Sixth annual ‘Notes from the Underground’ celebration opens

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RAHWAY, NJ — The opening of the sixth annual “Notes from the Underground” celebration took place recently at the Rahway Senior Center. While The Gallery Space is being renovated, their pop-up exhibits will be at the Rahway Senior Center. “Notes from the Underground” will run until Friday, Feb. 23, Monday through Friday, from 1 to 4 p.m.

“Notes from the Underground” was curated by Lawrence Cappiello. It’s a celebration of African American artists, during Black History Month.

The Underground Railroad was a network of secret locations where slaves seeking freedom in the North would travel so they could get to safe locations.

“Learning about other cultures and other people increases tolerance,” said Cappiello. “People of every race and religion create art.”

Maria Luis Estrela was born in Portugal and is living in Bloomfield. She began learning about African American history when she moved to Newark, where she lived for 11 years before settling in Bloomfield.

Working in collage and mixed media — jewelry, fine objects, fabrics and different materials — Estrela had a collection of Billie Holiday art featured and said she wanted to give her the recognition she deserved. “Her music was really powerful,” Estrela said.

This is the first time Estrela was showing in Rahway. “It’s a great honor,” she said. “This is what I want to be doing.”

Rahway Councilman-at-Large Jeffrey Brooks is a self-taught artist who does portraits of New Jersey black groundbreakers who have died, such as the late Gov. Sheila Oliver and the late Congressman Donald Payne Sr.

Working in mixed media — acrylic, resin and shattered glass — Brooks has developed his skills through the years. Though his subjects have died, he creates a feel that isn’t morbid. He said he’s inspired by the film, “What Dreams May Come.”

“Heaven is a painted illustration,” he said.

Beverly McCutcheon, of Monroe, and formerly East Orange, creates mixed media collages. Her current series is her “Wallflower” portraits. She gives all of them names and cites “Raven” as an example. “If a raven comes to you, listen. They are trying to tell you something,” she said.

Fourteen of McCutcheon’s Wallflower portraits sold at a gallery show in New Orleans. She has four left, which were on display.
“Growing up, I felt like a wallflower,” McCutcheon shared. “I was surprised when people said, ‘I know you.’”

By showcasing the face, McCutcheon feels there’s no distraction by the subject’s figure. “Look in the eyes and see what they’re thinking,” she said.

In her work, she uses vintage and discontinued wallpaper.

Her formal training began in the late 1960s at Fisk University in Nashville, where she majored in English but had a passion for art. Under the tutelage of renowned painter David Driscoll and sculptor Martin Puryear, she learned principles of design and color theory. She also attended Vanderbilt Grad School.

Kaaren Patterson, of Vauxhall and Italy, started her career as an art historian. She uses mixed media — acrylic and oil to medieval Black Madonna, from a feminist point of view. “Power that comes with women in each religion,” she said. “It’s all about healing.”

Patterson has a master’s degree in fine arts in painting from Rutgers and a master’s degree in art history from Rutgers University. She taught art history at Kean University and studio art in Elizabeth Public Schools.

While teaching in the public schools, she told her students that, if they paid attention during the week, she’d be their student on Fridays. They taught her graffiti, which she uses in her pieces.

“It’s not easy being a graffiti artist,” she said. “I think they’d (her students) give me a ‘B’.”

Tino Cook, of New Providence, is a Marine veteran who specializes in oil painting, acrylic painting, woodcut and two-dimensional mediums. He has built many canvases and frames from scratch. He has a bachelor’s degree in studio art from Kean University.

In his portrait of Maya Angelou, he represented her from an older age, which he said he “felt from my soul.”

He also used an anatomy book to draw different body parts which he used in his work, such as the brain, the heart and the seeing eye. He also uses blue jays in his work to express that they are “very courageous” and “sometimes plain-out mean.”

In his artist statement, he said, “It is important to me to show humanity in my work and give an outlet of understanding to my perspective of what that means to me.”

To learn more about the Gallery Space Rahway, visit:

Photos by Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta