On the Record
by Jeffrey Harmatz
Dec 03, 2008 | 2768 views | 0 0 comments | 49 49 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Greenpoint Reformed Church is a place where needy North Brooklyn residents can pop in for a hot meal on Wednesday evenings. But now, North Brooklyn’s neediest are being immortalized on the soup kitchen walls, as part of a new exhibit created by Williamsburg artist Janice Bridgers.

Beginning her affiliation with the church as a member who donated pots of soup to the kitchen program, Bridgers began painting portraits of kitchen volunteers, which were then displayed on the walls of the church. The patrons of the kitchen soon began asking Greenpoint Reformed Church Co-Pastor Ann Kansfield if whoever had painted the portraits on the wall would want to paint them. Pastor Kansfield passed the request along to Bridgers as something of a joke, which Bridgers initially took it as, before the idea really took hold of her imagination.

Two months after she decided that she wanted to do it, a twenty-piece exhibit was installed along the soup kitchen walls last Wednesday. Based on photographs taken by Pastor Kansfield, the paintings are quickly painted, eerily realistic photos of the soup kitchen patrons.

“A lot of these people have intense gazes,” said Bridgers, who found herself fascinated by the worn and troubled expressions and features that she replicated on her canvas. “Most of them are very handsome. One of them had beautiful Paul Newman eyes and scabs all over his face. He looked very soulful.”

Though she had little face-to-face interaction with her subjects, she found herself empathizing with their struggles.

“I wonder about them while I paint. I know a few of them,” she said. “One of them used to be a priest in Poland. But the rest, I don’t know their stories. I do know that if my father had outlived my mother, he didn’t know how to cook, and would probably go to similar places.”

Bridgers has not yet received any feedback from her subjects, but is looking forward to it. She admits that most people are unhappy with portraits in general, saying that self-perception is different from how others see you, but admits that it will be interesting to get a response.

“When I hear from them, it’ll be interesting,” she said. “You never know who’s going to like what you did.”

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