By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
By Alison Flowers
By Albert Samaha
By Jesse Jarnow
By Eric Tsetsi
By Raillan Brooks
For the opening of this year's art show, Judith Raskin-Rosenthal was determined to make her classroom look like a real gallery. Her room was number 300, so she'd taped a sign on the door: "Gallery 300." She picked out 61 of her students' artworks and hung them on the walls. And she covered one table with a blue tablecloth, then laid out hors d'oeuvres on plastic plates.
The 13 artists in the show are all clients at The Bridge, Inc., a mental-health agency on West 108th Street. They call themselves the Bridge Group Artists. At the show's opening, on the afternoon of October 18, it is easy to pick them out. Each wears a carnation corsage.
Within 10 minutes, 70 people have crowded into the room. "Where are you, Scott?" one man asks.
The Coffee Cup
by Scott Zwiren
Scott, 40, needs the money. He receives an SSI check every month, but the bulk of it goes to The Bridge, which provides him with a room, utilities, and most of his meals. Subtract the money needed to buy clothes and other necessities, and he's often left with $3 a day.
This wasn't the future he'd imagined for himself when he was a 16-year-old freshman at Colgate University or later when he studied film at NYU. Back then he aspired to make animated movies and write books. But that was before bipolar disorder derailed his dreams, before he was haunted by suicidal thoughts, before he jumped in front of a No. 2 train and lost his right arm and half his right leg.
Over the years he had to learn to do everything with his left hand, including draw and paint. But the story of his personal struggle is not part of the marketing pitch at this art show. While each of the Bridge Group Artists has a serious mental illness, their diagnoses are not mentioned on the walls. The text beneath each artwork lists only the title and the artist's name.
by Glenn Grancio
"It's going to Amsterdam.I'm going to give it to the chairman of our hospital." As it turns out, the buyer works as a psychiatric social worker in the Netherlands and heard about the show from a friend.
The show has been open only 20 minutes, and The Coffee Cup is the first work to sell. Judy walks over and sticks a red dot on the bottom of Scott's painting. He appears stunned; it takes a few moments before he can respond. "I'm blown away," he finally says. "Thank you very much."
In a lifetime defined by rapid mood cyclesï¿½by crushing depressions and dangerous highsï¿½this is one of those rare moments when Scott Zwiren felt truly great.
A Room With a View
by Jill Friedman
Judy started the Bridge Group Artists in 1988, shortly after The Bridge hired her to run art therapy classes. She picked out the most talented students, created a class just for them, and began organizing art shows. The annual shows gave everyone something to work toward, and over the years the level of expertise rose. Today the group has five women and eight men, ranging in age from 30 to 67. Most of the artists have little in common other than a love of art and a diagnosis of mental illness (usually schizophrenia or bipolar disorder).
The artists' backgrounds vary as much as their artistic styles. Jennifer Gilliam grew up in Europe and has two master's degrees. Chris Gaskin, a former car thief from Queens, has made five trips to state prison. Jill Friedman went to Barnard and once had a job with the city parks department. Amburse White worked as a buyer for a supermarket chain before he started smoking crack and sleeping in Morningside Park. Almost all of the artists now live in apartments owned by The Bridge.
The artists who have been with the group the longestï¿½Scott Zwiren and James Sneedï¿½joined in the late 1980s, soon after the group started, while the newest member, Chris Gaskin, used to sell his art to fellow prisoners for packs of Newports, until he was freed 16 months ago.
by Chris Gaskin