They meet every week to paint on discarded canvases. For a couple of hours they express themselves through oil paints, then gather for lunch to discuss their shared creativity. Among their ranks are an actor, a filmmaker, a singer and a professor of mathematics. All of them, though, are serious artists. They call themselves the Hell’s Kitchen Painters.
Edla Cusick, whose work has been twice displayed in the National Academy’s Annual Exhibition, founded the group after she left her art teacher position at Hartley House, the Hell’s Kitchen not-for-profit community organization. The painters have met for 15 years. Cusick said that their work aims to recycle as much as possible. You could say their ambition is both to lessen waste and to add beauty.
“A network of guys helps us find canvases in the streets,” she said. “It’s a sad thing to me, how many canvases are discarded in the city — you find a bunch of them leaning up against a fire hydrant, and you know somebody died.”
Some members incorporate what’s already on the canvases into their own paintings, while others entirely obscure what was there and then begin their own work. For each, the process differs, and longtime Hell’s Kitchen Painters member Jo Ann Rosen said the variety of paintings speaks to the diversity of the group.
“The portraits I usually do are of family and friends in some sort of familiar surroundings, but what I really look forward to is the posture of people, since you can already identify someone because of the shape they’re standing or because of their gesture,” said Rosen, who studied at the Arts Students League and who earlier this year had one of her paintings show on a Times Square billboard. “Others do portraits as well. There are many still lives, beautiful landscapes, and one even — Myra Sobel — does market scenes from all over the world.”
Rosen and Sobel, who formerly had a career as a writer and editor, wanted to showcase the assorted expressions conveyed in the group’s paintings, so they helped organize an exhibition. It will run for an entire month at the Riverside Library, near Lincoln Center. This is the second time they have shown at the library.
“Everyone got more than one piece,” Rosen said. “There are about 60 works going into the exhibition, so we have to see how many will fit on the walls — we have three hours to put it all up.”
Each of the group’s 14 artists chose two to seven pieces to display.
The exhibition is dedicated to the memory of one the Hell’s Kitchen Painters own. Yvette Edelhart, who trained at The Art Students League and exhibited throughout the city, died on Sept. 16. She had a life that was closely intertwined with art, and worked at the Frick Collection a week before her death, members said.
“She was an extraordinary woman who decided at age 50 that she wanted to become an actress,” Cusick said. “I think we’ve used one of her Adirondack landscapes as the poster and the postcard for the show.”
The landscape was one of the last things Edelhart painted, and Cusick said that it is a marvelous occasion for an artist to have their last work also be their best. A reception for the exhibition’s opening is set for Saturday, Oct. 8 from 1-4 p.m at the library, 127 Amsterdam Ave., at 65th Street.