Huan Xin Huang made his living as a farmer in the Guangdong province of China. But he couldn’t stop thinking about art. “From the time I was very young I was really interested in painting,” he recalled. He didn’t have access to training, so he taught himself oil painting by copying photos.
Now, as a member of the Lincoln Square Senior Center, he’s able to take weekly group classes in watercolor. Teacher Oksana Lerman is struck by his versatility.
“Sometimes when he shows me his pictures I’m very surprised. These are absolutely different techniques,” she says, leafing through a stack of Huan’s paintings. Some are spikily abstract. Others are luminous, hazy landscapes with a strong Impressionist flavor. Still others feature heavily outlined objects, as if Huan were nailing his subjects onto the page.
“One person can be many different people in his art,” said Lerman.
Huan enjoys finally having a teacher to give him guidance. He said painting remains an emotional outlet for him. “I feel very calm. I let go of my worries and just focus on the painting.”
Across the room from Huan, Carol Magai was starting a new piece. She’d sketched the outlines of sailboats in a harbor and now she was working with the brush. “I’m putting down the first wash which is a paler version of what will come,” she explained. “Then I’ll apply some of the same colors in the same areas. The sky will be blurry to suggest distance and the bottom will be dark to create a sense of closeness.”
Magai started painting at Lincoln Square two and a half years ago, inspired by a friend who’s a watercolor artist.
“It’s a creative expression and something I’m beginning to feel I’m doing well,” she said. “I started by copying other artists’ work and now I’m getting away from that.”
Like Huan, she appreciates having the structure of a class to go to once a week. “I get suggestions to improve my art, and I also like the camaraderie of my fellow artists.”
Oksana Lerman grew up in Ukraine. Her mother wanted her to play the piano but she was always drawn to visual arts. After studying painting and design at Odessa State College of Arts, she entered a jewelry-making program and began crafting unique wearable art. She moved to New York in 2003 and started her own jewelry company in addition to teaching painting.
Lerman took over the class from another teacher just three months ago, but it’s clear she’s formed strong relationships with her students. She’s always on the lookout for images that will inspire them. “If I find something interesting, I email it to them,” she said. “I know who likes what.” She encourages them to try new techniques and expand their boundaries.
“I slowly push them to grow,” she says, looking around with pride as her students bend over their paintings, pouring themselves into their art.