Amid coronavirus closures, a Los Angeles artist gives her neighbors a walk-by gallery
The mask-clad dog walkers stop and look. So do the kids on bikes. And the joggers. And the couples out for a stroll with a glass of wine.
In a leafy Sherman Oaks neighborhood, a little red easel by the curb, with a new watercolor painting every day, has provided something much needed as the formless days of the coronavirus stay-at-home orders stretch into weeks: something to look forward to.
Every morning, artist Kathryn Pitt sets out a new piece by her driveway, then goes back inside. It’s contactless art in the age of social distance. She calls it the Passers By Gallery.
“So many more people are walking by these days,” said, Pitt, 47. “They’re cycling, they’re jogging. Family units are out and people are strolling. ... I just thought this was something I could do to make people a little bit happy in these times.”
With the traffic quieted and the parks and beaches closed, neighborhood streets have become a refuge for the bored and the anxious. There has been no shortage of ways people have tried to cheer each other up.
Sidewalk chalk art from children and parents encourages people to “Stay Safe!” and “Remember the good.” Painted rocks with encouraging messages started popping up all over one Santa Clarita neighborhood, as did painted tiles along Calle Yucca in Thousand Oaks.
Pitt set out her first watercolor March 22: A cluster of four ducks on the water, swimming away.
“stay well stay positive,” Pitt wrote in a gallery-style description affixed to the easel, explaining that she would try and do this every day.
One of the first paintings, titled “Social Distancing,” featured three penguins on the snow, a good amount of space between them. “TGIF! (although it could be any day really right?)” she wrote.
Others were portraits of longing.
Four people lounging on the sand on a sunny day. “One day we will be back there .......” she wrote.
The Walt Disney Concert Hall. “Remember Downtown??”
Two little boys playing basketball, inspired by a next-door neighbor who really misses sports.
Others were dedicated to life amid stay-home restrictions.
A jogger in a racerback tank top, her ponytail flying. A boy in a striped shirt lying on the floor, playing with a tablet. A gray-haired couple — a bespectacled woman with red shoes linking arms with a man leaning on a cane — out for a walk.
On a gray-sky Monday, she painted a little boy in red shorts and a blue shirt sitting on the curb, his blond head in his hands. “Monday Blues,” she titled it.
“Here we go into another week,” the description read. “More anxiety and frustrations I’m sure. What we feel the whole world feels too. Hang in there.”
Inspiration came easily at first. But she never imagined she’d be doing this for more than a month.
Before COVID-19, Pitt — who is originally from London and moved to the States with her family a decade ago — mostly did pet portraits. It was something she started after trying, unsuccessfully, to do paintings for children.
“Americans just love their pets very much,” she said.
She’s still in awe that people trust her to make art that they will hang in their homes and see every day. She likes painting dogs the most. They have so much personality.
When the stay-at-home orders began, Pitt knew her work would dry up. The anxiety and the fear that everyone felt was palpable. But the people walking by inspired her. She wanted to give back to them.
On a rainy day earlier this month, she brought her painting inside and left the red easel out by the curb. Someone took it.
A UPS delivery driver told her someone had carted it off on a bicycle. Word got out. Five days later, some neighbors Pitt hadn’t known too well brought it back.
They had found it shattered in a shopping cart. They repaired and repainted it and brought it back.
“It made me want to cry,” Pitt said.
Just before 8:30 a.m. Monday, beneath another gray sky, she set out the day’s work: two curvy women in black bikinis, walking away, clutching their flip-flops.
“Week 6!” she wrote. “It feels to me like time has stopped.”
She went back inside.
A few minutes later, neighbor Ellen Kornblum, walking at a steady clip, stopped briefly and chuckled at the painted ladies.
“Haven’t seen that view recently,” she said.
Morwenna and Stewart Moore came strolling by with Dudley, their old beagle-basset hound mix. A few days ago, their 5-year-old son, obsessed with airplanes, had asked Pitt to paint one. She obliged, with a big red and white jet soaring through the clouds. He was delighted.
“It’s now the small things of the moment that people look forward to,” Stewart Moore said.
Chris Johnsten, a major gifts officer for the Los Angeles Opera, stopped his bright red bicycle and hopped off to take a cellphone photo of the painting. He does a 10-mile bike ride from his home in Studio City every day, mixing up his routes to keep it interesting.
He spotted a painting a few weeks ago and now rides by daily. He sends pictures to his mom and sisters in Montana.
“It’s such a positive message every time,” he said. “This is a tough time. But we’re in it together.”
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