Jul 30, 2010

Last HSS Mural

Downstairs gym:

Yesterday I tackled the blank wall of the gym at Sammy's (custodian's) suggestion; he figured it would encourage residents to work out instead of requesting more sodas.  We'll find out if he's right! Since I had just gone jogging the previous day on the running path (Manhattan Waterfront Greenway) not five blocks away, my inspiration was quick coming.

View of mural coming down stairs:

Men's Bathroom:

Assuming the men would not want luscious gardens filling their bathroom, I opted for a more creative and masculine option: paint paintings.  A combination of abstract and landscape seemed to do the trick. 

I've truly felt like a star at HSS; the residents have treated me with more respect and love than I ever could have imagined.  A woman yesterday pointed at the waterfall mural, pointed at me, and then blew me kisses. "Beautiful!"  Today, a man who looked like a meeker version of God in Bruce Almighty came into the men's bathroom, put his hands over his heart, and said, "I love you!"  Wow.  I am so touched!  People didn't seem to want me to go. "When are you coming back?" "I'm done today."  "Oh, so you come back tomorrow?"  "No...."  "Next week?"

Well, not next week, but I will be coming back!  Not to paint, but to teach painting to the seniors so they can fill the other blank walls of the center!  I can't wait to see what they come up with and bond with them a little more.


Jul 28, 2010

Waterfall Wednesday

Several strange things happened today.  I began preparing the selected wall for paint per usual by peeling off tape and stickers left over from days or years ago.  One woman, possibly not remembering me from before, became very upset that I was taking the stickers off.  I explained my mission, and then! A 180 occurred.  She grabbed me by the elbow and steered me toward the coffee machine and muffin pile reserved for the residents.  Bypassing the cook sitting next to the station, she ignored the 25cents advertised price and fixed me a muffin and coffee...for free.  "Enjoy, enjoy!  Beautiful work!" she complimented me before I had even started.  My rewards grew with the painting, however, as she gave me several McDonald's coupons that looked pretty new.  She knows the way to a girl's heart!

Henceforth, the day went as planned until the last minute.  I was literally putting my paints in my bag to pack up when a woman said, "You need a sun".  I was hungry, ready to see the real sun outside, and not so willing to add a sun unless it transformed the ugly fire alarm.  I tried to go for the fire alarm but the woman arrested me.  "No! To the right."  Okay, I added a sun to the right.  And then of course the sun's reflection in the water and pink highlights on nearby clouds.  "You need rays," another woman insisted.  I did not want to add rays, which would change the atmosphere from more or less realistic to slightly cartoony, but she WANTED those rays.  And by god, she would have them - alternating long and short like we drew them in a highly sophisticated kindergarten class.  I bit the bullet; after all, this was their home, not mine.  I was just there to make art that made them happy.  I finished the last ray.  Everyone at the table behind me nodded in approbation.  At this most unopportune time, the particular Chinese master referenced in a previous post came by. 

He pointed at the rays in disgust, making the circular bursting motions of light with his hands.  He shook his head and made negative sounds.  "He loves it!" said the woman who had suggested the rays.  "I don't think he loves it," I said, "I think he doesn't like it."  "Oh no, he loves it".  She clasped her hands in delight and pride.   The Chinese man gestured more violently, giving a thumbs up for the whole painting but down for the sun... desperately hoping I would understand his jist.  I did, and I looked at him sympathetically; I was caught between two forces and did not know which way to turn.  "They like the rays," I ventured, attempting to move the blame a bit from myself.  Chinese man threw up his hands and walked away.  I sighed and began to repack my bag.

"If he doesn't like it," the ray woman said firmly now, "it's because he's foreign.  See, I'm from Puerto Rico and we know what the sun looks like there."  "I'm sure you do," I said, aiming to escape the oncoming speech about racial differences.  I left her smiling at her sun and decided to leave it up to the administration about whether the sun rays stay or go...

Reflection on previous work: the long dark, pipes that run along the ceiling are benefiting by association from the dark bamboo fence used to hide the ac.  The are beginning to look a little alike!

Jul 22, 2010

Three times a charm

The Last Column:

At the request of one of HSS kitchen staff, I painted the last column with a Tuscan theme.  The bright colors went over very well, perfect for the middle of the room.  Notice all the disguised pipes and outlets!

All three columns:
Fixing the AC:

The AC unit, a metal monstrosity, happens to be the first thing you see when you walk in the door.  Because repairmen and inspectors need access to nearly all parts of the unit, solutions for hiding or disguising the unsightly corner are limited.  I considered painting the whole thing with its various parts, grating, doors, and pipes; but after my own inspection I knew the process would not only be extremely time consuming and difficult, but also it still risked being unattractive.  Painting the metal would take multiple coats, and constant temperature changes (hot to cold as its turned on and off) would probably encourage peeling.  

As I walked down 7th, however, I noticed this store selling bamboo fences....

With this Sammy's help (he carried the very heavy fence the entire 1.5miles to the center):

and this Sammy's (custodian's) help:

We rolled out the bamboo fence in front of the AC.  After that, I painted the small top section not covered by the fence with green bamboo shoots.  Much better!  We attached it with wire to the unit in a way that can easily be removed when inspectors come.  Roll up the fence, and wah la - easy access.  The fence wasn't cheap, but the affect is worth it.

A broader view of the room (today's work):

Still to do: figure out something for the other side of the AC unit (same thing?) and bigger mural of China (an area specifically from where many of the residents hail). Also the men's bathroom...

Jul 21, 2010


I moved from the backroom to the front room of Henry Street today with a mission: to transform the unattractive cinder-block columns.  I grossly underestimated the time it would take to complete all three, but I finished two in high spirits.  I'm beginning to feel like family here at Henry Street.  I got patted on the back several times by the seniors who remember me, greeted by name by the workers, and received delightful smiles. "You're back!"  The man with the cane from yesterday was back watching.  I even attempted a Spanish joke with the elderly women who were closely watching me paint the first column.  As I climbed the ladder I announced, "Soy alta ahora" (I'm tall now) only to have the ladder wobble under me.  Six sets of hands rushed for the ladder, the joke quickly forgotten.  Luckily the ladder and I stayed in one place; false alarm.  The members of HSS continued to look out for me, bringing me water, a muffin, and numerous compliments when they realized I had worked through my lunch break.  Talk about a rewarding sense of community... 

Column One: Jungle Waterfall

Not everyone's respect came easily.  One elderly Chinese man decided to inspect my work in-progress with a critical eye.  So intensely did he gaze at my progress that I began to feel nervous. "No good" he said.  He went back to his table and drew a picture of a waterfall on the back of a receipt.  Of course, when the painting isn't finished, it won't be all that good; but I decided not to tell him that.  Instead, I continued on my way, painting and praising his sketch (I reached for it, as though to reference his genius, but he wouldn't let me hold it).  When eventually, he said, "good", I breathed a heavy sigh of relief.  Everyone should have a wise, Chinese master to apprentice themselves to, and I suppose I found mine.

 Column Two: Chinese Water Garden

Tomorrow I go back to finish the third column and hopefully find a way to hide the ugly AC unit.   

Jul 20, 2010

Tropical Corner

I LOVED today.  Wendy (coordinator of Senior Companions) walked me into the building and said, "Do whatever you want wherever you want."  I chose to work in a nook in the backroom -- a place where the senior congregate to play pool, dominoes, cards, eat meals, socialize, and watch movies.  No one sat at the table in this corner and you can probably guess why: (hint: it's ugly!)


What better to paint on a sweltering day in the city but a tropical paradise. "I feel cool already" said one gentleman, tipping his hat.  This mural went over especially well with the residents - most of whom spoke Spanish and hailed from Puerto Rico.  One woman said proudly, "You paint my island!"  Another man stood in silence and watched me paint for over an hour in the same position leaning on his cane.  As the mural progressed, I heard increasingly excited Spanish in the background: "Parece Puerto Rico! Es la isla de verde! Mira! La pintura!"  Though they had not been to their island in over 50 years, the sight of their homeland lit up their eyes and encouraged them to talk to me.  "You know what would make this perfect?" one man stated, "Pelicans.  Add a couple Pelicans and then it will be like home."  So I did.  He was happy, and the mural looks better too. 

 The attention I received was extremely gratifying to any artist's ego.  The women came up to me praising the bathroom and the men asked me, "hey, what about equal rights?" I think that means they want one in theirs.  Still have the front room to do too!  We'll see what comes of everyone's requests tomorrow!