When I set the studio up in the window, I had hoped that people would look in and be interested, but I would never have believed how important a part of the project these interactions would become. I’m surprised at how many people stop in to talk to me, to ask how much it would cost to have a portrait painted, or to just tell me they like the picture I am working on. Whether or not people actually end up commissioning a painting, there is something intrinsically valuable in conceptualizing it. Just saying “I would like a portrait of myself (or my kids, my brother, my mother who has passed away)” seems to enhance one’s sense of self worth. So many interactions have accumulated, these are just from one day:
- J. was walking by and stopped to look more closely at the Portrait of W which is finished now. J. said he felt like he knew the guy (maybe he actually knows W., but I think he meant just from the picture). He told me he really appreciated the picture, that it was beautiful, and that he would like to get a portrait of his three kids. He said he would bring them by after school.
- Another man named K. came in saying, “You’re just the person I need to see! I have an urgent request!” I told him it was not often that someone urgently needed a painting, but I’d see what I could do. He said that he wanted one of himself, his son, his brother and his nephew, who was a Marine and stationed down South, and would have to be included from a photograph since he wasn’t able to get leave. He wanted to give the picture to his mother for Mother’s Day (more on men wanting pictures for or of their mothers in another post!). K. thought he could pay $500 for such a painting. He is also not the only person who has wanted a painting to include family members that are far away.
- Then, a religious Jewish man with the long coat, yarmukle, and sidecurls – also chewing gum – wanted to know if I might have any paintings for the building he is renovating on the next block. I said I mostly did portraits but then showed him one of the Russian Reflections, which he really liked. I priced it high because I didn’t really want to sell it. And then he said his son, who was nine years old was very talented at art, and maybe I could show him a few things about painting? “Bring him in!” I said.
- Two of the construction workers from next door, a short Hispanic man and a tall Sikh, peered in the window and gave a thumbs up to the portrait of E. in the fur coat that I was working on.
- And finally D., who has become quite a regular, came in. He used to call me “white artist lady” though now that DL told him that wasn’t nice (“She has a name you know!”” Well what is her name then?”) now makes a point of calling me Anne. Anyway, D. veers from being decent to me and intrigued by the portraits to having to emphasize racial differences. (“So you like painting black people!” “I like painting all people.”) Today, D. said he liked the difference between the Portrait of W. with W. being a part of all the life of the street going on, while in the portrait of E. in the fur coat she looked calm and removed from the bustle of the world.
- As I was closing the gate, a bit disappointed that J. hadn’t come back with his kids, who should I see out front but J. He apologized for having forgotten, and took me next door to the barber shop to meet the kids – now I don’t know if he has 3 or 4 – there were 4 in the barber shop. The oldest girl was maybe 14, and looked very dubious about her father’s idea to have this lady paint a portrait of them. The three boys who were 8, 9, and 10 or so, hopped up and down peering at me with the biggest eyes!
- And the other guys in the barber shop were happy that K. had found me, and wanted me to know that they had told K. to come see me, that I would be the one who could paint the portrait he needed urgently for his Mother!