PEAPACK, NJ - When Dana Chernock, Old Master Painting & Sale Coordinator of Sotheby’s international auction house in New York, visited the Matheny Medical and Educational Center’s Arts Access Program last year, she was struck by “the thoughtful process through which each piece of artwork is made.
The fact that art, as a form of self-expression, has been patiently and carefully broken down into each and every possible choice for the artists was incredibly expressive.” As a result of Chernock’s visit, five veteran Arts Access artists -- Chet Cheesman, Ellen Kane, James Lane, Michael Martin, and Cindy Shanks, a Hillsborough resident -- will have a three-day exhibit of their work, from February 9-11, at Sotheby’s in New York.
Matheny is a special hospital and educational facility in Peapack for children and adults with medically complex developmental disabilities. Arts Access was created in 1993 to make it possible for people with disabilities to create fine art.
While many of the artists in the program do not have control of their hands and arms and, often, cannot speak, their art is produced by communicating with professional artist-facilitators who follow their instructions.
Four of these artists are non-verbal, and the fifth, Chet Cheesman, has limited verbal ability, so their art is created through a series of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ signs communicated to the facilitators.
Shanks, according to Keith Garletts, Arts Access Visual Arts Facilitator, is “very precise in her work. In order to control the facilitators’ movements in painting her lines and shapes, she nods her head in the specific direction she wants them to move and gets the facilitator to stop with a sharper up and down nod.”
Another artist, Michael Martin, tells the facilitator “yes” by looking up or “no” by doing nothing. Ellen Kane uses an open hand for “yes” and closed hand for “no.” Typical questions from a facilitator might be: “Do you want me to go up? Do I need to move to the left? To the right? Is this the spot? Spray it now? From this distance? Closer? How many times?”
The Sotheby’s exhibit will encompass approximately 56 pieces of artwork including acrylics on canvas, digital art, and sculptures. One painting by Kane is titled “New York City: WTC”. According to Haeree Park, Arts Access Project and Event Coordinator, “This painting by Ellen makes a bold statement about a poignant moment in history. With its bold geometric shapes and unique palette, the piece documents a tragic event, but also acknowledges the beauty of buildings that once stood in New York City.” Adds Joe Matousek, Painting Facilitator: “Nothing stops Ellen from trying to produce the most intricate paint patterns. Ellen is very precise, and the complexity of her paint applications is amazing.”
James Lane takes risks by exploring and experimenting with new colors, techniques, and shapes. His “Untitled” work to be exhibited at Sotheby’s, Park says, “highlights his knack for using geometric shapes. Among his favorite shapes are rectangles, squares, and cylinders.” As for his experimentation with new colors, Garletts points out that Lane “used to show an aversion to using any pink in his work.” His rejection of pink, Garletts adds, “became a ritual and a running joke during his painting sessions, until one day he decided that the piece he was working on required the use of pink. Ironically pink/magenta has become a color that he uses a lot in his more recent works. Whether or not he has changed his dislike for the color or has just decided that sometimes it must be used to achieve the results he is looking for, I do not know.”
Among Shanks’ paintings at the Sotheby’s exhibit will be an “Untitled” vertical acrylic on canvas with geometric shapes. “Cindy,” says Park, “is a multi-disciplinary artist with a passion for creating. The complex geometric forms and patterns she creates are juxtaposed masterfully across her creative space.” Adds Matousek: “Cindy likes to work on a large custom canvas where she gets to decide the dimensions. She has a unique style and loves experimenting with different paint techniques.”
One of Cheesman’s Sotheby’s entries, “Hour Dream”, is an acrylic with free lines scattered across the canvas. An earlier painting by Cheesman, “Amber”, was sold at Full Circle 2018, the 25th anniversary celebration of Arts Access held last November. Named after one of Cheesman’s sisters, it’s an acrylic on canvas with complementary hues of deep purple and burnt orange swirl that mesh and overlap to create an overall pattern of movement, sometimes resembling flowers. The painting has also been printed as a silk necktie. When Cheesman comes into the studio, says Matousek, “he sets high standards for himself and reaches them. He loves doing splatter paint and really enjoys watching the colors mix in front of him and how the paint reacts to the canvas.”
Martin now prefers digital art over other media, according to Park. One of his “Untitled” digital paintings, to be on display at Sotheby’s, highlights bold color on one side and softer hues on the other. His digital works, says Andrew Edge, Visual Arts Coordinator, “have some very complex images that he has created with shapes and colors overlapping other colors.” Adds Garletts: “Mike uses the same color palette across the board -- using the same color mixes on all of his paintings -- which really ties all of the works together as a collective body of work.”
Cheesman, Kane, and Lane live in Matheny community residences in New Jersey -- Cheesman in Franklin Township, Kane in Basking Ridge, and Lane in Frelinghuysen. Shanks resides in a group home in Hillsborough, NJ, operated by Community Options, a Princeton-based organization that provides housing and employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Martin lives at home with his parents, Alan and Linda Martin, in Morris Plains, NJ.
During the Sotheby’s exhibit artwork will be available for sale. Exhibit hours are: Saturday, Feb. 9, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, Feb.y 10, 2-5 p.m.; and Monday, Feb. 11, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. The exhibit is free and open to the public. Sotheby’s is located at 1334 York Ave. in New York City.
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