Speaking with Alice Mizrachi

An artist, curator and educator, Alice Mizrachi is the co-founder of the YOUNITY Arts Collective, a word-wide group of female artists committed to sharing their talents with the community and educating the next generation.  While visiting Alice’s studio in Sunnyside, Queens last week, we had the opportunity to pose some questions to her.

Your entire life – your own work and the work you do with others – seems to center on art. At what point did you realize that you wanted to be an artist?

I was always drawing, but I didn’t get serious about art until my junior year in high school. I reached out then to the art teacher at Benjamin Cordoza High School and told him that I wanted to be in his studio art program.  He was skeptical at first, but I won him over. I never wanted to leave my assigned “studio” space. I decided that the only college I would attend was an art school. I applied to Parsons – behind my parents’ back – and was accepted.

How did your parents respond when they found out that you were determined to attend an art college?

They were not happy.

I guess you had bills to pay! What kind of work did you find once you graduated?

I worked for a bit in illustration, design and animation.

What about these days?

My days are filled with creating art and inspiring others to create art. I teach both in school settings, informal spaces and in my own studio. On weekends about ten girls come to my class here where we do everything from making collages to cutting stencils. I’m also working on a number of proposals that will allow the members of the YOUNITY Arts Collective to share their talents with folks in other parts of the world.

What inspired you to launch the YOUNITY Arts Collective?  It is the force behind one of my favorite murals in Williamsburg.

Toofly and I were seeking an organized forum for women artists to share their ideas and to showcase their artwork to the public. We were also interested in teaching the next generation how to organize art events, while providing them with the opportunity to work with professional artists. We wanted a solid group in which each member could maintain her individuality, yet be part of a collective. And in 2007, YOUNITY was launched. We view YOUNITY as a world-wide catalyst for change.

What kinds of projects has YOUNITY generated?

Many! We’ve created murals in public spaces, curated exhibits, set up crafts markets, organized panel discussions and arranged youth workshops.

I first discovered your artwork a number of years back at Fuse Gallery in the East Village. But since I’ve since seen it on city walls. I’ve also noticed your stickers around town.  What initially inspired you to get up?

My brother’s a b-boy and while we were growing up in Queens, he turned me on to the whole hip-hop scene. When I was in junior high school, I started catching tags in the streets. But my first official wall was at a Meeting of Styles event in 2003.

Who are some of your influences? Artists who’ve inspired you?

Many, many…I feel a strong connection to Basquiat and Frida Kahlo. I love Swoon, both her art and her sense of social responsibility.  I’m also inspired by Trystan Bates who runs Honeycomb Arts.  And my friends and members of the YOUNITY Arts Collective are a constant source of inspiration.

Your art seems to reflect a strong Middle Eastern sensibility. Where does that come from?

My parents were born in Israel and I visit the country once a year. I’m intrigued by Hebrew and Arabic calligraphy which I’ve begun to incorporate into my artwork.

That explains it! If you could collaborate with anyone, whom would you choose to work with?

Among the artists I’d love to paint with are: Know Hope, Gaia, Os Gemeos and the Peruvian collective, Pussy Crew. And I would LOVE to work with the Guerilla Girls.

If you could paint anywhere, what spot would you choose?

My desire is to get up in a large policed area like Times Square.

What’s next?

I just had an interview that aired last week on GritTV.com. I am part of a group show that opens on March 24th at NYU’s Bronfman Center Gallery. In April I may be traveling to China with some of the YOUNITY ladies to paint in a jam. In July I will be exhibiting at Causey Contemporary Gallery with Honeycomb, an arts collective based out of Argentina. In 2012 there will be a YOUNITY exhibit at Causey Contemporary. I’m also currently applying for grants for upcoming projects – so we’ll see where that goes.

‘sounds great! What do you see yourself doing in the years ahead?

Art, art and more art. I’d also like to travel more. Last summer, I participated in a residency in Paris, where I had the opportunity to paint murals and work on a commissioned series of prints of jazz musicians. I would love more opportunities to create artwork abroad.

The following image, courtesy of Alice Mizrachi, is a collaboration between the artist and Trystan Bates:

Interview by Lois Stavsky