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The City’s Independent Artists and Collaborative Creation

Still from Sarah Scrivener's and Quinn Murphy's video "Avenue"

by Maria Gabriela Alvarez

Artistic collaboration seems inevitable in a place constantly urging you to keep creating, keep going, feed your ambitions. The energy New York holds opens up the path for communities of artists to feed their visions and their souls.

I was lucky enough to speak to a few of said New York City artists creating collaborative projects to fulfill their own artistic spirits. Quinn Murphy, Sarah Scrivener, and Sam Long find the time to produce independent projects with a clear vision of their own artistic selves.

Their most recent collaborations: two music videos directed by Sarah and Sam and based on songs from Quinn’s latest album, Apartment. Sarah’s video explores themes of Americana and a nostalgia unique to this new generation of emerging artists. The stripped-down rock ‘n’ roll rhythm with soft guitar melodies is reminiscent of 60s and 70s influences, a distinct parallel marked by social and political climate influencing contemporary and past artists.

Both Murphy and Scrivener look to these eras as points of reference for them. Sarah explains: “We’re both really into New Hollywood, so the late 60s, early 70s, when Americana was cool… I think there’s definitely some feelings of trying to escape from our current situation.”  Their collaborative work does just that; Murphy’s soft melodies provide the perfect background for Scrivener’s slightly odd images that show us a world like ours but not quite. 

However, as much as themes of Americana and nostalgia shine through, it is the collaborative aspect found in the production of the work that creates a sense of carefully made, innovative and exciting pieces. The video directed by Sam Long is a perfect example; it is based off of Quinn’s song “Neon Apartment”. Originally shot for Straight 8 (an 8 mm film competition based in London that rejects any sort of editing) the video is a one-shot clip designed to reflect the vivacity of the song as the camera follows a good-looking woman through a fire escape—at the peril of the camera operators no doubt. 

The video is a true collaboration. “It was just two friends who enjoy each other’s art sitting down and getting to collaborate,” Sam Long says. “As an artist, that’s really when you’re at your best…when you can sit down and you can take something that you know if you did that alone in a room you would come up with something different but the same person who created the sound and wrote the lyrics is knee-deep in creating the visuals for it— that’s really some of the most fun you can have as a director.”

The mix of perspectives and ideas is also one of the driving forces for Murphy: “one of the most amazing things you can do is have a great group of people and they can just interpret your vision and it’s more interesting than you could imagine by itself.”

For Scrivener this is also true, updating references of Americana and film history in “Avenue”, her latest collaboration with Quinn. Of her process, she says: “We want to see this thing and we haven’t exactly seen it in this way yet. I think we have a lot of influences that are you know older but I do think we bring them up to date.”

Both projects come from a community of artists generally working on larger commercial film crews Monday to Friday, yet find the time to feed their own visions and help fulfill those of the people around them. “It’s really cool to see other people emerge and see them in different lights, like, you know, the production assistant on set wants to be an editor or it turns out that somebody in wardrobe is actually really interested in lighting” Scrivener explains. “And it just makes you realize how, I think, in our world of commercial production everyone is sort of pigeonholed to one thing but then when we do these projects we are able to collaborate in kind of whatever artistic way we want.”

The projects these collaborations give fruit to are a de facto artistic countercurrent where everyone tries to embrace their true passions and talents while having fun with a group of their friends. Both projects, although entirely different in style, forgo pretension and instead show authenticity as they interpret Murphy’s musical work in images that capture the feelings his music evokes.

However, for Long, it’s also a matter of perspective: “There are so many talented people out there … I think we fall into a trap … that either everybody knows your name or you’re talentless but that’s just not true; the difference between them and someone else sometimes is really just life choices, not really what they’re making.”

“Avenue” and “Neon Apartment” show us the collaboration of independent artists in the city that unintentionally goes against the current, not just in the end product but in the entire creative process. It is fresh, interesting, and exciting or—as Murphy puts it— “just good for the soul”. 

Maria Gabriela Alvarez is a rising senior at Barnard College of Columbia University where she studies Art History. In her free time, she enjoys trying on every outfit in her closet and visiting museums around the city.

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