We caught up with artist Paul Ferrara who participated in the 2015 SPARC (Seniors Partnering with Seniors Citywide) program to hear about the final culmination project and about what learned from the experience. SPARC is a community arts engagement initiative that place artists-in-residence at senior centers across the five boroughs in exchange for providing arts programming for older adults. In our two-part SPARC story, we followed the journey of artists during their residencies. Paul Ferrara, who taught printmaking at Hamilton Innovative Senior Center reflects on the program and the
Name: Paul Ferrara
Medium of Work: Visual and performing arts
Description of Work: Fragmented, detailed, repurposed
Could you tell us more about the conception as well as processes of the project?
As is so often the case, the inspiration for this project came from something one of the participants, Lora, brought to the table. She brought in an article from Time Out New York magazine, which featured the process of creating a cover for the magazine in the style of Andy Warhol’s silkscreened portraits. The project coincided with the field trip I had arranged to the Lower East Side Printshop. I had a friend who is a photographer take each participant’s photos and together with them, using Photoshop, we were able to easily transform their photo into a high contrast image. On our field trip to the Printshop, they had the opportunity to pull several silkscreened prints of themselves.
The intent was not to create an image that was exactly like Warhol’s, but rather to have them interact with their portraits, and use a medium of their choice selected from a wide range of options: colored pencils, pastels, watercolors, markers, etc. They would draw, paint, or collage on top of their image. In preparation of the final project, we had a group discussion on their individual definitions of the concepts of identity and the aging process. In addition, as a group, we observed the self-portraits of other artists and had lively conversations about them. One woman in the group was camera shy and did not want to have her photograph taken so I asked her to choose an object from her handbag that was important to her; she chose a perfume bottle that she carries around with her. The students were encouraged to work on the project outside the classroom environment, to take their time and work on their self-portrait within an environment that was familiar and “safe”, allowing them to further reflect on the notion of identity during the creative process.
How did you choose to present the students’ works and what do you aim to achieve via this particular form?
For the exhibit and culminating event, I chose to hang the work of each participant by grouping a collection of their prints alongside their portrait, as opposed to hanging them according to each project. In this way, the viewer is able to see and learn about each participant through his/her artwork.
Besides the silkscreen portrait created for the final project, each participant was given a hard bound blank sketch book in which they adhered their prints and the prints of their fellow participants into the book. I was greatly rewarded by the comments of one participant; Charlene commended the idea, “The compilation of our work into individual books was a wonderful idea and a project to be treasured for a long time. I have already shared the book with several people.”
This was my second residency at Hamilton Senior Center, my first residency was in 2013. For the culminating event in 2013 we decided to call it Creative Aging Arts Day and invited other instructors from the various classes: poetry writing, watercolor class, and opera group to participate. I believe that it is important to celebrate the accomplishments of each person and the work that they have been doing throughout the year in their classes. The administrative staff decided that they wanted to hold a similar event this year and continued to call it Creative Aging Arts Day. This year included more groups; playwriting/acting group, poetry, belly dance performance, and line dancing.
How did the viewers and participants react to the exhibition and the program in general?
The reactions, responses and comments of participants as well as those who came to view the work have been positive and generous. People were surprised to see the breadth of work created in the class and were also pleasantly surprised to see that such a class existed at the Center. Many who were present asked, “When is the next class taking place?”, and expressed genuine interest in signing up for the next session. It has been a very enriching experience and I see how it has brought people together, creating community among people who otherwise might not have met or taken the time to speak with others. One woman in the class, Dolores, told me she had never taken an art class before; although she had the desire, she carried with her the discouragement she experienced from a young age because of her mother’s harsh criticism about her drawing ability. Now into her seventies she decided to take my printmaking class. This is what she shared with me, “I cannot tell you how much I’ve learned from your class! You inspired me and did a lot for my confidence.”
The staff at Hamilton has been very supportive throughout my residency and they have been enthusiastic and encouraging about the work created. I am hoping that corner that they gave me to display the artwork continues to be used for that purpose. Having the arts and cultural programming enhances the overall spirit at the Center. The participants have told me what a difference it has made in their lives. Placing the exhibit in the main hall of the Center is welcoming and it lifts people’s moods, and seeing the accomplishment of their peers is inspiring and a testament that it is never too late to learn and explore one’s interests.
Featured Image Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Artist