Two weeks ago, a freshman walked into my studio at the High School of Fashion Industries in New York City. Dumbstruck, she looked around as if in a daze. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “This is the most amazing room in the school,” she said. “Could I change my major just to be in here?” Moments later a teacher walked in and stood in awe, “I can’t believe this room; the curtains hanging, the colors, the artwork on the walls, this is incredible,” she said, “What an inspirational experience and space for the students, but where did you get the bicycles?”
My penchant for rusty old metal things resulted in the non-functional bicycle with a missing wheel hanging upside down from the ceiling of my classroom studio. For one year I watched this rust-colored one wheel fixie with fascination on the corner of 24th and 7th avenue on my way to school. Then one day I noticed that the weathered links that chain it to the street sign had finally eroded. I was excited, but it looked heavy. Determined I picked it up quite unassumingly and walked half a block into school. I was crafting a story in my mind when the security guard stopped me and said, “Nice bike but someone stole your tire?” “Yes, it’s sad isn’t it?” I said, and hurried away to my classroom.
During parent-teacher conferences the following year a parent was so fascinated with my one bicycle hanging from the ceiling that he bought me another one the following week. This is magic, I thought to myself. The intrigue continued with Mr. Dawson the science teacher who picked up and provided me with yet another bicycle from the streets. I was thrilled and so were the students.
My fascination with bicycles came from daVinci whose sketchbooks were filled with mechanical drawings. The bicycles in our classroom studio are used for observational drawings with the intent to deconstruct the object and re-inform the mind of what a bicycle or everyday objects look like in a new environment. It allows students to see a bicycle in an abstract way; with wheels dangling from above, tied with rope and suspended rather than chained to a pole on the street corners in New York City. This new imagery of old rusty metal informs their artwork in a very sophisticated way, since it is devoid of its original form and function. This is the trick I use to teach students how to observe and draw what they see and not what they know.
I had students draw the bicycles on 1” and 2” square paper. Many of them wanted to know if I had lost my mind again since they argued that they have never seen bicycles hanging from a ceiling in a classroom and couldn’t draw such a large object on such a tiny piece of paper. Well, they did after I showed them how O’Keefe magnified small objects on large canvasses so why could we not do the reverse?
Interestingly, they even left lots of negative space on the tiny paper. Then just to deliberately aggravate their perception of what they think the right size of paper should be, I gave them paper 19” x 27” and they complained that it was too big. So, I said, just zoom in on a part you feel like staring at for a long time and just draw what you see, and most importantly forget it is a bicycle.
The bicycles have become the topic of many conversations in our studio. I found from my own experience as a painter that I needed a special space where I can gaze around and be inspired. This helps me precipitate the images in my mind and stimulates visual expression. I wanted to create a similar space for my students where they could see the classroom studio like an open three dimensional art history text book, but where modern art mixes with the contemporary and the -isms are all shuffled in the wrong time; where they too can gaze at the ordinary in an extraordinary way.
Androneth Anu Sieunarine grew up in Trinidad and was educated under the British system of education. She migrated to the United States in the late 1980s after teaching in Trinidad for five years. She attended Brooklyn College where she graduated with a Bachelor and Masters degrees in Studio Art /Art History and Art Education. She attended Columbia University where she graduated with a Doctorate in Art Education in 2008. She is the curator and arts coordinator of New York City Art Teachers Association, a delegate of New York State Art Teachers Association, a painter and a cultural researcher. Androneth currently teachers Visual Arts at The High School of Fashion Industries in New York City.