American Sweatshop: Young Fort Lauderdale Artists Keep Art Fun

"I like to do epic shit," declares Renda Writer, a longtime denizen of the South Florida art scene. Writer is known for leading poetry readings and art shows (one infamously devoted to Ellen Degeneres) and launching an arts magazine called WeMerge.

In other words, he's gotten off his ass and tried to build a creative scene in South Florida rather than lament that there is none. "I can't just sit around and complain and be all 'Blah, blah, blah,' like a lot of people," he says.

Lately, Writer has been collaborating with a burgeoning Fort Lauderdale-based artist collective called American Sweatshop, composed of Albert Lichi, Taylor Cohen, Gregory Dirr, Stephanie Pino, and Paul Mcenery.

"Now I work with them at every event we can find," Writer says. "I do it because I love art and I love collaborating with other artists."

American Sweatshop was founded three years ago by now 23-year-old Pino and her friend and roommate Mcenery. "Paul and I always had a hard time sitting still," Pino says. "We wanted to find a way to do something productive and have fun doing it."

They started out making T-shirt designs. Then they got the idea to start going to places uninvited, create art on the fly, and then quickly leave. "We started posting up at shows and bars doing guerrilla-style art, and I would film it," she recalls.

Lately they've been showing up at art shows and bars, posting up large white-printed paper to draw on. Using Sharpies, they spend several hours drawing cutesy, life-sized cartoon murals. It's a little zany, a little experimental, and definitely fun.

"We are trying to change art shows as a whole," Pino says. "We want to curate ones that are high-energy, loud, and a lot of fun, with inclusiveness."

Their forthcoming show "Stay Tooned," at Studio 259 in Deerfield Beach, will take place on April 4 and 5. This showcase will feature mounted pieces surrounded by wall-encompassing illustrations. In a blacklit art room, artists will cover the walls amid the mystical glow. DJ OswaldoFuture will spin while the live-drawing action goes down. Bands including Montage, Milk Spot, and Suns of the Morning Star will perform in the warehouse's garage — a loft-style setting.

Pino describes the roles of each group member. "I'm the filmmaker," she says. She directs and edits DIY films. She's also the bass player for Milk Spot.

Mcenery is the crew's "conceptual artist/illustrator." He's a hyper guy with infectious energy. One of his impressive talents is drawing cartoons at rapid speeds. He's able to finish large-scale drawings in one sitting.

Dirr is the art director. And Lichi is the "Dracula," meaning he shows up only sometimes, and it's always killer, according to Pino.

"Greg and Paul work really well together in their style of cartooning," says Pino. "We're like a well-oiled machine that builds off of each other."

Cohen says she plays the "line producer" role in the collective. She's also a musician who's a "self-diagnosed-musical schizophrenic," having dabbled in diverse genres. Recently, she brought the American Sweatshop crew to Boca Raton Community High School as guests for a career day for the students. They live-drew a mural and talked about careers in photography and curation.

And Writer is the writer/poet of the ensemble.

Studio 259 opened earlier this year, with its first show in February. The Deerfield Beach workspace and gallery consists of the garage plus three rooms. Proprietor Sara Henick says she's open to presenting all types of art shows. She aims to have a new exhibition every month or so.

For the "Stay Tooned" exhibit, anyone who dresses up in a wild and over-the-top costume gets in for free, especially anyone clad as a bunny rabbit, alien, or Santa Claus. Food and beverages will be served.

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Andrea Richard