I have a spray assignment round the corner. It's a shop with 4 roller shutters. They're friendly people who let me do my thing. The general plan is to their liking, so there I go. With my creaking metal ladder, my spray cans and my thermos with English tea. Outside opening hours of course, that's the only time that the shutters are down. Early in the morning until 9, and between 13.30 and 16.30 ( I love the Catalans and their strange dinner habits), and after 20 at night. Before 7.30. the morning there is no natural light, nor after closing time. That I found out when I got up one morning at 5 and thought myself a hero. I could not even distinguish the yellow from the blue cans.
I have been working 3 weeks on the project and got to know all my neighbours. Many of them have a fixed routine. Between so and so late they pass by, or sit down on the bench in front of the shop. With or without dogs, children or shopping bags. Young, old, limping, on bike, in wheelchair, holding hands. Many couples in Barcelona walk holding hands, you knew that? Especially the older generation, that is so sweet.
They compliment, comment, ask, sometimes concerned about 'gilipollas' who might spray their stupid letters over my artwork. Other shop owners, before so typically Catalan-style timid, open up their smiles and talk to me. The progress of the painting is widely being discussed in the neighbourhood.
'Look, she's painting a boy,' says someone on the bench.
'That's not a boy, that's a girl!'
'But yesterday it was a boy, and ugly!'
A couple passes by. 'That parakeet is my favorite,' she says. 'The face is also beautiful but that parakeet is my favorite.' 'She used to have a parakeet,' he explains to me, and she nods happily.
A scruffy collector of metal waste stops his shopping cart, to tell me my art is worth good money. 'You should contact BBC news, they'll connect you to the whole world for well payed asignments.' He drills his bloodshot eyes deeply into mine. 'You should come with me to my computer. Only i have the code to BBC news.' I might as well not.
One of the neighbours in the stairway of my apartment looks up into the eyes of that gigantic face.
'She speaks to me,' he says. 'Some message only meant for me.'
Every night two old ladies come to chat on the bench. They're still both full of fire and liveliness, although the youngest is already in her seventies. They are dressed up nicely, lipstick and all. The older lady doesn't care about putting her teeth in, though. During these painting days she has told me all about her life. When she came to live in Catalunya, about the daughter that died, what she does and does not drink.
'Do you know how old I am? 96!' Well, that certainly doesn't show. When she gets up to go home she offers me a private look in her bag. False teeth. 'They're uncomfortable,' she says and grins broadly.
In those days that i was still roaming the streets to find information on how to survive as an artist in Barcelona, there used to be this cute little bar in El Born, Lilipep. They had alternative, unsellable art on the walls, books on bookshelves, furniture from the second hand shop and a soft couch to bury yourself in after a hard day of touristic city seeing.
I was sitting at the bar, explaining my situation to the bartender and her friend. 'They're not going to give me the permits i need,' i said. 'So i thought, i'll draw portraits at the terraces. That will draw attention and bring extra clients to the terrace. Loos like a win win situation to me. I asked bars in the city center and in Barceloneta, but they look scared when i propose this. They rent the terrace as part of the public space and only have a permit for their own service. The police fine them for any other activity.' I make the wine in my glass go in circles. I like it here. How long can i make one single glass of wine last? There is no money for more.
'You could do what the Rose Paki's do,' says the friend. 'Hop in and out of a bar. Talk to a couple, smile, offer them a portrait as a unique souvenir from their vacation. You should have a few catchy oneliners. If you do it like this, for sure there will be a few bar owners who'd let you. The rose Paki's are being tolerated after all.'
''Great idea,' i nod bravely. But from the inside i cringe.
We did something alike in Granada, last year, me and my in those days not yet absent husband. I drew one minute- portraits on the back of my flyer that said: Your portrait in 30 minutes. I'd give them away as a present. I actually sold one 30 minutes portrait. And i learned to draw people's faces super quickly (always look for the sunny side of bad luck). Interestingly, the poor looking people reacted friendly and sometimes we would end op chatting amiably. But the posh looked me up and down with disdain. (Sorry guys, it was only a little present).
Collecting rejections, some call it a healthy exercise, but i am not especially fond of it. And now i have to become a Portrait Paki. I can't extend the wine any longer, put the empty glass on the counter and go home disheartened.