John Aytch has had artistic talent for as long as he can remember. He calls it his natural ability and he hopes to be able to inspire a younger generation to not only pursue art, but to complete their education.
Education is important to Aytch because he wasn’t educated as a child. He grew up in North Carolina in an era where discrimination was blatant.
“You were taught that there’s no need for you to educate yourself because your father’s a sharecropper and you’re going to be raised up to be a farmer. So I missed out,” he said.
He was illiterate until he was in his 30s when he worked hard to learn to read.
But the lack of formal education didn’t hinder his artistic talents.
“I just knew I always had the ability to draw,” he said.
Aytch is completely self-taught. He is able to see a photograph, a scene or a person and recreate the image in detail. He spends much of his time making art. He has lived at Gardens Senior for about 15 years and has set up his apartment to have a workspace to create his art in the bedroom. He displays his works in the living room.
Gardens Senior Resident Services Coordinator Desiree Crespo first met Aytch during a routine wellness visit.
“I was pleasantly surprised and excited to see a home full of art and expression. He mentions not having an education and that is what hinders him to speak for himself and his art. I find him to speak very well and eloquently with sophistication,” Crespo said. “He knows who he is in his work and I enjoy being a part of the process to get him seen for the beautiful art he makes. I especially love how he values education since he was denied one so long ago. Inspirational man through and through.”
Aytch grew up in North Carolina and joined the Army when he was about 20. He said he had to pass an exam to enlist and since he couldn’t read, he just chose answers at random and luckily received a high enough score. When he returned to North Carolina, he found it difficult to find a job because of racial discrimination. So he moved to New Jersey when he was about 26 years old and has been here ever since. He is now 87.
He has embraced his artistic ability and works with a variety of mediums. He can’t pick a favorite, saying he can do anything related to art. He has created works that depict public figures like former President Barack Obama and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. He also does landscapes, including scenes from Weequahic Park.
Aytch’s goal now is to pass along his knowledge to children. He hopes to join a program where he can demonstrate his artistic process and inspire future artists to pursue their dreams. He also wants to impress upon them the importance of getting an education, no matter how talented they may be artistically.
“I don’t want to just die with this ability and not be able to help someone,” he said.