Random Musing No. 1

August 4, 2018

The human eye has a range of 120°, mostly peripheral vision, compared to the camera’s typical 200° or more. That is why the figures sometimes seem distorted at the edges of a photograph. We make up for this seeming deficit by moving our focus (in movements called “saccades”) around a scene to build up a gestalt awareness of its appearance.
A painting, curated by human intelligence, is superior in every respect to a photograph, except for how long it takes to make it. If cameras took three hours to create the exact same image as they do now in a split second, there would be no question as to which medium people would choose when they needed an image recorded.

It’s been a long time since I posted here and with good reason. The GoFundMe campaign was a success, the paintings were framed, the show went up, the show came down—two days later and I’m still exhausted.

The GoFundMe Campaign was a Success

Kinda… I raised $1400 (and that mostly through the generosity of my brother Eric), far below the $2500 I thought I needed. Luckily a friend turned my on to Franken Frames (http://www.frankenframes.com), where I was able to attractively frame the paintings for about $21 each. I can heartily recommend them.

The Paintings were Framed


It took a while but everything got framed, wired, wrapped and ready to go. The next step was to track down some food for the opening, and here I’d like to thank Otto Portland (http://www.ottoportland.com/) for their donation of five large pizzas. The pizza was delicious (mashed potato and bacon, anyone?) and a considerable number of the local homeless population got their pizza on. We also had veggie, fruit and dessert platters. The homeless folks who stuck around to the end left with quart baggies of leftovers.

The Show Went Up

Saturday was incredibly hectic. The show had to go up and come down the same day—there was going to be a punk concert the following night, so leaving it up was not an option. So step one was to pick up a rented van, which I did at 8 am. I drove it home, we loaded it with paintings and other stuff, loaded up the car too, and headed to Cambridge. We were lucky enough to find two parking spots outside the Democracy Center, where we were met by director Vero Smith and daughter Sara. We unloaded the car and van and started unwrapping paintings. At a certain point it became necessary to move the car/van to avoid a ticket. Vero had validation tickets for a nearby parking garage, so I first drove the van over there… and the entry was too low. I ended up parking the van in the hotel parking garage across the way. I then walked back to the Democracy Center, picked up the car and brought it to the first parking garage. When I got back the second time my brother Eric, his son Dave and a friend had arrived. I took them to the first garage and gave them the second parking validation I had, then walked them back to Harvard Square, gave them a brief tour and left them at Leavitt and Pierce while I headed back to the Democracy Center.

In my absence the hanging had gone exceedingly well. Each painting was hung with a brief description of the panhandler who had posed. We were actually done by 3:30 and were able to relax a little before the opening.

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Here’s the food:


You can tell I was pretty exhausted by the time I took these photos.

People started to arrive. Special thanks to Elena, Ian and Olivia, denizens of the Monday night figure drawing session at the Democracy Center, for coming. Also Dennis, who had been extremely helpful in getting the word out to the homeless community in Harvard Square:


and his wife Kelly (who was not really enthusiastic about having her picture taken):


Dennis became quite emotional by the end of the night. He told me, sadly, that Sean, pictured below, hadn’t been seen in a while and he feared he was dead. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s extremely difficult to find information or statistics about deaths in the homeless community. Unless there is something unique or odd about them or their demise, they merit neither a news article nor an obituary. Here is the portrait I painted of Sean in 2011.


I also chatted with the owner of Grolier Poetry Shop, who was equally concerned about Gary and Whitney, neither of whom had been seen in the Square since last fall. Both are Harvard Square regulars, so their absence reflects either extremely good news, or extremely bad.

Gary Whitneysmall

Alistair did show up around 5 and left at 6. He said that 6 pm was “rush hour” for him and he needed to get back to his spot in front of the Harvard Book Store in order to panhandle. Alistair also corrected some mistakes I had made in my description of his paintings. The scars on his face were not from fights; they were spots where he’d had tattoos removed.

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Here are some more pictures of the show:

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I spoke with a lot of people, received a lot of compliments and was literally reeling with exhaustion by the time 8 pm rolled around. Now it was time to take down the show.

The Show Came Down

I would like to especially thank, in addition to Vero Smith, my wife Joanne and my daughter Sara, Michael and Rachael Peckar, my step-brother and sister-in-law, for sticking around to the bitter end and helping take down the show. Once the take-down got started, I walked back to the parking garage (for the fourth time that day), picked up the van, and was very lucky to find a very illegal parking spot in from of the Democracy Center. We loaded up the van, I said my goodbyes, then drove Sara back to the garage to pick up our car, sent her back to pick up Joanne, and drove back to Mansfield.

It was a crazy, exhilarating day. Next on the agenda: getting the paintings down to Washington!


October 31, 2014

Maria was eating an apple outside the Coop. She was wearing a hoodie and, incongruously, a mink coat. A gentleman with a Duck Dynasty style beard, Indio, was introduced to me as her husband. “You’re her husband?” I asked. “I take care of her,” he said.

Because of the paucity of shelter caused by the closing of the Long Island Shelter, I asked Indio what their plans were for the winter. “Heading down to Raleigh,” he said. Apparently Raleigh, NC has an enlightened attitude towards the homeless. “Maybe out west.”


I didn’t get a chance to talk with Maria, who didn’t seem to be the talkative type anyway, because as soon as I set up a drummer of the plastic bucket and miscellaneous cooking utensils variety set up behind me and starting banging away. He was quite good and some of it reminded me of gamelan music. After I finished painting I chatted with him a little bit and asked him if he’d ever heard of John Cage. “He wrote a lot of music for prepared piano,” I said. “What’s that?” he asked. I said, “He put little bits of metal, forks and washers, things like that, under the piano strings and then played the piano. Your music reminded me of his a bit.” “You’re shittin’ me!” he cried. “What do they call that kind of music?” “I guess it’s classical, but back in the day it was called ‘Avant Garde.'” He found a John Cage video on his smart phone and started to watch. “His most famous piece is called 4’33,” I said. “The performer comes out and sits in front of the piano for exactly four minutes and thirty three seconds without playing a note.” “No way!” he exclaimed.


A Few Panhandler Updates

September 27, 2014

No new paintings to show, but an update on some issues that have concerned me. As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the panhandlers told me that a dozen homeless had died in 2014. I found that shocking; on top of that I could find no evidence on line about anything: no statistics, no listing or summary of homeless deaths in Cambridge. The other day I spoke to Ken and Frenchie, whom I are more reliable, and they thought the number was closer to half a dozen. One recent death was the murder –murder, actually–of Bob Shea, or he was known,”Jumping” Bob Shea. I asked Bob to pose for me once and he said no. Anyway, I didn’t really know him but it seems he had quite the reputation, living on the streets of Cambridge since 1985. Here are two well-written encomia for Bob:



I also spoke with Justin and Lauren (see April 27th post) yesterday.. They proudly told me they were married, two weeks ago Sunday. Justin filled me in on what they’d been up to. For a while they had been making and trying to sell jewelry, but they’d lost money on the deal and were back to standard cardboard sign panhandling. Both waxed rather indignant on the vagaries of the market, with Justin particularly offended by Etsy’s betrayal of its trust to sell only handmade goods, and then revealed his plan to create a web site to compete with Etsy. I changed the subject and said, “It’s going to be cold soon, I hope you guys are getting a line on some housing.” Justin told me that once Lauren got her Section 8 paperwork, their married status would make finding a place easy. Lauren assured me her sleeping bag was rated to 20 below. I said, “Yeah, you should really start looking for  place to stay.” Justin has spent the winter on the streets before but this will be the first time for Lauren.

Here’s the portrait from earlier this year.

Justin and Lauren (The Lovebords)

Mike II

June 12, 2014

Odd, somewhat frustrating day yesterday. I decided to go further afield and ask panhandlers around the Commons to pose for me, but when I got there, nobody was panhandling. I saw plenty of obvious homeless/distressed people but nobody whom I could ask “Can I paint you while you beg?” I suspect the Boston cops have put the kibosh on the cup-shaking I remember from the old days.

I finally gave up and headed into Cambridge. Got a burger at a restaurant and on my way out a young black women (her supervisor standing a few feet away) stopped me and gave me a canned spiel about her involvement in something with Young Entrepreneur in the title. If she met her goal she got a thousand dollars. “I’m looking for a hand up, not a hand out,” she told me, repeatedly. I managed to pin down her product–three, six or nine magazine subscriptions–and after some wheedling, the price: $79.95. I said, “Look, I’ll be happy to donate $20 for whatever cause you’re pushing but there’s no way I’m going to spend $80.” Without a word she turned on her heel and walked away. When I left the restaurant (what were they doing in there anyway?) the two of them walked out behind me and proceeded to discuss her interaction with me. “If he’d offered $30 we might have been able to do something,” said the supervisor.

I now went in search of a model. I was turned down by two separate panhandlers I approached, a new experience for me. I finally was heading over to a spot I’d scoped out as a landscape site, when I saw Mike.

Mike II

Mike had a cardboard sign and was working the cars stopped at the stop light where Garden Street merged with Mass Ave., weaving his way through traffic. I had painted Mike in 2012 but at the time I had decided to try something more full figure and I didn’t really have a portrait per se. I called him over and we made a deal. He hid his sign away somewhere, then met me at a nearby park bench. Mike didn’t talk much, certainly not about himself. Various people stopped off to chat and three of the street people said “Paint me next!” Feast or famine.

Here’s Mike’s painting from 2012: