success in cities all over the U.S., jump-starting careers of promising artists and revitalizing neighborhoods. For 36 Wall Street, however, the agreement was all about the art.

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“Art is a great way to start conversation,” says Coastal Connecticut publisher Jordan Rizza. “Art creates community, it encourages networking, and it’s a great social outlet.” The meeting of the Empty Spaces Project and Coastal Connecticut Magazine was serendipitous, because the shoreline lifestyle embraces all those things: art, community, and networking. Currently, three artists are on exhibit.

The noble stags out front are the creations of Nick Swearer. Largely self-taught, he began casting figures in bronze when he was 11. In his mid-teens, he created a 40-foot-long iguana from 12,500 railroad spike heads. This sculpture has been in front of the Science Museum of Minnesota for more than 35 years. His repertoire expanded to humans, beasts, dragons, and skeletons in works that are sometimes playful or fantastical, sometimes didactic, but always irresistibly engaging and provocative.

stags-twilightInside is a mix of commanding abstract paintings, some almost floor-to-ceiling, by Al Mathes, a consummate artist, landscaper, and mason whose stonework can be seen throughout northeastern Connecticut. They are all painted on Mylar and hung without frames. Mathes explains, “I went to a yard sale and there were big rolls of Mylar for, like, 50 cents. I bought some to do landscape plans, but then I thought I could play with it, you know, paint on it.”

The result is a collection of compelling expressionism. “I let the work suggest something that I respond to and then refine it,” he says. “I pour water and then paint. I let accidents happen.”

Michael Alfano says when he digs his hands into clay, he pulls out a vision that existed nowhere but inside his head; and then he casts that vision into cold cast copper, resin, or bronze. His sculptures are an evocative mixture of figurative and surrealistic representations of faces and bodies, punctuation marks, musical notation, animals, dreams—and flight.

“All my work has meaning,” he says,” but a viewer adds his own equally valid interpretation.”

The exhibitions will change every few weeks, all curated by Toussaint, whose work, incidentally, will be next up at 36 Wall Street.

Visitors are encouraged to call 203-779-5201 for appointments to view the exhibition, although hard-working magazine staffers may be on hand to welcome spontaneous walk-ins.

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