Painting My Father

The first time I painted by father was in 1982. I had just begun a series of paintings called Subterraneans, depicting people in the subways. I wanted a generic businessman as a model, and asked my father to pose on the 28th Street IRT platform. My father had taken the subway almost everyday of his life and seemed like as good a model as anyone. The painting came out great, and then I did another one of him, and another, and then began using him regularly.

Gradually, as I painted him more, he became iconic within my body of work...People familiar with my work often think that anyone roughly my father's age in my paintings must be him. And to some degree they are right; they are extensions of him. At my gallery openings, people often delighted in seeing "the man in the paintings." It was always one of my great vicarious thrills to show my father a new painting of him. In retirement, with more time on his hands, he returned to an old hobby: painting. He even did a portrait of me. I told him it was fine with me if he painted, as long as he did not change his name to "Max."

Many of the scenes I have painted are now gone. The Times Square building in which my dad shared an office with his father-in-law has, too, like so much of the City, evaporated.

The year before he died, I became the father of a son, Daniel. Who knows, perhaps he will paint me some day. In the mean time, I continue to paint my daddy.

Excerpts from the artist's essay, "Painting My Father"

40 Years of Lost City Arts

Jim Elkind, founder Lost City Arts—of one of the most influential design galleries in New York City—has design in his DNA. Elkind grew up in a modernist house full of mid-century modern furniture and spent many weekends traveling into New York with his mother, visiting museums and exploring the city. He fondly recalls her pointing up at the skyscrapers and their architectural details, encouraging and instilling in him a curiosity about his surroundings and an attention to detail that would go on to shape his future career.

The idea to open a gallery originally came to Elkind during a visit to the annual juried art show at University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he attended college. The vetted show featured several hundred artists, many of whom, he realized, were extremely talented but would never make it into the mainstream art world. Taking a page from his entrepreneur father’s book, Elkind imagined opening a gallery in New York called the Gallery of the Unknown Artist where he would feature work by up-and-coming artists from universities around the country.