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.


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)

I brought my paint stuff with me to work on a Friday planning to cut out early and get in a painting, but that did not pan out. So I left my stuff there and caught the 9 am train to Boston on Saturday with a spare canvas. The first thing I painted was a little spot I had spotted inside Harvard Yard:

Outside Wigglesworth Hall

Wigglesworth Hall, Oil on Paper, 5″ x 3″

While I was painting a disconsolate middle-aged black man dragging two suitcases on wheels behind him walked up and down the path several times. At one point he abandoned his luggage for several minutes and disappeared, but he came back. As I was finishing up I asked him what was the matter and he told his tale of woe: his daughter had been invited to an international conference to be held at Harvard University and they had flown in from Burundi the night before. They came here a day early to scope out the place and his daughter had asked a security guard for directions as to the location of the conference. She had followed the security guard away and not come back, and now he was looking for her.

I found a call box for the Harvard police and described the situation for them. After a few minutes a cop appeared and the African gentleman described his plight once more. A call came in; the daughter was found, and was waiting just around the corner. Problem solved, good deed performed, I dropped off my painting equipment at the office, grabbed something to eat, then came back to paint a panhandler portrait.

Once again I had some trouble finding a suitable subject. I spoke to one of the panhandlers doing the walk-through-traffic-and-knock-on-people’s-windows-at-a-traffic-light shtick. He wasn’t interested but told me to be on the lookout for Burton. He was concerned about Burton because he had had a stroke and should not be walking around in traffic.

I found Burton, who was both very happy to pose for me and actually, proactively posed too: kind of a pleasant experience after so many wandering eyes and bad models (I know, I bring it on myself).


Burton’s speech was almost incomprehensible but he liked the painting very much and thanked me profusely. Since I was similarly thanking him for posing, our conversation went like this:

Me: Thanks so much for posing.

Him: Thank you very much!

Me: No, thank you very much.

Him: Thank you very much!