Making one's way through the maze of art produced and exhibited in our time and in our city while trying to form an opinion can be a challenge to say the least. This week I thought I would step around the white cubes of New York City and plunge head-first into the artists' work by going straight to the sources, their many open studios. In many cases, this involved going to Brooklyn and beyond. This turns out to be a great way to see art for yourself. Mind you, it takes some effort, especially with so many studios to visit and the occasional brooding artist on the other side of the door awaiting your entry, with cheap wine and old cheese on paper plates. But that is the price to be paid for seeing something new. In the end, though, there are abundant opportunities to look at and talk about art.

It's my favorite way of doing so.

There were more than 100 open studios during Brooklyn's Annual Gowanus Artists' Studio Tour last month, and along that parade were potters, painters, sculptors, stained glass makers, and more. A high point on this tour was seeing the ceramic sculptures by Pamela Sunday, whose work is reminiscent of Saint Clair Cemin's playful organic, plastic, and ceramic forms. Sunday's work taps into natural symmetries, and she produces stunning objects to behold. Elinor Dei Tos Pironti's simple and methodical paintings project an alchemist's sensibility in the way she approaches color layered and drawn out across the canvas.

There are also some great art spaces just off the canal. One of my favorites is the Reanimation Library, at Union and Nevins Streets, a small independent facility that is building an anachronistic collection of resources made available for creative inspiration.

This past weekend there was some great art to be seen at the Crane Street Studios Artists' Community in Long Island City. It is hard to miss this colossal graffiti-covered building just opposite MoMA's PS1 Contemporary Art Center. This open studio offered a bounty of incredibly talented and ambitious artists. Painter Ben Beshaw had some amusing realist paintings. His works often have a male protagonist - in fact, a lighthearted self-portrait in most cases. In one painting, titled "Rainbow in the Dark," the artist stands with a steely gaze while he cradles a doe-eyed rainbow tinted horse. In the background, according to the artist "is a laser light show in the sky, celebrating the rescue of the rainbow horse." It was hard not to laugh at the sheer audacity of the artist whose talent and sense of humor are terrific. Maia Anthea Marinelli, a fascinating young Italian artist, has developed some powerful knit and sewn sculptures as well as a series of devastating photographs. In one series titled "Gretta's Journal," closely cropped photos capture the scarred bodies of young girls forced into prostitution. Another series called "Fear of Love" is a meditation on female sexual and emotional identities. Reminiscent of Sophie Calle's enduring social narratives, and David Wojnarowicz's acid poetic imagery, Marinelli's work navigates soulful human commonalities with a sense of engaging mystery. Other artists of note include Cair Crawford, whose monumental oil paintings abstract semacodes and labyrinthine patterns. Robert Walden's ontological road maps are a mesmerizing exploration of maps and meditations on the grid. Photographs by Anne-Katrin Grotepass contain compelling created and captured moments, reminiscent of the sculptural orchestrations of Sandy Skoglund, but there is a restraint in her work that makes for a more contemplative effect.

In the idiosyncratic context of the artist's studio, all sorts of wonderful things are available to see and understand. Everything is laid bare. There you can see what leads to decisions before the work of art is wrenched out of the artist's lair-and with any luck you can talk to the creator too. The next big artist-run happenings will be the Arts in Bushwick's "Open Spaces" a one-day art festival on December 2.

Visit Crane Street Studios at cranestreetstudios.blogspot.com and the Annual Gowanus Artists' Studio Tour at agastbrooklyn.com. Artists mentioned in this review can be accessed online as well: Ben Beshaw at benbeshaw.com; Anne-Katrin Grotepass at annekatringrotepass.com; Maia Anthea Marinelli at maiamarinelli.com; Pamela Sunday at pamelasunday.com; and Robert Walden at www.robertjwalden.com.

©GayCityNews 2007