On a mild winter day, eight months ago, artists Genna Grushovenko and Rey Alfonso sat on the steps of a disused church, determined to make it theirs. They lit cigars and bid in an online auction. When they stepped, triumphant, off the stoop, the former Daybreak Church in the North Main neighborhood was destined for a new celestial path.
Grushovenko and Alfonso, and their artist spouses, Signe Grushovenko and Patricia DeLeon, have socialized for years, traveling the art festival circuit. Their mutual need for anew studio collided with serendipitous timing, resulting in a shared vision to revamp the quaint residential church into a vibrant art space. “It felt like a lot of things converging at the right moment,” Signe recalls.
Since March, the studio has been home to 12 diverse artists, aged 23 to 74. Collectively, they named the place OYÉ, which means “listen up” in Spanish. Residents include Christopher Rico, who creates pensive abstracts, delicate thread-and-ink artist Taylor Adams, and Michelle Jardines, known for her bright, psychological landscapes. The gifted dozen were largely curated by the elder of the studio, Jeffrey Leder, a New York–born painter who finds a meditative calm in color and straight lines.
The creative energy flows from floor to floor. Sometimes big and bold. Sometimes soft and reflective. Extrovert Genna has set up home in the 4,000-square-foot sanctuary. “I feel the presence of other people around,” he says. “It’s inspired me to experiment with techniques.”
His colorful conceptions are completed by his contemplative spouse, Signe, in her quiet turret studio. There, she adds detail based on vernacular photography from the twentieth century. Rey occupies the other half of the sanctuary—a workspace as bold as his personality with “a lot of junk” to inspire him. An assembly of paint pots frame a backdrop of photos and keepsakes. He is painting a ’57 Chevy—a car from his childhood—as footage of his native Cuba plays on a screen. “It’s soothing to paint my people’s history,” he says. “I’m not lost, but I need to do this for myself. It’s an image of familiarity.”
In her private studio, a short walk away, Rey’s wife Patricia DeLeon is working on a lotus flower painting, an homage to resilience and beauty. It features the Leaves of Grass poetry collection by Walt Whitman. “I’ve been inspired to use symbols of optimism and hope,” she says. “The lotus flower is born out of the dirtiest waters, and it produces this beautiful flower. It’s the perfect analogy for the human condition, especially at the moment.”
Mixed-media artist Shannon McGee has the basement to get lost in his work. He shares the space with young striving artist James McSharry, who uses metal, wood, and ceramics to create free-form sculptural pieces. Landscape painter and mom Jessica Fields juggles homeschooling with time in the studio, and Glory Day Loflin, who helped to repurpose OYÉ and shares her social media skills, considers it a haven where she can complete her sculptures, drawings, and paintings. “I have this little room where I can kick the dust up and let it settle where it may,” she says. “I’m grateful.”
At the heart of the OYÉ vision is to make studio space affordable for emerging artists. While they mostly work alone, together, the 12 artists have found a shared companionship. “We’re pulling together to use all our skills,” Patricia explains. “Where can I help you? Where can I pull some of your talents out if you don’t have the money to be here?”
“The through line is a seriousness of purpose,” Signe adds. “Everyone is very diligent and dedicated to their craft. It’s an excellent cross-pollination.”
A Virtual Grand Opening is scheduled for October 10 at 10am. The opening event will include an online release of new collections by all artists and a Facebook gallery tour featuring a live sale of one small work by each artist. For more on OYÉ Studios, go to oyestudiosgvl.com.
Photography by Will Crooks