This week, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, unveiled a much talked-about new portrait of former President Barack Obama, painted by Kehinde Wiley. But if you don’t have time for the trip south, local artist Lisa Enem can offer you something a little closer to home.
An exhibit of Enem’s vibrant work, currently on display at the Roosevelt Island Senior Center, features her own portrait of our 44th president, set against a bright yellow background. “I call this My Celebration,” says Enem. “The main thing I wanted to render here was my euphoric expression of Obama’s legacy in history.”
The exhibit is the first in a series of monthly art salons that will be hosted by the Carter Burden Network and feature the paintings of local senior artists. The work is being curated by John Mendelsohn, an artist who teaches painting at the center twice a week.
Lisa Enem (right) with art instructor John Mendelsohn. Photos by Irina Island Images
“People have been working quite intensively and have a lot to show,” says Mendelsohn, who describes himself more as a coach than a teacher. “We have certain projects that everyone takes part in. They do their own versions, then they find one to continue with. They develop their own work and their own style, and I encourage that.” He says some of his students had never picked up a paintbrush before his class; for others, it’s been years.
The show is a first for Enem. At a February 7 opening reception, which featured live music and refreshments, she spoke passionately with guests about her artwork, the vision behind each painting, and the process.
“I’m quite a feminist,” says Enem. Many of her works feature women as central characters. She explains that one of her pieces, showing two women separated by a man, tells a story of two different kinds of womanhood: the socially confident woman above, who is bold and assertive, and a woman below who exists in the shadows.
For her, painting is a means to escape. “Once I start painting, it focuses my mind, and it keeps me out of trouble.” She says she sometimes stays focused for up to seven hours, working out kinks in a painting. She also writes and performs poetry.
Mendelsohn describes Enem’s work as having a dream-like quality, often encompassing imaginative scenarios that involve gods, monsters, demons, and angels.
All photos by Irina Island Images.
Mendelsohn, an adjunct professor in Fairfield University’s studio art program for over 20 years, is an established painter in his own right, having shown his work at numerous New York galleries as well as international group exhibitions.
“The openings are always vibrant and nicely attended,” says Lisa Fernandez, program director for the center. “What is equally important is the self-confidence and validation of the artist. We have really talented artists among us, both in John’s art workshop and Michael Sherman’s watercolor class, held Tuesdays from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.”
Enem’s exhibit will be on display at the Senior Center, 546 Main Street, until February 28.
Next month’s show will feature artist Joan Cohen.