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Helene Ruiz and Urban Individualists come to W-burg

Arist Helene Ruiz, founder of “The Urban Individualists” artist collective, is coming back to the Williamsburg Music Center (367 Bedford Avenue) this month, this time to curate a show of women artists with strong musical influences.

The Bronx-based Ruiz is bringing a series of surrealistic paintings to the exhibit, “Hard Hearts, which opens July 17 and continues until September 25.Ruiz, 51, disabled since 2002 from severe spinal injuries, took up painting as a therapeutic exercise and it became a means to cope with chronic pain.

“Art is my passion, religion and salvation.It is my way of surviving and coping. I paint what I feel, when I feel,” said Ruiz.“I love to paint, I cannot imagine my life without it, nor do I think I would have survived without it.Painting is my true “freedom” as I can say whatever I want without restriction.”

Count Williamsburg Music Center’s Founder Gerry Eastman as one of Ruiz’s biggest backers.Eastman, a jazz guitarist, said he was most impressed with Ruiz’s embrace of musical themes in her paintings and her references to jazz.

“Almost all the artists I know listen to music while they work,” said Eastman.“Artists always tell me they listen to John Coltrane or another type of artist when they’re painting. They say that they get images of color, that’s hot or that’s red when they listen to music.”

Eastman founded the Williamsburg Music Center in 1980, when it was one of the first permanent art organizations in the neighborhood.  He said he bought a number of buildings near the Williamsburg Bridge for $60,000 in the 1980s when no one wanted to live in Williamsburg.  Today, their value has increased exponentially, though prices are dropping again due to the real estate bust on the neighborhood’s Northside. 

“You could buy any building you wanted then.That’s why I bought the building I’m in,” said Eastman.“Without warning, this area has experienced the most rapid gentrification I have seen in my life.”

In addition to collective events, the Williamsburg Music Center has been organizing an on-site jazz festival, repertory sessions, put together a record label, and hosted several hundred art shows.Eastman believes that the WMC fills an important need in the music community, highlighting the music and art of performers of color.

“The Philharmonic and other organizations like them were not going to be playing music from musicians of color.They never have and they never will,” said Eastman.

Ruiz is looking forward to the exhibit and spent much of the past weekend hanging the works.

“Painting is my true “freedom” as I can say whatever I want without restriction,” said Ruiz. “I can express myself when words are at a loss. Sometimes, there are no words that can describe my reality.”

Hard Hearts will open at the Williamsburg Music Center, located at 367 Bedford Avenue, on July 17 and will continue to September 25. For more information, call 718-384-1654 or visit

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