Artists from Trenton soup kitchen get exhibit at Grounds for Sculpture

A burgundy haze is beginning to form in the canopy of trees at Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton where, inside the education building, visitors can see the work of the A-Team artists through October 21.

Two-and-a-half miles away, on the concrete and asphalt Escher Street in Trenton, the color comes not from foliage but from the salon-style outpouring on the walls of the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK). In a room off of the main dining room, Susan Darley, A-Team coordinator, asks the artists to introduce themselves.

Patrick Bowen’s paintings are made up of dots: big dots, small dots, dots of all colors. He incorporates other materials, such as tubes for tissues, paper towels and aluminum foil. At GFS, he made the Trenton Makes Bridge from 220 tubes. “People say bad things about Trenton, but I want to show the good things,” he says. He has created a board game with Trenton landmarks. Made of more than 10,000 fish tank rocks, he calls it “Trentonopoly.” “Instead of taking out my anger on police or someone locked up, I take it out in my artwork,” he says.

Charles Smith, who paints intricate science fiction worlds with spaceships floating among celestial orbs, says “I’m bringing in stuff that no one else sees and it helps my mind expand.”

John Hayes paints stars: Justin Bieber, Michael Jordan, Queen Latifah, Keyshia Cole, Jay Z, Malcolm X.

Paul Norris joined the group after spending seven years in jail. Although he had never done artwork before, he says he was creative as a child but stifled by his father, a hog farmer in Indiana. He paints scenes from his head and calls his style impressionistic pointillism. “This painting is of a town in South America that became desolate after they took the gold out of the ground, and the water was poisoned because there was no regulation,” he says.

“Artwork saved my life. When I was in prison, it was an outlet that allowed me to get in touch with a part of myself. Sometimes, when I’m frustrated, I can’t find the words, but after painting, it gives me a way to talk about it.”

The A-Team artists form a collaborative that makes use of the services of TASK. They provide a supportive network to promote each other’s projects, and through their art, find meaning to their lives. In weekly sessions artists create their own projects using donated supplies and discuss the business of planning exhibitions. Most of the artists are self-taught. In addition to their own artwork, they help teach others, visiting ARC Mercer to conduct art workshops for adults with developmental disabilities and working with patients in an art therapy program at a psychiatric hospital.

“Shorty” Herman Rose has been with the A-Team since its inception 10 years ago. To develop the group’s name, he says, they put names on pieces of paper and picked one out of a hat.

“Everybody in the A-Team was born with the gift, and I tell them to put it on paper and they won’t forget,” he says. “Everyone can draw without going to school.”

Shorty does most of his work at home, and helps with framing and pricing during the group sessions.

His iconoclastic frames are made from comic books and other found materials that are cut, folded, woven and laminated. He says it’s a technique he learned in Rahway Prison, where cigarette packages were used. “But I came up with better ideas,” he says, describing his technique of sewing them together. He also makes baby shoes, wallets, handbags, jewelry boxes and picture books in boxes.

“It’s typical of Outsider art in that every surface is covered,” says Darley.The Princeton resident came to volunteer at the soup kitchen, was asked to make posters, and soon developed an art therapy program. Hannah Fink, another volunteer from Princeton, teaches at the Princeton Senior Center and thought her teaching could be applied to this population as well. The two women make it clear they do not want to be the focus of the story.

Rayon Cauthen, a writer and rapper, has joined the group for the first time. He is a member of TASK’s SHARE Project, a group of musicians and poets. “We write about our life experiences and share the poems, giving each other input,” says Cauthen, who’s been writing since he was 10. “It’s naturally embedded and it just comes out,” he says. In the small room, surrounded by artists, he performs his “I Had a Dream” poem. “I had a dream kids would be able to go outside and play,” he begins. “Nobody was shot that day…”

The work of the A-Team artists can be seen at Grounds For Sculpture through October 21.

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