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Artist captures straphangers commmute on subway maps

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Artist captures straphangers commmute on subway maps

By Peggy Mihelich


May 8, 2008



Peggy Mihelich/ amNew York

New York City Artist Enrico Miguel Thomas transforms

free MTA maps into art. He spends hours in the

subway painting commuters as they go about their

day.[/float]It's said beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Most commuters rushing through NYC's dank, grimy subway stations will tell you the experience is far from glamorous. But for artist Enrico Miguel Thomas, the transit system below our feet is a wondrous world full of beauty.


"This is like a moving sculpture to me," Thomas describes the 14th Street 6 train platform where he draws. With quick and deliberate strokes he captures the green columns, the shiny trains, the whirling overhead fans, and of course the straphangers rushing about.


Thomas' paintings are a story within a story. On closer inspection another drawing exists underneath -- the subway map itself. Thomas is using the free MTA maps as his canvas.


"I put them in Ziploc bags to protect them. And they are very convenient because they fold up."


Thomas, 37, a graduate of the Pratt Institute, started out drawing his subways scenes on plain paper then one day got the idea of drawing on the maps.


"I use Sharpie markers and paint pens and it works really well. It seems to work better than drawing paper, and people when they look at the drawing, they can't even tell it's on a map."


It also saves him money because the maps are free. And he doesn't have to prime the canvas because the map provides the background for him.


"I only have to worry about the foreground or the positive space. Most of the negative space is already filled in for me (by the map) and I just basically have to collaborate with it to produce the composition."


Thomas' work has attracted many fans – mostly commuters and MTA workers who donate funds and offer words of encouragement.


"I call him my customary artist of the transit system," said Lorando Gilchrisit, an MTA station agent at 14th Street Union Square. "I would always walk past him and take a look at the artwork… I think he's very talented and I know it takes vision."


Thomas' passion for art comes from his troubled childhood. "I was burned on about 60 percent of my body by water from my father. I've had three surgeries because of that. It's been really hard." Drawing helped him get through the pain.


"Art has always been a way of survival for me, an escape, a refuge… It puts me into another world and hours and hours can go by and I'll just be free."


One subject he takes particular interest in is the homeless. He's been homeless himself and can relate to their struggle. One drawing session stands out in his mind.


After arriving on the 6 train at 14th Street recently, Thomas noticed a homeless couple asleep on a bench.


"It stopped me in my tracks…everything just seemed to blend in perfectly and I needed to capture it on the subway map."


When he was almost finished with the drawing, the homeless woman was awoken by someone and informed that her likeness was being drawn. Her reaction caught Thomas off guard – she got up and went toward him with a lighter, threatening to burn the drawing.


"I was only trying to express myself as an artist, and communicate the pain of being homeless to society…I know what it's like to feel rejected I know what it's like to feel alone and that's what they feel."


Thomas has completed eight map drawings and hopes to have 15 for an exhibition. He's sold many of his plain paper subway drawings, which can be viewed at GalleryFront.com and Artists Space.


He hopes his work will get straphangers to rethink their commute.


"People are just going through their lives and they're not really paying attention to the beauty around them. It's my job as an artist to bring that to the table. To show people 'hey look you are surrounded by beauty even if you are consumed by a 9-to-5 workday.'"

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