‘Lived Experience’ art exhibit at Queens Central library features work by Rosedale artist

John Smith_Art Collective
Photo by Carlotta Mohamed/QNS

Fine details matter to John Smith of Rosedale whenever he paints a scenario from his daily travels on public transportation, whether it’s on the subway or bus observing commuters in their environment.

The Rosedale artist is proud of his latest canvas acrylic painting titled “Bus Ride” that is currently on display at a free public art exhibition that explores the theme of “Lived Experience, responding to the world we live in, dream of, and wish to occupy,” at the Queens Public Library’s Central branch in Jamaica, at 89-11 Merrick Blvd.

“Some people say they took pictures for themselves and they paint for themselves and everything … I paint for the people and for the public. If not, I wouldn’t even paint,” said Smith, at the artists’ reception held on April 25 at the library celebrating artwork created by 28 artists across the boroughs that live with mental health concerns. 

The exhibit will be on view through May 5.

(Photos by Carlotta Mohamed)

The artists work as part of Community Access’s Art Collective, which provides opportunities through art for its members to enhance their sense of identity, meaning and purpose in life. The Collective offers free instruction, studio space, workshops and other resources to help artists sell and display their work.

Community Access expands opportunities for people living with mental health concerns to recover from trauma and discrimination through affordable housing, training, advocacy and healing-focused services.

“I have the honor to work with a group of artists and people who just want to be creative, not everyone considers themselves an artist,” said Amy Sharpe, director of Community Access Art Collective. “Everyone has had the experience of having a mental health condition and a passion and love for art.”

Smith is a 2019 Queens Arts Fund Awardee for his creation of series of new works based on the experience of commuting on the subway and buses of New York City. Describing his painting, Smith said he wants to be able to communicate his daily experiences of people that he observes and how their environments influence them.

“It takes me two hours to get to the studio on the bus and train. I said, ‘Wait a minute, I got all these subject matters right here just in front of me looking at me for two hours,’ so I started observing the experience of what people were doing on the subway,” said Smith. “I looked at how their carriages were and how they act, how they separate themselves for space from each other.”

Smith has been traveling to the studio since 2012 where he is an assistant helping to run workshops and maintain the studio.

“John Smith’s work is about isolation, looking at people on the subway and what it means to be on public transportation,” said Sharpe. “The intimacy of it and the isolation of it. John creates a body of work of certain subject matter and he’s focused. But meanwhile, while he’s doing the work he’s also a part of the community and supporting people and reaching out to them and cheering them on.”  

According to Sharpe, the exhibition is all about looking at personal expression where each artist has their own body of work and their own interests such as the environment or a love of animals.

“We have about 40 artists. As a collective, we’re a support community,” said Sharpe. “People are extremely supportive of one another and things like this result where everyone’s individual voice comes out and the way that you’re making a body of work that is about your life experience, but also what you dream of. Everyone has a different way of making art.”

Amy Sharpe (r.) with artists of the Community Access Art Collective (Photo by Carlotta Mohamed/QNS)


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