A Long Island City nonprofit that allowed teachers to pick up free school supplies at its warehouse this summer is also the material source for a new art exhibit that is inspired by jazz.
Michael Kelly Williams, an artist and public school educator for 30 years, used recycled materials found at Materials for the Arts (MFTA). The nonprofit, which is operated by the Department of Cultural Affairs, with support from the Department of Sanitation and Department of Education (DOE), provides free materials to teachers — from binders to paper and computer chairs.
His solo exhibition “Found and Funky” debuted on Dec. 15 at the warehouse located at 33-00 Northern Blvd. Williams spent four months scavenging the 35,000-square-foot facility that has more than 40 aisles of materials.
The exhibition includes mixed media and assemblage works and will be on view until April 8. “Found” represents the “affirmation in discovering new objects” while the term “Funky” is used to “pay homage to a popular jazz term meant to convey praise of an art piece having achieved its highest form.”
Williams includes references to popular jazz musicians throughout the exhibit including Eric Dolphy, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Pheeroan akLaff.
“My work expresses who I am, and I feel I’m working out of various traditions,” Williams said in a statement. “There is a strong folk art tradition in my hometown of Detroit utilizing found objects. Stylistically there is now a synthesis of all I have studied. I am reaching for a unique vision in my work yet one that is linked in tradition. My reoccurring themes are music, myth, spirituality and poetry.”
Kelly used a range of materials for his work including cowrie shells, a film canister and cables. His piece “We See,” which was named after a Thelonious Monk song, is mounted on a wooden ophthalmologist sign. The arrangement of materials “cohere into an interpretation of Monk’s ancient, rhythmical sensibility as well as a dissonant elements and a wry sense of humor.”
The MFTA artist residency program gives artists production assistance, free studio space and materials for the warehouse. Williams’ work has been shown in galleries across the United States and countries such as China and Morocco.
To view more of his work, visit his website.