Headlong dash from start to finish and an unexpected encounter on the DLR


In the morning I went up to Manor Park, where a young man I’d never met before, Tano, volunteered to record and edit a voicover I needed for a short video to launch my crowdfunding campaign for the DLR project.  He was great giving input on subtle differences from one take and another, trimming out just the perfect number of breaths, fine tuning the volume level from clip to clip and discussing art and video and audio.  He gave me coffee and a donut and spent the better part of his day making my project just right, asking nothing in return. As the editting process drew out, I had to push back another later appointment with a sitter three times, but i needed this audio, and i needed at least a little time with the sitter so that I can paint his seat-mate tomorrow.  Tano put the finishing touches on the track, loaded it into my portable hardrive, and walked me to the bus stop.

Dashing back to my flat- I was late to meet L, the man at the DLR who saw to it that I was granted permission to paint on the train and was now volunteering to sit for me- grabbing my easel and backpack, running again to the station with the easel in hand, shooting up the steps, up the escalator and onto the platform, passing a man holding two children while two more ran about.  Setting my easel down, I hear “you all right?”  Some times in England this literally means “are you OK?”, and sometimes it means “do you want a beer?”  and sometimes it is just used as a greeting.  I turn to look at the man. I took his drift to mean the prior, figuring he’d seen my sweating face and panting breath and was worried.  I replied yes, i just ran down the street I’m fine…

“do you recognize me?”

Now I finally look at the man. 

“OH MY GOD” I blurted out loud.  Fear, shame, concern.

It was the DRL train operator who had been suspended, in part, because of me.

“Have you been reinstated?”

“no, next week.”

“I’m really sorry, you know I did send in a letter on your behalf”

“It’s ok, I overreacted, it was my fault.”

and he meant it sincerely and my heart went out to this man with four children.  This is a man with backbone and generosity. The train arrived, and I had to go, I wanted to ask him to sit for me, but, at the moment, just couldn’t get the words out of my mouth.  I will be looking for him.

I got to Poplar, took the stairs down, said hi to the guards at the booth, passed through the revolving security gate, and made my way to the hut where I sign in for the day.  Leaving the hut, I see L up on the platform waving to me.  He was wearing a smart red and black parca with large white buttons for his sitting, which looked great with his short, slightly spiked hair.  We only had an hour together on the train, but he sat like monument then headed off to whatever his later plans were.  On the way home I waved to two of the operators I’d ridden with previously in the week.  They waved back, and wanted a quick look at the progress.

So many people see the world as grim and uncaring, but today, I experienced three acts of unselfish goodwill.  How can I ever hope to repay such bounty?

At home, I knocked on my new flatmate’s door and asked if he’d like to share the pasta al ragu I was about to make.  We had a good meal together.


Progress report from the DLR



A few more figures are dorpping in, more of the train is developing. Tomorrow morning off to record audio, in the afternoon, Liam, the very kind man at the DLR who saw to it I received permission to paint, is coming to sit for me on the train. And sunday Levi rides with me, riding shotgun as the man who was there at the project’s conception. More pics to follow.

War and peace on the DLR

I’ve been painting a large group portrait on an in-service London commuter train, and for the first three days things were running as smoothly as the DLR train schedule itself (in december they boast 97% of trains ran on time).


Jo and Ju on the DLR, first panel work in progress

Then one night I was painting Jo and Ju, the front two portraits in my picture.  We worked well, Jo reading the days sordid headlines to Ju to keep entertain her while she posed.  At a certain point, the train operator passed round saying, “that’s not allowed”.  He was the first operator who didn’t express a pleasant curiousity towards what I was doing there.  “What isn’t allowed?”


It certainly didn’t seem either polite nor wise to enter into a discussion on the Greek origins of the prefix “tri”, as my easel has only two legs, better to politely leave, and hop another train.  He turned away and told us to get off at the next stop.  Wishing to comply but seeing no reason to rush, I began packing up.  The train stopped, and I was almost to the doors when they closed and JU gasped “the train’s moving!”

so indeed it was.

I could see the operator’s day-glo coat in the next coach, and was preparing for a scolding on his return.  When he did come in several minutes later, his eyes bugged out and he exclaimed “My God! I’m taking you to the depot!  Passengers can’t go to the depot, its dangerous!”  The poor man immediate claimed his fault, and radioed to hold up incoming trains so that he could take us back to the station.  He would have to take a breathalizer upon his return, and would have a mark on his record, he feared.  By now my mood had gone from slightly antagonistic to one of deep concern for this man, and I felt his willingness to accept blame for the incident spoke volumes for his character.

We got off and headed to Ju’s for a very late supper.

That was Tuesday, January 22.

The next day it became quickly apparent that I was no longer flying under the radar.  The operator asked my what I was doing, why I was doing it on the train, told me that the operator from the night before has been temporarily suspended, checked my ID.

“Do you have permission to be here?”

I thought.

As far as I was concerned, I did.  I was causing no threat to the passengers, I had paid a zone 2 and 3 weekpass, and violated none of the standards of conduct, but she was now worried about me causing her to lose her job, so I took her context instead of mine.


“Are you commuting?  You aren’t supposed to do anything on the train other than commuting.”

Once again, I thought.

I’m sure there are hundreds of thousands of people who take the trains every day who are not, in the literal sense – taking a train from home to work and back – commuting.  And the image of “doing nothing other than commuting” conjured disturbing images of a zombie-like state, or the suspended animation sci-fi astronaughts employ for deep space missions.  Even those who are on a commute will often work on their PHD dissertation, read, listen to music, think.


I asked her if she wanted me to leave.

She didn’t say no, she didn’t say yes.  I knew of course the did want me to leave, but also that she was unsure whether or not she had any “just cause”.

She told me she was uncomfortable with this and went away.  I was half expecting a DLR security forces to come and usher me out of the train.  I don’t want to paint her negatively here, she just didn’t want to get suspended, she told me she disn’t want to get me in trouble, and later didn’t ask to see my Oyster pass as she made her rounds to the other riders

She returned, and again, I turned the other cheek.

“If I wanted to obtain official permission, where would I go”

“Get off at Poplar and go to the office downstairs”

I alighted, and made my way to the security booth before entering the office area.  I was given a number to call for the marketing department.  It didn’t seem like the right office to me, and as I’ve spent much of the last six months worming through layers of burearocratic disinterest in my quest for Italian citizenship and a British visa, I had much reason to suspect I was right.  I went home and went through the motions.  After ringing four times at different times of the day, there was still no answer, but I had not been idle.  I found the DLR Arts office online, which offers a residency program and funds public works.  Here, I thought, I might find someone who has an interest in what I am doing.  An emailed plea for intervention was sent.

The next morning a cordial email greeted me, explaining I would have to fill out safety clearance forms, and attend a briefing meeting.

Today is monday the 28.  I now have cleared security and should be painting onboard once again.

DLR Lives

dlr luigiday1Last week:  Boarding the DLR one morning I encountered a pigeon walking in circles in the jointed section that allows the train to bend in the middle. The doors had just opened , so he must have been there for at least a few stops. I went up to my scouted seat and drew a schematic of the turquoise grab bar spacing, the various flange configurations, seat contours, and lighting fixtures. I discovered, contrary to my flatmate’s assertion, that not all the coaches are identical. The grab bars on this train had a slightly different configuration than my last transfer did, this is important to keep in mind because I can’t always be sure to get the same train, and model positions must be adjusted accordingly.  The train stopped, and as I exited at All Saints to visit my DIY shop the pigeon flew out the next set of doors. I wondered if he’d have any problems finding his way home. Probably not, he just needs to board the southbound to Poplar then transfer. I hope he remembers to touch out.

I was painting on the train Friday when two chaps in business suits sat in the seat behind me. I vaguely overheard them, talking about finance or business, I believe. At a certain point, one leaned forward and asked, “Do you have to finish that before we get to Bank?”(the end of the line).
“no, I have until March 12”
I kept painting.
After awhile, a ticket checker came round. As I reached in my pocket, he smiled, waved his hand saying, “That’s OK”

The bloke behind me: “You’re improving the mood on board. No one ever smiles on the train”

I like to think my presence makes a difference, so I smiled at the thought.

On my way home from another excursion, I sat down in “my seat” (first seat, aisle), when the couple across from me laughed. “Whoever sits in that seat has to talk to us!”

“What’s your name?”


Another chorus of roaring laughter.

“The last guy was named Paul, too!  You’re not into I.T, are you?”

I smiled wryly, imagining anyone who would hire me for I.T. work.

“No, I’m not”

We chatted amicably.  Since I’ve been riding this train, painting or just as a passenger, I’ve found plenty of smiles. And the staff have all been kind, inquisitive and helpful. Maybe when you pass your time on the train focusing on business rather than taking an interest in who is around you, you don’t notice an opportunity for smiles, or so as not to scapegoat the businessmen and women, maybe when taking the train everyday, one just forgets to look for them, there are plenty of beaming, tentative, jaunty, garrulous teeth around. No, not all smiles are genuine, and some come with strings attached. But they are all worth seeing. I need to remember, at least one of the portraits must be smiling.

here’s what the DLR easel looks like:Immagine

Featuring custom velcro legs straps for support, brush holder, a paper towel dispenser, palette knife holder, and a trash bag to insure all painty paper towels go straight to the trash without getting on train or passengers, this easel is specifically designed to allow me to take up no more than a regular passenger’s personal space.


This seemingly normal L coupling is actually a rotating and pivoting joint with an internal mechanism to keep the pipes from disconnecting.  This motion is essential to facilitate the changing of the paper towel roll when the interlocking bar is opened.

Immaginethe Liquin cup and interlocking crossbar are not only functional, they are aesthetically fun!  When seen from above they recall the London Transport DLR logo.

The final painting will be 65 cm high and 240 wide, composed of six separate panels and hosting 15-20 friends who ride the DLR with me to model.  I like that the movement of the train offer daunting technical challenges, and minimizes the ability to articulate fine detail.  I want the movement of the train to show its presence in the painted mark.  Preparations are being made to produce a short documentary on the process.Immagine

The DLR, or Docklands Light Rail, is unique to London transportation in that it is fully automated, having no driver, passengers in the front seat are treated to a roller-coaster style view of the Thames Barrier, vastly improbable industrial oddities, residential blocks, the Olympic park, and the Emirates Airline gondola-style skylift.  I only ride the B07 or B09 “Olympic Batch” stock carriages, which offer sleeker interior design and more leg room than the older ’98 stock.  B07_09_DLR_stock_interior

Briefly on portraits and PAINTINGS

I’m in the middle of a commission right now and have had an epiphany -not really an epiphany, perhaps, as it’s a way I had always approached my paintings, but have recently forgotten. With few exceptions, no one really wants another oil por…

trait from me, what “they” really want is one of MY Paintings with themselves as the protagonist.top ten titles: please vote for your favorite.

10. Untitled
9. Alex and his feet.
8. formal study in greys and flesh tones.
7. MY PAINTING; not just a portrait.
6. Even in the rain; barefoot for six months
5. Recovering shoeaholic
4. “Are you look’n’ at my feet? Huh? are YOU look’n’ at my feet?”
3. ruminations between the “concept of foot” and flesh and spirit, an artist’s preoccupations.
2. Ten years up to the neck and still walking on water.
1. Love Mohammed, fear God, but calm thyself first. Words of wisdom to everyone.