Category Archives: Art

Girl Got a (Tattoo) Gun

Vermont Custom Tattoo and Piercing is tucked a flight of stairs above Cosmic Grind Coffee at 104 Church Street Marketplace, Suite 2A.

You might just miss it if it weren’t for a plastic sign on the brick walk outside. The shop makes the most of a small space, with orange and teal-painted walls adorned with a murals of a sailor girl and a dragon — and sheets upon sheets of tattoo designs.

When Aja Briana introduces herself, the first thing that is apparent is her radiant personality. There’s an immediate warmth about her as she introduces herself, one that would make any nervous client looking for a tattoo feel instantly at ease. The only outward marker of her career in the tattoo industry is a dainty hand inked onto her forearm just visible under her sweater.

The 22-year-old tattoo artist is a new member of the team— she started her apprenticeship in October of 2016 and has now joined their team as a full-time artist. Equipped with two rotary machines that she bought from fellow Vermont Custom tattoo artist Joe Demers during her apprenticeship, she has made a career out of putting art on skin.

Vermont Custom’s website displays a gallery of her beautiful art on a dozens of bodies; from hummingbirds to mountain ranges to stunning floral arrangements to dog portraits. Her favorite tattoos to create are the product of personal consultations with clients, creating something uniquely for their body. One of the pieces she enjoyed working on the most was a John Milton poem that a client brought in and allowed her to draw out.

Caroline Slack, B-Side. Vermont Custom Tattoo.

Briana was drawing before she began to write, and in her childhood was invested in writing, art and music. The sight of inked skin sparked her interest in the path she eventually chose: “When I was 7, I saw someone with a tattoo and thought about being the person to put art on someone else’s body.”

Briana, who hails from Las Vegas, ended up in Vermont a few years ago to be closer to her younger sister. She was unable to attend college for financial reasons and, following a PTSD diagnosis, “basically came to Vermont for [her] mental health.”

“The tattoo industry is a white male industry. As a Latina female, I feel lucky to work with people my age.” She says she believes the current generation will destigmatize tattoos, embracing them as art.

As a Panamanian-American queer woman, she’s an outlier in her field, especially in Vermont. According to the July 2016 census, Vermont’s population was 93.1 percent persons of white ethnicity with no hispanic origin. With fair skin and a male partner currently, she is able to appear straight and white for the most part. “If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t necessarily have the same relationships with coworkers”, she says.

“I’m certainly very white-passing,” she said, “I’m freckled with typically light skin. But I think I take extra strides to assert that.”

“I’m outspoken about my sexuality because there’s so much discrimination against LGBT people. As a queer person and a Latina person, I will always be outspoken. I will always say that Black Lives Matter.”

She says that she is “In the very special position of having white privilege while still being a minority. I want to use it in a strong, powerful way.”

Caroline Slack, B-Side. Aja Briana showcases her art & tattoos.

“ If you have white privilege, fucking use it. It’s a tool that can be used to point a finger to the voice that isn’t being listened to; a neon arrow to the people that aren’t being heard, but need to.”

Her passion for social justice is a driving force behind her work. “I’m still finding my grounds and bearings, but I want to be part of an inclusive community. I hope that in 100 years, this industry is dominated by people who are passionate about the fact that people come with the vulnerability of wanting permanent art on their skin.”

Right now, her womanhood is the thing that “sticks out” the most, Briana said. “When someone calls asking if there’s a female artist, I carry in mind that this is an experience that they chose to share with me.”

She’s thrilled to be a queer woman who is able to relate with those who might otherwise feel intimidated by tattoo artists. She comments on the fact that women inking intimate areas of their body might feel more comfortable with a woman doing the work, while queer people may feel more comfortable with an artist who is part of their community.

She says “I want people to be able to share with their artist. It’s so important to feel accepted in such a vulnerable situation.”

Caroline Slack, B-Side. Aja Briana at Vermont Custom Tattoo.

Beyond her artistic prowess, Briana is great at what she does because she gives so much care to each and every client she takes in. “I see a lot of beautiful humans and have the utmost honor that they choose to share this transformative experience with me,” she says.

The meticulousness she once considered a weakness has worked to her benefit as a tattoo artist. “I remind myself to take my time,” she said.

“I was always the last one to finish tests, the last one to finish in art class.” The fact that she is patient with details makes her tattoos beautiful and intricate, every stroke made with full intention.

This career has also forced her to roll with the punches and make the best out of things that don’t turn out perfectly. “I have learned so much through this form of art. I used to struggle with finishing projects. If a line doesn’t turn out, I can’t crumple up a person and throw them away. I’m more accepting of my own mistakes. It’s a funny job for one with anxiety, but everything happens for a reason. Hiccups are a component that help it become a work of art.”

“One of my first tattoos, the girl laughed and it messed up the line I was working on.” She was nervous telling the client what happened, but ultimately, the hiccups inked onto her body “stuck out as a joyful personality.”

One of her recent clients was a “flamboyant” 18-year-old from Puerto Rico who came into the shop with a friend who was getting a piercing, and asked for a tattoo on a whim. He decided on his sister’s birthdate in Roman numerals, only to return a few hours later upon the realization that he had gotten one digit incorrect.

His thought? “The universe wanted us to spend more time together!” They eventually figured out a way to cover the error with a heart. “He was beautiful and gracious, and smiled the whole time,” she said,”  I honor that day and that boy.”

Caroline Slack, B-Side. One of Aja Briana’s tattoos.

Tattoos are taxing and painful; and not everyone reacts well to the experience. “We get told we should be first responders,” she says of herself and fellow artists at the shop. Some clients “throw up, faint, seize, but we still want them to leave here feeling as comfortable as possible. I like to think that people usually feel comfortable here.”

A huge component of maintaining her job is self-care. “You can’t come in hungover or on half a night’s rest,” Briana said. “I give myself time to sit and breathe, not bringing any negativity to the client.”

As a tattoo artist and collector herself, she has plenty of advice for those looking to get inked. “RESEARCH YOUR ARTIST. Write that in all caps.” she said. “Find someone whose work you like.”

Getting a tattoo in itself can be a healing experience. It’s taking ownership of one’s own body. “Tattoos are for no one but yourself” she said. And after a client leaves the shop, it’s up to them to take care of their body modifications and ensure that they heal safely.

“Tattoos heal like sunburns; they peel and flake, and usually heal in about 3 weeks,” Briana said. “Healing is an afterglow of the process— it’s up to you once you leave the shop. It’s a great practice of self love to take care of this decision that you made.”

During a difficult time, she tattooed a snake on her thigh and now she says it looks a bit scaly.

“I have regretted every single one of my tattoos at some point,” she explains. “But trust the self that put ink on you. Even if it’s bad, it’s a bookmark of your past self.”

She’s given herself 3 tattoos in addition to the snake: the first was a pie which her sister had said looked delicious from Crockett Johnson’s children’s book Harold and the Purple Crayon. After the Las Vegas shooting this past October, she tattooed a cactus on her achilles as a tribute to her hometown and gave the same tattoo to a few friends as well. Just the other day, she gave herself a tiny white-ink eye on her finger for fun.

Her eyes light up as she describes her younger sister: a spunky, artistic 10-year-old. She said she took her to a water park, and it was the first time she had worn a bathing suit since she got a tattoo of a maple creemee — a staple of Vermont culture — on her butt. Seeing it, her sister said “Your life is complete,” perhaps a nod to the fact that the new generation is celebrating tattoos.

Assault in ‘safe spaces:’ Women in the DIY music scene speak out

The first DIY show I went to was a hardcore show in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was hosted in a Veterans of Foreign Wars center.

There were kids that looked like they could beat the shit out of me, but who were all probably just as awkward as me. The masking tape on the floor was the only thing separating the bands from the audience, but the crowd wasn’t letting that hold them back.

I tried to wade in the middle of it all, but ended up getting pushed towards the front, where the bass amps would make my ears ring and my head throb.

It was amazing. I’d never been in an environment like that before. Coming from a small, sports focused town in the suburbs of Massachusetts, it was a whole new world.

DIY is exactly what you probably know it to be, a Do It Yourself mentality. Modern DIY culture manifests itself in people putting on shows in their basements, supporting local artists, and a strong community of people who appreciate loud music. 

Those who have been a part of DIY scenes in other areas will often say the Burlington scene is underdeveloped. After a period of venue shutdowns that left an absence of places to play and an overabundance of bands, there’s been a revival in the scene.

New people are introduced to DIY every day, and new organizations are popping up to uplift the community, such as Friends + Family and Tuned In. People who are involved with these groups want to rebuild  the scene, and with that comes a sense of duty to do it “right.” But, as this is a community based off of “Doing It Yourself,” there’s no exact right way to do it.

 Creating these new spaces necessitates dialogue in our community, one that addresses difficult issues like sexual assault that may jeopardize the integrity of a space that is intended to be fun and inclusive.

Max McCurdy, B-Side. Rathaus on a Saturday night.

It’s a familiar story: a person goes to a show, or a party or anywhere, and someone makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

Sophomore Kenzie Hines is a member of the DIY scene; she attends shows regularly and is familiar with some of the bands.

The UVM Cross Country house is “a place notorious for sketchy dudes,” according to Hines.

“It was more mellow that night, and people weren’t really moshing that hard,” she said. “I had plenty of space but this guy really scooted to me.”

“He came up from behind me and was like, ‘Hey, I’m Henry,’ and then he put one hand in my back pocket and one hand on my left breast.”

She said he leaned into her and ground his pelvis into her, without her consent.

“At that moment I was tired; I was trying to dance,” Hines said. “It’s like, if you want to dance with me, ask — I might say yeah,” she said. “I just hate being on that defense when I’m trying to have fun. It’s almost like I’ve been trained to be constantly aware.”

Senior Aaron Lucci declined to comment on behalf of the Cross Country house.  

Mariel DiMidio, a junior who co-runs the popular DIY collective Friends + Family, agrees that it feels like everyone has to go through this “training.”

“When you are raised as a man, these codes of masculinity just completely ignore body language,” she said. “I feel like because men are not educated in emotional intelligence as women are, they’re missing this important training.”

Autumn Lee, The Vermont Cynic.

Friends + Family is volunteer-run and intended to be a “space for the artists that are noisy, loud, avant-garde, goofy and generally out of the norm,” according to their Facebook page.

DiMidio also talked about Tuned In, a newer music organization in the Burlington scene that’s started up about a year ago, that is a “member-owned cooperative dedicated to prioritizing women and non-binary musicians,” according to their Facebook page.

Senior Marley Zollman is a member of Tuned In. She’s said that she enjoys the emphasis the group puts on intersectional feminism, as well as their confrontation of sexism in the general music industry.  They run “Snuggled Up” shows where femme and non-binary musicians perform to femme and non-binary audiences and open mics in order to foster a supportive environment where people can build their confidence in a safe place.

For DiMidio, DIY is a “wholesome community where [she’s] met a lot of really cool people.”

These organizations, and the people who run them, love this community. They want to see it flourish and become a place where everyone can feel safe, have fun and feel like they belong. DIY encourages active involvement, and people are here to fulfill that role.

Senior Casey Little co-runs Red Handed Records, a new DIY venue that is active in the community and wants to help with this problem.

“People like myself who run these DIY venues can’t help but feel agitated that people don’t want to come out to our shows because there are people out there who wish [them] harm. We want nothing less than a friendly, hospitable place for people to get their jams on,” Little said.

At a recent meeting of DIY Burlington, another collective, I met up with Little, Brian LaClair of Jim’s Basement and Senior Haley Quinn of RatHaus to discuss the community and how it addresses sexual assault.

 “Somehow we need to come together as a collective and recognize the people (the accused) when others know they will be around,” Little said. “Someone who is an unbiased source, who can stand up to scrutiny and keep an eye on said individuals and report those incidents to someone.”

DiMidio said the answer is not to immediately blacklist people who are either accused of or are guilty of sexual assault, but instead to offer some form of redemption or learning opportunity.

“If you’re trying to make change then you can’t just create a prison model,” she said.

“There has to be a space for learning and coming to terms that’s not just kicking people out, but I think there should be some form of restorative justice.”

Max McCurdy, B-Side. Rathaus on a Saturday night.

DIY is like everything your mother wanted and didn’t want for you all at the same time. I’ve met some of the greatest people I’ve ever known through this community. I’ve also been punched in the face in the mosh pit and slammed against sweaty basement walls. It’s a weird dichotomy of love and pain.

This issue isn’t one that will ever be completely resolved. Discrimination will live on for a long time after our generation of basement-going has moved on. Just last week, I was called a “cunt” and a “bitch” because I was running doors for a show and couldn’t let someone in because the venue was over capacity.

But if there’s any take-away from this, it’s that DIY is a community that attracts people from all walks of life.

And the people who truly care about cultivating and pushing the scene forward are willing to listen, discuss and take action in order to create a space in which people can feel loved, welcome and safe.

First Fridays in Burlington’s South End

Alongside the Burlington waterfront lies a lesser-known land beyond creemees and sunsets; one populated by photographers, metal workers and painters alike.

I attended my first-ever “First Friday” event, in which dozens of art venues and restaurants across the South End opened their doors free of charge to the Burlington community to promote local artists April 7. Aptly named, the event takes place on the first Friday of every month from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

        Beyond enjoying the plethora of free brownies and viewing an impressive array of artwork, I was fortunate enough to speak with two women in the Burlington art community, both of whom are involved with galleries in the Downtown area.

My first stop was the HAVOC gallery on Sears Lane, one of the furthest galleries featured on the Burlington Art Map. HAVOC is a self-proclaimed “abstract contemporary gallery” featuring both local and international art. When they’re not displaying international artwork, the local flavor of Vermont artwork is brought by metalwork artist Bruce McDonald;  HAVOC also serves as his studio space.

The gallery is a single room with the exhibits in front and McDonald’s studio in the back. It’s only view of the outside being a large garage door behind heaps of metal and wire contraptions. “In the summertime we put the bay doors up because you can smell the lake and it’s all green back there, which makes it an open air gallery,” said gallery director of HAVOC, Sarah Vogelsang-Card.

We discussed the gallery’s diverse displays of art from McDonald and international artists, and how their collection fits into the Burlington art scene.

“We don’t show Vermont-type art work; we exhibit abstract work, a lot of minimalism, high-profile work… so it’s the kind of artwork you would find in New York City galleries,” Vogelsand-Card said.

Although McDonald brings international work to the community, HAVOC prides itself on bringing a new outlook to the community.

“We love the Burlington art scene. We want to be able to contribute new visions, new ideas, and we generally don’t show Vermont artwork so we try to bring in artists from California and Virginia so we’re infusing the community with more art,” Vogelsand-Card said. “More art to see, more art to buy and more art to enjoy.”

She emphasized the importance of introducing international work to Burlington.

“We’re always flushed with new work of Bruce’s, but to be able to show international artists is really fun for us,” Vogelsang-Card said.

There are currently two exhibitions in the HAVOC gallery along with McDonald’s permanent display year-round. Next on the HAVOC agenda is their party in June celebrating McDonald’s piece, “Visible Indivisibles” reaching completion.

Just up the road from HAVOC on Pine Street was my next stop, Brickwork Art Studio. The space is home to fourteen studios featuring artwork of all shapes and styles.

“We’re primarily painters, printers, and I’m the only photographer,” said Jude Domski, Brickwork resident photographer. “We each rent our own spaces, but because of the close proximity, there’s always a bit of cross-pollination.”

The exhibits rotate monthly,  as artists’ work alternates from the main gallery to smaller corridors.   

Domski’s residency at Brickwork has influenced her work beyond what she initially expected. Her newest exhibit, “Shape of Water,” illustrates her artistic evolution since her time at the studio.

“I usually do digital, mostly event photography,” Domski said. ”[Shape of Water] is my first foray into more abstraction, which is not necessarily typical of what I do.”

This exploration began whilst looking for an art space, where Domski took into consideration multiple venues throughout Burlington.

“One venue was Karma Birdhouse, which is more media-focused. Had I been there, I would have been more influenced in that direction,” Domski said. “But it just happened that I chose to be here and I’m around more people doing abstraction. It’s been good for me as an event photographer to get out of that very literal mindset.”

After my time spent speaking with Jude and Sarah on that First Friday in April, I can honestly say I’ll be back exploring the Art Map on the next First Friday in May. Each venue offered me an entirely different experience, all within the comforts of Burlington’s borders.

Behind Burlington’s Creative Social Network

It’s no secret that Burlington is a creative community — this much can be understood by simply looking at jackets and backpacks Burlingtonians  embellish with the Grateful Dead logo.

In an attempt to better understand Burlington’s artistic spirit, I reached out to a number of local artists and creators to get their insights on what makes Burlington’s art scene so special.

Creativity is displayed on every corner of this little city, which is home to a thriving, diverse and constantly evolving artistic community.

“What has remained the same over the last 30 years is that there’s always been this naive excitement, artists have been excited to create,” said Christy Mitchell, the south end’s S.P.A.C.E Gallery owner and founder.     

During our interview,  I found myself schmoozing with Mitchell in a conversation that felt more like a friendly chat over lunch than an interview.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the twelve studio spaces in the gallery where there lay a barely-organized cornucopia of brushes, paints, and papers.

MAX MCCURDY. B-Side. A studio belonging to artist Peter Richards at Burlington’s S.P.A.C.E. Gallery.

They were scattered around a desk that was surrounded on all sides by massive, in-progress works of art.

Mitchell’s inclusion of artist studios in her gallery was in response to an epidemic of Burlington gallery closings due to of financial troubles.

Her solution to this problem was to use the rent she collected from the studio spaces to cover the overhead costs of keeping the gallery open.

“The art scene in Burlington seems positive and inclusive; I think the only problem is people not knowing about things going on,” Mitchell said.   

With this model, her space is one that can stick around regardless of art sales, Mitchell said.

Local artist and sculptor, Beth Robinson, a self-proclaimed fan of the S.P.A.C.E. Gallery,  praised Mitchell’s unique business model. Robinson has been exhibiting and working at the gallery since its beginnings in 2009, she said.

MAX MCCURDY. B-Side. Owner and Creative Director of the S.P.A.C.E. Gallery, Christy Mitchell.

“Christy’s answer to the financial problems of a gallery was brilliant, it means she doesn’t need to display only commercially-viable art which opens up a lot more possibilities for people to express themselves,” Robinson said.

Her relationship with the S.P.A.C.E. became more unique during her second year at the gallery, when she began to curate an annual Halloween show.  

Robinson’s first Halloween show consisted only of friends who were “dark artists,” a title she gave to others whose art explored horrific themes.

During her second year, Robinson opened the show up to submissions from the public, and received over 200 entries. The show grew in size and popularity each year, and is now consistently one of the S.P.A.C.E. Gallery’s most successful and lucrative events.

“It’s insane how excited people get about it,” Robinson said.

Another huge name in Burlington is the Burlington City Arts Center, a central institution in the community for artists and exhibitionists alike.

To get an insider’s perspective on the world of BCA, I sat down with local painter and UVM art professor Cami Davis.

“The community has exploded since I returned from graduate school in the early ‘80s,” Davis said. “Once upon a time, all the artists knew each other, it was such a small community.”

Davis’s view of the Burlington scene contrasted with the view of newer Burlingtonians.

They described the community as small and tight-knit. While described she said she thought of it as more of a large, creative, and diverse community.

MAX MCCURDY. B-Side. Gallery space at Burlington City Arts.

I then asked Davis about her experience with exhibiting at BCA, a topic she seemed ecstatic to discuss.

“I found it to be one of the most interesting venues that I’ve ever participated in, mainly because it had such a sense of community,” she said of her recent installation at BCA: “Airs, Waters, Soils (Places).”

The installation displayed a series of  jars filled with water, soil, stone and plant samples taken from Lake Champlain and its tributaries in an attempt to explore “issues pertaining to clean water in the Lake Champlain Basin,” according to Davis’ website.

The jars were accompanied by large, expansive paintings that used a color palette of earth and water tones in order to connect and interact with the water samples.

“To me, BCA is so effective in connecting artists to the community,” Davis said. After hearing such a favorable view of BCA, I met with the director and head curator of the gallery — Heather Ferrell — to see how she views BCA’s place in the Burlington community.

While exhibiting my power of terrible timing, I managed to meet with Ferrell three hours before her first ever opening reception for her exhibition.

Despite having tons of little things to fix before the big opening, she still made time to chat about her gallery and its place in Burlington’s tight-knit artistic community.

MAX MCCURDY. B-Side. A gallery opening at Burlington City Arts.

“The art scene is a thriving and vibrant hotbed of activity that’s very impressive for a city this size,” Ferrell said, “it’s one of the things that attracted me to this position and relocating my family here to Burlington.”

BCA makes numerous efforts to aid local artists and the community as a whole, she said.

“BCA helps artists with presenting exhibitions, supporting artists financially, helping sell their work, organizing off-site exhibitions and connecting artists and community,” Ferrell said.

Considering she is making so many efforts to help out other people in the community, it’s no surprise Ferrell said she felt the community feel made the art better.

“I don’t see this as a competitive environment, I see it as one that’s environmentally rich,” she said.

MAX MCCURDY. B-Side. Burlington City Arts Director and Head Curator, Heather Ferrell, with her daughter.

Upon arriving at the show that night, I saw just how tight-knit the Burlington arts community was.

On the first floor was a photography exhibition on the American South by Shane Lavalette entitled “One Sun, One Shadow.”

In the corner, I saw Lavalette discussing his work with a group of locals.

Wylie Sofia Garcia’s “With My Voice, I Am Calling You Home,” a painting exhibit that focused on themes of domesticity, meditation, and personal place-making occupied the gallery’s second floor.

A group of strangers were comparing the use of diverse arrays of color palettes throughout the paintings.

In the mixed-media show on the gallery’s top floor entitled “The Past Present” by Molly Bosley and Athena Petra Tasiopoulos, artists sought to explore humanity and its relationship with history.  

Passionate discussions about the pieces and their possible meanings continued, and I ran into Mitchell, a pleasantly surprising crossing-of-paths that further illustrated just how tight-knit and interconnected the Burlington art community is.

After speaking with so many vital and active members of the Burlington arts community, attending a major artistic function and exploring a number gallery spaces I had never seen before, I can say with some confidence that the Burlington art community is truly as warm, inviting, tight-knit, and ambitious as everyone said.

Not once did any person I talked to mention ever feeling ostracized, intimidated, or unwelcome among their fellow artists.

Time and time again, I heard stories of being welcomed without question, consistently receiving support from fellow artists, and never sensing the slightest bit of competitive nature.

Our artistic community is not only something Burlingtonians should feel proud of, it’s a community we should give back to, a community we should support, and a community we should all strive to join.