By Tom Momberg
Several residents of the Selfhelp Clearview Senior Center have spent the last five months exploring self-expression by creating art under the instruction of an acclaimed artist, which culminated with a gallery exhibition at the center on Tuesday.
The class, taught by Steve Palermo, was part of a free program Clearview applied for through the Mayor’s Age-Friendly NYC Initiative, called Seniors Partnering with Artists Citywide, or SPARC. About 50 senior centers throughout the city took part.
As the class wrapped up with the art show this week, Palermo reflected on his time with the group of about a dozen retired Baysiders, who he said helped him get through a difficult period in his own life.
“My father passed away in April, and I missed one class,” Palermo said. “But when I got back the next week, I was embraced by the outpouring of love and compassion from my class and the staff of the Clearview Center.”
Through the class, residents at Clearview could pick and choose classes each week to create abstract and surreal paintings, self portraits, collages, tile art and scrolls that allowed each person to tell their life story in a visual and abstract way.
“There are some here that are artists, there are some that don’t know and are afraid to do something, but when they do something, it’s just beautiful,” Palermo said.
Palermo, who also works with youth and other art programs, said working with seniors is even more so about breaking down his students’ walls of insecurity than working with children.
“I make them feel at home, it’s about making them feel comfortable with their own brain and working together with their hands and minds,” he said. “It’s a great feeling.”
But Clearview resident Esther Cohen still refused to accept the artistic value of her work. As her friends and peered complimented her on her seemingly abstract self portrait, she said, “What? No, that’s horrible.” Yet she was the first to admit how much fun she had with the class.
Another Clearview resident, Carmen Mosca, said every person who took the classes had varying levels of experience with art, but that Palermo encouraged each of them to find their own way of doing things.
Mosca said she was just happy to have been given some instruction with painting again.
“I have always done art,” she said. “I’ve had artists in my family, so they have always encouraged me since I was a teenager. But my parents said, ‘Well, you either have to be the best of the best or you will starve in the street.’ So I put it to the side, but creative writing and creating art is my peaceful time.”
The art gallery exhibition on the last day of the class gave residents an opportunity to finally exchange words about each other’s work and to share it with friends and family.
To learn more about the city’s SPARC program, visit www.nyc.gov/
Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb