Railroad Portrait Mystery

On my pre-prandial constitutional through the Pacoima Wash I happened upon a painting displayed near the homeless encampment, prompting me to take a picture.

These two men hurried appeared out of the tarp houses, Roberto on the right, and his unnamed hype man, who insisted I purchase it for $20.

I asked Roberto if he was the artist. He shrugged, and stared at the work as though he were impersonating a museum patron. Paint he had not upon his hands.

Who was the portrait of?  Roberto mumbled and shrugged. “The Lady,” insisted the Hype Man. Which lady?  Gesturing toward the the storm channel: “Over there”.

It was a grunting, Spanglish-y conversation, more mannerism than truth.

Did Roberto have more paintings? Sure. Where are they? He didn’t know. I suggested he do a series of portraits, hang them on the fence to attract interest.

Hype Man, again: “Twenty dollar. You buy?”  “It looks unfinished,” I replied, by way of excuse.

As I walked home toward dinner, I couldn’t decide which would be the better story, a thwarted Van Gogh living under a tarp, or my unhoused neighbors leveling up from recycling bottles to recycling yard sale art.

The blurry unfinished look of the painting reminded me of the botched fresco restoration of Jesus in the Santuario de Misericodia in Borja, Spain. It’s probably what caught my eye in the first place. The woman who attempted the restoration was an amateur who meant well. Failure makes us more human and she failed so completely the crown of thorns was no longer visible.

She turned the fresco into something one might find at a yard sale. If it was unfinished before it was damn well finished now.  Ecce Homo.

Always take the railroad.  Never a dull moment.

6 thoughts on “Railroad Portrait Mystery”

  1. The figures in the background are interesting. Wonder what the artist was visualising when he painted them? I have certainly seen far worse in our local art gallery in ChCh New Zealand, bought for considerablely more than $20.

    1. Peter, the work could be a) the first pass at a religious icon, b) a female friend, c) the ghost of his mother.
      The problem for me is the unfinished nature of it.

  2. Note: We have no notion of what Jesus looked like. Same with Columbus and other hysterical figures. They never posed for a portrait in their life.

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