Joan Menschenfreund's paintings will be on display at the Goddard Riverside Community Center this month
Art gallery space in New York City is a premium many aspiring artists can't afford. Starting off in the art world can be daunting; to be featured in a gallery your work must be in demand, but to be in demand you must be seen in an art gallery, a catch-22.
"It's so frustrating in New York to show your work anywhere unless you're a name," says artist Joan Menschenfreund, 72. Her interests include her cats, and painting watercolor portraits of them. Although she only started water coloring three years ago, her work is ready for a New York exhibit.
Menschenfreund will be holding a solo exhibition in the Goddard Riverside Community Center on 593 Columbus Ave. from this Tuesday till the end of January. Each day you can come in from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to see her collection, exploring nature and personal portraits.
The road to art has been a long one for Menschenfreund. "I was always serious about painting, but I had to earn a living," she said. Although she graduated with a degree in painting, she started a career in advertising. "It was in the 60s, I hated it, it was exactly like Mad Men," said Menschenfreund. After short stint in advertising, she restarted her career in publishing, but it was only when she retired that she was able to turn back to painting.
Three years ago, Menschenfreund first got into water coloring through a free weekly water coloring class offered at Riverside Community Center every Tuesday. While she was trained in oil painting, it was difficult for her to adopt a new style of painting. "Water color looks a lot easier but it's difficult. With oil [paint] you can go in heavily, then white it out. Water color you only have one chance to go in with swash. It was very frustrating to get the hang," she said.
Most of the pupils in the class are from their 60s to 90s according to Menschenfreund. The oldest is a 100-year-old artist Shirley Hyman. "She is terrific, she walks unassisted. She's an old Upper West Sider," said Menschenfreund. Art classes like these help keep older Upper West residents like Hyman sharp, she said. "Art is a very good thing for promoting mental health. It keeps you in one place, concentrating."
People from all walks of life take part in the water coloring classes in order to express their artistic sides, according to Menschenfreund. Though there has been recent unease about the availability of classes. "The budget has been cut for the senior center, for the community center over all. It's affected the whole community center," she said. Luckily for Menschenfreund, she says the art department has not felt the brunt of those cuts.
After spending years perfecting her water coloring, Menschenfreund was looking to graduate to her own style of painting. "You look at other well know people's work, and you have an affinity for someone. Then you start painting like them, but then 'Who am I?' 'Where is my style in all of this?' 'And how do I develop my own style,'" she said.
According to Menschenfreund, attaining that personal style lies outside what you learned in art class, "Seeing some things come out in the picture that are not learned. Somehow it comes from somewhere in you."