Student Perspectives: Sophy Lee

Sophy Lee, second year MFA student, shares with us her Studio School experience.


Sophy Lee in the Parlor Studio

In three short years, I have been through a transformation.  Since joining the New York Studio School, I have grown through formal training from observation and transcriptions of masterpieces, independent studio time, and individualized critiques.  My work has changed so much from the very beginning when I started my enrollment even though I have a Bachelor in Art.  My work has become compositionally relational in terms of color, mark making, and the overall placement, and my figurative work has become proportional and compelling.




Coming from a conceptual background with limited hours of working from life, I treasure the precious time of being able to work with models. The school promotes intensive drawing practice that guides us to a strong and mature body of work.  I believe that traditional training in drawing is fundamental to be a professional painter because painting starts from drawing.  Having a good understanding of the anatomy of the human body and the underlying structure of master works strengthens my skills in creating compositions that are applicable to both figurative and abstract work.  My previous work was primarily thematic, but my recent work is conceptual and aesthetically in harmony. The New York Studio School has changed my perspective on viewing and executing art with dignity, and incorporating drawing skills into my process.


Sophy during the Drawing Marathon

The Studio School community is small, specific, and intimate, allowing me to connect with my peers and faculty.  The faculty is experienced and the program is very adaptable. Because of the size of the school, it is not difficult to form close relationships with the faculty.  They are accessible and helpful, and are always open for critiques, advice, and professional development.

The Studio School also promotes a strong studio practice, instilling in me that quality time in the studio is essential to art execution.  I am trained to be comfortable to work in the studio as much as possible every day without losing enthusiasm.  I am now more familiar with my work and routine.  My decisions are more deliberate without rushing.  I put the best of me in every artwork.

Although I am an international student, I do not feel isolated.  The Studio School is multi-cultural, and encourages and welcomes international students to join and participate in their programs. The school also understands the financial difficulty of international students, and provides them with financial support.  As a result, I am able to study abroad regardless of my financial situation.


Training from observation, the one-on-one teaching structure, and the close studio environment, has allowed me to learn effectively and with direct individual advice and feedback from the community. This is my last year studying in the school, but I will keep the momentum going after graduation. I am confident that I am able to survive in the art world and work independently in the studio based on all the education I received from the New York Studio School.  I will continue to draw and paint, and pursue my career as an artist.


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A Look Inside “Kongo: Power & Majesty” with Curator Alisa LaGamma

by Rachel Rickert, NYSS Recruitment Coordinator

Dean Graham Nickson of the New York Studio School and his painting students were invited to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s current Exhibition “Kongo: Power & Majesty” for a tour by Curator Alisa LaGamma, Curator in Charge of the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. Thoroughly and with great care, LaGamma led the students through the exhibition of art produced in Africa’s Kongo Civilization, between the 15th and 19th century. The work shows the responses of regional artists to major historical developments, bringing them in contact with the western world.
LaGamma explained the introduction to the exhibition, where west and east met, starting with a monument from the Portuguese explorer Diago Cão’s ship. The lime stone pillar marked with the sign of the Portuguese Crown was planted at the mouth of the Congo River and marks the start of trade between the Kongo and Europe. Across from the pillar is a white elephant tusk carved in the form of a trumpet, with bands of intricate abstract patterning spiraling up the form. The spiral is not just decorative, but as LaGama explains, in western African Religion stands as a visual metaphor for the trajectory the soul takes when it leaves the body. This piece was commissioned by a Kongo King and presented as a gift to Pope Leon X, who was a Medici Pope, and Rafael’s great patron. This piece is the first work by an African Artist to end up in a European collection.


Kongo Oliphant with reflection of Standard of Saint Augustine (Portuguese Pillar) at entrance to the exhibition

As the group of students moved from room to room, LaGamma illuminated the historical backdrop that led to the creation, use, and trade of the objects and sculptures. The exhibition combines rare artifacts, gathered together for the first time, and is also the first time curators sought to identify individual artists’ hands. Through delicate loom made Raffia-palm fiber textiles and elaborate carved ivory, LaGamma highlighted the “lavish, inventive geometric covering of surfaces” that is a part of the visual language of Kongo Artistry from antiquity to the 19th century .

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Also included in the exhibition are artifacts commissioned by Kongo leaders, insignias of Power. Staffs with beautiful miniature sculptural elements at the top, often in ivory, are displayed next to textile crowns and capes. The exhibit is structured as a layered experience, where the beautiful refinements of the delicate staff toppers are juxtaposed with the aggressive larger power figures. LaGamma described the underlying beauty of the small figures as “undeniable,” while the power figures are “more complicated to understand aesthetically.”


Carved Kongo Staff Finial

Soon after Cão went to Africa, Christopher Columbus discovered the new world, which led to the rush to develop new empires and the need to for labor. Despite the promising beginning of communication between West Africa and the East, soon people were displaced and brought to the Americas. The local leaders’ participation in slavery spiraled out of control and became a huge destabilizing force in this region in the 17th century.
Masks used for healing and intervention in times of social crisis are painted with the colors of Kongo Art. LaGamma explained the Kongo Color palette to the Studio School students: White, the absence of color, the color of bones, representing ancestors; Red, the color of transformation and vitality; and Black, the color of the living. Next to the masks are elaborate figurative vessels for medicine, and sculptures for burial sites.


Curator Alisa La Gamma

The exhibition concludes with two ideas of Kongo power and their visual representations. In the 19th century, the Kongo culture began addressing the depleted population and the urgency to rebuild and fortify with an incredible output of artists creating female figures. Women needed to take on leadership roles to save communities, and these sculptures emphasize the restorative influence of women and the ideal of female power supporting an entire society.


Female Power Figures

In these small female power sculptors, LaGamma has identified two hands. The “Master of the Boma-Vonde Region,” whose work is characterized with a softness and tender intimacy, and the “Master of Kasadi,” whose style is more experimental, and plays with the interpretation of the female figure and secondary child or male figure.
Adjacent to the Kongo Female Power is the Nkisi N’Kondi: Mangaaka, instruments of Law and Order, coming out of the mid-19th century pressures. The imposing male figures represent an abstract force of Law & Order, imposing vessels. They are collaborations between the artists who sculpt the figures, the priests who add the sacred materials to the containers on their stomachs, and the people in the landscape of conflict whose leaders add the metal protruding nails, that symbolized an agreement or the end of a dispute. LaGamma has gathered 15, most of the remaining Mangaaka Sculptures, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for this powerful exhibition. By bringing all these sculptures together for the first time, LaGamma and her team were able to debunk the theory that they were created by a single artist, pointing out how they are actually the hands of different sculptors.


Power Figure (Nkisi N’Kondi: Mangaaka)

The trip to the Metropolitan Museum with curator Alisa LaGamma allowed the Students of the Studio School an intimate insight into the “Kongo: Power & Majesty” Exhibition that was truly an unforgettable experience. This exhibition of rarely seen together artistic and historical treasures is on view through January 3rd, 2016.


Power Figure (Nkisi N’Kondi: Mangaaka)


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Student Perspectives: Rosie Lopeman

Rosie Lopeman, third year Certificate student, shares with us her Studio School experience.


Rosie in the North Green Room Studio

Before coming to the studio school, I had been out of college for some years, working in New York and painting independently in my apartment. At the time, I knew one person who I could really talk about painting with and that was Joe Santore– a great artist, teacher and friend. I had been slowly painting myself into a wonderfully repetitive rut, making the same picture over and over again alone in my home studio. After hearing about the Studio School from Joe, I decided to take an intensive summer course here.

Working larger and more physically than I ever had before, I felt so focused, challenged and ambitious. As we worked on our final drawings in that first marathon with Graham, I remember telling myself: “Don’t forget this moment. If you ever doubt yourself, remember that you have the potential for this clarity and creativity.” After that summer course I enrolled as a full time certificate student. I am now in my third and final year here.


Rosie Lopeman, Purse, 14″ x 11″ oil on wooden panel 2014-15


Rosie Lopeman, A Part from Love, 72″ x 60″ oil and oil stick on canvas, 2014


Rosie’s palette

Any day of the week, if you come into the building, you will learn something. Everyone here is engaged with their work, experimenting, and pretty much always willing to have a dialogue about it. There is a groundedness to the people I meet here. I think this is because of the school’s emphasis on making as a way of thinking, and working in the studio through trial and error. Students and faculty appreciate the difficulties of making art, and the time it takes. Because of the dedicated community, the studio school has been the perfect place to develop my vision and grow as an artist.

I am very thankful for my time here. These years have prepared me for a lifelong engagement with painting. It has been and still is an adventure.


Rosie Lopeman, Hot Nights, 15″ x 15″ oil on canvas, 2014-15


Rosie Lopeman, Real World, 12″ x 9″ oil on wooden panel 2015


Rosie Lopeman in the North Green Room Studio

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My Marathon Experience: Drawing is an Adventure

Drawing Marathon January 2015

by Rachel Rickert, MFA 2015, practicing artist, Recruitment Coordinator for the New York Studio School

Drawing and Sculpture Marathons are intensive two week programs that kick off each semester at the New York Studio School.  Full-time MFA and Certificate students are joined by outside students of all levels for these immersive studio and educational program.

As an entering MFA student, I had always drawn, but I had never considered what I understood about drawing, never considered how to push myself, and what the implications of each mark I made could be.  I began my experience at the Studio School with Graham Nickson, Dean of the School, Professor of Painting, and creator of the Drawing Marathons.

Day one, faced with the models perched purposefully on a multi-tiered platform, I slowly began an outline of their forms, one that I was trying hard to make perfect.  My drawing barely included anything but the figure.  My marks hovered far from the edges of the extreme thirty inch by eleven inch rectangle we had begun with.  After four hours tackling a few drawings in the huge, sky lit Lehman Painting Studio, we brought our drawings down to the Whitney Studio.  In my first critique, Graham pointed out that I had finished certain parts of my drawing too soon, too conceptually. The dark blob I had made as a notation of the model’s dark hair was creating a distracting bull’s eye in the drawing, punching a hole in the space.  He told me to think about suppressing the literalness of tone to instead support the form.  We looked at the edges of all the drawings up on the wall of the Whitney.  Mine was among the majority that left the edges unactivated, we, as artists, never traveling all the way to them.  Graham explained a drawing could always be complete at whatever time you stop it, the pieces are always there, like a chess game, it should still be dynamic, still together, even if you stop before the game is over.

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Rachel Rickert, Drawing Marathon January 2015, 24″ x 24″ charcoal on paper

Drawing Marathon September 2014 44

Rachel Rickert, Drawing Marathon September 2014, 44″ x 44″ charcoal on paper

Each day we were presented with a different drawing challenge—pushed to build drawings in new ways, at new scales or sizes, with critiques bringing the students all together to learn from Graham and each other.  The drawing exercises directed our attention to different aspects of a drawing, reminding us that corners exist, to pay attention to the speed and scale of our marks, and to think about how to distribute information within the rectangle.  We drew from 9 am until 6 pm, with a lunch break, and then headed to the Whitney each evening, with drawings that were getting larger and larger, our faces dusted with charcoal.

Graham Nickson asked me “Is the image ruling you or are you ruling the image?”.  Goya established an image before the process of making it, while Monet discovered the image through the process.  He asked us to think about flatness and space at the same time.  The flatness being the basic truth of the paper, and the space arising from the metaphor for the room I was gazing upon.  In critiques we were encouraged to find moments of authenticity in the drawings which showed that the artist was really looking.


Drawing Marathon January 2014, Evening Critiques in the Whitney (my drawing is second from the right in the top row)

Drawing Marathon January 2014 36

Rachel Rickert, Drawing Marathon January 2014
36″ x 48″ charcoal on paper

I started to see and enjoy the awkward authenticity that happens when working from life.  I exchanged measured perspective for trusted looking.  Graham told me drawing is not about rendering or copying, but instead about building and remaking.  You can never make a figure, but you can show your response to it.  Graham showed me that making changes is what makes a drawing exciting, that “corrections are the life blood of the drawing.”  Reconsideration and corrections are as much tools for drawing as charcoal and acrylic.  Drawings can develop a density as previous decisions amalgamate into forms.  According to Graham, overworking a drawing is an impossibility, an art school cliché.

Despite the fact that we were all in the same room looking at the same set up, and working with the same materials, the drawings looked incredibly different.  And as the days went on, each artist seemed to fall more into their own expression, their own hand writing.  Graham told us not to let style dominate the truthfulness of the experience.

Drawing Marathon September 2014 30

Rachel Rickert, Drawing Marathon September 2014, 30″ x 44″ charcoal on paper

Indian Miniatures taught us interlocking geometry; Chauvet cave drawings are relevant though made 30,000 years ago; with Giacometti we were shown to constantly think about the figure in relationship to the whole space; with Auerbach, that the form was found with planes sometimes, and masses other times; Rembrandt showed us to always have a sense of the rectangle, and geometry in depth; Bonnard encouraged the sense of adventure and discovery; and Matisse told us that exactitude is not truth.  Graham showed us these works and many others, presenting a broad definition of drawing, and encouraged us to find our vision of the world.

I began to understand the ingredients of a drawing- space, form, tensions, interconnections between disparate parts, unity- and that these ingredients can change based on the artists intentions and experience.  But in addition to learning these elements, I was challenged to question them- why is unity interesting?  Suddenly the negative space that holds the form, something I previously deemed the lesser “background” of a picture, became my way into a drawing.  I drew the strange shapes around and between, my charcoal seldom leaving the paper as I carved a path through what I was seeing.  I began to think about interior of the form, the figure in context.  Graham told us to exchange the concept of finishing a work, for strengthening and clarifying.  He encouraged us to be ambitious and bold. The last mark should be a dangerous mark, not a safe one.

Rachel Rickert, Drawing Marathon September 2014, each 44″ x 22″ charcoal on paper


Rachel Rickert, Drawing Marathon January 2015, 8′ x 7′ charcoal on paper

I had not anticipated that I was capable of moving from a twenty-two inch square on day one of my fourth marathon, to an eight by seven foot drawing by day 10. I pushed myself toward new goals in drawing: risk taking, exploration, surprise, and discovery, elements I had not previously realized should be part of the drawing process.  The Drawing Marathon forced me to think differently and to consider drawing an adventure and an emotional encounter. It pushed me through the anguish of art making to find the magic that comes with connection and understanding.

By the end of four Marathons with Graham Nickson, I could not believe what my drawing had become.  Through two years of intense looking and development of my own language, I was now making intense, immediate, particular work, with history and complexity.  My drawing now felt unique to me, while deeply connected to perceptual experience.   The Marathons opened up my understanding of the important issues in drawing which I will continue to confront and realize throughout my life as a visual artist.

Drawing Marathon January 2015 7'x5' charcoal and acrylic on paper

Rachel Rickert, Drawing Marathon January 2015, 7′ x 5′ charcoal and acrylic on paper

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Todd Bienvenu: Alumni Spotlight Interview


Exile on Bogart Street, oil on canvas, 76″ x 67″

Todd Bienvenu was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, and currently lives and paints in Brooklyn, NY. He finished his studies at the New York Studio School in 2007. His current solo show “Exile on Bogart Street” is on view through November 8th, 2015 at Life on Mars Gallery, 56 Bogart Street, Brooklyn, NY.

Rachel Rickert: Tell me a little about yourself and your current show “Exile on Bogart Street” at Life on Mars Gallery:

Todd Bienvenu: I was a student at the NYSS from 2004-07, I moved to New York from New Orleans where I had spent a year painting at home and waiting tables on Bourbon Street after getting my BFA from LSU in 2003.

The title for my show at Life on Mars, Exile on Bogart Street, comes from the Rolling Stones album and my sort of self-imposed studio exile this year in my Bogart Street studio. Less time spent socializing, I really tried to be in the room painting every day.

The 14 works in the show are all from 2015, ranging in size from the two 8-footers all the way down to a few 11×12 inch works on panel. Subject matter-wise, I work in a free kind of way and try to make a bunch of things, so there wasn’t an overarching “concept” initially, but maybe more of an autobiographical kind of feeling. These are some of the things I’ve been thinking about over the last 10 months or so. Brooklyn, summertime, music, drinking beers alone or with my friends, growing up in the South, shadows, grids, the color blue, etc.

RR: Your paintings seem to transcend their seemingly quotidian subject matter through your sophisticated formal devices.  How do you balance the serious color and compositional structures in your work with the playfulness of the image?

TB: Thank you. I don’t think the “search for the subject” is ever a problem, when the image does eventually show up, it’s something that resonates with me personally. I paint the things I care about. Maybe it’s not a matter of picking something unique to paint, but finding an interesting way to paint the things that you always think about, finding a satisfying abstract decision for depicting the subjects you like.

The color and compositional structural decisions happen before the subject has been decided, I paint instinctively and eventually the subjects come out of the paint. I think that keeps it from falling into an illustrative kind of place, it was basically a purely abstract painting first. The narrative is a bonus. My narrative happens to be playful a lot of times, but even then, it’s tempered with melancholy or some edge. If it didn’t have that dynamic, it might feel overly saccharine or like I did some emotional hostage taking.

Wrestlemania, oil on canvas, 84

Wrestlemania, oil on canvas, 84″ x 96″

RR: What has the response been to some of your more raunchy paintings?

TB: Usually people just laugh, the New York art world isn’t scandalized by a dick joke painting as far as I can tell. My mom will see a painting that begs the viewer to deal with the subject and tell me that she likes the colors. And I have friends who aren’t artists and don’t care about painting that like my stuff because it isn’t passive. The viewer brings their own perspective to it, I don’t set out to shock, there’s not much I can do but make the paintings I want to see.

RR: Do you ever feel too personally exposed when exhibiting your paintings?

TB: Yeah, all the time. I find openings to be very stressful. But I would feel that way if they were minimal abstractions or totally porno. Being an artist is making yourself vulnerable, but the conversation only works if people are able see your stuff.

Dick Truck, oil on canvas, 67

Dick Truck, oil on canvas, 67″ x 76″

RR: What has been your path after leaving the Studio School?

TB: After school I got some jobs in wood shops, did some studio assisting, painted nights and weekends, tried to go to openings and meet other artists. I did a residency, painted in my bedroom, painted on my roof, got a live/work. Got fired a few times, scraped by. I basically tried to be an artist instead of having a good job and a painting hobby. Eventually I thought my paintings were good enough to show so I started approaching galleries and artists that might like the work and made friends with them. I’m still in New York painting every day, trying as hard as I can to be unemployed.

RR: What are some of your favorite memories from your time at the Studio School that still influence your practice today?

TB: The marathons with Graham [Nickson] and evenings in the Whitney, drawing with Stanley [Lewis] and Ophrah [Shemesh], crit group with Carol [Robb], going to Bill [Jensen] and Margrit [Lewczuk]’s home studio and seeing how real artists live, meeting some legend at a lecture dinner, I’ve got lots of great memories of my time at the Studio School. I was on the board of governors and won the Orvieto scholarship and spent a summer in Italy. I made some great friends and learned how to really see paintings. We used to go to this bar around the corner, the Stoned Crow and drink and talk about painting until closing time.

The two big things are a good work ethic and a support system, I have those thanks to the Studio School.

Treehouse, oil on canvas, 96

Treehouse, oil on canvas, 96″ x 84″

See more of Todd’s work here.

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“Presence of Form” Opening Reception


Top image: Philip Guston, Untitled 1971, oil on paper, mounted on canvas, 29 x 40 inches (Private Collection)

Bottom Image: Ron Milewicz, Covered Bricks, 2013, oil on linen, 36 x 48 inches

Presence of Form 

Exhibition dates: October 8 – November 10, 2015

In honor of the New York Studio School’s 50th anniversary, comes Part II of work by artists who are associated as faculty members of the school; past and present. The exhibition explores “The Presence of Form” – an aesthetic idea that links the teaching philosophies of distinct individuals who have had a presence over the School and influenced generations of artists.
Works on view by the following artists:

Rosemarie Beck – work on loan from a Private Collection
Garth Evans
Sidney Geist
Philip Guston – work on loan from a Private Collection, courtesy of McKee Gallery, New York
John Lees
Leonid Lerman
Ron Milewicz
Fran O’Neill
Ophrah Shemesh
Lee Tribe
William Tucker
Nicole Wittenberg

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Here’s a big shout out to current and past and current faculty members, students, and alumni who have exhibitions and or are participating in the Bushwick Open Studio this weekend.


Former faculty and the late Jake Berthot exhibition will open at NYSS Gallery on Friday, June 5th 6-8pm


Former faculty member and the late Andrew Forge exhibition opens Thursday June 4, 6-8pm at Betty Cunningham Gallery (Lower East Side)

Current faculty members:


Bruce Gagnier at Lori Bookstein opens Thursday June 4, 6-8pm (Chelsea)

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Jill Nathanson is currently up at Barry Cambell Gallery (Chelsea)


Fran O’Neill will have work in three current exhibitions: Mix Tape curated by Michael David and Todd Bienvenu, and Thrice Legendary or Forever Thens at Centotto, and Painting in Trees.


Elisa Jensen will have work in Mixed Tape and Life of Mars Gallery Summer Invitational Exhibition, Mixed Tape Exhibition, which is opening June 4, 6-9pm at 56 Bogart St. Elisa also has work in Painting in Trees Exhibition.

Current student:

Marie Peter-Toltz at Ray Smith Studio opening June 4 6-9pm (Boerum Hill)


Lauren Collings, Gili Levy, Ben Pritchard, Niki Singleton, Shura Skaya, Clintel Steed will have work in Mixed Tape which is opening June 4, 6-9pm at 56 Bogart St. (Bushwick)

Todd Bienvenu, Gary Nichols, and Avital Burg, will have work in the Summer Invitational Exhibition at Life on Mars opening June 4, 6-9pm. (Bushwick)

Catherine Copeland, Peter Bonner, Pixie Alexander will have work on view at the Paterson Art Walk, (New Jersey)

Peter Bonner, Danielle Dimston, Dov Talpaz, Alice Zinns, Carol Diamond, Cathy Diamond, Gili Levy, Gary Nichols, curated by Alumni Ben Pritchard and Linnea Paskow (with Ben LaRocco) – Painting in Trees (Bushwick)

Andrew Seto at Theodore Gallery (Bushwick)

Alumni currently participating in the Bushwick Open Studio June 5-7:

Gili Levy, Catherine Lepp, Niki Singleton, Ophir Agassi, Lauren Collings, Gary Nichols, Elena Skverskaya, Cathy Diamond, Amanda Buckley, … and so many more.

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Some Recent News

New York Studio School now could be followed on the following social media platforms:


Follow us on Twitter: @NY_StudioSchool

Instagram: ny_studio_school


Artsy published an article on a alumnus- Whit Conrad

Faculty member Margrit Lewczuk work will be apart of a three person exhibition. See details below.11054806_10153832380508569_7018681919417711143_n

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American Academy Arts and Letters Awards

A big shout out to NYSS Alums and Faculty for the Award winners from the American Academy:
Clintel Steed got the prestigious John Koch Award given to Young Figurative Artist.
Stanley Lewis got a $10,000. prize
Eleanor Ray and Chuck Bowdish (Alums) Received the purchase award – their work will be purchased and donated to an American Museum.
Complete info:

Here are some images from the reception.

David Cohen, Eleanore Ray, and Clintel Steed at the American Academy Arts and Letters Award.

David Cohen, Eleanore Ray, and Clintel Steed.

Eleanore Ray and Clintel Steed.

Eleanore Ray and Clintel Steed.

Painting by Eleanore Ray.

Painting by Eleanore Ray.

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Summer Session

Enroll Now for the Summer Marathons, June 1-July 17. For full Marathon offerings, please go to:
Scholarships Available!



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