She got her first break in the textile industry, now independent artist Martha Colón has moved into a studio in the Garment District to showcase her one-of-a-kind artwork, centered on her beloved character, Meow Cleeva.
At a time when the historic neighborhood is under threat of rezoning to accommodate fewer offices and more housing, the arrival of Martha and Meow is a breath of fresh air.
Martha describes Meow Cleeva as “a vaudeville performer in the sleepless city, working undercover as a fancy dog walker.” Many of the original pieces in black and white with a slash of red are created in pen and ink, with some done with acrylic on wood panels.
Meow Cleeva, who is depicted with no facial features, is a character people gravitate towards. “A lot of my clients are performers, artists, photographers, writers and people in the arts. So they are very much attracted to this work,” Martha said. “She’s in the sleepless city because she’s here in New York, and then I had that she’s working under the cover of a fancy dog walker just to explain why I’m drawing all these dogs with the character.”
She added: “I get clients that see the character and they relate themselves to it, they see themselves. That’s what I’ve been able to capture with my work and it has made me very, very happy.”
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Martha calls her new studio space at 265 W37th Street near 8th Avenue, “a sort of gallery, like an exhibition and workroom.” The grand opening was held last week, and Martha says the reception was outstanding.
“For the first time, I have my complete collection in one place where people can see it. So that made me feel really good,” she said.“I got very good reactions already. A lot of people just love it. It’s very New York and a lot of tourists gravitate to it, but also a lot of locals too.”
Martha’s studio space has been years in the making. She began working in the textile industry in 2005 and created a concept that attracted interest from brands like Victoria’s Secret and GQ. As interest grew, Martha began to make different variations — and Meow Cleeva was born.
After leaving the textile industry, Martha decided to pursue her artwork full-time, displaying her work on T-shirts at the W44th Street Garage Sale by the Actor’s Studio. She’s also sold her work in various street markets since, including Bryant Park and Union Square.
Martha has a special connection with Hell’s Kitchen — through her art, which has been displayed in the neighborhood, but also through her family. Her daughter went to school in the neighborhood, and she’s an active member of Manhattan Plaza Health Club.
“I’ve always been around here,” said Martha. “Now I have this space and even when I worked as a textile designer it was in the area.”
Martha’s space is open by appointment only for the next month — made by reaching out to her via her Instagram page until her website is up and running— before taking a short hiatus while she displays her work at the Columbus Circle holiday market. Once the market concludes, Martha’s space will open back for appointments again before fully launching in March 2024.
Spanning approximately W35th Street to W41st Street between 5th and 9th Avenues, the Garment District is one of the neighborhoods highlighted in Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul’s “New New York” plan as a potential target for commercial to residential rezoning. The Garment District Alliance, a business improvement organization established in 1993 to spur local development and boost economic value, recently released a research report outlining the potential to add over 3,000 new housing units through rezoning.