In the basement of Stephanie Hongo’s house in Southington, there is an open bin full of trash. When Hongo sees it, she sees no mess. She sees an opportunity. Every day, she takes out some of this waste and transforms it into magnificent animal sculptures.
“Idris”, the great blue heron of Hongo, is composed of blinds, zip ties, extensions, buttons and bottle caps. “Cash”, her longhorn bull, has wooden spikes made from Barbie legs. His elephant, “Jericho”, has ears made from plastic Adirondack chairs and a head made from take-out containers. The ears of his giraffe, “Stella”, are cut-out basketballs.
“I want, when you first see it, to read it like an animal. Then you take a closer look because you see something ‘wrong’ about it, which seems a bit peculiar,” said Hongo said.
On Saturday, Hongo – whose professional nickname is Sugarfox – will showcase some of his animal sculptures at a one-night-only show in Hartford. She is one of dozens of artists who will participate in 2022 ART maniFESTation: RiseUP for Change, at the performance space Thomas Hooker Live taproom.
The benefit art evening — which will include performances, exhibits, food and drink — is being held in recognition of muralists who have created artwork in the state.
Hongo is one of these artists. His mural, in the main hallway of the Page Park swimming pool in Bristol, was unveiled last year. The background of the work is a painted underwater scene. The sea creatures swimming in the water – octopus, jellyfish, dolphin, starfish – are 3D found object sculptures, like the self-contained animals she creates.
Hongo, 36, grew up in Shelton. She and her twin sister started taking art classes when they were 10 years old. Hongo’s sister turned to typography and digital illustration. Hongo preferred painting. She then turned to sculpture. The change was out of necessity, just like his favorite medium, trash.
“I had a great job at Trader Joe’s as a sign artist. Then the work went downhill and I had to leave,” she said. “I looked for other jobs. I had a hard time finding anything that wasn’t digital art. I didn’t have those skills.
“I wanted to try to be an independent artist, but I had no supporters. I was thinking of painting, but these days people go to Target and buy a print for 10 bucks,” she said. “I thought the place to be was carving, but carving supplies are expensive.”
She saw images of the work of the Spanish sculptor Bordalo II, who creates animals from scraps. She was inspired. “It was so beautiful. I wanted to do a version of it, a smaller version,” she said.
One of her first attempts was a deer she named Yondu, from “Guardians of the Galaxy”. She made Yondu out of things lying around her house: a purse, sunglasses, Tupperware, a hair straightener, a grill lighter, a belt, a toothbrush, and other random items. She painted it blue and decided to keep it. Yondu hangs in the dining room of her house.
Yondu set the tone for his later work. Hongo makes creatures out of trash and then paints them. “You can make out everything in the sculpture when it’s not painted. Once painted, it becomes a solid, cohesive sculpture. It’s harder to discern what things are,” she said. But up close you can still make it out. I love this element.
Hongo never dives into trash cans for work materials. The news has made the rounds in the Bristol-Southington area, and sometimes she shouts on social media when she needs a particular article. People give him stuff for free. “People are happy not to just throw it away, that some utility will come out of it,” she said. She also makes extensive use of discarded items from her boyfriend’s job as an HVAC technician.
Hongo is in an enviable position for an artist. Making art is her full-time job. She doesn’t have a side gig or “day job”. She knows she is one of the lucky ones.
“I sit with gratitude every day,” she said. “I know how rare that is.”
Hartford-based RiseUP Group and Norwalk’s MAD (Manifest Art Dreams) present 2022 ART maniFESTation: RiseUP for Change. Matt Conway is founder and executive director of RiseUP, whose CT Murals division has created more than 100 murals statewide.
“We’re trying to manifest the future of the creative economy by showcasing some of Connecticut’s most progressive and groundbreaking artists,” Conway said. “We want to elevate the arts. We hope that politicians, directors of economic development and municipal officials will come so they can see what a culturally inclusive and creative community can bring to their communities.
Emida Roller, Lindsay Vigue, Joy Monroe, Alissa Siegal, Jaii Marc Renee, Chris Gann, Jillian Goeller, Michael Rice, Micaela Levesque, Corey Pane are other artists participating in the ART maniFESTation, all of whom have collaborated on murals via CT Murals. , Deka Henry, Lauren Clayton, Tiyah Thomas, Ben Keller, Arcy (Ryan Christenson), Julie Bergeron, Alex Ranniello, Joshua Morgan, Sophie Groenstein and André Rochester.
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The most recently unveiled murals by CT Murals are one by Roller at the YMCA at 9 Technology Park Drive in Putnam and one by Pane at the Department of Children and Families at 250 Hamilton Street in Hartford. A Levesque mural will be unveiled July 14 at Primo Press at 106 Riverside Avenue in Bristol.
Conway said he hopes proceeds from the party will fund more murals.
The evening’s host is Joey Batts. DJ Jonesy will provide music. Brandy Welch will do a video mapping performance. Annika Rhea will do a 20-minute live painting performance. Other Voice Theater will perform.
“The cast of Other Voice will be integrated into the event from start to finish, in the crowd, performing throughout,” Conway said.
Virtual reality stations will be available. Monroe will do body painting. In addition to entertainment and exhibits, admission includes food from Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ and an open bar from Thomas Hooker’s Brewery.
2022 ART maniFESTation: RiseUP for Change is Saturday from 6-11 p.m. at Hooker Live @ The Colt Factory, 1 Sequassen Street in Hartford. Admission is $50 presale, $75 at the door. theriseupgroup.org/am2022. instagram.com/mad_we_are/. Tickets can be purchased at eventbrite.com/e/art-manifestation-riseup-for-change-tickets-278392929747.
Susan Dunne can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.