Prison served as Northwest Philly man’s art teacher

Jeffrey Glenn Reese began his creative career as a young graffiti artist in New York City. Now, he is an internationally known inspiration to many.

As an 11-year-old boy, Reese used graffiti as his muse.

“I loved doing graffiti and writing my name on the walls,” said Reese, a Mt. Airy resident who noted that he used to travel through the five boroughs with his friends and spray his nickname, Torch, on the subway and the walls during the 1970s.

Prison as education

Reese was incarcerated in 1989 for attempted burglary, but he did not let it deter him from pursuing art. In fact, he used his 16 months behind bars as a career catapult.

“When I got incarcerated, I got real ambitious to paint,” Reese said of his time at Greene Correctional Facility in Coxsackie, NY, which had an art program. “I got there and this jail was specifically geared towards artists. It inspired me.”

Reese began creating pencil graphite drawings of celebrities and jazz musicians, receiving honorable mention in an art competition. Fewer than eight months post-release, he was asked to be a judge for that very same contest.

Helping the less privileged

“I’m a former homeless person from New York City,” he explained. “Now, I help individuals that have drug issues. I do workshops with them. I teach an art class entitled ‘Drawing From the Right Side of the Brain.'”

The hour-long class attempts to use art as an alternative to drug use. Reese travels to different schools to teach his talents. Among his best-known works is a portrait of Eartha Kitt, which sold for $12,000 at The Bellevue, and his line drawings.

As to the latter, Reese uses pure gold, silver and copper markers. He also employs a method called “baked pastel” which involves embedding the pastel colors onto the paper with heat and overlaying it with more vibrant colors.

Reese has also used art to reach out to the community by doing fundraisers and auctioning off various pieces of his artwork to non-profit organizations.

Future goals

Besides his art, which is displayed at Victoria’s Kitchen on Ogontz Avenue in West Oak Lane, Reese also writes poetry, short stories and essays. He hopes to eventually win a Grammy Award in spoken word, and to continue giving back to at-risk youth and people that are challenged in life.

“Art saved my life. Poetry, as well,” he said. “I want to be able to leave a legacy of art, poetry, short stories and essays to pass on to the next generation. Prison saved my life; now I live to use art as a medium to connect with the community.”

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