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Art Workshop with SRO Residents of the Ridge Hotel



            On Saturday, March 26th, Tyler Eash and myself, Nathalie Brilliant, arranged a workshop in the lobby of the Ridge Hotel in Oakland, California. We arrived around 12:00 PM to set up art supplies and place plastic sheets over the tables in the lounge area of the building. After the art supplies were placed accordingly, we waited for residents to show up. It seemed like the fliers we had posted within the lobby area of the building had not drawn any pre-scheduled participants. Thus, we decided to engage with the residents directly as they entered or left the building.

            Tyler had brought with him a variety of a dozen donuts.  I decided to hold the box of donuts, at the front door, greeting people as they walked in.

“Hi, what’s your name?” I asked, as people walked through the entrance of the building.

Throughout this meet and greet with donuts time span, I met a few residents and engaged in brief conversations with them. Finally a man walked in by the name of Dale.

“Hi, how are you?” I inquired.

We began a short conversation, and then I enticed him to make some art in exchange for a donut. He was just finishing a late night security shift in San Francisco, and explained he was tired but would give it a go. He informed me that he used to be an artist, and had not drawn since the age of 20. He used to enjoy drawing cartoons, such as Scooby Doo. He was not sure where to begin when I handed him a piece of paper, some pastels and paint. I talked to him more about the art process and how I enjoyed beginning – just working from the subconscious and allowing whatever to come out. He began to draw, beginning with his name. As he continued we chatted about composition, which led him to the space on the paper that he had not used and began drawing a sun over an ocean. He remained with us the entire duration of the workshop, completing three drawings, one more of a car and another of Scooby Doo.

            Over a span of about 2 hours, 7 people sat down to draw something with us in exchange for a donut. Although I cannot recall each person’s name, I have provided a photograph in tandem with each piece of artwork. I was unable to photograph all participants -- one elderly man and another woman named Ruth. Ruth’s piece depicts a woman with red lips. Ruth was a beautiful older black woman, who charmed us by sitting down, and simply drawing for nothing in exchange.

            The other person I did not snap a photograph of was an elderly man who passed through, curious as to what was occurring. I informed him of the art in exchange for a donut deal, and he replied by telling me he is an artist and has a studio that he works from in his room. He told me he would bring down a print of one of his works, which he later did – an image of a trout with the words, “Trout from Oxbow Bend, Snake River in Grand Teton National Park,” typed upon the piece.

Artists included an older man, who wished to draw on the t-shirt he was wearing. He was so passionate in regards to making this specific vision that he took the shirt right off his back to work from. We utilized black charcoal and pastel to write the words, “Thou Shall Not” on the front-side of his shirt, and “Hassle” upon the back. He later told me that he used to own a blue t-shirt that with the words “Thou Shall Not Hassle” written in sparkly rainbow colors on it. When he moved to the Ridge Hotel building, he misplaced the shirt and no longer has it. This was its re-creation, only a little different in its formal elements. He plans to perform his piece, and will be present at the opening of “DEMO,” wearing the t-shirt he created.

            A younger man attended the workshop, mainly for the donut. He began drawing a blue ocean and as he drew we chatted a bit about his life. I asked him why he was drawing the ocean and he told me the ocean made him feel calm and happy. He then told me how he was kicked out of the last building he lived in because he got angry with one of the security people. He told me sometimes he gets angry. We talked about why, and then he drew his two black shadows, which hover above the ocean. I told him that whenever he gets angry to close his eyes, take a deep breath and envision the ocean he drew that day.

            A man who had a stroke joined us that day as well. He had difficulty writing with his writing hand, and so, he had to use his other hand to draw. He had some difficulty but was able to form the letters of his name – “Robert Crosby.” He continued writing letters -- symbols for a poem that he described how the most beautiful and poetic thing there is, is a tree.  

            The workshop was extremely successful and rewardingly informative. During those two hours, Tyler and I engaged with people we would have never met before and exchanged life stories. The creative practice of art was emphasized throughout the workshop, and the impact art can have made a present affect on the people who attended. Most left happy with a donut, and something that they each created. The transition from a blank piece of paper into a piece of art provided a space of transformation, exchange, and illumination to manifest.


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