Archive for the ‘ photography ’ Category
First of all, many thanks to Julie at OMH for making this possible, by letting me hitch a ride. Secondly, thanks to Chris Randolph of the Rockland Living Museum for being so generous with her time.
I didn’t teach my usual class today. I actually spent the day riding down to Rockland Psychiatric Center to view that hospital complex. Mostly, I am looking to see the Rockland Living Museum. The Living Museum at Creedmore has long been the act to follow in what I do. It’s my goal at CDPC to create a peer-run art therapy program that makes meaningful changes in the lives of the students in my classroom. Through a conversation with my contact for the Art on 8 gallery shows, I learned she makes frequent trips to Rockland Psychiatric Center. There’s a counterpart to Creedmore’s Living Museum there. So, at 8:30am this morning I was standing around the OMH Central Office on Holland Avenue, to catch a ride to Rockland Psychiatric Center.
My goal here was a simple one: to see what people at larger, long-running art therapy programs were doing and learn from that. Compared to CDPC which has a capacity of about 136 people in a single building, Rockland has a sprawling campus of buildings (many of which are abandoned). Post-deinstitutionalization, Rockland is a much smaller operation than when its reputation was much grimmer. I had heard about Rockland because of an innovative art program. A little searching around the web reveals the hospital was once considered a pretty bleak and hopeless place by many locals (its location is about 17 miles north of Manhattan). As I’m researching this blog about the history of Rockland, I quickly loose interest in the more salacious bits of its history. Grim suggestions of an overwrought staff and abused and neglected population dominates a lot of commentary from those who knew it or lived or worked there. I’m not looking for horror stories, not now, though I may read up on that later.
Lately, I am in the business of looking for answers to help even the sickest of Albany’s psychiatric patients recover and reintegrate into the community as much as possible. What I do, I do to get people well and empowering them to keep it that way. I have to believe people do recover and stay well, because I need to believe it for myself. Before I taught an art class at CDPC (as I remind the students in my classroom) I sat in the same chairs they are sitting in. Art therapies are a way to bring people out, and help them recover from severe and persistent mental illness. That’s what brings me to meet Chris Randolph today.
Chris Randolf is an art therapist. Her professional profile on a popular web site shows she once worked at a private facility in the same upstate New York county I was raised in, near a hospital where I was sometimes hospitalized, all in the city where I lived in a group home for 9 months. She’s the director of Rockland’s Living Museum, and over the phone she agrees to meet with me when I describe myself as the teacher of a peer-run art class. She does this a day before my arrival. She is even unfazed when my ride calls and asks her to meet me a couple hours ahead of when the Living Museum opens.
It’s far too warm for a day in October. I tend to be extraordinarily anxious in longer car rides. Mercifully, I get a stop at the rest stop mid-way. Lately especially, whenever I am in situations I can’t get up and move around I get stressed out. Nonetheless, since we arrive early, I am offered a breif tour of the whole facility before we park to sign in at the modern main building.
Much of Rockland’s Campus is a series of ivy-covered, abandoned buildings. I am treated to the site of decaying structures bedecked in color, thanks to turning leaves. Here is one of those images, but I am intending most of that for another blog.
My traveling companions sign in, and in a few minutes, Chris is on her way to pick me up to bring me across campus to Building 19, where the Living Museum anchors a large room of one side of the Recovery Center. We park in a small lot at the back, and Chris begins to show me the work that takes up her day from 1-4, when the Living Museum is open. She has the help of art therapy interns to work directly with the patients. Still, she seems to have a small anecdote for nearly every object outside. Aftr seeing the garden, we get into the actual studio in which the museum’s art is created, by residents of the hospital (many of whom are beginning to transition out of inpatient care).
The Rockland Living Museum was developed based on the pioneering Living Museum at Creedmore Hospital in Queens, NYC. The emphasis is on a peer-run program which uses art therapy to empower patients and assist recovery from mental illness. Under the direction of Dr. Janos Marton, a 2002 New York Times profile described the mission of the Living Museum as being a place of “refuge” where “over 800 men and women shed their identities as psychiatric patients and bloomed as artists.”
Patients simply come into the Living Museum space, and without lessons, or direction, they make art. That art has been widely exhibited. It is a series of paintings by patients at the Rockland Museum that piques my interest. At the Art on 8 exhibit (which I have my own work in, as do many of my CDPC students) a conversation about the work in the show from the Rockland Living Museum results in a plan for me to visit Rockland.
My own program is a nascent one. I have only just begun working in the hospital in April. I hear many complimentary statement from students. My class is something they look forward to all day and all week. I know I can make it more meaningful and powerful for my students. I know my story is compelling to them. I was sick on and off a long time. I got hospitalized, voluntarily or involuntarily, a lot. Now, I live in my own apartment and pay my bills. I haven’t needed a hospitalization in 4 years. I know it probably seems to my students that I know something they don’t. If there’s any truth to that at all, the thing I know is this: I need all of them as much as they need me.
That I am teaching again is important to me. Also, it matters that I am teaching people with whom I share a common struggle with chronic mental illness. Its my personal belief is that mentally ill people need to create a community of mutual support for each other. That’s why I do peer mentoring. I teach art because creating art has always been a large part of my own recovery and healing from mental illness. We as a community of psychiatric survivors, –we need to do it for ourselves.
The underlying purpose of the Living Museum is to place art therapy, not as peripheral to people’s recovery, rather creative expression is vital to real and lasting recovery from mental illness. Art groups shouldn’t be in psychiatric hospitals to keep the mentally ill busy. The purpose of art therapy is to make people well. I believe this, of course, because it matches with my own experience. The historical connection between creativity and “madness” is long and widely studied. I’m a working visual artist, as well as a teacher. I know I do much better when I make creativity and expression my purpose.
After Chris picks me up at Rockland’s central building, I launch on a whirlwind tour of the Rockland Living Museum. We start with its garden. Chris explains that she has about a half-hour before some other responsibility she must attend to. In a short time I have seen a lot of things which inspire me, and leave me with a great number of ideas for my own work at CDPC. I also see the enormity of the task I’m trying to undertake.
The garden grows flowers, or herbs and vegetables intended for use in the food at the Big Rock Café. The cafe is a locus of food and conversation for many patients, and its walls also serve to exhibit work done by patients in the Living Museum.
In the Living Museum’s garden, some patients have taken plastic bottles and fashioned them as flowers decorated in vivid colors. Some patients have decorated the ground with painted stone tiles. Another has made small seats for rest or contemplation. Still others simply tend the garden and their contribution is watering the plants and weeding. It strikes me that Chris not only knows each person and their contribution to the garden, but she seems to have found a way to match each person to a way their skills and limitations still allow them to take a meaningful part.
For those of us in the peer/consumer movement, this is what’s known as a “strengths based approach.” The medical model of treatment focused on the deficits of a ill person. Medical professionals list symptoms, and address limitations. Throughout my time in the Rockland Living Museum, the focus remains on building and fostering the skills and abilities of people in treatment. Participants in the Living Museum direct their own projects. They choose their creative medium based on their already presents skills and interests. One man, Tommy, does most of the building in wood, a large section of the room is a dedicated space where he builds benches, chairs, stools and many other projects.
Most of the spaces for the museum’s artists are individual. The space is adapted to the artist and their interests and personalities. Some artists work is crafts or jewelry. The work is self directed, and flexible. Spaces have shelves of donated books, and a small radio for listening to music.
In the Living Museum, Chis leads me around from one project to another. Since the space is not yet open and no artists are present, she patiently answers all my questions about her work as director. She relates how the Living Museum started. At the beginning it was just her. Chris gives me many thoughtful recommendations for my own program. Much of the supplies, furniture and other projects are donated items, or carefully gleaned from sites like Craigslist and other free resources. The Living Museum is staffed, in part, by partnering with educational institutions nearby. But primarily, Chris stresses the need to create a program which eschews the traditional therapeutic model. Instead, she insists on a program which empowers patient autonomy and choice. This maxim underlies the program here.
This is of course, something I want for my own program. Changing a deeply entrenched institutional culture is a large task.
After I have seen the actual Living Museum itself, I briefly tour the larger Recovery Center –which constitutes the rest of Building 19. I see spaces that host group therapy, vocational training, computer access, music and performance space, and display space for some of the patient created wares from the Living Museum. I’m given an overview of the other programs. There is an all-day roster of groups available to patients (patients choose their own groups, and participate in creating new groups). I meet both hospital residents and peer mentors like myself. Chris eventually has a supervision to attend to, and I go to the café for lunch.
It’s in the café that The Recovery Center feels institutional to me for the first time. Though the food is fine, and the space is well decorated with the Living Museum’s art, several people mill about the cafe or in front of it in an idle and purposeless way. A couple of the cafés patrons approach me either wanting my coffee, or cigarettes. I talk to a couple of people there, and eventually leave to photograph the wooded, picturesque grounds. Much of the hospital’s campus is abandoned and overgrown. It makes a beautiful subject for my camera, since photographing abandoned buildings is a longstanding hobby of mine.
While I am walking the grounds, seeing all the wrecked former hospital buildings, it seems the hospital campus was abandoned in stages. Nearer the road, buildings are lost almost entirely in overgrowth, and as one gets closer to the center of campus and its modern buildings some of the older buildings are being returned to use. I am not sure, but it is likely that building 19 itself, where the Living Museum is housed, began the renaissance of the older buildings being renovated. It’s speculation on my part, but meaningful speculation.
That I was pestered for cigarettes, money, and coffee in the café reminds me that the needs of the mentally ill are great. People whose needs are being met aren’t listlessly sitting about looking for an opportunity to solicit something they don’t have or have enough of. Back at home, (my work at CDPC) there are a great number of people that need to be meaningfully engaged in addressing their own needs. Those needs may be educational, vocational, or –pertinently– creative expression.
There’s a lot of work to do.
Among my favorite subject matter for sketching over the past several years have been cabinet photos. Cabinet photos were a late 19th century print-making process. Photographers took the photos –generally in their shops and they were often used to advertise for the photographer. These photos satisfied the fascination of Victorian era people with access to an emerging technology –photography. The cabinet photo was extraordinarily popular until about the turn of the twentieth century. There are an abundance of them, and they can generally be bought for only a few dollars per photo.
For a couple of years now, I have been buying cabinet photos from The White Whale, an antique shop in Hudson, NY, each time I have vacationed there. The cabinet photos make for arresting portraiture studies to me for several reasons. First, photography was still expensive and most cameras were only in the hands of professional photographers. This means that most cabinet photos are of regular people, dressed in their best clothes, who must have traveled “into town,” to have their portrait taken. The cards I have bought are often of young women, dressed in probably what is their best dress. So, drawing ordinary people of modest means has a certain appeal.
The second consideration is more of a technical one. Photography was still a technology in its infancy. Long exposures and the process of print-making often did not produce as crisp an image as what we are used to today. In the image I am using, taken by photographer F. C. Flint, of Syracuse, NY, the skin-tones of the woman photographed are pretty uniformly the white of the paper, as are most of the woman’s intricate lace dress. There’s little to go on to draw the normal contours and shadows of the woman’s face, except for some shadow around the eyes and under the woman’s chin. For the way I tend to sketch portraiture, the lack of detail forces you to develop those details yourself, and intuitively. You have to learn to fill in the missing information with a good intuitive sense of anatomy and texture.
A second cabinet photo, this time the image is based on a photo from Farrand & Neale, 18th and 6th Ave, NYC.
The face in the photo is placid. For whatever reason she seems anxious and terrified as I draw her. A reflection of my own state, perhaps. Nonetheless, thank you for viewing.
Also, below the woman’s face, her shoulders and chest begin to disappear in shadow. It’s a challenge to draw with a fair deal of detail from the image, and another challenge to replicate (in pencil) the vanishing light around the edges of the image in Victorian era photography.
This new drawing I found interesting to do, because of the elaborate clothing and the amount of detail in the photo. The image I am working from (the actual photo print) is very small, about 2 and 1/4″ by 4″. This particular photo is much smaller than most of the cabinet photos in my collection, although the others vary as well, in size and shape.
Since I am gearing up to do a portrait on commission, I broke out the pencils today (a new set, sent to me by my kind sister Jennifer) to practice my hand at sketching –something I will very likely be working on a lot in coming days. Again, from one of the cabinet photos my partner and I have collected, this one marked: “DeWitt”
He’s a relatively severe looking, aged gentleman, but I came to like him while I was drawing him and his substantial beard.
Cabinet photos can generally be found in antique shops locally, and can also be found online. They make a very interesting subject, in my mind for practicing portraiture.
I’ve always had a great fondness for trees. There was a plot of land behind my father’s house that was more or less my playground as a kid. It was a woods was filled with stately old trees. That plot of land (much to my father’s chagrin) sold and now has a house built on it. Still, a fondness for trees, and especially urban trees that live out their lives more or less paying little attention to what humans are doing below them, endured. The landlord has told me that the house I’m living in was built in 1910. It’s reasonable that the tree has stood about as long as the house has, and was part of the original landscaping of the lot. There is a large stump in the middle of the back yard, –a sister tree that must have been a match for size of its brother that is still standing. I am not one for new-agey/spiritual beliefs, but I do find the presence of a venerable old tree in my backyard to be calming. Frequently when I am at home I can be found perched under it.
I am often noted to be a sort of whimsical human. I do talk to trees, –who in turn don’t say anything, but simply listen.
This spring, when the weather changed, I took a series of photos of my pet tree as it began to leaf out. The photos were taken with an Olympus OM-1 35 mm camera, and Fuji 400 film.
I hadn’t intended these for sale, it was more a project of selfishly documenting something meaningful to me. Still, if someone made an offer for a print, or even the whole series, I’d be more than happy do that for those who asked. There’s many way I can think of that these photos as a series together would make a very beautiful piece framed imaginatively.
There are few things that give me satisfaction like delivering a commissioned piece to a client or friend that requested the work. I have not updated this page so often as I should, unfortunately. I have been very fortunate to have done several commissioned works in the past year. Some are included here.
Another commissioned work, and this one I enjoyed so much. When people approach me about commissions, I am often really surprised in a happy way with the ideas people come up with. A friend, who is a practicing Zen Buddhist, wanted me to do an image in the style of Buddhist religious iconography, but using the Nintendo character, Kirby, as the central character in the image.
The final image:
To prep for the final image, I did the following studies:
This work was a lot of fun to do. Aside that it was being purchased by a very good friend, it was a deeply personal work in many ways. Also, the client’s requests about the work meant I used painting techniques very different from how I usually paint. I definitely learned a thing or do, doing this particular work.
The next piece was also a joy to do. Sometimes, when I am approached about an idea the buyer has a very specific idea of what they want, –down to materials and the actual image. I do enjoy, though, when the direction for a commission is a little more amalgamous I have have the go-ahead to play and experiment with my typical style. This was one of those works. I had little direction other than to do something in my style, but include crows in the image.
On the SWPA page, I put out there I was doing commissions. A friend asked that I do one of the small works of Albany’s long-time alternative music hang-out, the Fuze Box.
The Fuze Box was a rescued Art Deco building and one-time White Tower Hamburgers location. White Tower was a Wisconsin-based competitor of White Castle, the first store opened and the company peaked in the 1950’s. Most of the original details in the building are still present: the molded glass and chrome, as well as signs advertising the buildings history before it was reused as a night-club. Long-time Albany scenesters still remember the days when the club was the QE2, and hosted live all-ages shows, as well as alternative dance nights.
So, a venerable historic structure in its own right, the Fuze Box/QE2 has been an anchor of Albany’s nightlife as long as pretty much anyone cares to recall. My friend, James, wanted an image to commemorate the Fuze Box and commissioned the work. I started doing preliminary sketches this morning.
A bit about my process: any commissioned work, or a serious work I do generally involves a few sketches. The sketching allows me to work out problems and practice the image before I start the actual work. I encourage my students to practice their ideas with sketches on paper before they truly start a piece. In this case, this is a mixed media color study and architectural study of the White Tower building (as it was in 2006, this image is from my own collection, taken with one of my many digital cameras I have owned over the years).
The original image I am working from is below:
I’ll include images, with the permission of the buyer, of the full work when it is done. If you’re interested in commissioning a work, use the contact information in the about page.
Working on an architectural drawing of a highly symmetrical Art Deco building is proving to be a challenge (not an unwelcome challenge, by any means, but still a challenge). Hopefully, I am not trying the patience of my buyer by taking my time and doing a score of preliminary sketches to get the end product right.
Last weekend, I went out with my point and shoot and took a couple night-time images to make a composite image for the final product. Today, I am working off pencil sketches of the various angles.
here’s today’s sketch (pencil on paper):
I have permission from the buyer to include the work, which he just picked up today, on my blogs here. I did two versions of the Fuze Box image, and James, in turn, wanted both images.
So here they are drying on my easel (the source images I used are above):
Good friend and fellow odd human Seamus approached me about doing a painting for his girlfriend, Sid, who is likewise a super-cool human. What Seamus (being a Star Wars fan with a command of apocryphal and character lore I do not, sadly, have) wanted was a re-imagining of The Jabba the Hut scenes in Star Wars, with his cat, Sif, and he and his partner as characters in the piece. So, Jabba the Sif, became a thing. I drew four or five character studies, and then began painting what was one of the most fun images I have ever committed with acrylic paint to a canvas.
I have used the image with Sid’s permission.
Thanks Seamus and Sid, I am glad you enjoy the finished piece.
Regardless of how quirky the idea, I am glad to take commisions of whatever you are looking for, and will do my best to fit materials and time within a budget you can afford. If you’re interested in a commission, use the contact in my about section on this blog.