BMPRSS Artist in Residence shares talent, motivates students to their own creativity
If one was to take a casual peek into the art room one recent afternoon at the Bruno M. Ponterio Ridge Street School, they might have wondered exactly what the students were doing—were they playing some kind of game, a combination of Scrabble and Go Fish?
“Does anyone have a “C,” could be heard, with a responding, “Yes! Here’s one.”
“I’m looking for a “L,” someone else would announce.
The quest for letters was actually part of a special school-wide project at the school, one facilitated by local pop artist and author Michael Albert, who was participating in a week-long Artist in Residence program, funded by the Blind Brook PTA.
Mr. Albert, who first visited the school on March 3, told students at the time that he never thought of becoming an artist. He went to college and studied business.
“As I got into my college years, I realized I had other interests besides business, like literature and music,” he said. “I began to go to art museums in New York City. And I began to learn about art on my own.”
His first piece was a colored pencil drawing of a tree outside of his home. From there, he said, he became intrigued with collage, which he described as “when you make a picture by cutting out different materials and putting them together.”
“I became obsessed with the idea of creating a masterpiece that could be displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” Mr. Albert told the students. “That would be an amazing accomplishment.”
His business degree from the NYU School of Business and Public Administration would help him create and market his business, Sir Real, a line of all natural fruit juices and sauces. He also designed the logo for the brand.
“At some point I started cutting and pasting,” he said referring to his collage work.
His first collage was made from cutting up a box of Frosted Flakes cereal and thus his style of “cerealism” was born.
He is also a published author, having written “An Artist’s America,” and travels throughout the country presenting workshops.
With each of his projects Mr. Albert has a trusty pair of orange handled scissors by his side that over the years have become encrusted with glue. It’s the only pair of scissors he’s ever used for the past 30 years.
The scissors were with him when he returned to BMPRSS to actively work with students. In the weeks prior to his arrival, students had been asked to bring in cereal boxes and other cardboard packaging material. This resulted in a huge pile in the art room.
Students were tasked with creating a collage of their own that reflected their personality. They could select a square or circular piece of cardboard for their work. The only requirement was that they cut out letters that spelled out their name and incorporate it into their individual piece. From there students were allowed to express themselves however they wanted, gluing letters or pictures onto their piece.
“I actually found a decent “H,” one student announced as their class began their cutting frenzy.
“I’m hiding my initials,” another said of their plan for their piece.
Most students began with their name, seeking letters from the stack of boxes available. While they worked on their creations, Mr. Albert was busy working on a special piece that will eventually be hung up in the school. The student government had come up with a list of words that reflect what it means to be kind. The artist was then cutting out letters to spell out the words for the larger piece.
“I was thinking about making it very colorful and I’m going to hide my initials,” third grader Veer S. said of what he wanted to do with his piece. Hiding initials is something Mr. Albert does in his work.
“It’s going to pop,” Veer said.
Classmate Sarah C. said her artwork was going to reflect one of her favorite things—sweets.
“I want it to have a lot of sweet foods because I have a humongous sweet tooth,” she said.
Holidays and pandas were options Amelia S. was considering incorporating into her piece. And maybe gardens.
“I saw a flower, so I decided to use it,” she said.
After Brady R. had glued an image of a block of cheese onto his piece he said, “I love this.”
Yes, he likes cheese, but he also enjoys being creative.
“I really like art,” he said. “It’s one of my favorite subjects. I was really excited to have a real artist at school and was excited because I always wanted to do a collage.”
Art teacher Betsy Murphy was helping students sort through the pile of boxes as they came to her seeking something specific.
“They are so engaged,” she said of her students. “It’s at every level too, from K to five.”
This project, she said, has the added bonus of promoting literacy. Students may not even realize they are learning about words.
“I really feel like that is so important,” Ms. Murphy said. “Kids are using their prior knowledge to make and create original pieces of art.”
“It’s an exercise in thinking and then putting it in a visual form,” Mr. Albert said.
During a fourth-grade class, the cutting continued.
Elliott K. said he was going to put a lot of words in his collage, but he was not sure what kind of words.
“I’ll figure it out as I go,” he said.
After some thought, he determined he would incorporate names of animals in his piece.
“It’s really fun,” Megan K. said. “I just like doing art and I like using pieces of stuff to create things.”
“I like that we donated a ton of boxes and are cutting them up to make stuff,” Madison W. said. I’m making a sports collage,” she continued, noting she loves sports, including soccer, swimming and football.
The students’ artwork is set to be put on display and parents and families will have an opportunity to visit the school next month to view their creations.