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Great Flounder

The Great Flounder Float at the start of the 2019 Mermaid Parade

I’m sorry about last week’s paucity of blog posts.  I was busy building a float for the 2019 Mermaid Parade at Coney Island! This annual festival to Poseidon occurs on a Saturday close to the Summer solstice and is the scene of enormous creative extravagance and burlesque merriment…all in the name of ocean appreciation, of course.  Last year I attended with a rolling flatfish float, and although that was a hard day, it was also a noteworthy success.

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Mermaid Parade 2018

Alas, parades are like Hollywood blockbuster movies…sequels require even bigger and better special effects (and it is easier to get things wrong).  Last year’s float worked and people really enjoyed the spinning wheel of horoscope signs, but it was nearly impossible to transport.  After an unhappy run-in with the front door, my roommate and I ended up death marching the thing to Coney island (which is about 7 miles away) at 2:00 AM the day before the parade.  Thus, for this year’s Mermaid Parade, I decided to build a magnificent 6.5 meter (21 foot) flounder puppet out of fabric which I could roll up and transport with ease! Genius! We could handle the flounder high above our heads with 3 meter (10 foot) wooden poles and their would be no difficulties like last year.

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A quick trip to the trimmings district provided me with hundreds of iridescent ultrasequins to use as scales. Then it was just a matter of hours and hours and hours with the scissors and the hot glue gun (coincidentally, I don’t think I have fingerprints anymore).  I bullied some hapless friends into attending the parade with me and another one of my friends, the great Lebanese artist Lara Nasser took these pictures (you should check out her brilliant but disquieting art which contextualizes the uneasy nexus of religion, politics, and gender in contemporary Beirut).

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Now, people who have jobs as actuaries, account supervisors, and crooked economists do not recognize this, but when you make actual things, there are always unexpected problems.  I should have built some prototype giant puppets, or at least watched old footage of carnival in Brazil.   Although I did some test runs and reinforced the fish with some struts made of rigid plastic tubing (cough, chopped-up hula hoops), the great flounder float had a tendency to droop when there was not a stiff wind.  When there was a stiff wind, the mighty halibut was more than capable of manhandling the puny humans trying to move it around the Coney Island environment.

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The giant tablecloth was weirdly translucent, yet it was heavier than expected as well, as were the 10 foot poles.   In the disorganized scrum to line up we kept getting stiff armed by groups of majorettes and half-naked flamingos.

Then, as the parade started in earnest, so did the wind and we were suddenly wrestling a giant sky halibut.  It must have looked like a sad episode of “America’s Stupidest Catch” as we reeled around Surf Avenue trying not to get knocked down.  The fish gods were angry!

Although we tried valiantly to contain this situation, the float was stronger than the three of us.  The glistening flatfish snapped the two outermost poles and then angrily bludgeoned the woebegone attendants with its fins as the audience watched with good-natured drunken derision.  We tried to carry the flounder horizontally (like the tablecloth it originally was), but soon there were recriminations, counter proposals, and a decision to withdraw.  Arguably this was the right decision, but we were trapped in a 2 mile chute bounded by steel barricades.  There was no escape except a long sprint of shame with the now unworkable fish sadly dangling behind us.

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This stung at the time, but, in retrospect, who cares about a good competent performance? This is America in 2019 and what we love most here and now is a hot mess!  Parades are about spectacle anyway.

So, um, does anybody want to come with me next year? I am not sure how I can top being beaten up by a 21 foot long flatfish in front of 50,000 people but we will think of something (although this particular group of friends may not be into additional parades).  There is no way to know what will happen in 2020 (not without some sort of all-knowing oracle, anyway), but I have a feeling it is a year which will feature plenty of new melt-downs and unintentional floundering.

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Every year, at or around the summer solstice, Coney Island hosts a festival honoring Poseidon and the oceans…and sea maidens of course (hence this week’s theme). This year’s Mermaid Parade is tomorrow and I have been busy building a flounder float to show my esteem for the watery realms of Planet Earth. I’m sorry I was so busy on it that I didn’t get a chance to write my sirenian post…but don’t worry we’ll get back to dugongs and sea cows soon…

But for now here is the “Great Flounder” parade float. Here are some pictures of me building the giant novelty fish.

One side features a pulchritudinous mermaid waving her tail (since the leitmotif of the parade compelled me to include the titular mythical being). The other side is functional…sort of. There is an oracular wheel with all of the signs of the zodiac. A querant can learn their heavenly destiny (or the zodiac sign of their future mate or something) by merely spinning the wheel.

I have a costume and everything and I really hope that if you are in New York City you can swing by the parade tomorrow, but for right now I have failed to rent a box truck and I need to push my creation from central Brooklyn down to the ocean. Wish me luck and may Lord Poseidon smile upon you and all your ventures.

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I had two artistic New Year’s resolutions.  The first was to create a lot more art…and that I have done!  The second was to get better at showing and marketing—to master the shiny outward trappings of being an artist…and there I have not done quite so well. So today’s post is a…well, it’s a lifestyle post (sigh). Let me explain: sometimes it seems like contemporary art is more about puffy biography than about the actual art itself.  It causes me to grind my teeth in frustration when I see whole articles about where artists live and the cool things they do with their spare time—which then wholly gloss over the content of their work.

Then it sort of occurred to me that…title insurance and medieval history aside, I actually live in the bustling heart of Brooklyn and I have a wide group of amazing and particular creative friends.  Maybe I AM one of these Brooklyn bohemians who everyone is always celebrating and deploring. So I decided to show you the sketches from my little book from over the long weekend!

Twilight Bed-Stuy Before the Parade (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

Twilight Bed-Stuy Before the Parade (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

On Sunday night, my friends who are amazing lingerie designers from Puerto Rico (in addition to being gifted expressionists) invited me to their party in Bed Stuy.  It was a delightful fete with Slovenian computer geniuses, all sorts of sundry models, tart-tongued Irish folk, and Japanese film producers!  Additionally, it was on a high terrace overlooking the street, so I got to watch Afro-Caribbean bikers doing wheelies down the street and see people getting ready for the West Indies Day parade.  Above is the color pencil sketch of Marcus Garvey Avenue—you can see a Caribbean flag vendor there in the corner (the actual vendor was sort of balled up like a spider—but his colorful flags were very noticeable).

Sachiko (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil)

Sachiko (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil)

Unfortunately I am not as breathlessly cool and bonelessly insouciant as the artists in the “New York Times” and “Art in America”…so when I finished sketching and went to have a well-deserved black olive, I knocked the entire bowl of olives off the table and down a fellow guest’s back.  Vasari never talks about these awkward moments…Fortunately the victim of my fumbling was a convivial person who asked if I could sketch her grinning rapidly moving friend. Such a circumstance is never ideal, but I think I did fairly well (although I failed to notice the teddy bear with a horrifying skull-face on her blouse until after I had drawn her.

Sketch of Coney Island (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil)

Sketch of Coney Island (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil)

On Labor Day I rode my bike over to Coney Island and sketched some fellow beach goers before taking a dip in the green brine.  I didn’t want to make people feel (more) self-conscious at the beach (nor did I want to get beaten up by Russian girls for staring at them) so my beach-goers are sketchy composites.  I did get the color of the water and the annoying banality of the sky banner down (not to mention a pretty accurate drawing of, um, the Staten Island coast).

The frustrating thing is that Ferrebeekeeper’s readership is much more sophisticated than the characters who pretend to read the New York Times, so my readers will undoubtedly recognize this article as a bunch of fluff to introduce my weekend drawings.  However this awkward little essay does begin to hint at how much I love New York.  The popular image of Brooklyn as a trust-fund paradise, fails to do justice to the real Brooklyn I know–of striving entrepreneurs, crazy visionaries, immigrants, writers, and, yes, artists.

Oh! As always I would love to have your feedback!

Mitik the Baby Pacific Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus)

One Brooklyn resident whose home was flooded by the hurricane was already an orphan. Mitik the baby walrus was rescued off the coast of Barrow, Alaska by fishermen after he became permanently separated from his mother.  He was extremely sick when he came to the Coney Island Aquarium about a month ago–but his health has been improving dramatically.  He started eating antibiotics and stopped taking antibiotics a week after coming to the Big Apple.  The New York Aquarium is one of the few zoos which houses walruses, but before Mitik came along they only had two cows, one of whom is advanced in years.  Walruses are social and don’t like being alone so Mitik is exactly what the aquarium needs (and vice-versa since the little walrus could not have survived without round-the-clock veterinarian care).

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Mitik had not yet made a public debut when the storm hit.   Fortunately the staff at the aquarium put in a heroic effort to keep all the life support systems running as the facility flooded.  Mitik is fine but the buildings are badly flooded and power is out (although generators are running critical systems).  A statement by the aquarium director says that the aquarium will decide tomorrow whether to move any animals.  The aquarium is closed indefinitely for repairs and rennovations.

Other than the aquarium–which is right next to the ocean–none of the city’s zoos were seriously damaged by the storm.  Thanks to all of the brave aquarium personnel for looking after all of our finned and flippered friends during the storm and good luck getting the aquarium up and running so we can all see Mitik when he finally makes his big appearance!

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