Habitat is a weekly series that visits with artists in their workspaces.
This week’s studio: Cy Gavin; Morningside Heights, New York. Cy Gavin is staying put on 115th Street. “Because of the rising second years, I’m the only one who’s staying here because it’s a lottery system to pick your studio, and I was picked absolute last,” he said, meaning that he didn’t get into Prentis Hall, a bigger building and more desirable location with huge windows where “everyone wants to be.” With his previous studio just down the hall, he led me to the first doorway of his two-room studio. “This room I use as an incubator/graveyard for things… This is also where I store things and debrief,” he said. Gavin pointed to a shelving unit installed above the door. “When things are unfinished or I’m not sure about them, they get shoved into this space so I don’t really have to deal with them,” he added.
Gavin received his BFA from Carnegie Mellon in 2007 and will graduate with his MFA from Columbia next May. Gavin counts a course he took with art historian Kellie Jones as a seminal experience in his education, validating his choice to pursue an MFA. “It made the life-changing amount of debt I took on all worth it,” he said. Between his BFA and MFA studies, Gavin moved to San Francisco and started getting into video and animation. He’s worked on a wide variety of projects such as fundraising for drag queen Anna Conda’s campaign for Supervisor in District 6, post-production work for an adult-film studio, production for an avant-garde Broadway company, and video post-production work for PARTICIPANT INC, where he continues to serve as the web content manager.
Between his studies and getting settled into his new studio space, Gavin is also working on a music video for his friends Kelley Deal and Mike Montgomery’s band R. Ring. “Kelley asked me to animate/produce the official music video of the song, which will be out in the world in late August in tandem with the pressing of a 45 of that awesome track,” Gavin explained. “I have been a huge fan of The Breeders and getting to know and work with such an incredible poet and rock legend as Kelley has been pretty unreal.” Below, Cy Gavin shows us around his Morningside Heights studio.
ALL PHOTOS: KATHERINE MCMAHON
"The nascent stages of a painting—a handmade wand to hold brushes (brass tubing, jute twine coated in clear acrylic)."
"The entryway to one of my studio spaces."
"Several years ago, the former editor of Classical Singer magazine, Freeman Gunter, gifted this Victor VV50, the first portable phonograph from 1922, as a Christmas present. I have since collected hundreds of 78 rpm records with a particular interest in acoustic-age recordings of folk songs, classical singing (melodies and Lieder), and early blues. I am most interested in artists who span acoustic and electric recording eras like Maggie Teyte, Hulda Lashanska, and Marian Anderson. On the phonograph at the moment is Marian Anderson's electric recording of 'Comin' Through The Rye.'"
"A book I always refer to—singer and musical authority Pierre Bernac's seminal text on the interpretation of French art songs. Freeman and I love that he refers to interpretative blunders as 'involuntary nuance!' "
"A windowsill in one of my rooms. My studio has northern exposure, so the light is best in the mornings and afternoons."
"On my screen is a page about Matthew Ritchie's Remanence at the ICA Boston. I met Kelley Deal at this show and we began collaborating from there."
"Singer shrine and tool area! A framed etching of legendary Maria Malibran framed in her lifetime (upper left). The muse of Benjamin Britten, Heather Harper, whose interpretation of Strauss' Four Last Songs (conducted by composer Pierre Boulez!) is my favorite of all. On the right is Hulda Lashanska, a master interpreter, who never had a stage career, but whose legacy of recordings captured my imagination. It has spurred me to preserve her memory by recording and posting her recordings on YouTube. I have spent many hours poring over and photographing her correspondences, which are housed in the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center."
"I repurposed a bit of green screen here."
"This is my incubator room. It's space I used to workshop ideas, review work that is experimental, and where some projects go to steep or sometimes perish. On the floor are some parts of costumes—a painted medical diagram of organs on a catsuit and a cardboard minstrel costume from a video project I am working on."
"An unfinished canvas. Sometimes I will pin a canvas in half to get some space from it before ultimately coming back to it."
"My other phonograph, a larger Victor VV IX from 1915. On the turntable at the moment is Al Jolson's recording of 'Swanee.' Some experiments with seriality in the background—an image that haunted me as a teenager from a scene in The Birth of a Nation—however I have isolated and turned the image, hopefully giving the impression that the subject is upright. This piece was a testing ground for clear glass head pins, which I now use occasionally in my work. There is a signed production shot from Lohengrin with Astrid Varnay and Eleanor Steber in the front, from Bayreuth. One of my skateboards, and, on the right, a Columbia graduation gown I got my hands on that is waiting for the right project."