The New York Times

Sunday October 20, 2002

Paintbrushes in Hand

It is safe to say that Claude Monet never had to contend with oversize police trucks blocking his view of Rouen Cathedral. He also probably avoided errant soccer balls from nearby playgrounds. Eighteen plein-air painters who set up easels around New York last weekend weren't so lucky. The police truck pulled up on the corner of Bleecker and llth Streets Sunday morning as the instructor, Charles Sovek, was demonstrating how to paint rain-slicked town houses. "Now we add in the rooftops," Mr. Sovek was saying. "Very Parisian. I think that's why we like the Village so much; it's very much like Paris."

The police truck rolled in like fog across the landscape. Three workers in baseball caps started loading it with barricades. But the artists didn't mind. These weren't the barricades of the revolution. Phil Levine, a native New Yorker, has been leading Americans on painting excursions to Europe for 11 years, but last week-end was the first time he had taken them to
the city of his birth. The idea, he said, sprang from a desire to connect with New York after the events of Sept 11, 2001.
So it was that a group from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Connecticut, and the Upper East Side - mostly women, many of whom were more accustomed to painting the hills of Tuscany - paid $300 to spend three days testing their artistic met-
tle in the New York City rain. "It's been like boot camp for painters, Mr. Levine said. "It's pushed people and challenged people to paint in conditions that never thought they could paint in." Artists who paint on the city's streets are rare, he added. "A lot of people are into cutting-edge art," he said. "They're not painting from life. But we're city boys. We want to paint the grime, the grit, the music, the energy, the sounds."

The first day, the group settled under the arch near Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. "It had a very European quality," Mr. Sovek said of the arch. It also had occupants. "There were 18 of us and an equal number of homeless people," said George Miller, a painter from Long Island. Did they offer critiques? "They had some things to say," he said, "but they also snored really loudly." The second day, under an overpass in Chinatown, the group jostled for space with curious pedestrians. "They didn't realize that we were paying to watch Charles," said Heather Whitehouse, of Cheshire, Conn. "So they would duck under and push us aside." Even in the Village, local residents presented challenges. A boy sent a soccer ball sailing into one painter's head. A man scooped up the group's doughnuts and threw them into a garbage can. And as Mr. Sovek added highlights to his painting of the street comer, a pigeon lighted on his canvas, then took off, like an urban benediction.

TARA BAHRAMPOUR

Bleecker and Bank Streets - Greenwich Village

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