Mighty Tanaka

Art Advising // Consultation // Curation



The Change Up: Herb Smith

There are few individuals who can make a total systematic change to their art and approach and still remain at the top while doing so.  Such an adaptation in technique takes an immense amount of skill and vision, and for some, it may take years to make the full conversion.  However, when it comes to Herb Smith, he makes it look easy.  Not just easy, but seamless and natural, even.  It is the confidence in both himself and his craft that facilitated his switch up and ultimately benefited his career for the better.

Black Throated Green Warbler, recently purchased for a private collection.  

When I first met Herb, his art took on a different tune.  Known as Veng (pronounced like "vengeance") from the graffiti/street art crew, Robots Will Kill (RWK), his work was well known throughout the five boroughs and beyond.  As a Street Artist, he helped solidify the movement in NYC, having been a constant participant in the conversation on the streets for well over a decade.  Along with his partner, Chris RWK, the duo formed a mighty alliance, bringing their graphic characters to the streets and livening up the urban environment for all the enjoy.  The two possessed a magnetic union that complimented and juxtaposed each other in a fantastic way.  Together, they grew to become one of the most recognized crews in all of the city.  To this day, RWK still remains a staple of NYC street culture, due in large thanks to the consistency and dedication of both Herb and Chris.

Robots Will Kill mural in Bushwick by ChrisRWK and VengRWK

However, with his graffiti and street art career firmly in the rear view, Herb has changed up his entire approach to art.  Taking his work from the concrete canvas to small scale oak panels, he has reinvented himself through his passion for oil painting and his love for the Northern Renaissance Dutch masters.  He is driven by emulating the stylistic approach of these painters, creating a muted background and an intensively detailed foreground with a similar traditional color palette.  Through his use of small brushes, he is able to invoke elements that breathe life into his subjects, almost as if the viewer is simply looking through a window into another world as opposed to a painted image within a frame.  

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Herbs work often times revolves around that of his other passion, birdwatching.  He is an avid enthusiast when it comes to the bird species of his native New York and he is constantly exploring the region, hoping to find any number of the diverse local species or rare migrating birds that are pausing at local ponds and lakes before continuing their journey North or South to nesting and feeding grounds.  This excitement allows him the seize the moment and capture his subjects in their natural environment, photographing them before reinterpreting their image on panel.  This obsession with birding is a driving force behind much of his artwork, as he embodies the essence of a modern day explorer, discovering new and rare fauna, throughout much of the Northeast.  

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Herb Smith is both a trendsetter and pioneer, proving that one can work within wildly different areas of the art world while still radiating a true artistic integrity.  Through his heavy involvement in Street Art to his outright excitement for traditional oil painting, he is not afraid to blaze his own path and change things up in order to move his career forward.  For some, the pursuit of passion may be a difficult task, however Herb thrives in his fields of art and is constantly putting 100% into each of his ventures.  It's exciting to see where he will go in his next.  

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Who To Follow On Instagram: @marsproject

Without a doubt, @marsproject is one of the most talented artists of our generation.  Martin Wittfooth, aka @marsproject, has been creating spellbinding imagery for many years and his success in the art world is a testament to his overall skills as an oil painter.  Over the years, he has established himself amongst the best as he has carved out a place for himself within the ranks of the most recognized contemporary artists.  @marsproject exhibits a prophetic vision of life and nature through his paintings, creating otherworldly scenarios where animals rule the earth in a landscape completely devoid of humans.

Photo courtesy of @marsproject

I first met @marsproject a number of years ago, when he showed a piece in a group show at Ad Hoc Art, a gallery in Brooklyn where I was working at the time.  The painting he submitted for the show already possessed the raw talent that would later come to define his career.  It was quite obvious at that time that he was on an upward trajectory and I have kicked myself numerous times for not picking up that painting while I had the chance.  While he has since refined his style and tightened up his work, @marsproject has ultimately been consistent, tirelessly growing and evolving as an artist. 

Photo courtesy of @marsproject

His artwork glows with an energy that comes from within, drawing the viewer ever closer, like a tractor beam, unrelenting in its grasp and hypnotizing the individual with his inspiring subject matter.  @marsproject injects life and essence into each and every painting, which radiates from the surface of the piece while hung on the gallery wall.  His artwork has both charisma and confidence and is never afraid to start a conversation, just as long as the viewer is willing to mutually engage.  And once that channel of communication has opened, there is no telling how deep the rabbit hole goes.  

Photo courtesy of @marsproject

@marsproject is a master of his craft and a true shamanistic visionary.  His Instagram account is filled with some of his best work and he is constantly adding new and exciting pieces.  There are few individuals who can affect people both far and wide through artwork alone, but Martin Wittfooth is one of them.  He has built a solid career and it's only growing larger.  These are exciting times for @marsproject and I would highly suggest following him now and seeing the places that he goes with his artwork.

Photo courtesy of @marsproject

Photo courtesy of @marsproject

Photo courtesy of @marsproject

Photo courtesy of @marsproject

The limitless talent of Chris Otley

Three years ago, while visiting London, England, my girlfriend and I decided to attend a studio visit that was organized by a local museum.  This was a great opportunity to see an artists studio first hand and learn about the English art scene.  Thus, we met up with a group of people in East London and visited the studio of a minimalist/reductive artist named Richard Galpin, who had recently created a commission that was featured on the High Line in Manhattan.  After a highly entertaining and insightful tour of his workspace, the group descended upon the local pub to chat and get to know one another.  It was then that I had a chance meeting with an artist named Chris Otley.  

Chris Otley's work, along side Herb Smith, during a recent show at Mighty Tanaka Gallery 

Hailing from the windswept moors of Northern England, not too far from the Scottish border, Chris grew up around animals of all sorts.  Taking an early interest in the flora and fauna of his upbringing, he naturally gravitated towards the wildlife of the region, studying the anatomy of the creatures and deciphering it through his artwork.  His proficiency with graphite opened up the opportunity for him to attend University at the Courtauld Institute in London, pursuing a degree in Art History.  It was there that he thrived, developing his skill set and eventually seeking a postgrad degree in art.  During that period, he took the time to travel the world, discovering a variety of new species along the way.  Mirroring the early explorers of the past, Chris took an interest in cartography, a passion that he would begin to implement into his own work.  These influences helped him to refine his artistry and embark on a new path of interpreting the world around him.

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With his limitless talent, and a passion for his craft, he eventually chose to give back to the community and pursue a career in teaching, having the opportunity to head the Art Department of a well known, highly acclaimed institution located in Oxford, England.  Balancing his time between teaching and drawing, he found a way to mutually dedicate himself to his two loves in life.  While time constraints means that his artwork and commissions have to be completed during the weekend and holidays, Chris is still able to keep an extensive sketch book and focus on his large scale drawings when time permits.  His integrity as an artist shines through at all times, something that both his students and fans can fully appreciate.   

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Sitting with Chris at the pub that day in 2012 and hearing his story, it reinforced my notion that art is all around us, everywhere we look.  It was right then and there that I knew that he was someone I absolutely needed to work with.   His ability to depict the natural world in a stunning and lifelike way blew my mind, I couldn't believe that the imagery I was looking at was created with a pencil on paper.  Over the years, our conversations flourished and it was in late 2014 that I finally had the opportunity to show his work to an American audience.  His illustrations were greatly received by the public, as visitors from all over witnessed first hand the exceptional talent that Chris brings to the table.  This artist has an amazing career ahead of him and it's exciting to see the places he will go.  

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The evolution of Reginald Péan

One artist who I highly suggest keeping an eye on in 2015 is Reginald Péan.  He has grown in tremendous ways over the years and his artwork continues to be exciting and totally outside the box.  A master of pen and ink, he has evolved his style in a number of ways yet never deviating from his path, creating a seamless transition between bodies of work.  A staple of the underground NYC art community through his work with distinguished companies such as MISHKA & King Stampede, Reginald continues to impress, as he is constantly growing within the genre and shows no signs of slowing down.  

Recent piece.  Photo courtesy of @frenchinald 

I originally met Reginald around 2009 as I was preparing to show BLOKE, FARO & AVOID PI in a group pop-up show titled 2012, which was hosted by the legendary Brooklyn gallery space, Factory Fresh.  Reginald, along with the three aforementioned graffiti writers, embodied a new energy in graffiti world.  Young, bold and confident, this new generation threw caution to the wind and excelled in getting their names plastered around the City.  It was an exciting time and working along side these individuals brought a raw intensity to the game.  However, Reginald immediately displayed talents that went far beyond writing his name on the streets, as his pen and ink drawings took center stage.  He was embarking on a journey all his own.

Following up the success of the "2012" show, I brought Reginald into the fold for one of the most recognized and talked about shows in Mighty Tanaka history, Year of the Head Chakra.  This show featured Reginald along side his long time friends Lionel Guzman and Ed Shawn Herrera.  Together, these three psychedelic visionaries all created artwork that came to life behind the lens of 3D glasses.  Their use of conflicting warm and cold colors created an optical effect that pushed the bounds on how to view art and distinguished all three artists as forward thinkers and innovators.  

A piece featured in Year of the Head Chakra

Since Year of the Head Chakra, Reginald has steadily progressed his craft within a number of ways, working with new subject matter and mediums.  Most recently, his latest body of work deals with sexy ladies and the grim reaper, a juxtaposition that is both alluring and thought provoking.  When asking Reginald of the significance of the grim reaper, he simply replied "Sometimes death likes to have fun too".  That answer sums it all up, as his work is just that, fun to look at.  He has a way of capturing a certain sex appeal in a graphic in nature, yet done in a way that is somewhat tongue in cheek.  However, it does not distract from his talent as an artist and his rebellious and carefree approach to his drawings.  The allure of his artwork draws the viewer in while poking fun at mortality and desire. 

New body of work.  Photo courtesy of @frenchinald

Most recently, Reginald has chosen to work on a new surface entirely.  Taking his art into the realm of tattoos, his canvas is now the flesh of his fans who eagerly await the opportunity to carry his artwork on their bodies for the rest of their life.  His ability to translate his skills from pen to tattoo gun is impressive, with his line work never missing a beat, as he reinterprets his work onto another.  His art collectors wear his art with pride, a constant reminder of his sheer talent as an artist and his ability to create unique work, whatever the surface may be.  

A new tattoo by Reginald Pean.  Photo courtesy of @frenchinald

T-Shirt collaboration with MISHKA, sold during his 2013 show, at their store in Brooklyn

Work from 2008

Who to follow on Instagram: @krystik

Some people just have it.  And @krystik definitely does.  With an eye for colors, shapes and patterns, this photographer travels the world and throughout the five boroughs, constantly in awe of the beauty around her.  Armed with only her camera in hand, she navigates the ever changing terrain, taking in the landscape around her and choosing her targets carefully.  A master of capturing the fleeting moment, she has an uncanny ability to be at the right place and the right time and seize the moment in the most effective way possible.

Photo courtesy of @krystik

Some photographers rely so heavily on photoshop, which distorts the entire essence of the image.  However, on the other hand, @krystik typically only utilizes only the crop tool and nothing more.  Through framing her shot and cutting out the excess, she brings ones eye to the heart of the photo, presenting a certain elegance on a plate for her followers to get lost in.   @krystik takes one by the hand and guides the viewer through her work, allowing one to connect in a way that is both fulfilling and satisfying.  

Photo courtesy of @krystik

@krystik is a modern day explorer and her discovery is the uniqueness of life and the hidden gems that surround us in daily life.  From her home in Brooklyn, she takes nothing for granted, as she greets each day with an enthusiasm to observe and create.  Her eye is acute, finding artistry in seemingly mundane situations, bringing forth an allure that puts the viewer in the middle of the situation and allows one to feel an emotional connection that allows one to immediately relate and understand.  She masterfully interprets life in a way we can all appreciate.

Photo courtesy of @krystik

When it comes to Instagram accounts that mesmerize me, look no further than @kristik.  She updates her feed regularly and each photo she chooses to share is a home run.  I find myself lost in her photos, as each picture is a work of art that speaks to me in a variety of ways.  She has an effortless way of demonstrating the warmth of life and those special moments that remind us that we are alive.  I highly suggest following @krystik, as her photography provides a window to another place, inviting the viewer to cross the threshold and be at peace within the perfectly composed vignette.  

Photo courtesy of @krystik

Studio Visit: Jean Pierre Arboleda

Small paintings, huge personality.  That is the best way I can think to describe Jean Pierre Arboleda.  His ability to compose a wildly intricate piece of art on a reduced surface is impeccable and his attention to detail is stunning.  This wizard with a paint brush has the ability to create a surreal yet lifelike interpretation of the world around him, with seemingly no effort at all.  His art work is fun, different, precise and mind blowing.  To look at photos of his work does not do it justice, as the magic of his artwork is exposed when one has the opportunity to take a moment and stand in front of his paintings and let the eyes explore and discover the hidden treasures that JP masterfully implements into his artwork.

Work in progress on the easel.  Tiger painting on the wall is a larger work of art from the artist.

I originally met JP through Hannah Yata some months ago.  Upon our initial meeting, I was immediately drawn to is charismatic sense of humor and enduring personality.  The Ecuadorian born painter had already established himself in his home country and had set his sights on bringing his unique visions to NYC.  As he relayed to me early on in our conversations, there are few opportunities for artists to be sanctioned by the government and allowed to leave for the US to pursue their chosen profession.  However, through his diligence, education and dedication, he overcame the odds and was granted the chance come to New York City to achieve excellence.  Now, as a resident of the Big Apple, he is staking his claim within the representational and pop surrealist art communities.

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JP's passion for his craft, along with his good natured attitude and exuberant outlook on life plays heavily within his work.  Choosing to use animal familiars as his subject matter, he matches them within unreal landscapes that seem to be just over the horizon of truth.  He typically paints at a small scale, packing the surface of the panel with tight detailing and an emotive color pallet.  Often times using the smallest of brushes while wearing magnifying glasses, JP goes the extra mile, demonstrating extreme patience to create a work of art that draws the viewer in and invites them to visually interact.  His uncanny sense of realism within parallel worlds provides an excellent juxtaposition that causes one to get lost within his makeshift scenery.  

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One common theme that plays into nearly all of his work is the Tree Frog.  This distinct little creature makes an appearance in most of his paintings and drawings, which serves as a familiar connection between the artist and his upbringing in Ecuador.  The Tree Frog acts as a guide, of sorts, leading the eye through another world, telling the story that JP interprets, leaving the viewer to come to their own conclusions and ideas.  The symbolism of the Tree Frog also represents a resilience and integrity within his work that enhances the scale and connectivity, making one forget that they are looking at a painting.  This amphibious entity is the gatekeeper to the imaginative universe that JP expertly creates on his panels.  

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I am exceptionally pleased to have JP's work featured on the Mighty Tanaka website.  He is the kind of individual who is a master of his craft yet humbly going about business, creating art for the sake of love and passion.  

JP's work is available for purchase through the website.  To learn more about the artist, the artwork or availability of works, please get in touch at: contact@mightytanaka.com

Eyes on the sky: Carter Emmart

Everyone enjoys looking at the stars.  My uncle, Carter Emmart, has made a career of it.  As the Director of Astrovisulization at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC, Carter has directed the beautifully orchestrated space shows that are shown to visitors from around the world.  Utilizing technology called The Digital Universe, he has helped to expand our knowledge of the solar system and beyond through the creation of a multifunctional template that changes the way that people are educated about outer space and how researchers can study celestial events and objects.  Matching art with science, Carter is a leader in his field, a rockstar in the planetarium community and is constantly touring the universe with the next generation of young astronomers from around the world.   

Drawing by Carter Emmart depicting the Mars flag, created by former NASA Administrator, Thomas O. Paine, being planted on the Red Planet 

Cater was instrumental in an initiative called The Case For Mars, which was a symposium held at the University of Colorado in Boulder in the mid-1980's.  A natural life long explorer and artist, he began to visually interpret mans futuristic technology that would be necessary for travel and habitation of the Red Planet.  His early drawings and models have become a mainstay in the space exploration community and are still heavily referenced to this day.  The forethought and visions of applicable space travel have withstood the test of time, as he was able to visually express the kind of technology that would be required for interplanetary travel.  Grasping the necessity for aspects such as terraforming, mobility, harnessing energy, natural food sources and travel around Mars, his illustrations go one step further beyond that of science fiction and into the realm of achievable technology. 

Drawing by Carter Emmart of a space suit with solar fin. 

While his involvement with the Case For Mars provided a distinct template for his visual interpretations on the exploration of other worlds, he soon directed his focus back at home.  Over the years, Carter has built an extraordinary career and reputation in the sciences, eventually landing a job at the American Museum of Natural History.  The planetarium at the Rose Center was a childhood love of his and now he sits at the helm of the operation.  Tasked with creating an immersive experience for visitors, Carter took things to the next level.  Working a team from Sweden, they were able to help create a program that allows one to digitally fly through the universe, with every celestial object that has been mapped in its proper place.  With the planetarium dome as his canvas, Carter has become a pilot of a different sort, taking people to the furthest reaches of space and throughout our own solar system.  

An illustration by Carter Emmart of the techniques and challenges faced by future astronauts when exploring other worlds, such as Mars.

No longer striving to achieve interplanetary travel, Carter's focus is now purely based on Planet Earth.  He calls our world a spaceship and he describes how we are traveling through space on a vessel with limited resources and no escape pods.  This accurate view of our current disposition is a much more realistic way of viewing our existence.  While we will probably not achieve sustained manned missions to other planets during our lifetime, what we can do is clean up our own mess that we've made on Earth and continue to advance technologies for future generations to utilize in their search for a new locations to one day settle upon. 

Carter with Barack and Michelle Obama

On the up and up: Hannah Faith Yata

Every so often, you will meet an individual who possesses a unique spark that fills the room with exuberance, an energy that draws you in and makes you want to learn more.  This certain kind of person is naturally wonderful without trying, an effortless acceptance through their goodwill and a welcoming demeanor.  Hannah Faith Yata exemplifies that kind of personality.  Her ability to extend sincerity and graciousness into any and all situations has a magnetic effect that draws people to her energy and artwork.

It was about this time last year when I had been speaking with my good friend of mine, Adam Miller, about artists to look out for in 2014 and the top of his list was a former assist of his named Hannah Yata.  Adam told me that she had been in Brooklyn for a period of time during her final year in college and quickly became the ideal studio assistant to both him and Martin Wittfooth, whose studios were next door to one another.  He went on and on about her natural talent, great attitude and knack for interpreting intriguing subject matter.  For days, Adam urged me to set up a meeting with her, constantly reminding me that her artwork represented a movement of things to come, a direction that she has since come to embrace.  

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One cold, snowy evening during the grip of the polar vortex, I ventured into Manhattan to meet up with Hannah and speak about ways in which we could work together.  As soon as we started talking, I knew right away that Adam was right, this was someone who I needed to work with.  Her personality and optimism made the room glow as we drank coffee and chatted.  As she showed me images of her work on her phone, I knew right away that she had all the makings of a potential art star who would be quickly shedding the label of emerging artist and making her way to big stage.  As a result of the meeting, Hannah and I immediately started to work with one another.

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Throughout the course of this past year, I have watched as Hannah Yata has become a rising sensation, not just in the Pop Surrealist genre, but also the contemporary art world as a whole.  Her beautiful depictions of flora and fauna enmeshed with the sometimes dark, modern day subject matter as well as the human condition lends itself for jaw dropping interpretations of the world around us.  Matched with a stunning color pallet and limitless imagination, Hannah's work has been turning heads world wide as she is constantly taking things to the next level.  With many articles and write ups about her work, she is fueling the fire through all the proper channels, gaining fans and clientele through her intoxicating style of painting.    

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Hannah Faith Yata is on the up and up.  Her newest work is some of the best stuff yet and she isn't afraid to constantly evolve her style or imagery.  Hannah's painting titled "Blitzkrieg" is currently featured on the front page of the Mighty Tanaka website in order to demonstrate the range and breadth of her style and show how her approach has grown from the previous works of hers that I have featured at the gallery.  Hannah has an incredible career in front of her and with her humble yet energetic approach to life, she deserves all good things that come her way.  I would highly suggest picking up her work, as this is the prime opportunity to add her art into your collection.

For questions about the artist, artwork or availability, please feel free to get in touch anytime at: contact@mightytanaka.com

Who to follow on Instagram: @dizmology

The future is now and his name is @dizmology.  Over the years, I have worked with many artists of a multitude of disciplines, but @dizmology, AKA Miguel Ovalle, possesses a certain vision that helps him to create a unique brand of art unlike anything I've seen before.  His interpretations of an evolved landscape and an advanced culture provides him with the proper building blocks to start constructing his artwork with a variety of tools at his disposal.  With endless imagination, @dizmology is a modern day sage of sorts, predicting new trends and deciphering the unknown, providing viewers with a sneak peek of the future movements of art in a way in which we can all appreciate.

Installation at the Fountain Art Fair, NYC 2013.  Photo courtesy of @dizmology

@dizmology is a multi-talented individual who borrows from a wide range of skills in order to create his futuristic masterpieces.  Never content to thrive within just one area of art, he is constantly exploring and pushing himself to create new and interesting designs that obscure the boundaries between disciplines.  Have it be sculpture, fashion design, functional art objects, painting, drawing, digital art, graffiti art or more, @dizmology is truly a well rounded artist who has a pure and natural instinct to create whatever it is that comes to mind.  This talent that he radiates comes from deep within and to speak with him, one realizes that his mind is always actively seeking new and exciting ways to interpret the world around him.

Armored Arm.  Photo courtesy of @dizmology

I featured @dizmology in a solo show in September 2012 titled Stealth Reflections.  While many artists are content to hang their work in a linear presentation on a bare white wall, @dizmology instead locked himself in the gallery for days on end leading up to the opening, painting the walls a beautiful crimson red and installing an intricate display of taught crimson yarn ascending from the artwork to the ceiling, creating, in effect, a VR landscape within this physical world.  His charcoal drawings and organic foam sculptures came to life, pulsating within their frames in order to release the stored energy that @dizmology injected during the creation process.  Every detail and nuance that @dizmology put into play for that show was executed with finesse and perfection, a true master of his craft.  

Sculpture featured in Stealth Reflections at Mighty Tanaka Gallery, September 2012.  Photo courtesy of @dizmology

Looking through the eyes of tomorrow, @dizmology is absolutely someone you will want to follow on Instagram.  His photos alone are stunning, but the concepts behind his work take his account one step further, providing his viewers with a peek into another time that has yet be defined.  This visionary is a modern day story teller and his multi-disciplined talent speaks for itself. 

One of a kind custom jacket, designed and constructed by @dizmology.  Photo courtesy of @dizmology

New Years Resolutions

The other day, I saw a meme on Facebook that said we are just as close to the year 2030 as we are to the year 2000.  That mind boggling fact made my head spin, but when I look back at the past 15 years and the major accomplishments that have been gained, I can only feel confident and driven heading into the next 15 years.  However, in order to achieve that, things need to be taken one step at a time.  Here are Mighty Tanaka's New Years resolutions for 2015:

  • Own It - This is the number one goal I take with me as I proceed into 2015.  As some of you may have noticed, I have recently made a lot of changes to Mighty Tanaka.  Through shuttering the proper gallery space, evolving the inventory and artist list, exploring with new forms of art, maintaining daily updates on website, focusing on new areas of the art market, engaging with people in different way, etc., I have committed to making Mighty Tanaka a more rounded experience.  And all of this come down to one base factor: owning up to it.  Now, I don't mean "owning it" in an physical or monetary way, but rather in a confident and focused manner where I follow my instincts and strive to achieve bigger and better things.  I am a firm believer in manifesting a vision by setting your mind to it and am prepared to once again, take things to a new level.
  • Consistency - In mid December, I started keeping a blog about the my life and interactions as an art dealer as it pertains to a variety of aspects, such as the gallery, art world, family art history, individual artists, studio visits, social media, etc.  In 2015, I will strive to maintain this regular, if not daily, update on a range of topics.  As the art world changes and the traditionalism of a physical brick and mortar space becomes less necessary, there is an increased need for a communicative channel of interaction based online through the website.  That can only be achieved through constant updates and information, providing the link between user and gallery, allowing for a seamless application of accessibility.  Also, the need for consistency goes one step further, as I aim to demonstrate an active and thoughtful approach, in order to provide individuals with a meaningful gallery experience through a variety of ways, both physical as well as digital.  
  • Embrace Change - 2014 was a rough year for a number of reasons, but the biggest challenge of all was the decision to close the physical gallery space in DUMBO.  I feared changing something that had been a constant in my life for a number of years, a project that had grown over time, yet I still felt as if I was abandoning my passion.  While the notion of closing the space brought me much sadness, now looking back, I realize it was the single best choice I have made in many years.  I did not realize how mentally bogged down I had become, as I was stuck in a rut.  Embracing the change and doing what was right for both myself as well as the gallery was a tough but ultimately beneficial decision and the confidence that has grown as a result provides more emphasis on continuing to evolve, both as an art gallery as well as an individual. 
  • Teamwork - As my good friend Caleb James says: "Teamwork makes the dream work".  These words, injected into all kinds of scenarios, makes for an amusing antidote, however this phrase is not too far from the truth.  In the case with the physical gallery space, I tried to shoulder most of the responsibilities myself instead of allowing others to step in and assist in the fields where they excel.  This tunnel vision caused me to become burned out, losing some of my passion for the job and get stuck in an endless routine of necessities rather than having the time and mental capacity to pursue new and exciting curatorial projects.  Teamwork is the key to any successful venture and while delegation had been difficult in the past, it is now a motivating factor for growth.  Through accepting the assistance skilled individuals, together we can help the gallery grow in new and exciting ways.  Through teamwork, as well as embracing the other aforementioned resolutions, I am confident that Mighty Tanaka will have a successful and prosperous 2015. 
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Happy New Years, 2015!

Here is to a happy, healthy and successful 2015!  I want to wish you all the best in your endeavors and that your goals and resolutions can be achieved to the fullest.  

I hope everyone has a safe NYE, wherever you are around the globe.  

Much love and respect from the borough of Brooklyn!

- Alex Emmart


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The Rise of the Jellyfish

There is a conversation on the streets that has been happening for decades.  However, instead of verbal expressions, this conversation is entirely visual.  Artists come from around the world to inject their imagery onto the streets of New York City, adding to the discussion, building a voice through their individual interpretations of the human experience.  This deliberation between contributors is a free for all, an open dialogue that is accessible for all to view.  Yet, if one looks closely enough, you will find trends and topics, poems and puns and an array of well conceived characters, content and confrontations.

However, some artists possess the ability to place a visual marker on the street that causes the random individual passerby to stop in their tracks, turn towards the wall and begin appreciate the complex beauty that is unraveling before them.  One artist who can achieve just that is simply known as the Jellyfish.  The artwork has become a ubiquitous sight on the streets of NYC, an eye catching combination of color and drips, which peaks interest and speaks to the heart.  The Jellyfish creates work that transcends both Graffiti and Street Art culture while thriving entirely within both movements.  It's raw and expressive imagery that is filled with movement and symbolism, perhaps a somewhat prophetic vision of a dying planet and an evolving city.  

The Jellyfish's street work in DUMBO, circa 2011

The Jellyfish first made his mark about four or five years ago, decorating neighborhoods around Brooklyn with his symbolic imagery.  Thriving under the guise of anonymity, the artist kept to the shadows, going about his business in a quiet way, leaving his aquatic calling card for all to enjoy. Thrilled by the passion of the artwork, he shunned the limelight in order to pursue his craft without the accompaniment of fame or notoriety, remaining under the radar for years.  This stealthy business built up his reputation, as both urban artists as well as the population at large were stumped by the identity of this illusive artist.  As the rumors swirled, the Jellyfish thrived, and to this day, he is still shrouded by secrecy.

Roofing paper is one of the new mediums that the Jellyfish has been using for his fine art.

The mystery of his identity is complimented by the uniqueness of his art.  What was initially meant to be an abstract, gestural form of art on the street quickly became something more representational, which was not necessarily intended.  Armed only with a can of spray paint, the Jellyfish wanted to create something different from formulaic interpretations of street art that litter the walls throughout NYC.  What he accomplished with his jellyfish has built a proverbial bridge, not only between graffiti and street art culture, but also with the average New Yorker.  The heavy drips in his artwork took on life like qualities that resembled organically moving tentacles, the motion of his spray can created a purpose and direction for the object to move and his clusters of individual pieces created a thriving mass on the city wall, similar to that of a swarm of jellyfish.  Thus, the Jellyfish was born.

Two new pieces on oxidized metal sheeting 

As the conversation on the streets evolves, so does that of the Jellyfish.  Exploring new techniques and approaches, his work continues to be experimental, as he is never content to rest on his laurels.  Through working with galleries such as Mighty Tanaka, he has been able to achieve a new renaissance in the interpretation of his artwork, visually reworking the Jellyfish imagery upon a variety of different mediums.  His iconic trademark has found its way into new settings without sacrificing the integrity of the street work, seamlessly transitioning into a different arena, fulfilling a distinct role within a contemporary surrounding.  The Jellyfish is thriving, building and conquering new ground through a clever style all his own.

Solo show by the Jellyfish at Mighty Tanaka Gallery, November 2014

The Jellyfish artwork can still be purchased through the gallery.  For a complete catalog of work or any questions you may have, please get in touch:  contact@mightytanaka.com  


Studio Visit: Sergio Barrale

Every so often, I'll meet an artist that I connect with straight away.  It could come down to a number of things: their energy, personality, sense of humor, etc, but when that connection is achieved, it creates a certain bond worth pursuing and nurturing.  Instances of that total connectivity upon an initial meeting is somewhat rare and cherished entirely.  However, with artist Sergio Barrale, it went one step further.  In a cut throat city like NYC, it's hard to find an absolutely genuine individual who possess and radiates total integrity at all times, but Sergio is definitely that gem of a human being.  

We met in the summer of 2014 at Martin Wittfooth's property in upstate New York.  Martin graciously invited all his friends up to his house to celebrate the Summer Solstice, where we all had the opportunity to cut loose and shed the pressures of city life for one glorious weekend at the height of Summer.  Everyone who attended the Solstice that day in June were open to the world around them, carefree without barriers, where strangers quickly became friends.  That is how I first met Sergio.

Summer Solstice, upstate NY.  

He was working as an art dealer at the time, directing a high end art gallery in the City, so immediately we had a lot to talk about.  However, he started to tell me about his own art and his desire to create and further interpret the world around him.  We discovered that we shared many common interests and the more he told me about his life's philosophy and his overall approach to his artwork, the more I wanted to see it in person and learn about his artistic process.  It was at that moment that I knew that he was someone that I had to work with.  

Tools of the trade.  Sergio found this antique crate full of old pencils while taking a walk in Brooklyn.  A fortuitous discovery for an artist who works primarily in graphite.

A few weeks after returning to NYC, Sergio and I met up in Red Hook, Brooklyn and he invited me into his studio space.  He had sent me some photos of his drawings and told me that he works almost entirely with graphite on canvas, but I was utterly unprepared for the scale and intensity of his work.  Upon crossing the threshold of his studio space, I was greeted by the oversized portraits of decrepit clergymen, whose eyes locked on me in total judgement.  These huge illustrations on canvas perfectly captured a narrative based in another time in history where the church ruled all with impunity.  Sergio reinterpreted the faces with textures, in order to accentuate the archaic values of a decaying theocratic society.  

Sergio hanging one of his large scale drawings.  The imagery was influenced by La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (Dreyer, 1928).  According to the artist "Size conveys power, the purpose is to examine religion and the manipulation of it."

His next body of work dealt with the study of the human skull.  While it's a common theme amongst artist, Sergio takes his artwork to the next level.  Looking to challenge himself, he plots his course and morphs multiple skulls together into a representational abstraction, creating a mind bending depiction of anatomical structure.  This macabre reminder of mortality is captured in its beautiful essence, as his use of graphite highlights tones and delves into shadows, building up a seamless interpretation.  His knowledge of bone structure and light values demonstrates an expert approach to the subject matter, one that he is able to translate onto canvas in an astounding way.

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Currently, Sergio is embarking on an epic, new body of work that will push him to the limits.  He granted me an insiders view of his latest process, though I am sworn to secrecy, and am not at liberty to divulge what it is he is creating.  However, what I can say is that he is once again working at a large scale, armed only with graphite pencils, and is creating an ambitious new project that will be unlike anything that he has done before. These are exciting times for Sergio as he is doing what he truly loves and is not afraid to take his art to the next level through his constant process of exploration and discovery.  

Sergio Barrale's artwork is available for purchase through the Mighty Tanaka website.  To learn more about the artist, his artwork and the availability of works, please feel free to contact me directly anytime.  



Weston Emmart - WWII Sketchbooks

In early 1944, WWII was raging in Europe and my grandfather, Weston Emmart, was just drafted into the military with orders to be trained as an infantryman and shipped overseas.  Already a promising young artist at the time, he was highly influenced by the cartoons and comic strips that were prevalent in that era.  Thus, when he left his home in Baltimore for boot camp, he took his pencils and sketch book with him and began to visually document his experiences of war.  

In his first series of drawings, titled The West Virginia Maneuvers, Weston captured the feelings, both the highs and lows, of an enlisted soldier training for battle.  Having to negotiate the mountainous terrain of West Virginia, soldiers such as my grandfather were pushed to their mental and physical limits through a number of exercises, which would make them fit and able for their mission abroad.  Though hellish at the time, these drawings make light of situation, in a funny yet insightful view of basic training during the WWII years.   

After embarking from New York City in the summer of 1944, Weston was on a troop transport ship, carrying him across the Atlantic Ocean to England.  The days were long, filled with boredom, which gave him the prime opportunity to record the world around him, in his unique illustrative way.  He is able to capture daily life aboard a ship in immaculate detail, creating drawings that are absolutely breathtaking.  His matching of the situational realism paired with the cartoonish qualities allows for one to experience the journey overseas along side him and witness the passage of time as seen through the eyes of a soldier.  

After arriving in England, Weston was faced with entirely new challenges, things that the Army could not prepare him for... British culture.  Here, in this series of drawings, one can see the learning curve as he adjusts to different aspects of life, such as the blackout and rationing.  It is within this series of drawings that one can begin to feel the anticipation and unfamiliarity that he must have been facing at that time.  Arriving in England put Weston one step closer to the inevitable: France & Germany.

Once deployed across the Channel, his drawings start to taper off.  With only one comedic drawing series completed during this time, the mood changes from levity into a slightly darker narrative.  No longer granted much free time for activities such as drawing, his stories became oral instead of illustrative.  Much of the subject matter from that time period were redrawn from memory after the war, with a detailed description of events en verso.  However, there are certain moments and events during his march across France that he spoke of, which best remain untold.  

He eventually made it to the boarder of Germany, crossing the river Saar and taking up position in the German town of Saarbrucken, at the local rail yards.  While advancing their lines, Weston and two other soldiers were ambushed by a German machine gunner, who shot all three men in their legs.  My grandfather took a ricochet through the ankle while the others took wounds to their shins and knees.  The three men were able to take shelter underneath a train while the rest of the company fell back for cover.  Weston and his two compatriots stayed under the stationary train for three days awaiting rescue, surviving on chocolate bars and watching German troops and tanks reposition themselves in the rail yard, laying undiscovered by the rival forces.  Eventually, the American resistance fought back, reclaiming lost ground, where Weston was found and immediately transported back to an Army hospital.  

Once safely back in England and out of harms way, Weston began to draw once again, sending illustrated letters home to family and loved ones.  His depiction of the Army hospital and the unusually large needles full of medication, became a common theme in his correspondence.   As luck would have it, after a full recovery, the Army released him when he returned stateside.  Once healed of his battle wounds, Weston was accepted to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, with his GI Bill, solely based on the quality of work within his WWII sketch books, which he had carried with him throughout the war.  

Who to follow on Instagram: @stuckupofficial

Instagram, the ubiquitous selfie sharing network that has infiltrated our homes and our lives.  The need for our documentation of the human experience has taken on brand new heights with the release of this social media phenomenon and the verdict is in, people love to watch and be seen.  While the bulk of this movement derives from hype, ego, and vanity, there are some gems amongst the masses.  In this ongoing series, I will feature Instagram accounts of individuals or businesses who stand out with unique and inspiring photos.

@bastny stickers still riding strong in BK.  Photo courtesy of @stuckupofficial

To kick things off, I am featuring an individual who has been a supporter of the sticker arts for many years.  @stuckupofficial is one of the go to sources for stickers and sticker art in NYC and beyond.  With an Instagram account that supports his published book titled "Stuck-Up Piece of Crap, The Culture and History of Stickers", the IG feed encompasses a long lineage of sticker art, from iconic music legends to contemporary slaps on the streets.  Through his tireless search for the dopest stickers in NYC, @stuckupofficial has taken his love and dedication to sticker art to a whole new level.  

Sticker culture plays a prominent role in the growth of urban and street art movements.  In an area such as New York City, the sticker plays an important role in self advertising, allowing millions of individual passerbys to take a momentary glance at the object in front of them during the daily commute.  They are quick and easy to put up and are an effective means adding ones voice to the conversations on the street.  However, some stickers stand out amongst the masses, cleverly designed works of art that possess an image, message, name or icon.  From DIY paper stickers with little adhesive to ultra durable Postal stickers that are extremely difficult to remove, artists have been using this template for years, in order to send their message out to anyone who is paying attention.

Jim Phillips Screaming Hand sticker.  Photo courtesy of @stuckupofficial 

Thus, some stickers have become highly sought after art pieces, which has created a whole genre of sticker art collectors, who tirelessly attempt to peel the stickers off their mount and apply it to a book for individual collections.  The collections that some people acquire become a visual roadmaps of the evolution of NYC street culture.  One can literally trace the lineage of an artists style and the trends of Street Art through stickers alone.  

A Barry McGee "TWIST" sticker in his distinct hand style.  Photo courtesy of @stuckupofficial

@stuckupofficial is a sticker art historian.  Between his published book and constant, on-going documentation of the streets, he has collected literally thousands of sticker related images over the years and he has been steadily letting his followers in on range and breadth of the movement.  His instagram account allows one to travel around NYC with him and explore the urban landscape in a new, fun and exciting way.  I would definitely suggest @stuckupoffical as someone to follow.

An old @roycer700 sticker on a postage label.  Photo courtesy of @stuckupofficial

Zach Puchowitz & the SCOPE Art Fair 2014

Generally speaking, art fairs can go one of two ways: really good or really bad.  Throughout my career, I have definitely experienced both ends of the spectrum.  There are a lot of factors that determine the overall success of a booth, but at the end of the day, it all boils down to two things: sales and exposure.  This year in Miami it was no different, except for the fact that I was bringing a whole new element to the game that had never before been tested within a major international art fair.

Let me back up a little bit...  Last year, at SCOPE 2013, I was showing the work of a well known international Street Artist.  Sales were slow and due to a number of issues, things were not going well.  But in the midst of the frenzy, I met an individual named Zach Puchowitz, who would turn my world upside down.  Zach, accompanied by his wife, Joyce, sat down with me at my booth and started to tell me about the artwork that he creates.  Now, this is nothing new, as artists from around the world visit art fairs to speak with galleries and dealers about their craft.  However, with Zach, it was something entirely different.  It was almost as if he was bringing me in on a secret, a hush-hush conversation about new art movement that nobody had ever heard of.  What he told me blew my mind and it was at that very moment that I knew I had to be a part of it.

Zach Puchowitz is one of a handful of industry leaders in the world of fully functional borosilicate glass sculptures...AKA high end water pipes.  He and his contemporaries have been slowly but steadily laying the foundation to an art movement that currently exists entirely in the underground and is supported by a small yet dedicated group of niche collectors who share an interest in both the functionality as well as the craftsmanship of the trade.  

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Over the course of 2014, I visited Zach and Joyce many times at their studio in Philadelphia, learning about this new movement in art and discussing ways that we can advance it within the public realm in both a positive and meaningful way.  What we concluded upon was that we needed to bring his artwork to SCOPE, in order to present his functional glass creations to the art world at large.  Through this, his artwork would stand on equal footing with the traditional artwork that one tends to find at major art fairs.  Thus, Zach stepped into high gear, building new work while altering his sculptural designs in order to hide and/or disguise the functionality of the water pipe, in order to create representational sculptural art pieces with life breathed into them.  His new creations showcased his skills as a lampworker and vaulted his artwork to the next level.  

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After working for many months on his sculptural water pipes, Zach and I arrived in Miami for Art Basel 2014.  He created a whole new body of work, based on past sketchbook drawings as well as characters loosely based on people he knows around his neighborhood in Philly.  These sculptural objects took on a new life as a modern day speakeasy, hiding their functionality in plain sight.  These stand alone pieces presented a new way of interpreting functional glass artwork while declaring a strong and convincing introduction to the established art world.  This was Zach's time to shine.  

Our booth at SCOPE, 2014.

From the onset of SCOPE during the first VIP preview to the final day of the event, people came through our booth, assuming that they were looking at simple clay or porcelain sculptures, something that is safe and predictable in an art fair setting.  However, we took it upon ourselves to individually inform each and every visitor to the booth that they were, in fact, looking at a fully functional glass water pipe.  Nobody saw it coming and minds were blown for days on end.  Zach's artwork became a natural conversation point, as people rushed to tell their friends about the discovery they just made.  People flocked to the booth to see for themselves, amazed by the conversion of the functional art pieces and excited by the notion that they were witness to the growth and acceptance of a new art movement, as it emerges from the underground.  The experience was truly magical. 

Zach demonstrates the conversion of a piece during SCOPE, 2014

As previously stated, the two underlining factors towards the success of a booth at an art fair comes down to sales and exposure.  Both aspects were achieved in a big way at SCOPE 2014.  This event was a major turning point for the sculptural glass pipe world, helping to validate and legitimize the underground art movement and help it move one step closer towards overall acceptance within the art world.  Zach Puchowitz is a trailblazer, opening the gates for his peers and contemporaries to follow suit and bring their glass creations into the public light.  No longer condemned to the shadows of the art world, a new found awareness of a highly technical and skilled form of art is beginning to emerge.  SCOPE was just the first step and it's exciting to see where Zach will take things next.  

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Keeping it Real with Skewville

When I first arrived in NYC eight years ago, I was taken back by the abundance of Street Art that filled the city walls of Brooklyn and Manhattan.  Like a kid in a candy store, I went from wall to wall, studying the graphic communication, learning the who's who and the lay of the land.  It was a fascinating time in my life, as the city was rich with urban interpretations and an underlining rebellious attitude that screamed both freedom and resistance.  I fell in love.  

Before embarking upon NYC, I spent the previous three years of my life in Manchester, England, where I had experienced Street Art of another kind.  The urban art movement that was sweeping Britain during the early 2000's relied heavily upon clever iconography, highly tuned technical skills and an illustrative based approach to artwork on the streets.  The work was both socially aware, yet fun to look at and easy to digest.  The movement was thriving in the UK, a socially acceptable form of rebellion, which was embraced, for the most part, by city councils and organized events.  

However, in NYC, things were quite different than the urban expressionism of the UK.  There was a raw edge and iconoclast attitude on the streets.   Yet, one artist stood out amongst the others that captured my attention - Skewville.   It was obvious that Skewville was creating Street Art to the beat of their own drum.  Not content to follow the trends in wheat paste, spray paint, rollers, stencils etc, Skewville were instead injecting their ideas through quirky, pop assemblage of found materials and hardware store treasures, all the while including a somewhat self-deprecating message that poked fun at themselves and their contemporaries.  Their vision of the urban landscape was unique and fun, in a class all by themselves that worked as the ideal hybrid between the cleverness of UK street art and the rawness of NYC street art.  

Skewville on Wooster St., 2006.  Photo courtesy of Bucky Turco, @animalnewyork

Skewville, a partnership between identical twins Ad & Droo, have been the unsung hero's of NYC Street Art scene for decades.  While many of their peers have all risen to global fame and notoriety, the twins have remained relatively under the radar, however they have contributed to the overall growth of the movement in tremendous ways, both behind the scenes as well in in the public arena.  Through two Street Art gallery spaces (Orchard Street Art Gallery, in the Lower East Side of Manhattan as well as Factory Fresh in Bushwick, Brooklyn), Skewville helped build the foundation for the advancement of Street Art in NYC.  Furthermore, their iconic, wooden shoes have also been a common sight throughout the city for well over a decade.  These symbolic shapes that hang from electric wires throughout the boroughs have been the calling card of this duo, as they release a newly designed pair each year, quietly yet consistently adding to the conversation on the streets in their own, unique way.  

Photo courtesy of Ad Deville, @skewville

For me, NYC Street Art doesn't get much better than Skewville.  They have captured my imagination for years and they still possess the same sense of wonderment that they did when I first discovered their work.  While in recent times Street Art has become overtly formulaic and ultimately uninspiring, Skewville is still working behind the scenes, creating fun and exciting artwork that pokes fun at themselves individually as well as making a distinct statement about the over saturation of Street Art as a whole.  While many up and coming Street Artists use the art form as a conduit for exposure and fame, the twins have been keeping it real on the streets for decades and will continue to do so for decades to come.  

Photo courtesy of Ad Deville, @skewville

Studio Visit: Jean Paul Mallozzi

Studio visits are quite possibly one of the best parts of the job.  To be allowed access to an artists personal working space and to have a guided tour through their creative process is always a very special experience.  I was lucky enough to be invited over to one of my new favorite artists studios while visiting Miami in the beginning of December.  Jean Paul Mallozzi is an artist that I have come to respect, since discovering his work in early 2014 via Instagram.  Through the power of social media, I stumbled upon his page and immediately fell in love with his representational yet somewhat surreal paintings.  After "Liking" a few of his photos and him reciprocating and "Liking" a few of my own, it started a conversation between us that eventually lead to us working together. 

To begin with, Jean Paul Mallozzi is one of the nicest people that I have met in quite some time.  He is both gracious and accommodating, willing to do what he can in order to selflessly assist others.  This was the case upon my arrival in Miami for Art Basel 2014, where JP took it upon himself to locate and pick up some stray boxes from Fedex that needed to be at my booth for SCOPE.  This gesture alone told me all I needed to know about him and his personality ahead of our studio visit.  

Once arriving at his studio, located at the South Florida Center of the Arts in South Beach, I was taken back by the artwork surrounding me in his studio space.  Images that I have come to know from his photos online were suddenly in front of me, filled with such life and emotion.  The subjects of his paintings interacted gracefully on the canvas and panels, communicating with one another, bringing a holistic feeling to the studio space and invoking passerby's to come in and join us.  This kind of feeling can only be achieved by an artist who is both secure and confident in his craft, and JP makes it look easy.  

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JP's artwork is both technically and creatively sound.  His knowledge and application of human anatomy is stunning and the way he juxtaposes neon elements provides an inspiring touch of detail that takes the viewer away from reality and allows the mind to wander through the realm of infinite possibilities.  With a focus on the eyes, which are said to be the gateway to the soul, JP ushers the viewer into another mind set, providing the template for something not of this world.  He achieves the surreal without being overt, yet plays with a figurative subject matter, without being too traditional.   His contemporary twist to a representational painting style is the ideal combination of narrative and discovery.  Jean Paul Mallozzi is a visual storyteller, who can weave a tale with the simplest motion of a paint brush.   

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I left his studio with a sense of awe and wonderment.  JP's artwork was everything I had hoped for with the studio visit and to hang out with him in person was an excellent way to spend time in Miami.  He is an artist that I would highly suggest collecting, as he has an amazing career ahead of him.    

His work is now available through this website.  For more information on the artist or his paintings, please don't hesitate to get in touch.  

So long, DUMBO.

As some of you may know, I have decided to move the gallery away from DUMBO.  The small, Brooklyn neighborhood served the gallery well since 2009, but the time was right to transition away from the area and begin to explore new avenues.   I would like to thank everyone in DUMBO who supported the gallery over the years and in particular, Two Trees Real Estate and Lisa Kim, who helped the gallery to grow in many ways, which would not have been possible without their assistance.  

While the physical gallery presence may have been closed for the time being, Mighty Tanaka is by no means out of the game.  Quite the contrary, actually.  This transition gives me the time and opportunity to focus on other areas, such as private art dealing and independent curating, as well as taking the show on the road through co-curating exhibitions with gallery spaces across the country.  

Stay tuned on mightytanaka.com for the latest news, updates and events that I will be involved with in the coming months.  In the meantime, take a moment to browse the exceptionally talented artists, whose work is for sale through the website.  Please don't hesitate to get in touch for more information about the gallery, artists, artwork or pricing.  

- Alex
Mighty Tanaka Art Gallery