Raylene + Mike: Baby Grand, Urban Geometry and Killer Waffles

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by WOW Talks on 03 August 2011
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There’s something magical about a couple that is perfectly in-synch. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know it when you see it. It’s a certain comfort level, an easy exchange of ideas and inspiration, and they just plain work.

New York City’s got Raylene and Mike, and I was lucky enough to catch up with one half of the couple (Raylene) about how life (and love) feels from up there, and how that translates into art, cooking and karaoke.

WOW Talks: You quit your jobs and spent your savings to open up Baby Grand, a gem of a karaoke bar and tiny art gallery in downtown NYC. Is Baby Grand your baby, and what made you take the leap of faith to realize your dream?

Raylene: It was a combination of things really. On the one hand, most of our friends are having human babies and we almost never see them after that. On the other hand, we were using the karaoke experience as cheap therapy to let out all the tension of the professional city lifestyle. There’s a deeply seeded human desire to invest in a project outside of oneself and put it into the world. Whereas many find this satisfaction in reproduction, we offered up our bar Baby Grand to the city as another valve to let off some creative steam…and meet new friends.

Stiglitz School of Leadership + Creativity

WOW Talks: What inspires you, what gets you up out of bed in the morning?

Raylene: Getting out of bed in the morning isn’t exactly my forte. I’ve always been a night owl and find myself up into the wee hours of the night all too often. Either the quiet little hours of artistic focus or the exact opposite with the Baby (Baby Grand) up all night laughing + singing. It’s usually Mike’s fantastic morning energy that pulls me from the slumber…and the smell of sweet coffee he puts by my bedside.

WOW Talks: How do you work as a couple, and how is being a couple part of your work?

Raylene: Neither of us felt compelled to get married as part of our life plans. This changed when we met and dove into an intense inspiration exchange. We knew we wanted to work together in some fashion. Mike may have had multiple careers as mathematician, programmer, lawyer and finance guy but he’s always been, at his core, a creative holistic thinker with a gift for analogy.

My role as an artist may be more readily apparent, but he has contributed to every architecture, design and art project to suss out the most elegant solution. It’s a balance and spark kind of relationship.

These days we mostly take turns at the Baby, have wonderful “Babysitters” and split behind the scenes duties. Since they rarely see us together at the bar, some folks worry that we don’t spend time together. We spend all day together! …which is part of what inspired Mike to take up the creative kitchen tools.

Stiglitz School of Leadership + Creativity

WOW Talks: What sort of art are you making these days?

Raylene: My art is undoubtedly influenced by my architectural background. For years, it depicted fantastical urban scenes wherein nature, animals and wild style colors overtook carless streets. In the past year, I’ve been taking these themes and translating them to building scale. Vividly colored geometries have been creeping up the windows and walls across NYC.

Each installation has grown in scale. I have a studio in our heroic tiny apartment which I use to plan my attack before renting the use of a silkscreen studio as needed. As the last one covered 165′ x 16′ of window across the street from MoMA, it absolutely required the generous help of an All-Star Assembly Crew. I laid out one of the 33 panels in my living room as a mock up and we were stuffed into the edges of the room.

My dream projects involve interjecting the experience of art onto unusual everyday canvases – redressing the windows of a banal condo building, creating an inhabitable billboard garden or curating an art train. I may one day paint the whole town red if they let me.

Stiglitz School of Leadership + Creativity

WOW Talks: Tell me about Mike’s famous and fantastic breakfasts.

Raylene: He’s a wizard! He’ll go through phases exploring the limits of familiar brunch elements. There was the french toast phase in which all bread, pre-packaged cakes, cereals, cookies and savory concoctions were soaked in egg, pan fried and served with a surprising sauce.

Lately, it’s been experimentations with loafs containing meat, veggies, cheese or whatever was in last night’s leftovers with an intuitive sense of how much flour, egg and baking soda to add to get the right consistency.

There’s the thrill of not knowing exactly how it’s going to turn out since he bakes blind, but each one is better than the last. It’s usually the best meal of the day, lovingly prepared and shared together while everyone else is working.