On a hot, spring day my friend and I decided to go downtown to St. Mark’s place to hang out. She convinced me to go to a punk rock clothing store, which I wasn’t opposed to, but admittedly I felt a little out of place inside. On the steps to the store there was a very sweaty middle-aged man, red in the face, holding a cigar, beer bottle beside him, and wearing only military style camo pants. What could he be doing on this horribly humid day? The hazy thought passed by then quickly evaporated as I entered the cool interior of the strange store. The high prices deterred us from making any purchases, so we left in search of a place to escape the heat. As I headed back down the stairs I heard a voice mutter behind me, “Hey, you want some art?”
To which I replied, “Um, sure?”
I turned around. My friend was talking to the sweaty man. I climbed back up and he promptly handed me a stack of drawings. I shuffled through the papers, taking a moment to absorb the images before handing them back to him with a smile of awkward politeness. I didn’t have any cash on me. Nor did my friend. But he insisted “Nah, go ahead, pick one.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“He never asked for money once, and people like that know what’s important: creating and sharing art for its own sake. I aspire to make art accessible to people like him, and everyone interested in the art world.”
He muttered an affirmative reply, and already I was leafing through sketches. The last piece caught my eye, and it was mine to keep. Not a cent spent.
As we wandered downtown, I wondered if we should have headed back. Maybe stop by and give him a couple dollars just to thank him. We ended up passing the same street on our way back home, but by that time he was gone.
The following week I found myself back in Union Square. Since he gave me free art, why not return the favor? I headed back with a mission to give the man my art piece as an exchange. I checked the storefront in the morning, but he wasn’t there. I checked again midday but still, no one. Then finally, I went in the afternoon and there he was. I reintroduced myself and offered him the piece. He took a moment to thank me, but then he handed it back to me. He explained that he was homeless and had no place to put it, then told me some story about his life that I couldn’t make out between his mutterings. I did make out one thing though, his name was Vlad.
Vlad is the artist that has influenced me the most. I hope that people like Vlad will continue to make art regardless of any kind of profit. He never asked for money once, and people like that know what’s important: creating and sharing art for its own sake. I aspire to make art accessible to people like him, and everyone interested in the art world.
Filipino / African American
The Beacon School
Speilberger Spanierman Scholarship