Homeless artists to show work: People with next to nothing draw on experience to draw

History suggests that the best art does not come from artists who sleep between satin sheets, so it should come as no surprise that some of the hottest new work coming out of the mile-square city today is being made at the Hoboken Clergy Shelter for the Homeless. For the last year, every Wednesday night, a handful of would-be DaVincis have quietly slipped upstairs after the evening meal has been served to paint and draw at an art class taught by Doug Lindsay, a local art teacher. While some of the more than 50 students who have sat in on the class only have attended sporadically, others have found the work so satisfying that they keep coming back even after they no longer use the shelter’s other services. This Monday night, a sampling of their work will be shown publicly for the first time in the Hoboken Public Library’s display space on the second floor. The show, which features more than 20 pencil, pastel, ink and scratch board drawings from a dozen artists, will run for six weeks. The styles of the works that will be presented are as varied as the backgrounds of the artists who attend the class regularly. One was born in China, another is an Italian American who loads trucks for a living, while a third is a transplanted New Yorker with an arts background. Their work ranges from the “primitive” drawings of 46-year-old Michael Tufano, who uses an economy of line to display figures who have an almost Picasso-esque intensity, to the color-infused, dreamlike works of “30 something year old” Myra Cummings. Underneath the jovial, almost collegial spirit that pervades the room when the artists meet bubbles a white-hot intensity, because many of the regulars say that the class isn’t just for fun. Many of the artists use the class as an opportunity to give a shape to their feelings about their often-difficult lives. When Tufano draws, for example, he puts so much pressure on the pencil that the tip snaps off every few minutes. But the North Bergen resident, who has suffered from a 10-year depression that he says was spurred by a divorce, is dead set on creating the thick, textured lines that make up his figures and designs, even if he has to go through a dozen pencils in the process. “I take my anger out on my drawing,” said Tufano Wednesday night as he pointed to a drawing of an eerily large cigarette which he said was created during a nicotine craving. “I press real, real hard. I just draw what I am thinking and feeling. I feel relieved after I draw because I get the feelings out. Sometimes when I see the drawings on paper I can look at the things that are making me mad and I realize that there really is no sense in getting angry about these sorts of things.” Across the table sits Quiwen Cheng, a 38-year-old soft-spoken man who was born in China and came to Hoboken to study at the Stevens Institute of Technology but was unable to handle the stress of a rigorous academic program due to psychological problems. Cheng says that his problems have left him unsure of himself and made it difficult for him to socialize with others. But in the easy-going, yet quietly intense atmosphere of the class, Cheng says he feels an impulse to come out of his shell and get in touch with his feelings. “The first time I came here, I came to just observe,” he explained. “Just looking at the pictures of people being angry or sad helped my emotions to come out. I don’t think I could do this sort of thing on my own. It’s too hard. But in the group it works for me. It helps me to feel better.” Sitting smiling among his proteges and a hodge-podge of art supplies is the bald-headed, relentlessly upbeat Lindsay, who not only donates his time to run the class, but also provides it with the minimal materials the artists need. In addition to teaching basic techniques and providing inspiration to his students by showing them pictures that are intended to get their creative juices flowing, Lindsay also serves as a motivational coach. “Its not easy to come to this class,” he said Wednesday night, “it’s hard work. Everybody is tired. They have either been working all day or found some way to keep themselves occupied. It is not easy to come here and get into this.” Before he can continue with his thoughts, Sam Zeccardi, a hard working Italian-American, jumps in to explain that members of the shelter are awoken at 5:30 a.m. and asked to leave after breakfast to allow the shelter’s staff to meet with people individually. The shelter does not re-open to the general public until just before the evening meal. Health bills hurt him Zeccardi, who currently lives in his own place in Hoboken, knows how hard it can be to come to the class after a long day. He spent two months at the shelter after the bills associated with a bout of double pneumonia left him unable to pay his rent for a little while. But now that he is back on his feet loading trucks from dawn to dusk in Jersey City, he still finds the time to drop in on the class regularly. “My whole life drawing has been something that I never really put my mind to,” he said. “And I’m still not very good. My father was a sketch artist for Walt Disney, so I guess that I sort of understand it.” Lindsay, who had been looking at another student’s work across the table, can’t let this bit of modesty go. “Conceptually, he sees what is going on here at an amazing level,” he says, still smiling. Zeccardi shrugs off the praise, but as he picks up a vibrant ink picture of a broken heart, he is clearly moved. “I’m just amazed at the god-gifted talent here,” he says.


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