Legacy of Bruce Lee Lives On @ NY Martial Arts Academy

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By Jason McGahan

Bruce Lee stands in the ready position inside the entrance to the New York Martial Arts Academy, in Williamsburg.

He is shirtless, bending at the knee, twisting slightly to his right, every muscle on his rippling torso obedient to his will.

It’s a movie cut-out of Bruce, mind you, a still photograph taken from a fight scene in Enter the Dragon. But this image has been enlarged to life size, and is lifelike enough for me to approach with reverent caution.

This is the enduring, iconic image of Bruce Lee, in a fight to the death, as it should be. His face and chest are slashed and bleeding, but his wounds are only skin deep. Blood streaks like war paint down his glistening body. His hands are up, his eyes are ablaze.

Andy Warhol, eat your heart out

Now, somewhere in my memory, I knew Bruce Lee was short. But gradually, as I step close enough, I see he’s not only short but slender, too. I’m standing over him, looking down on him, a little surprised at how much narrower his shoulders are than mine.

Dino Orfanos, the academy’s lead instructor, is watching the whole scene from behind me.

“Five-feet seven, a hundred thirty-five pounds,” he says.

Orfanos steps forward. To my relief, he’s not an alpha-male vegetarian, pruning his words like the leaves on a bonsai. He’s a 51-year-old Greek with an Astoria accent. Curly white hair with a mustache, heavy-set, a silver chain around his neck. He could be the guy on the stool beside you when the Jets game’s on.

Yet Orfanos was trained by two of Bruce Lee’s most decorated students in Jeet Kune Do, the martial art that Bruce devised in the 1970s.

To break the ice, I tell him that my favorite Bruce Lee fight-scene of all time is in the martial arts tournament from Enter the Dragon. It’s when Bruce matches up against O’Hara, a big white ogre of a bad guy with a knife scar down his face, played by heavyweight world-kickboxing champ Bob Wall.

The best fights to me were always the ones when the fists of fury pulverized some rock-jaw of a Green Beret-gone Blackwater.

O’Hara more than fits the bill. He meets Bruce in combat on the island fortress of Han, a renegade Shaolin monk who broke the warrior’s code by trading in his oath for a lucrative life of crime in the Hong Kong underworld. Bruce is there in deep cover, a promising young Shaolin monk on a secret mission to break up Han’s criminal empire and avenge the grave dishonor brought upon the order. He is under the guise of a contestant in the martial arts tournament.

Say what you will about kung fu movies, they don’t split hairs over good and evil.

At tournament time, Han sits on a throne of gilded wood and arranges the fights. It is he who picks Bruce to fight O’Hara, delighting in the prospect of the big man making mincemeat of the stranger. Until the very last moment, however, Bruce isn’t told whom he will fight.

“Mister Lee, are you ready?” the referee asks. Bruce nods and watches with interest as the referee moves through the crowd in search of his opponent.

When O’Hara stands up he’s like a grizzly on his hind legs, two heads taller than any man around him in a karate uniform, a malevolent glare on his face.

Bruce lets his eyes widen a touch in response, as though he is slightly amused at his own disbelief.

The crowd clears a path for O’Hara, whose bearded jaw is clenched so tightly it’s like he can barely restrain his urge to kill for the few seconds it takes him to reach Bruce. When he does reach the fighting area, in lieu of bowing, he holds a board right in front of Bruce’s face and breaks it in half with his fist. Does Bruce flinch? Nah. “Boards don’t hit back” is all he says.

The two men square off at arm’s length, hand across hand, close enough to look each other in the eye. O’Hara regards Bruce’s poise with apprehension; Bruce stares back with the fleeting calm to be found at the center of a hurricane. The outcome is determined right then. O’Hara gets hit and dropped with one punch. The crowd applauds politely. He gets up rubbing his jaw, lines up again, a bit hurriedly this time, and gets dropped again, just as quickly. The polite applause resumes. Bruce’s hands are just way too fast for O’Hara, who flies off in a rage. And man, Bruce punches hard!

Orfanos stops me before I go any further. My recollection of the fight scene has evidently hit a nerve with him. He pulls me by the elbow over toward him, so that we’re facing each other.

“What Bruce is doing there is what we call the straight lead,” Orfanos says. “We teach to lead punch with your strong arm.” To demonstrate, he throws a flurry of straight right leads at my face from different angles, his softball-sized fist halting each time near the tip of my nose. “Like a boxer fighting Southpaw, see? Only these aren’t jabs we’re throwing.”

Indeed, the straight lead that Orfanos demonstrates is more of a thrust than a jab; his whole body lunges forward behind his fist. It’s a high-percentage punch, thrown with power, and since it doesn’t require the striker to over-commit his body, he stays relatively far away and protected. The technique, I later learn, was one that Bruce Lee appropriated from fencing.

“We also teach crosses and hooks with the back hand,” he said. “It leads to combinations that a lot of people aren’t used to.”

Orfanos opened his first Jeet Kune Do academy in Long Neck in 1985. The Williamsburg location, his second, opened in May. He and his partner, Peter Papamichael, believe it to be the only academy of its kind on the East Coast.

Papamichael was a teenage martial-arts student in Little Neck when he met Orfanos. The two-story building on North 8th that’s home to the new academy is his. “I could’ve turned this place into condos,” he told me, “or I could have turned it into this.”

The place is an old factory with two spacious floors. It’s fully equipped. A practice room on each floor. A sparring cage upstairs. A lounge area. On the day I was there they were putting in a gift shop.

While Orfanos and I talk, a martial-arts fitness lesson for five-year-olds begins in the other room. It’s not scary at all, just three little kids doing kung-fu aerobics. Adult classes are the main focus of the academy.

“I love it here, this is a wild neighborhood,” Orfanos said of his block near Bedford Avenue

Orfanos says the actual number of students enrolled is double what they projected. He says he is optimistic that Bruce Lee’s martial art will find a home in Williamsburg. “A lot of people don’t realize it, but Bruce was very anti-establishment. He stood up against 300 years of obsolete tradition.” I ask Orfanos to elaborate.

Every ancient fighting style, he says, favors a certain form of combat, be it striking, grappling, trap locks, or weapons. Each of the respective founders devised a system of rules and classical forms to favor his own strengths. Once the style was set, students learned it by repeating the same movements again and again, a process that Bruce Lee said teaches them to imitate, not to fight.

“If you follow the classical pattern,” Bruce wrote, “you’re understanding the routine, the tradition, the shadow — you are not understanding yourself.”

“We don’t teach a style,” Orfanos says. “We teach the kinetics and the physics of fighting.“

The word master isn’t used by students to refer to their instructors at the NY Martial Arts Academy. “Who’s the master?” Orfanos asks. “No one is. We’re not even masters of our own destiny.” Instead, the instructors are called sifu, which means teacher. Black workout pants and black t-shirts is the standard training outfit. No one wears a karate gi, for the simple reason that no one wears one in a street fight.

“We’re trying to minimize as much as possible the differences between in here, and out there,” he says, gesturing toward the door.

Orfanos doesn’t believe in belts, either. He says they encourage complacency. So then, how does he determine competence? “By skill,” he deadpans.

Orfanos arrived at Jeet Kune Do after 15 years of traditional martial arts training in Kung Fu and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He tells a story from his days early of training under the renowned grandmaster of Brazilian jiu-jitsu Reylson Gracie. During one sparring match, Orfanos picked his opponent up off the ground and body-slammed him onto the mat. The class went silent, and the instructor reprimanded Orfanos on the spot.

“He told me I wasn’t allowed to do that,” Orfanos recalled. “I was like, why not?”

Orfanos said he was instantly impressed at how applicable the Jeet Kune Do teaching was to an actual street fight. But he was also  attracted to the philosophy behind it, a philosophy that Bruce Lee developed in his own personal journals, and which the executors to his estate later compiled into a book, Jeet Kune Do: Bruce Lee’s Commentaries on the Martial Way. Jeet Kune Do is the fruit of Bruce Lee’s life’s work, written in field notes and Taoist epigrams, it is equal parts Sun Tzu and Lao Tzu.

“You must be fierce, but have patience at the same time,” he advises his reader. “Most important of all, you must have complete determination.”

Though the book abounds with enough pithy sayings to stand alone as a motivational text, any martial philosophy worth its salt had better have something meaningful to say about combat. As Sun Tzu counsels in The Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” So Bruce Lee does, and he comes up with a way to fight that is actually reacting against the deficiencies he detects in pre-existing fighting styles.

Suffice it to say that when Bruce urges the reader to show complete determination in combat, he backs it up with specifics. Here, for example, is a critique he wrote on the limitations of judo and wrestling, reproduced here, word for word, from his journal:

1. A sport (no foul tactics)

2. Lacks long-range tactics (kicking, hair-pulling, butting, finger jab, kneeing, elbowing, stomping on shin or instep, grabbing groin, pinching skin, pulling ears, biting, etc.)”

To summarize, when the chips are down, neither wrestling nor judo has anything to say to the man on the path of the righteous. Not if one day comes when his honor depends on biting off an enemy’s ear.

Bruce Lee, it’s fair to say, guides his readers through the very darkest regions of the human heart.

“The worst opponent you can come across is one whose aim has become an obsession,” he writes. “For instance, if a man has decided that he is going to bite off your nose no matter what happens to him in the process, the chances are he will succeed in doing it. He may be severely beat up too, but that will not stop him from carrying out his objective. That is the real fighter.”

James Orfanos has clearly read the same Bruce Lee book that I have. James is Dino’s son and a young instructor in his own right at the NYMAA in Williamsburg. In a promotional video on the academy’s web site, he repeats the same important distinction between a fight and a sport.

“There’s a lot of arts that deal with — like take a ring sport, like Thai boxing. You put two guys that are on the same weight class, same skill level, and they fight within rules. But when you take out those rules, a lot of things change. There’s a lot of things we teach here that might be considered ‘dirty’ fighting. But it’s what’s going to get you home safe at night, and that’s really what I want to teach my students, because they’re good people.”

All this talk of kicks, knees and elbows reminds me of Mixed Martial Arts — the cage-fights of strikers versus grapplers. And not just because the Williamsburg academy holds its sparring sessions on a spring-loaded mat in a caged octagon upstairs.

Like Bruce advised back in the early 1970s, MMA fighters borrow techniques from a variety of fighting styles, without pledging allegiance to any of them.

MMA owes an obvious debt to Bruce Lee, with some of its leading practitioners even crediting him as the original cage-fighter. Eddie Bravo, for one, an MMA fighter and jiu-jitsu world champion, spoke to Bruce’s influence in a mini-documentary on Youtube.

“Everything he said was always about don’t get locked into a style,” Bravo said. “Don’t be a slave to a style. Dissect it, look into every style. And taking what’s good and adding it to your game. To have no style is a style.”

Now that Bruce Lee’s fighting prowess is beyond dispute, isn’t the philosophy stuff really a bit much? The academy in Williamsburg teaches a one-hour philosophy class every Saturday morning. Orfanos says that it’s a complementary part of the training, though not required.

Aren’t the non-cage-fighters among us entitled to at least raise an eyebrow to this? Isn’t being disabled and taken down by a perfect arm-bar technique enough? Must we also be made to suffer our tormentor’s disquisition on Yin and Yang?

Jeet Kune Do, like cognitive-behavioral therapy and a raft of self-help books, emphasizes that how we think about something will ultimately decide what that something is. “What you are is because of your habits of thought,” Bruce Lee writes. And habits of thought, he reminds us, are subject to control.

Predictably, combat is the master metaphor for an individual’s conduct in the face of adversity. Really, is there a better one? Combat as a reminder to remain humble and persevere in the face of doubt. Combat as a reminder to trust what you see and act on what you want. And so on.

It is a philosophy with something to say about remaining present in the world.

Typical of warrior philosophy, Jeet Kune Do concerns itself with truth as an outcome of events, rather than as an absolute The idea is to prepare to be your best at the appointed time.

Martial arts, like any strenuous exercise, soothes the estrangement between body and mind.

The physical exertion of training heightens the martial artist’s perception of movement, distance, timing, rhythm.

The leap from there to a philosophy of life is surprisingly short. Perception, not knowledge, is what determines truth in Jeet Kune Do. Truth is fleeting, and only barely visible. “Don’t think,” Bruce scolds a young pupil of his in Enter the Dragon, “feel.”

Orfanos and I are sitting in his office. He has been holding forth for quite some time about philosophy and martial arts, imparting combat tips along the way. I learn a lot in a short amount of time.

At some point, however, he notices that I’ve stopped listening. We’re sitting across his desk from one another. He leans back in his chair for a thoughtful moment, and then leans forward.

“Lift your arm so it covers your ear like this,” he says, pointing his elbow straight ahead. I do as I’m told. He reaches back and, placing his wrist on the desktop for balance, cuffs me with a roundhouse that lands squarely on my raised arm. The impact causes my forearm to bounce off the side of my head.

“Not much of a block, is it?” he asks. “So why are women much smaller than you being taught to block punches with her arm up like that? Does that seem like self-defense to you? A martial artist is trained to hit and avoid being hit.”

His point, as I straighten the hair on my ruffled temple, that a martial art is a true form of art. And that the true martial artist is one who aspires to the freest form of self-expression.

To learn more about NY Martial Arts Academy and how to enroll for classes, click here.  (www.NYMAA.com).

Olechowski Beats Restler by 19 Votes—Apathy Alive and Well in Williamsburg

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By Phil DePaolo

In what had to be one of the most bizarre races in recent memory, Chris Olechowski defeated Lincoln Restler in their contentious race for the 50th Assembly District Leader post. The day after election day, it seemed Chris Olechowski had won by 136 votes. But as the Board of Elections counted hundreds of absentee and affidavit ballots in the following week, word came out that Olechowski’s lead was down to 50 votes. Then on September 22nd, I received this message from Lincoln Restler: “After every last valid ballot has been counted, we have won by 53 votes! Against all odds, we have pulled this thing off!”

So it seemed that the verdict was in and Lincoln was the winner as he had been two years earlier. You might recall in the 2010 race Restler was behind by 97 votes in his first race for democratic district leader, but then won by a 120 vote margin in a recount. But this year, things would be more bizarre. A few days later, I received this announcement from Restler: “The canvassing of voting machines was completed and emergency, affidavit, and absentee ballots were all fully accounted for. Board of Elections staff and our election lawyers confirmed the result: every valid ballot had been counted and we had overcome a 136 vote margin on election night to be ahead by 53 votes in the final result.

“Then we received a phone call from technological consultants to the Board of Elections informing us that their assessment had changed. Two memory sticks from the same scanning machine had yielded different results. We spent the weekend assessing how two data drives from the same machine could possibly provide different numbers, but we now believe we are facing a deficit of 31 votes.”

So now it seemed that Restler was losing after winning after losing. So due to the race being so close a recount was put in place. The city’s Board of Elections announced on Tuesday, October 16th that Lincoln Restler, had indeed lost by 19 votes to Chris Olechowski. The final tally was 6,037 votes for Chris Olechowski, chairman of  Community Board 1 Brooklyn, and 6,018, for Lincoln  Restler a margin of 0.16 percent. So 33 days after the elections it was finally over. I was very troubled how the city’s Board of Elections could so badly botch a total of 12,055 votes, putting both candidates through the emotional ringer. I was also saddened by the apathy in Greenpoint and Northside Williamsburg with extremely low voter turnout as this chart shows.

The New York Times noted on October 17th that, “Mr. Olechowski’s victory appeared due at least in part to support in the district’s Hasidic precincts. Turnout among Satmar Hasidim loyal to Mr. Vito Lopez was enormous on Election Day.” The Daily News also reported on September 20th that,”Rabbi David Niederman was calling supporters touting his ability to convince thousands of Satmars from the Zalmanite faction to pull the lever for Olechowski.”

“He’s letting everyone know he still has it,” a political pundit said at the time. Now I feel it is not fair to take issue with the Satmars, since they are doing what every citizen should do on election day and that’s vote! In a district with over 130,000 residents if the turnout was as high in Northside Williamsburg and Greenpoint as it was in Southside Williamsburg it would show a better reflection of who the entire community wanted as its Democratic District Leader. The Satmars are just doing what every resident has the same right to do and that’s vote! Also remember electeds will always remember who butters the political bread they need to win elections.

So anyone who claims that the Satmars gave this election to  Olechowski is not really seeing the whole picture. The apathy has to end. And it is not just in this election. This neighborhood has been increasing in population yet turnout has not increased for the last presidential and mayoral elections. So when the City and State do not provide the services this community needs, look no further that the ballot box. This really has to change. And I feel badly because Greenpoint and Williamsburg have some of the most civic-minded people anywhere and they try so hard to make things better for everyone. Yet there is never any butter for the apathetic communities in the eyes of Mayor. Your vote is your power and voice, and if you don’t vote in the elected, eyes you don’t matter! I spoke to Lincoln and Chris. I feel Lincoln has taken the District Leader job and showed how viable it can be. I used to call our former District Leaders party planners whom you would only see at award dinners. But Lincoln was active and I hope Chris can build on Lincoln’s accomplishments.

Lincoln is very proud of his base and the efforts he made in winning most areas outside of the areas controlled by the Satmars. He is going to continue to be a strong advocate for the community. Just because he lost does not mean he is going away. Many feel he is gearing up to run against Current City Council Member Steve Levin. But in a recent conversation, he would not say what his plans are.  Chris was very appreciative of Lincoln’s efforts as District leader and plans on making the issue of poverty a major issue of his term. He told me this is a civic issue and that he will be strongly advocating for funds to help address this issue. I wish both men nothing but good luck going forward and I pray that all residents of this community work together to improve things. Voting would be a big step in that direction.

Still on fire.


Community Markets, a Growing Trend

courtesy Community Farmers Market

courtesy Community Farmers Market

By Mary Yeung

So many fall apples overflowing at the green markets. Honey Crisp, Winesap, Russet, Gala and Orins, enough apples to make apple butter, hard apple cider, apple pie, even parsnip and apple soup. Ginger Gold, Fortune and Winesap are considered heirloom varieties, while Northern Spy and Jonathan are New York natives, discovered in the 1800‘s. They are good for eating and baking. Mutsu, originally from Japan, are now thriving in upstate New York. The wide selection of apples have inspired me to think outside of the box. Tired of using the same old Golden Delicious in a pie? Try Jonagold instead, you’ll taste the difference in sweetness and texture.

Going to the green market on the weekend has never been easier. This year, Community Farmers Markets, has opened two new green markets in the nabe, one on the south side of picturesque McGolrick Park (Russell St.) in Greenpoint and another at the spunky Cooper Park (Maspeth Ave.) in East Williamsburg. There, you’ll find an array of farm produce along with enough artisanal food to make your weekend just that much more yummy.

At McGolrick Park, I was surprised to find Ben Flanner, president of Brooklyn Grange, manning the booth himself. Brooklyn Grange is the celebrated rooftop farm located on top of a giant warehouse in Long Island City. Short of growing the kale yourself, you can’t get fruit and vegetables more local than that. Ben was cheerfully dripping drops of Propolis tincture on the backs of our hands so we could taste the potency of this cocktail mixer. He was also selling ground cherries and Tulsi Tea alongside all the beautiful vegetables he grows.

Another interesting vendor is Brooklyn Cured, a two-year-old sausage company from Brooklyn native Scott Bridi. He ran the Gramercy Tavern’s charcuterie program for two years and worked for Marlow and Daughter’s Butcher Shop for a year before striking out on his own. He grew up in Bensonhurst and worked at hipster joints around town; the perfect guy to bridge the divide between the Natives and the Hipsters. Brooklyn Cured carries andouille sausage, merguez (lamb), chicken chorizo, wild boar with porcini mushroom sausage among other exotic seasoned meats.

After strong cocktails and fatty sausages, you’ll need dessert, right? Get a pie from Pie Lady & Son. On the day I was there, the Pie Lady’s son was hawking his mom’s pies. How sweet is that? The company is from Rockland County and has been in business since 1996. The pies are delicious, not too sweet and light on the cinnamon — the apple really holds its shape. You can choose from a variety of pies, apple crumb, apple cranberry, apple pear walnut… They’re $15 for a 7“ pie and $22 for a 10“ pie.

Another pie company is Pie Corps, which sells pot pies, empanadas, and quiches. Soon, they will open a savory and sweet pie shop at 77 Driggs Ave, so watch for their grand opening .

An unexpected vendor was Orwasher Bakery, a bread baker founded in Manhattan in 1916. They have a bread shop on the Upper East Side where they are famous for their sour dough, challah and whole grain breads. They also do a wine bread — Pain de Champagne, oh la la. I used to make the trek up to 78th St. (near 2nd Ave.) just to get a loaf of sour dough. Now, one of my favorite breads is just a hop and a skip away.

At another table, I ran into Nicole Reed, Community Farmers Markets’ Communication Director. She was talking up Mortgage Apple Cakes from New Jersey. The company was started by Angela Logan, who was trying to save her house from foreclosure by baking and selling lots of cake. (It worked!) Nicole spent the next fifteen minutes introducing me to all the vendors.

At Cooper Park, the atmosphere was bright and festive. There was this great little 3-piece band, called the Slide Blues (after the slide trombone guy). There is nothing like live music to make you hungry and open your wallet. Here, I found Horman’s Best Pickles, from Glen Cove, Long Island. If you like things pickled, this is the place; they have kosher dill, brown mustard, honey mustard, spicy sour, bread & butter and red flannel pickles and peppers. The owner, Nick Horman, was a philosophy major in college, but his family has been in the pickling business for three generations. So he too started his own pickling company eight years ago, because philosophy don’t pay the rent (unless you are Chopra Deepak). Anyway, I, for one, feel very privileged to have my pickles cured by a Long Island philosopher. After consuming a quart of bread and butter pickles, you’ll need coffee. Pick up some certified organic beans from Tierra Farm which hails from Columbia County. Then visit Garden of Eve Farm from River Head Long Island for your organic fruits and vegetables. You can also pick up concord grapes and buckwheat honey from Migliorelli Farm, Tivoli, New York.

The McCarren Park Market, operated by GrowNY, is where I kept running into old friends I had not seen for a while, so that is the added bonus of shopping there. You’ll find cheese, bread, fresh fish, wine, apple cider and sunflowers as big as a dinner plate. Vegetables come in a riot of colors, golden beets, white eggplants and purple potatoes. You’re just in awe of what comes out of the earth. At Salento Farm (Connecticut), I found a professional jet pilot turned farmer who grows only garlic and eggplants and then turns the German red rocambole garlic into aromatic spices that are perfect for seasoning his pickled eggplant products.

Across from him is Osczepnski Farm, where you can pick up tri-color heirloom tomatoes and purslane and all kinds of fresh herbs and greens. If you have a sunny window, it’s never too late to grow a mini-herb farm in your kitchen.

If you have a EBT card, you can swipe it at the EBT station and exchange it for tokens so you can shop for fresh produce. Good to know that so many food stamp dollars are going back to support our local farmers.

GrowNY started the green market movement back in 1976 as a way to get fresh produce to city folk and help struggling upstate farmers stay on their land. Today, it is the best thing about living in New York. They have expanded to include farmers in the tri-state area, which is good for the consumers because we get more choices. This green market is more than just about the food, it is teaching us a way of life, you’ll also learn about composting, recycling, wind power and local sourcing.

Community Farmers Markets, which operates the McGolrick Park and Cooper Park markets started in Ossing, New York in 1991 by Miriam Haas; who wanted to bring fresh produce from environmentally-conscious farmers to her community. Today it runs 18 markets in the tri-state area. There are three in Brooklyn. We’re lucky to have two of them in our neighborhood. These markets will help local food artisans test out the market. So bring your kids, bring your dogs, taste some pie and let these vendors tell you their stories. Support your local green markets, so they will be around for a long time. This year, the Community Farmers Markets will stay open until November 18th, just in time for Thanksgiving.

Send us your photos of street scenes at the farmers markets at McCarren, McGolrick, and Cooper Park,  at info@thewgnews.com

Trent’s Top Gallery Picks: Jack Early at Southfirst

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Southfirst, 60 N. 6th St.; McCaffrey Fine Art, 23 E. 67th St., through 10/27

Jack Early gets super-duper hippie-dippy in these two stupendous shows. Pop psychedelia from the late 1960s and early 70s permeates everything—and even gets inside our ears. The exhibition at McCaffrey, called “Gallery Peace,” centers on Yoko Ono, with 13 life-size Yokos, one in each color of the rainbow, filling a room. Each is a plywood standee bearing a picture of her face seamlessly attached to the body of a classically posed French woman—stark naked except for a pearl necklace—culled from an old photograph. This repeating image brings to mind Botticelli’s 1496 masterpiece “The Birth of Venus,” but instead of emerging from a clamshell, Yoko bursts forth from various trippy American and Japanese iconography: shooting stars, a rainbow, a rising sun, Hokusai’s great wave.

Jack Early, “Jesus Had Two Dads (Oh Mary!),” 2012, wood, fabric, cotton batting, plywood, and rubber. Courtesy McCaffrey Fine Art. Photo credit: Tim Pyle.

Jack Early, “WWJD,” 2012, mixed media, installation view (detail). Courtesy Southfirst. Photo credit: Erik Rocca.

The vibrant standees surround the sculpture “Bed Peace,” a bare mattress imprinted with a large black-and-white photo of John Lennon and Yoko at the height of their hippie phase, which is meant to evoke the Shroud of Turin. Elsewhere, Yoko’s visage peeks out from a tie-dyed American flag and says in a speech bubble, “Jesus had 2 dads,” as campy comedian Rip Taylor exclaims, “Oh Mary!”

If “Gallery Peace” emphasizes the corporeal, the show at Southfirst, “WWJD,” is about transfiguration. The whole space has been painted sky blue, with pillowlike clouds attached to the walls, as if we’re floating in the stratosphere. A set of footsteps, made of muslin and filled with lentils, traverses the room and leads to a glowing cross, where an image of the main character from the 1970s play “Godspell” is crucified. If you’ve ever seen the play, you know that this isn’t your usual bearded and bedraggled Jesus in a loincloth. Rather, he wears a Superman shirt, striped pants, and suspenders, with big hair and sad-clown makeup—a sensitive, triumphant, and groovy savior. The installation is hippie culture gone to heaven, sacrificed for society’s greater good.

As with much of his recent work, Early has written soothing soundtracks to accompany the shows. This time, the songs, performed by Early and Britta Phillips of Dean and Britta, have a psychedelic tinge to the lyrics and instrumentation. (There’s a sitar and a flute!) These subtle and beautiful tracks demonstrate that the artist is just as formidable at crafting music as he is at making installations. Whatever the medium, Early’s creations have the power to transport.

Juergen Teller, No. 38 of the work “Irene im Wald,” 2012, C-print, 10 x 8 in. Courtesy the artist, The Journal Gallery, and Lehmann Maupin Gallery.

The Journal Gallery, 168 N. 1st St., through 11/4

Juergen Teller’s photographs have always shown it like it is, and his pictures of his mother are no exception. For the remarkably straightforward series “Irene im Wald” (Irene in the Forest), Teller photographed his mother strolling through the tamed wilds of Nuremburg, Germany, under pale, filtered sunlight. She wears a brownish-gray vest, blue jeans, heelless pumps, and large eyeglasses—just a regular lady. But, given that she’s the photographer’s mom, there’s an inherent sweetness to the whole thing, no matter how hard Teller tries to establish an uncompromising perspective.

Teller has no interest in idealizing nature, either. Only one picture shows an animal—a close-up of a slimy frog. (Another image portrays a bunny in a shallow hole, though it’s hard to tell whether we’re looking at a real bunny sleeping, a corpse, or a garden statue.) Elsewhere, the grass is dead, deciduous trees lack leaves, and every photo reveals some sort of human intrusion on the landscape: a park bench, a trail, a drainpipe, a crucifix, unnaturally stacked logs and branches, and, of course, Irene.

Stories printed beneath some of the pictures offer insights into Teller’s upbringing. This is where the art feels truly personal. We find out about the time that Irene sent money to young Teller while he was out the country, and then he got robbed but didn’t tell her. We learn of Teller’s father’s death, in 1988, and how his uncle Artur (his father’s brother) stepped in to become Irene’s companion. Artur appears in a few photos here, joking with Irene on a park bench. The series has also been compiled in a book, which comes with the next issue of The Journal magazine. It’s all a perfectly imperfect ode to a mother.

Sam Martineau, “Köln,” 2012, acrylic on muslin, 30 x 17 in. Courtesy Rawson Projects.

Rawson Projects, 223 Franklin Ave., through 10/21

Each of Sam Martineau’s minimalist canvases measures roughly the size of a torso, giving these ardently abstract paintings a decidedly human vibe. Some are loosely executed, while others are emblazoned with sharp lines that allude to sports uniforms and racecars. The stripes might zigzag over the surface, as they do in “Rainbow Over Autobahn.” Or they might form thick bands, like they do in “June,” which resembles a fresh slab of Neapolitan ice cream.

Martineau’s particular brand of minimalism is alluringly charismatic, thanks to his embrace of unconventional materials. A few paintings here have repurposed patterned fabrics and even cheap rags as canvases. And in a piece called “P,” the idea of a sports uniform becomes literal. It’s an Inter Milan soccer jersey on stretcher bars, with the Pirelli sponsorship logo visible under faint acrylic paint, and it is a perfect marriage of concept, substance, and humanity.

As for our Scottish terrier, Winston, who also saw the show, he had two very different favorites: “Köln,” an über-graphic expanse of beige paint with five racing stripes (which include the colors of the German flag), and “Memorized Breaths,” a messier field of pink acrylic and crayon with little wads of newspaper scattered about. Winston seemed to think the paper gobs were something he could eat.

A Tale of Two Brownfields (reprinted from City Limits)

Marc Fader/City Limits

Marc Fader/City Limits

Reprinted from City Limits

A Tale of Two Brownfields

Even as a city program for cleaning up contaminated sites shows promise, two tainted areas in Brooklyn reflect different challenges that remediation can face—like pricetags and politics.  WG Ed. Note: This may not be in everyone’s consciousness but it needs to be there. Almost all of the Brownfields are in our neighborhood.

By Jake Mooney

As far as anyone knows, the long, low brick building at 1127-1129 Irving Avenue, just on the Queens side of the Brooklyn-Queens border, became a brownfield-in-waiting around 1940, when the building’s owners began importing monzanite sand from the Belgian Congo. The owners, at the Wolff-Alport Chemical Company, extracted rare earth elements from the sand to sell, and then sold some of the leftover thorium, a radioactive byproduct, to the federal Atomic Energy Commission. The rest, they dumped down the sewer.  Click to continue reading.