Painting a picture of a person’s face is a chance for a conversation. Most of the portraits I’ve done over the past few years have been commissioned and often from photographs but in the past few weeks I’ve started on a series of familiar faces painted from life. I shlep my paper and paint to people’s houses, they sit in their favorite chair, and we see what happens. Sometimes the talk is like a therapy session, other times more like a comedy routine, but in most cases it’s a chance to reconnect. All the people who have agreed to pose are friends of one kind or another. Sitting and looking at them for a few hours is a chance to gage the changes in them and the changes in me.
Thursday at the Hideout, Eszter Balint came to sing her noirish tunes and play her violin. Like most people my age, I first got to know her as John Lurie’s Hungarian cousin in Stranger Than Paradise sometime in the mid-80s. More recently she was Louis CK’s non-English-speaking paramour on the last season of his eponymous show. Now she was singing in a bar I’ve been to hundreds of times. Up on the screen she of course seemed mythical and unapproachable, but after her set, in the emptied room, leaning casually against the lip of the stage while talking to another fan, she looked just like any of us. I thanked her for playing and asked if she was in town for a few days. She said she’d be driving to Rockford tomorrow, then Dubuque the next day. Such is the singer’s lot. Turns out she’s only four years older than me—an unthinkable concept when I saw her all those years ago in black-and-white in a movie theater somewhere in Boston.