Housing Works client and artist Luis Herrera is no stranger to getting creative. The 60-year-old self-described “friend [originally] from another country” has been an active member of the Housing Works’ art therapy program for over a decade. Herrera came to be part of Housing Works after he became ill back in 2000, at the recommendation of a friend who was part of the organization and recommended the programs to him. He joined our healing community for the support groups and has been particularly appreciative of the multiculturalism and diversity, with Housing Works clients arriving from all over the world to come together and support each other.
On September 12, along with his fellow Housing Works artists, Herrera has the opportunity to share his vivid creations with the wider general public once again at Housing Works’ Annual Art Exhibit and Fundraiser: What’s Underneath, an exhibition and sale of original artwork by clients and local artists who support our mission.
As in the past, the exhibition will be held at a SoHo gallery space owned by the Leslie+Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art. Proceeds from the sale of artwork will benefit the artist and the Housing Works mission to end AIDS and homelessness. This year, the 13 Theater Troupe, client-actors in collaboration with Theater of the Oppressed, will be performing a short scene at the opening.
We recently connected with Herrera, who has been a long-time participant in the annual exhibit and fundraiser since first coming to Housing Works, to hear more about the upcoming show, his art, and his creative process.
Housing Works: When and how did you start participating in the Housing Works Creative Arts Therapy program? Were you a visual artist before, or is this something you discovered through Housing Works?
Luis Herrera: I was interested in art before I came to Housing Works, but I was too busy to pursue my own art. I was a makeup and hair stylist. I worked a lot and even worked as an assistant on Broadway. When I came to Housing Works, I started to enjoy time in the art room, being creative and staying busy. I also liked going on the museum trips. One year I decided to make a costume for the NYC Halloween party. And now I do this every year. I create a totally different personality for myself; I create a fantasy. I give myself funny names. I like for people to enjoy, and be surprised, by my costumes.
HW: What do you get from the Housing Works Creative Arts Therapy program?
LH: The art therapy groups help a lot because we always share what we make. You expose what you have inside, everything that is underneath, and get over the fear of sharing yourself. Art has no definitions. It is not good, and it is not bad. Each person is a part of the universe and we are all the same. Each person has a different point of view and it’s ALL right.
HW: Who is your favorite artist and why?
LH: My favorite artist is Picasso. I love his combination of animals, figures of women, and his portrayals of parties! I really like the way he shows many different positions of the feminine figure.
HW: Tell us a little about your artistic process. When you set out to create a piece of art, what kinds of things do you draw inspiration from?
LH: I find recycled items in my neighborhood. I get the inspiration for my artwork from the items that I find by looking at them and thinking about the combinations I can make. I work primarily with rice and beans and wood. I use paper-maiche to give my pieces form. I would like to show to the public that we can recycle and save the planet for the next generation. I am sending this message by turning trash into art.
HW: What’s the most challenging thing about creating art?
LH: I have to ask myself, “What do I want to do”? I have to give myself a lot of time thinking about what I want to create, and there are a lot of choices I have to make.
*HW: What’s the most rewarding thing about creating art?
LH: Everybody has talent inside them, but you have to believe in yourself and believe that you can do it. I do this for fun, to relax, to keep my mind busy. Making art helps me believe in myself.
HW: Tell us something about one of the pieces you’re putting up for sale in the forthcoming show.
LH: For one of my larger pieces, I made a “painting” from fabric. People throw away dresses, scarves, and other clothes all the time. I made the fabric re-usable and made it into a piece of art for people to enjoy. And I enjoy it, too!
Housing Works’ Annual Art Exhibit and Fundraiser: What’s Underneath
September 12–14, 2014, Gallery Hours: 12–6pm
OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, September 12, 2014, 6–8pm
Prince St. Projects Space
127b Prince Street
(Prince & Wooster)
New York, NY 10012