My father was an artist and some of my earliest memories are of him painting. He explained the value of a beautiful painting when I was 10 years old and we were sitting in front of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” at the Museum of Modern Art.
"Son," he said to me, “take a good look at this and remember it. Years and years from now, you might visit some museum, and see this painting. Who knows, maybe you'll have a son of your own by then. I'll probably be long gone.”
“But, look at this painting, and imagine all of the people over the years, the Presidents and the Popes, the rich people and the poor people, all of whom have looked at this exact canvas and seen this exact painting. Years from now you'll sit down and look at this painting and remember that this is the exact same painting we looked at. Together. “
Such is the value of a painting. It is unique. Sure, you can make prints and copies, but an original painting is special. This is why I was struck by a few paintings I noticed at our last Town Hall meeting which took place at the Volunteer Ambulance Corps., also the location of the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Senior Center.
One painting showed a woman sitting on a couch, posing. She had a big old-fashioned head of hair, her dress was low-cut and she had a matter-of-fact, almost bored expression on her face.
Clearly it was an original, and during our meeting I glanced at it a few times. One of our members, JoAnn Bartos, works at the Senior Center, so I asked her who was responsible for it.
That was how I came to speak with Iris Sears.
“Whenever I see something that looks good,” she told me, “I start drawing.” She carries around a sketchbook and pencils and sees drawing as “a way to escape, to relax.”
Iris was born in Bellevue Hospital, and as a child, grew up in the Bronx and Manhattan. “We moved around a lot,” she said. “In those days it was easy to move from apartment to apartment.”
Though her parents didn’t draw, both she and her brother have been drawing their entire lives.
She never took any formal classes or training outside of a brief course at the Brooklyn Museum in the early 1980s, so what she has is a pure, raw talent. She speaks softly, but you can feel the passion for her work when she speaks about it.
She tells of seeing people on the subways, people who interest her, and before you know it she’s pulling out her sketchbook and drawing them.
Asked whether or not they notice, she says “Sometimes. And most of the time they get off before I can finish.” Her portfolio includes sketchbooks full of friends and strangers that she’s drawn over the years.
“I’ve drawn pictures of quite a number of friends over the years. Some of them are no longer here,” she said sadly. But though they may no longer be here in the physical sense, their memory lives on in some fashion; in Iris Sears’ portfolio that will be handed down to her children and grandchildren.
Such is the beauty of art. Both she and her subjects, their feelings and emotions, will live on through her portfolio. A camera may create a more accurate representation of a subject, a more technically precise image. But where a camera catches one split second of a subject’s life, a drawing or a painting, which takes many, many hours to create, captures a wider range of the subject’s emotions and is infused with the soul of the artist.
Just as Iris Sears sometimes sees people that interest her and she sketches their picture, sometimes I see people – or the work that they do – and it interests me and I write about them. Today, this brief sketch of an article was about an artist in our midst who is as special and unique as the art that she creates.