Making An Art Out of Being a 32BJ Member

July 1, 2017
By Dana Jacks

New York, NY - A native of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, 60-something Kenroy Dolly still keeps the book by French architectural painter Maurice Utrillo that first helped inspire him as a teen to come to New York City and study art. And even though he now devotes much of his time working hard providing security for the Department of Environmental Protection, membership in 32BJ SEIU has managed to introduce Dolly to a community of artists he could hardly dream of back home in the Caribbean.

“We stay together and support each other in whatever way we can,” Dolly says of the fraternity of fellow artists he’s found as a member of 32BJ’s thriving Arts Committee. “Being a part of 32 BJ and being part of the Arts Committee helps me to bond with a lot of artists from different cultures, different backgrounds.”

For the last 10 years, the union’s Arts Committee has sponsored an annual art exhibition showcasing the creative work of 32BJ-affiliated members. This year’s show, wrapping up this month at the union’s HQ at 25 West 18th Street, was the biggest yet with over 130 trade unionists participating in a special presentation dubbed “Artists Without Frontiers.” 

In addition to Dolly, they included building superintendent Ed Bochnak, a travel-obsessed portrait photographer who has scoured the globe capturing visceral images of the world’s people and residential building handyman Ricardo Buchanan, a dedicated poet driven by a burning desire for racial and social justice. There's also Jose Colon, another 32BJ security guard who channels his rounds at  MoMA to create graffiti and anime-inspired acrylics at home, and Naja Quintero, a founding member of the 32BJ Arts Committee who balances her day job as an office cleaner with a passion for mixed media and recycled material. 

“I am one-hundred percent artist,” Dolly says. “Exhibiting art is the completion of the creative process — for everyone in the community [and] for everyone who wants to be involved [in the community]. Myself, I wish I could paint seven-days-a-week.” 

Dolly’s gig with the EPA hasn’t precluded him from further honing his skills the way he always envisioned or traveling across Europe studying the works of Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Vermeer and Michelangelo. 

 “When you paint, you express visual and emotional energy,” Dolly says. “It’s a spiritual thing.”

In addition to the satisfaction he’s achieved establishing a community with other talented 32BJ artists, Dolly is most proud of his participation in the 140-year-old Art Students League of New York. 

“My name is going down in the same book as Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, Georgia O’Keeffe — anyone you can think of who is great in the United States and went to that school,” Dolly says. 

Dolly’s work hasn’t escaped the DEP’s notice either. Last month, he contributed to the agency’s celebration of Women’s History Month. There are even a few galleries interested, too. But when it comes to his art, this 32BJ member would still rather contemplate the power of Naples Yellow and that very specific kind of green only found in the Caribbean. 

“Working and having a day job, sometimes you’re tired,” Dolly says. “But when you get home to you’re studio, and you go mix your colors… [let me just say] each artist has a different concept of how they want to approach their art. Me, I’m very spontaneous without a lot of conscious planning. And I enjoy painting that way.”

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