In the basement of Stephanie Hongo’s Southington home, there is an open bin full of trash. When Hongo sees it, she doesn’t see a mess. She sees an opportunity. Every day she pulls out some of that trash and transforms it into sculptures of magnificent animals.
“Idris,” Hongo’s great blue heron, is made of window blinds, zip ties, extension cords, buttons and bottle caps. “Cash,” her longhorn bull, has antler tips made of Barbie legs. Her elephant, “Jericho,” has ears made from plastic Adirondack chairs and a head made of takeout containers. The ears of her giraffe, “Stella,” are cut-up basketballs.
“I want, when you first see it, for you to read it as an animal. Then you look closer because you see something ‘off’ about it, that looks a little peculiar, ”Hongo said.
On Saturday, Hongo – whose professional moniker is Sugarfox – will present a few of her animal sculptures in 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 Thomas Hooker Live taproom-performance space.
The benefit art party – which will feature performances, exhibits, food and drink – is set up as a recognition of muralists who have created artworks in the state.
Hongo is one of those artists. Her mural, in the main corridor at Page Park pool in Bristol, was unveiled last year. The artwork’s background is a painted underwater scene. The sea creatures swimming in the water – octopus, jellyfish, dolphin, starfish – are 3-D found-object sculptures, like the freestanding animals she creates.
Hongo, 36, grew up in Shelton. She and her twin sister started taking art classes at age 10. Hongo’s sister gravitated toward typography and digital illustration. Hongo preferred painting. She later switched to sculpture. The switch was by necessity, as was her preferred medium, garbage.
“I had a great job at Trader Joe’s as a sign artist. Then the job went downhill and I needed to get out, ”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 a freelance artist but I didn’t have a following. I thought painting, but these days people go to Target and buy a print for 10 bucks, ”she said. “I figured the place to be sculpture, but sculpture supplies are expensive.”
She saw pictures of work by the Spanish sculptor Bordalo II, who creates animals from pieces of garbage. She was inspired. “It was so beautiful. I wanted to do some version of that, a smaller version, ”she said.
One of her earliest attempts was a deer she named Yondu, from “Guardians of the Galaxy.” She made Yondu with things lying around her house: a purse, sunglasses, Tupperware, a straightening iron, a grill lighter, a belt, a toothbrush and other random items. She painted him blue and decided to keep him. Yondu hangs in the dining room of her home.
Yondu set the tone for her later work. Hongo crafts creatures with garbage then paints them. “You can make out everything in the sculpture when it is unpainted. Once you paint it, it becomes a cohesive, solid sculpture. It’s harder to discern what the things are, ”she said. “But close up, you can still make it out. I like that element of it. ”
Hongo never dumpster-dives for working materials. Word has gotten around the Bristol-Southington area, and sometimes she does a shout-out on social media when she needs a particular item. People give her stuff for free. “People are glad that they’re not just throwing it away, that some use is going to come out of it,” she said. She also gets a lot of use out of discarded stuff from her boyfriend’s job as an HVAC technician.
Hongo is in an enviable position for an artist. Making art is her full-time employment. She doesn’t have a side gig or a “day job.” She knows she is one of the lucky ones.
“I sit in gratitude about it every day,” she said. “I know how crazy rare it is.”
The Hartford-based RiseUP Group and MAD (Manifest Art Dreams) of Norwalk are presenting 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 are trying to manifest the future of the creative economy by featuring some of the most progressive and groundbreaking artists from Connecticut,” Conway said. “We want to elevate the arts. We hope politicians, economic development directors and city officials come so they can see what a culturally inclusive and creative community can bring to their communities. ”
Other artists participating in the ART maniFESTation, all of whom have collaborated on murals through CT Murals, are Emida Roller, Lindsay Vigue, Joy Monroe, Alissa Siegal, Jaii Marc Renee, Chris Gann, Jillian Goeller, Michael Rice, Micaela Levesque, Corey Pane , Deka Henry, Lauren Clayton, Tiyah Thomas, Ben Keller, Arcy (Ryan Christenson), Julie Bergeron, Alex Ranniello, Joshua Morgan, Sophie Groenstein and Andre Rochester.
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The most recently unveiled murals by CT Murals are one by Roller at the YMCA on 9 Technology Park Drive in Putnam and one by Pane at the Department of Children and Families at 250 Hamilton Street in Hartford. A mural by Levesque will be unveiled on July 14 at Primo Press on 106 Riverside Avenue in Bristol.
Conway said he hopes proceeds from the party will finance more murals.
The emcee for the night is Joey Batts. DJ Jonesy will provide music. Brandy Welch will do a projection-mapping performance. Annika Rhea will do a 20-minute live painting performance. Other Voice Theater will do a performance.
“The actors from Other Voice will be infused into the event from beginning to end, in the crowd, doing performances 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 Brewery.
2022 ART maniFESTation: RiseUP for Change is Saturday from 6 to 11 pm at Hooker Live @ The Colt Factory, 1 Sequassen Street in Hartford. Admission is $ 50 pre-sale, $ 75 at the door. theriseupgroup.org/am2022. instagram.com/mad_we_are/. Tickets can be bought at eventbrite.com/e/art-manifestation-riseup-for-change-tickets-278392929747.
Susan Dunne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.