At a glance, Ethel Mack’s Colors of Love, one of her many drawings in pencil, is a vibrant menagerie of symbolism, shapes and angles stretching to the four corners of her canvas. Swirls of acidic green and blue mingle with triangles in pale yellow, red hot orange, violet, and bold slashes of black in a nod to something racy and loud. But a closer look at the piece – featured this month in an online auction to help artists earn income during the COVID-19 pandemic – reveals a simple love story.
“See the candle there,” Mack said, highlighting a voluminous flame sitting still over its violet foundation. “It’s there to brighten up all the colors. I was making an image to support the TCAT symbol. That and all the colors together represent love – love of art – my love of art.”
The acronym TCAT Mack referred to is the informal name for the Trenton Community A-TEAM – a cooperative that helps artists without the resources to pursue their creativity and sell their work. Mack is one of 20 artists featured in the virtual auction which runs until August 30 and is a first for TCAT and Studio 51- the North Stockton Street gallery and workspace that houses the art pieces year-round.
The studio usually transports the art selected for exhibition and sale to various galleries around Mercer County. The pandemic closed those venues, cutting off a stream of income for artists. So, the studio management and TCAT’s board of trustees found another way. They tried out the online platform for a month and things went well. Studio 51 Manager Anthony Cantanese said so far 20 percent of the works have sold. Board members are optimistic.
“We realized that we would not have any opportunities to show the quality of our artists’ creations, so we improvised,” said TCAT Board President John Kelly. “We had no idea of whether this would work but it was surely worth a try. We are pleased with the results.”
Cantanese said he has about 100 pieces in the studio and will add more as the work sells, drawing from the vast collection displayed in the TASK dining room. Before the pandemic, the large open space served as a year-round informal gallery where artists were featured, and visitors could buy works right off the walls. To draw attention to the silent auction, Cantanese has turned the TCAT Facebook page into a virtual gallery, featuring different artwork to draw more attention to the auction.
“We want to spotlight the artists as much as possible,” Cantanese said, adding that the auction website has seen a couple thousand visitors since it opened earlier this month.
TCAT began nearly 20 years ago with self-taught artists who were also TASK patrons. Over the years, A-TEAM artists have sold their work. As part of TCAT membership, artists agree to put 30 percent of the sale towards the cost of art supplies, space rental and maintenance. The remaining 70 percent goes to the artist. Cantanese said he knows the artists could use the funds. That is especially true if they are isolated because of the pandemic and unable to work their day jobs or are disabled, which is the case with Mack who said she struggles with arthritis. Art relaxes the 57-year-old who started drawing with TASK about a decade ago. While standing online for a meal, she saw a flier advertising poetry writing. Writing is her first love, but she was always drawn to drawing and not entirely sure why. In fact, for a time, she kept her talent to herself, just attending the A-TEAM exhibits and supporting her brother Frankie Mack, an abstract artist, as he drew during workshops at TASK. But after three months on the sidelines, something clicked, and Mack began doing her own work. And when that work sold, she was elated and motivated to do more.
“When I found out that a school wanted to put my work in the school cafeteria, it made me feel good,” Mack said. “So, I did something else and before I knew it, I had my first showing. I had 10 to 15 pieces by then.”
Mack was equally elated when she found out Colors of Love had sold. “That’s an old one, but one of my favorites,” she said. Mack added that she draws at least once a week and is currently finishing two pieces: Alligator Alley and Abstract Bird. The names, she said, are a work in progress.