Exhibit Exemplifies the Evolution of Penn South Social Services | chelseanow.com

Exhibit Exemplifies the Evolution of Penn South Social Services

Marianne Rosenfeld’s “Swing dancers on cruise ship” (2012. Oil on canvas. 18 x 24 in.). On view June 24-25 at Penn South. Image courtesy the artist.

BY SCOTT STIFFLER | Chelsea’s iconic beacon of affordable housing is breaking ground once again, but it’s not the type of brick and mortar project that gave rise to the 10 buildings that house 2,820 units. This new project’s construction materials are paint, graphite, charcoal, and clay — and though the works they’ve produced will endure, you’ll only have two days to see them all in one place.

Open to the public and free of charge, Penn South’s first-ever Multimedia Art Exhibit showcases creative output drawn from several art groups within the co-op as well as the Senior Center and the popular on-site Ceramics Studio. Organized and presented by members of Penn South Social Services (PSSS), the June 24-25 viewing is part of an ongoing effort to “broaden our base to include more members of the Penn South community,” said PSSS president Gary Schoichet.

In recent months, that effort has translated into a number of recreational initiatives independent of the PSSS-funded Senior Center, whose programming is restricted to the 55+ set (a robust percentage of the Penn South demographic, given the sprawling complex’s distinction as the nation’s first NORC; a naturally occurring retirement community formed as its first wave of residents aged into their senior years). So far, a kid-centric chess class initially offered every six weeks has turned into a regular Saturday gathering, a music group has begun, and a garden group is in its early stages. In the fall, a memoir-writing class conducted in partnership with the National Writers Union and the AFL-CIO will yield a written collection of accounts from retirees who had a hand in creating New York’s infrastructure, skyscrapers, and public works projects.

“We’re trying to meet the needs of what people want, rather than tell them what they want,” Schoichet said of the nonprofit’s evolving interpretation of its mandate to improve quality of life. “People make a presentation to us, and that’s how these things happen.”

Susan De Castro’s “Kensaku” (2017. Charcoal on paper. 18 x 24 in.) was created during one of the PSSS Drawing Group’s 20-minute “quick poses.” Image courtesy the artist.

The PSSS Drawing Group is one such success story. “I wanted to bring artists together and give something back to Penn South, because they gave me the chance to live here,” said lifelong artist Susan De Castro, a professor at Touro College who spent a decade on the waiting list before securing an apartment in 2006. “I wanted a convenient place to draw in the neighborhood that wouldn’t cost a lot of money,” De Castro recalled of her proposal. “I knew there were artists living here, some of whom are elderly, and they probably didn’t have access to drawing studios in New York.” Members of the group vary in age — as young as 18 all the way up to those in their 80s, some of whom arrive with walkers or in wheelchairs.

The weekly gathering grounds its dozen-plus participants in the most elemental and essential of exercises: drawing a nude. “It’s not just about the anatomy,” De Castro noted. “It’s about capturing facial expressions, gesture, and movement. It really is one of the most challenging, and rewarding, things we do as artists.” The group conducts itself as an uninstructed drawing session, in which the models (many of whom come from the Art Students League of NY) strike poses for as long as 20 minutes and as little as five, with a short break in between. “You could do 30, 40 drawings within those two hours,” De Castro said of the session’s length. “And all of that time, you don’t hear any noise, just the drawing paper, or when somebody sharpens a pencil.”

Work from several of the group’s regulars will be featured at this weekend’s exhibit — but they’ll be doing their soul-baring sans sketches of those who posed in the buff. It just so happens, explained exhibit co-organizer Bridget Robinson, that the drawing group members who responded to an open call submitted paintings or ceramics. Proficiency in more than one form of artistic expression is not uncommon among the Penn South arts community, Robinson said, when noting that the exhibit’s 50+ pieces from 26 participants is only the tip of the iceberg.

“We had a [PSSS] retreat, and we were brainstorming about different projects,” recalled Robinson, of how she, Jeanette Himmel, and Bea Corbett came up with the short-term idea of the exhibit, as well as a vision of things to come.

“There are so many fantastic artists here in Penn South,” Robinson noted, whether working on their own or within formal drawing, woodworking, ceramic, and art groups. “Our long-term goal is to bring all of the Penn South artists together, to share ideas and experiences. It’s been a dream of ours, the three of us, to organize this; lectures, exhibits, even an ongoing gallery. These are all just hopes now — but hopefully, they will come through.”

First things first: The Penn South Social Services Multimedia Art Exhibit is free and open to the public. 1pm–5pm, Sat., June 24 and Sun., June 25. At Penn South’s Community Room 8A (343 Eighth Ave., btw. W. 26th & 27th Sts.). To learn more about Penn South Social Services, visit psss.org.

Florence Cohen’s “Spanish Dancers” (2016. Acrylic on canvas. 9 x 12 in.) is featured in the Multimedia Art Exhibit. Image courtesy the artist.

Frances Roberts’ “Three Cups of Cats” (2017. Porcelain clay with hand-painted drawings with underglazes). On view at the PSSS exhibit. Image courtesy the artist.