Monday, September 10, 2012

Remember This Guy?

Mr. Keith is one of the maintenance guys that works at THEARC in Anacostia, DC. At one point in his life he was homeless and addicted to crack cocaine. Wanting to do better by his three little kids, he followed a friend to an Narcotics Anonymous meeting to get some help. 
Months later he was no longer picking the stuff up, but was becoming tiered of introducing himself as an addict. He remembered that when he was growing up in the projects, a man used to bring him and his buddy, Junior, along to church. That way, they wouldn't be left hanging around with the older boys in the neighborhood to drink and smoke. The memory inspired Keith to turn to God to help him with his life.
He has been clean for twenty-six years now and has been married for seventeen. He has ten children, some biological and some adopted. When the kids were young, Keith used to take them and any other kids that needed a little love and minding to the zoo, park or basketball court. They would get from one end of the city to the other by bus. Sometimes, his children would complain about having to bring along stragglers. He would explain though that we all need to look out for each other.

Today I had the honor to give Keith this:

 I installed his portrait in the community garden that he helps to maintain at THEARC. When he saw the painting he gave a series of strong hugs and high-fives, and he told me his story. "We all need to look out for each other" he said gesturing to the painting "and that is what your doing here!"

Unlike the other nine subjects for this project (most of whom I will probably never meet), I am so happy to have had the privilege to get to know Keith Cook just a little bit, and to hear his reaction to having his portrait painted. He radiates a sincere goodness that just makes you want to be around him and soak up what he has to say. It would be difficult to find a person who deserves more to be recognized and honored for his bottomless love and his drive to live every day to its fullest. 

I hope that when the rest of the portraits hit the streets on October 1st, they will brighten a few days. I hope that they will let people know that they are seen and that they matter.  I am also pretty sure that there will be portraits that no one will find. There will be paintings that will be rained on, stolen or thrown away...and I've made my peace with that. A gift is only a gift if it is freely given, and I want these portraits to be true gifts of notice. Whatever happens to the other nine paintings though, I am very very happy that Mr. Keith has his.


  1. Nicole,
    All I can say is WOW. You are truly a gift from God as are the subjects of these wonderful paintings. May you continue to share your amazing talents with the world for the greater glory of God.

  2. I can't even take it all in properly. This is seriously the coolest project I have ever seen. And the painting is GORGEOUS!!!

  3. Nic, this portait is one of my faves...the warmth of in his really captured it. His story moved me to tears. "We all need to look out for each other." His story moved me to tears.(xo Judy)

  4. What happened to the Monday Match! I'm getting grumpy over here :)

    Also- I'm confused about this guy. Did he come to the Corcoran thing by accident and you had happened to paint his picture for the AS IS exhibit as well?

  5. Well it's part of it. We should get use to it.

  6. Ha! Grace, the blog is going to be dedicated solely to AS IS for a while. I want it to be a place where I can share updates on the project and where people can leave their thoughts on it as well.

    As far as Keith's portrait goes, this is how it fits in to the whole picture: Habitat for Artists is a public art program that sponsored the creation my seventh AS IS portrait. HFA set up studios at the Corcoran and THEARC with their own mission of building a bridge between the two communities at different ends of the city.

    SO! I spent half of my time at the Corcoran and half at THEARC doing quick oil sketches of passersby. Unbeknownst to them, while I was doing these quick loose little portraits, I was keeping my eyes open for a next AS IS subject of whom I would paint a LARGE portrait. This portrait was a bit different from the others in the sense that I was lucky enough to witness the subjects reaction to being given his portrait. The other nine portraits will be installed and left on the streets of DC on October 1st for their subjects to find and take.

    Make a little more sense now?

  7. Nicole, you really captured him, even when you heard his full story after painting his portrait! I love the light beaming above him and how happy you made him- something he never dreamed of 26 years ago. Most impressive!

  8. Thank you. He is a really impressive man! I'm thrilled that I had a chance to paint him.

  9. Thank you Nicole for your inspiration and for sharing your gift with the world. Thank you to Keith for sharing your story of true blessings and hope.


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