Hello, This is my new friend "Benny" or Benjamin Bond as he is formally called. I recently held an art show for all of my students. I challenged them to create a piece of art based on the theme or the question.."What Makes You Smile?" They all rose to the challenge and delighted me with their artwork and their reasons for choosing their subjects. I have always heard that artwork is subjective and therefore should be left to interpretation by the viewer. However, I disagree for myself... When I view art, I want to know the backstory. I want to know what the artist was thinking and feeling, before, during, and after completion of the piece. Creating art is such a birthing process that sometimes you have control of and sometimes the piece tells you what it wants to become. Those stories to me are like magic. So, because I like to know, I like to also tell people why I paint what I paint...sometimes...
Anyway, pretty far into preparation for this show, I realized I needed to make a piece for the show and I also had to challenge myself with the same question. The clock was ticking and how could I pick? My kids? No, that's too obvious. My Job? No, that's too obvious too, and how would I begin to encompass that in a painting? I was having this conversation with myself on my way home from the studio. Then there he was... Just like he is EVERY DAY. I didn't know his name, but every day I pass him on the street corner, playing his harmonica, dancing, and waving to all the passersby. He is always smiling. He is out there on the hottest days of summer, and the coldest days of winter, and sometimes in the drizzle. He isn't asking for a thing. He simply gives the best of himself that he has to give. I smile and wave every time I see him. He makes me smile every day, but on this day, just like so many before I am intrigued as to why he does it. Every person in every walk of life, in every neighborhood in this country and in every country around the world has some kind of worry, some kind of strife, some kind of pain, some kind of joy, and something they take from each day, and something they give it.... This man clearly makes a conscious choice EVERY DAY to get up and go to this corner and play music like nobody's watching. He chooses to give JOY... for free... He asks for nothing in return. The smile on his own face tells me that it makes him happy to do it. So on this day, I know that my painting is of him, but I need more answers. I need to know the backstory. I go to a coffee shop around the corner and buy him a gift card. I take it to him and introduce myself. I tell him that I love that he plays his music, that it makes me smile and I want to share this with others by painting him and putting it in my show. He is flattered by my request and tells me more, but he wants to set up a time for me to come back to photograph him so he can put on his special outfit. He said he has a special jacket and a hat he wants to wear to perform for me. I said okay and we agree to meet again.
So, the answer to the question is this... In his words:
"I just love music and I feels it in my heart, since I was 7 years old. I told my momma one day that I wanted to be a musician when I grow up and she shook her head and said son, you better come up with somethin' else... But now, at 71 years old, I'm finally getting to do what I always wanted to do. I'm living my dream. I then asked him "What makes you smile?" He replied "I smile when I see people that like themselves. I like myself, and even after all the bad I've done and all the years I've lived, I still like myself, and it shows through when you see people like that and it's nice.."
I'm grateful to have met him and grateful that he chooses to give JOY in my hood and on my commute. But in case, you don't have a Benny, I wanted to share...
Until we meet again,