In a bright, sprawling 3,000-square-foot SoHo storefront, artists Pedro Silva and Stefan Martin recently revealed the second of two back-to-back collaborative exhibitions, known as Rebirth. Long used for storage by Selima Salaun (the founder of neighboring Selima Optique) and the building’s owner (whose husband had used the space as his own gallery in the ’80s), the mixed-use shop had transitioned from art to retail and then storehouse over the decades. When Silva saw it, he knew the tall ceilings, white walls, wooden floors and large windows should house art once more—and the landlord agreed.
When Silva, a poetic Brazil-born fine artist, set to work with Martin, an American-Argentinian furniture artist with roots in Las Vegas, their neighbors in SoHo began to take notice. The city, under the thumb of the pandemic, felt desolate at times—especially in a neighborhood known most recently as a shopping destination.
“The older residents of the neighborhood, those that saw it bloom in the past as an art destination,” Silva says, “I think we observed that they craved new energy in these vacant spaces. They craved color and an uplifting energy. They care about the neighborhood and care about its rebirth.” That curiosity led to frequent visits and even an ultimate embrace by the community.
The debut show, Spell Art (shown in the slideshow above), acknowledged the plight of the NYC. During the height of pandemic, “We used to walk on the piers and through Washington Square Park, back and forth between the East Village and West Village, and the eerie empty city,” Martin explains. It brought inspiration and, at times, hope. When retail returned in a limited capacity, Salaun (a friend of both artists) asked Silva to adorn the walls of her boutique with handmade wallpaper in September 2020. This wallpaper remains and during the Spell Art show, Silva had work in a similar style in his pop-up gallery, on the wall that they share with Salaun’s store. “It felt like home,” he says, of having his art on both sides, in two spaces he cares so much about.
For the more recent show, Rebirth (with imagery throughout the article body), Silva says, “The intention of my series is to create an experience. The first step was to prepare the canvases by plastering and painting the layers of colors. There are maybe 10 or 15 layers of acrylic paint on each.” This system lends each colorful work a particular vibrancy that pops from the wall. “Then I positioned them in the room and chose the Stravinsky ballet Petrushka—because in it there is this puppet and I wanted my body to be a puppet to the colors.” To the music, Silva then painted the dots within several of the works. He began by painting with his finger, creating tiny circles, and then cycles of larger additions. These images feel cosmic—there’s a compelling outer-spaciousness that captures the gaze.
For both exhibits, amidst Silva’s paintings, one found Martin’s functional (and comfortable) chairs. “On our walks, we would see cardboard on the ground and Amazon packaging that seemed to be way more than we’d ever seen in our lives. All of the stores were closed. People were ordering everything to their homes,” he says. “I used that material to stack and create these pieces of furniture.” From there, Silva painted the works to complete the collaboration. This isn’t their first time working together. Silva had a studio space in the basement of a shoe store on Broadway and he brought Martin in to work on a window display. Both artists are also represented by Sag Harbor’s Grenning Gallery.
“We love what we do and what we’ve done here and we hope that visitors feel that,” Silva concludes. His paintings breathe life into the once-idle space while Martin’s chairs are easy to admire (and are a good place to appreciate Silva’s work from, too). In many ways, together, they represent the dreams of many in the artistic community—returning NYC neighborhoods to artists.
Rebirth is on now through 15 April at 484 Broome St.
Images by Phillip Van Nostrand