Secaucus artist Doug Depice has not created a painting of this house. But it seems like the kind of place that could find its way onto one of his canvases.
"I just think that Secaucus is being overbuilt," DePice said last week. "Its essence - and the quality that attracted people to the beauty of Secaucus - was its townlike intimacy. But now I feel that the quality of life here is disappearing."
DePice spends many days walking the streets of Secaucus, sketching and painting the town he loves and inadvertently documenting a vanishing way of life.
One of his most haunting recent pieces, which can currently be seen at his exhibit at the local library, is of an old abandoned garage.
"I was walking on Meadow Lane and I saw this house, which was empty, and behind it was this garage and it was just sitting there," DePice said. "It looked so sad and obsolete. And I thought it was speaking volumes. There was a story and a history there. Over the summer I did four paintings of this abandoned garage. I painted it as a metaphor for loneliness and living in age that's obsolete. There's a certain poetry in it."
He admits the abandoned garage is also a metaphor for Secaucus itself.
According to DePice, other familiar scenes in Secaucus have similar stories to tell.
"There was this tree trunk on Farm Road. And it looked like something from a Biblical story. It seemed like something Abraham or Isaiah would be leaning on," he said laughing. "So I painted it. Not even two days after I finished the painting, I took my wife over to see the tree - and we come to find they had taken the tree down! Thank God I painted that tree trunk, because otherwise that image would really be gone."
DePice is now sharing these works and dozens of others painted in Secaucus with the public. The Secaucus Public Library and Business Resource Center is currently presenting "Neighborhoods," a retrospective exhibit of DePice's paintings and sketches, his first private show in town since 2005. Sixty pieces are on display through the end of the month, and another 40 to 50 works can be seen at a reception for the artist next Sunday (Nov. 16) from noon to 3 p.m.
The artworks, which are for sale, include paintings of buildings, nature scenes from the Meadowlands, and still life - most of which evoke the same feelings of abandonment as the garage on Meadow Lane or the house on Paterson Plank Road.
"What most interests me," DePice said, "is the poetry of light and form. That's what I always try to tell my kids."
Interdisciplinary approach to education
DePice's "kids" are the students he has taught for the last 33 years at Secaucus High School. Although he primarily teaches traditional art classes - drawing, paining, silk screening, art history, photography, and a portfolio class for kids interested in studying art in college - his heart is really into forgoing an interdisciplinary approach to education across the board.
"The problem that I find with public education is, it's way too linear," he stated. "It's linear in the sense that English doesn't understand the patterns of science, and science doesn't see the poetry of English."
With the help of a $2,000 grant from the Dodge Foundation awarded earlier this year, DePice was able to use art to help high school students understand chemistry.
"I attempted to create a program, that was within the traditional curriculum, that approached learning from a visual perspective. The imagination was immediately engaged - even for kids who seem like they aren't interested in school," DePice said.
"I thought, if we started from a visual approach, we could explore mathematical ideas. So, I asked the kids to create a molecular translation of [Vincent] van Gough's painting "Road with Cypress Tree, Sun and Moon." What we were doing was translating the colors into their actual molecular structure. So, for the wheat field, we found the molecular structure for wheat and put that into our project. We began to combine and link the chemistry of color. The project allowed the kids to see the crossover between art and science."
He said his ultimate goal was to get the students to contemplate "problem-finding questions," rather than "problem-solving" ones.
"Problem-solving questions projects are ones based on reason and logic and they were quantifiable," he said. "A problem finding question is a whole different approach to thinking. The great visionaries were all problem finders. When you find a problem and then solve it that's when you have great leaps of the imagination."
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