Rigorous
Volume Five, Issue 4



Painting Brooklyn

David Nakabayashi



Please note that the cover art for this issue is not part of the Painting Brooklyn series, but rather a plein air piece painted at George Floyd Plaza in Minneapolis.


Artist Statement

Through "Painting Brooklyn" I executed 12 plein air painting sessions over a three week period from July 22 to August 7. I visited neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn including Bedford-Stuyvesant, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Kensington, Borough Park, Sunset Park and Chinatown. Each session lasted 4 to 6 hours during which I completed one or more 11"x14" canvases while engaging passersby about painting, about being a working artist and about how to look at an otherwise unremarkable street corner. You can see these canvases on my Instagram: @paintingbrooklyn

One goal was to pass out sketchbooks and pencils to interested children which I did: a total of 80. Another goal was to entice someone to paint with me. To this end I set up a second painting rig next to mine, or pointed to it in my cart whenever anyone showed an acute interest. While I encountered several potential painters, none took up the offer, citing work, lack of time, etc.

Painting Brooklyn was a remarkable experience for me. The goal of plein air painting is to paint a scene in a finite window of time thus, normally, public engagement can be very distracting. But during these painting sessions the goal was the engagement and I became a kind of ambassador for the arts in a way I had not done before.

I had countless conversations about the history of neighborhoods, about individual buildings there and about the lives of people who had lived there since childhood. Many described significant change, but also how things had not changed. People spoke to me about their experience of art, as children or adults, and I was often asked how I was able to paint so well. I described my long road to being an artist, but how they could also, with time and energy, and in their own style, do what I was doing.

I was often asked why I was painting this particular scene. My reply was about the sunlight, how my goal was to capture it in paint, and how the light, shining on any street corner, however unremarkable it may seem, is worthy of being depicted in a painting. Also, I pointed out that the longer one looks and any street corner the more remarkable it becomes.

While most kids received sketchbooks with genuine appreciation, not all kids, or their parents, would accept. I found this strange, perhaps the result of a language barrier, or even COVID. As for recruiting people to paint with me I admit that I was naive. Yes, this is what I do, and have done for decades. But for someone to drop everything and start painting perhaps was intimidating. New York is a demanding city to live in and people have things to do meet those demands. This made me appreciate my own struggle to be an artist and how lucky I am to be able to use my talent in this way. I plan to continue this practice of passing out sketchbooks and recruiting potential plein air painters to join me in Painting Brooklyn.


David Nakabayashi: "I was born in Germany and grew up in Japan, Oklahoma, and Texas. My mother was an Oklahoma sharecropper’s daughter and my father was Hawaiian/Japanese from Maui. I am a self-taught artist with a wide range of experience working as a cook, cotton chopper, musician, naturalist, graphic designer, urban designer and art handler. My rootless childhood evolved into a lifelong exploration of the American landscape with its homogeneous sprawl, forgotten architecture, untamable nature and chance cultural encounters, all of which filter into my artwork, which includes painting, works on paper, collage, mixed media sculpture, photography and installation. I have had several solo exhibitions in New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Michigan, and have been represented in group exhibitions at the El Paso Museum of Art in El Paso, Texas, the Museo Regional in Chihuahua, Mexico and Denise Bibro in New York. I have lived and worked in New York City since 2013 and exhibited my work at Bushwick Open Studios 2014 & 2015, The Sheen Center for Thought & Culture and SFA Projects in Manhattan and lorimoto gallery in Queens. I am currently represented by Judy Ferrara Gallery in Three Oaks, Michigan."




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