en plein air: 23rd Street studio


The story is that when I looked out of my window last Thursday afternoon, on the coldest, windiest day of the winter, I saw this painter and his rig. I had often seen him planted elsewhere on the block, often, as here, painting the Chelsea Hotel across the street, but on those occasions I would have been too respectful of his privacy, or maybe just to self-conscious, to intrude on his concentration with my camera.

This time it was different, since it was unlikely I could disturb him and equally unlikely I or my machine would draw anyone's attention. I took this picture and later returned to the window (without the camera) to see if he would still be there. He was, but I now saw that a young woman was standing at the driver's side of the car seen in this picture, looking a little puzzled, and a somewhat older man was standing in the street ahead of it pointing to something in the area of the left front fender. Then I saw a smile of recognition come to the woman's face and she stepped forward to pull and gather up what turned out to be a large, bunched-up clear plastic bag. It had probably become stuck somewhere on the car. She thanked the helpful stranger, walked over to the curb and plopped it in the midst of the painter's bags, each of them strapped to luggage carriers. She returned to the other side of the car, slipped into the driver's seat and drove off.

She had apparently remained throughout totally unaware of the artist's presence, and of his equipment as well. Probably she was only sufficiently aware of her environment to see some vaguely trash-bag shape already sitting on the curb, and that was where her own offending litter would be deposited.

I can't end the story without allowing that the artist appeared to be no more aware of his environment than she was: He didn't seem to notice any of what had just transpired, including his bags being mistaken for trash. In fact, he never looked away from his canvas. Ah, the singular concentration of the artist can apparently be sustained even in the open air.

UPDATE: All thanks to the folks at "Living With Legends: Hotel Chelsea Blog", I've learned that the artist is David Combs, who used to live in the Chelsea, and may now have returned.