July 2016: A New Way of Seeing

Class begins at at 6pm, but when I walked in at 5:30, it looked like the studio session had already begun. La Verne and her daughter, Sharonda, were deeply consumed in their work. Lit with inspiration, they had decided to get a jump start, and had started painting 4 hours before class began. Although class ends at 8pm, we left at 9:30 that evening. Mother and daughter had been painting continuously for 7 ½ hours, and expressed how they couldn’t seem to stop, that inspiration just wouldn’t let them, and that they were determined to finish their paintings for the upcoming show. (La Verne only stopped painting because her "eyes didn't want to work anymore".) They’ve become entranced. And they love it. 

La Verne and Sharonda into their 6th hour of painting

La Verne and Sharonda into their 6th hour of painting

At 6pm, the other residents joined us in the hustle to finish their paintings, which would be displayed in their first ever show. When Genevieve Barrios-Southgate, Director of Community Programs at the Bowers Museum, heard about our senior artists of Heninger Village and the work that we've been doing as part of the Community Engagement + Grand Central Art Center Residency Program, she invited them to show at the museum’s Old Fashioned 4th of July Festival. They were thrilled. La Verne shared:

"A few months ago, I wouldn't have even attempted to paint. I didn't think I had the ability to make art. 
And now, we are going to be showing our paintings at a museum? I could have never imagined."

La Verne, Sharonda, and i stand proudly in front of the students' work. In Sheronda's self portrait, Swimming with the Dolphins, they jump out of the water, representing freedom. One of her wishes is to swim with the dolphins in Hawaii, and to have an opportunity to travel the world. 

La Verne, Sharonda, and i stand proudly in front of the students' work. In Sheronda's self portrait, Swimming with the Dolphins, they jump out of the water, representing freedom. One of her wishes is to swim with the dolphins in Hawaii, and to have an opportunity to travel the world. 

Throughout class, I caught myself gently shaking my head with delight as I listened to the group talk about how they couldn’t stop thinking about painting, and about all the ideas they hope to implement in their work. They arrived with their newly-purchased pencil kits, drawing pads, portable paints, and other materials to try out, and it gave me such joy to see how their interest in art was blossoming even brighter. I remember how quickly in love I fell with paint, and my heart beats stronger as I experience it again vicariously through them. This newborn enthusiasm for paint I remember all too well, and I am so grateful to be sharing in this moment as they discover it for themselves. 

Claudia admitted, "I can't stop thinking about painting, and it's making me feel a little crazy."

Claudia admitted, "I can't stop thinking about painting, and it's making me feel a little crazy."

While Joe worked on his self portrait, he shared, "I can't drive in my car without noticing a color and asking myself, "How do I mix that color? Everything looks like a potential painting now."

While Joe worked on his self portrait, he shared, "I can't drive in my car without noticing a color and asking myself, "How do I mix that color? Everything looks like a potential painting now."

And so it begins. Welcoming you to my world with open arms, a knowing grin, and a rag to wipe the paint smudge off of your cheek, Friends. This is one of the reasons why I am so in love with art and creativity in whichever way it presents itself. It offers us new lenses through which we can observe our spectacular world. I am delighted to be a spectator as these artists experience this in their own way, at their own pace, and through their own eyes. 

A couple nights ago at his job, Joe helped some of his coworkers clean some food trays. We laughed as Joe described the moment: 

"It was so beautiful. At any other time, I would have just seen it as food, but now I'm seeing everything so differently. 
The red and the green of the guacamole and the salsa was mixed together like some beautiful abstract painting. I could have taken the tray and put it up on the wall, and I wouldn't have even been able to tell the difference."

Yes, Yes, and Yes.

 

Co Kim Thoan demonstrates her techniques on this test sheet. Really. how beautiful is this? 

Co Kim Thoan demonstrates her techniques on this test sheet. Really. how beautiful is this? 

One of my other students, Co Kim Thoan, whom I’ve worked with closely since 2013 through the Bowers Museum’s Treasures Program, has also been joining us. With gentle eyes, a confidence in her brush strokes, and an ease in her hands, she flicked her paintbrush steadily to paint the palm tree that stood tall on the shores of Vietnam. The Heninger residents watched in awe. Nearing the end of class, she spent some time demonstrating her different techniques for the students - the mixing of colors to create her sky blue, the smudging of paint with a paper towel to capture its gradience, the dabbing of the paintbrush to incite the blooming poppies.

This is what I had hoped for. This is what we had hope would come from this project for our community. That this creativity, these skills, newfound or continued, would fuel more inspiration, light, and curiosity into their lives. That these moments spent together would marinate into a warm broth from which they could continually sip. Our hope was that they would continue flourishing together, sharing their ideas, knowledge, excitement, and stories with one another, even after this residency culminates. It's all happening. Right before our very eyes, right through our very eyes, and right out of our fingertips. And it’s a spectacular thing to watch.

When Co Thoan had first began painting, back in 2013, she said to me (and I will always remember this):

 

"I’ve lived with these clouds hovering above me for all my life, 
and I’m just now fully recognizing their beauty."

 

Amen, Sister. Isn’t that one of the exquisite truths that art reveals to us? Creativity pulls us over a microscope where we can get a closer glimpse of the beauty that exists all around us. The ordinary becomes elegantly simple; the mundane becomes part of the rhythm upon which we can stride with the movement of this glorious life. Art helps us see life from a clearer lens. It helps us focus on those things that evoke our curiosities, and allows us to question, seek answers, and believe in the potential that lies in things big and small, and most importantly, within us.

 

** Stay inspired, my friends**