Some weeks ago I talked about the alleged artistic Renaissance afoot. This claim has got my brain working overtime to find evidence of the rumor. Though not in the ways a detective might go looking for a missing person, I hit the streets with my eyes wide and ears opened in search of clues to an artistic explosion that "they" say is happening in Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow.
On a Friday evening before the heat wave hit, I spotted a new studio at 52 Main Street in Tarrytown. With a closer view though the window, I saw paintings that blasted color and tickled the eyes. Inside, large vibrant paintings filled the walls. With the door opened I entered. Antique easels sectioned off the opened space and directed visitor's movement. Like any great gallery space, my eyes feasted with wonder and imagination.
In the back of the space Athena Bing He painted until I called out "hello". Athena is warm, spirited and lively, much like her paintings.
Athena's place, Studio A Gallery showcases her art, a few other artists, and is where she teaches classes.
"Art is not for certain gifted people. It should be for everybody those with little talent, not much time, the little bit of money they can afford, they can still create beautiful things that come through their hearts."
Athena's students range from age four to eighty-two. She has been here for five months with classes that began in late January.
Athena is equal parts painter and teacher. She has a passion for both, believing everyone can learn to paint.
Athena reports a new student, eager to learn said, "Okay, I'm here. You tell me what you want me to do. Whatever you tell me—I'll do it."
Athena replied, "I want someone to clean the floor." The student looked surprised. "Yes this is what I want you to do. But that's not what you want. You've traveled here, paid your money; now—what do you want to do?"
"They might say—I always wanted to paint a flower close up, or paint something for my grandmother."
Athena's goal for her students is to have a finished product before completing the six-week session.
Athena sees her own art as very personal. It's personal to her being a woman, one who emigrated from Beijing, China, the things that happened to her, and her own imagery.
"I believe art's got to be real. I don't like art that sticks to one style where you are repeating, and repeating. I disagree with that. If you're going to put a bridge in the middle and that's one painting, if you move it up, and that's another painting, now it's bigger and yet another painting. I think this is really poor."
Athena pauses and continues, "What I want is something that challenges me every day. I want to see how much I can do, and see how much truth I can tell about life."
Athena's daily truth telling comes as paintings she calls "Diary Painting". In them Athena paints images, objects, or a take-away to produce that day's happenings, moment by moment. They are painted on 18 by 18 inch canvases. Athena thinks of them as small, still they are fueled with expression, typography, and offer a unique way to chronicle daily living.
Athena says of creating art, and painting, "I tell my students if you let go of fear, put your heart into doing it, the technique will fix itself. When you create something that's real it will move people. If it matters to you, it's going to matter to everyone."
Towards the end of the conversation Athena talks about what it means to be an artist.
"It's like this—to be an artist you've got to be brave. It not like there's a lot of money just waiting for you...You've got to be real, brave and stand up for yourself…You've got to be brave because you are faced with failure all the time maybe all your life. It's not easy. But, you create something then see. You may fail, but you stand up and you create another piece."
When I leave Athena's gallery I wonder if art students during the Renaissance had teachers like her, ones that insisted on passion over technique, on connecting to truth over fear. They must have and if her teaching approach is a barometer, a renaissance truly is looming over the Hudson.
Athena Bing He is a Painter, Portraitist, and Teacher. She owns and operates the gallery Studio A Gallery located at 52 Main Street in Tarrytown. She can be reached at email@example.com