As a keen observer of the comings and goings of his neighborhood, longtime Lower East Side artist and musician Michael Rimbaud presents a collection of portraits made there over a period of years, which are being shown at L’Orange Bleu in Soho in New York City.
The simple but colorful paintings, done mostly in gouache over paper, show the diversity of the area – people from all walks of life that he has either known for a number of years or whom he simply approached from the street.
He also traveled extensively through Brazil – his former wife was born there – and came back with an impressive array of paintings, which resulted in a series he calls "Brazilian Paintings", which can be seen online at www.mikerimbaud.com.
He hopes to find a market for them – an exhibition space, or a permanent place where people could see how a New York artist sees the country he repeatedly fell in love with.
In one of the paintings, he depicts someone sitting at a bar enjoying a cold beer (specifically a Skol, which is not available in the U.S.), and he also depicted capoeira scenes and other things he saw.
"Every time I went to Brazil I brought along sketch books and paints", he told us over an e-mail interview conducted early in January.
"I painted everything, all walks of life: the beach, musicians, street kids, dancers, fish, horses, plants, satellite dishes, surfers, you name it. I befriended people in the bars at night and did their portraits. I asked children to pose for me on the street too. Sometimes I gave them the drawings. I can draw fast. I have dozens of paintings and sketches from this time".
Rimbaud explains that he is a big fan of 19th Century French painter Eugene Delacroix. "I saw an amazing exposition of his work in Paris a few years back and I was impressed by the fact he made only one voyage to Morocco in his life. Because with all his sketches and water colors he did there he had a lifetime of paintings to base them on."
"My Brazilian paintings, however, were actually completed in Brazil, all in Gouache and Acrylic. Recently I was commissioned to do a large oil painting from one of my Brazilian gouaches. I’d like to try more of that à la Delacroix".
His informal approach to people sometimes strikes a chord with his subjects. For his Lower East Side series, he made a portrait of Phyllis Sanfiorenzo, who he met in his neighborhood’s streets.
"I was walking down Rivington" she told us over the phone", and this handsome, tall man comes over and says ‘Hey, I’d like to paint you’, to which I responded ‘sure.’ About a month later, I sat for him at his house, and it was a pleasant experience."
Rimbaud took her fine features, curly hair and skin color to good advantage. To portray her, he used a mix of colors that revealed the beauty of her racially mixed heritage, and also captured a keen shyness in her eyes.
"It’s weird how people see you," she says of the final results, "how he put my skin, the different colors he used."
Singer Baby Monroe was also satisfied. "It’s kind of cool", he says. "I see myself in it – he has a distinct style."
Rimbaud began painting early in his life, influenced by his father, artist Robert Grossman.
"I remember being really impressed with how well my father could draw and I wanted to do the same. He often took me to art openings and museums here in New York. My father was a pioneer Soho loft-living artist in the ’60’s, back when rent was something like US$ 50".
"I was always the ‘class artist’ in school. In high school, I made caricatures of my teachers. One time in math class the teacher was visibly upset, thinking I was making fun of her. I had to explain that caricature is an art form, exaggerating distinctive features. I think she felt better after that. I majored in painting in college and I earned a BFA.
"Many of the paintings are in gouache", he told us, "but I’m also doing some street scenes and cityscapes in oil. I approach people on the street and I ask if they mind if I sketch them. Often they say yes, sometimes no. Everyone painted is a real person, some of them I’ve known for years."
Ernest Barteldes is a freelance writer based on Staten Island, New York. He is a regular contributor to The Miami New Times, Brazzil, The New York Press, Global Rhythm magazine and All About Jazz-NY. He is also a columnist with The Brasilians and The Greenwich Village Gazette. His work has also appeared on The Staten Island Advance, The Florida Review (in Portuguese), Today’s Latino (in Spanish), Out Magazine, The New York Blade, The Boston Bay Windows, The New Times BPB, The Village Voice and other publications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared originally in The Brasilians.