The several dozen portraits on canvas, roughly but not exactly homogenous in size, hang on a wall in the back gallery at Arts Warehouse, like a lineup of professional headshots in a casting director’s office. The faces capture a broad cross-section of contemporary urban/suburban life: old and young, white and Black and brown, hatted and bespectacled, face-masked and ear-budded.
They have little in common except for their geography: They are all residents or guests of Delray Beach’s Osceola Park neighborhood, where they met, and sat for, artist Neal Hanowitz. Yet under Hanowitz’s distinctive and revealing brush, they seem to share the traits that are most fundamentally important. We don’t see politics or tribes or ideologies in these portraits. Instead, a sense of community—a common goodness—radiates off the canvases.
Hanowitz, whose chose Delray Beach for would has become a working retirement, painted his subjects during the pandemic, beginning with the quarantine of 2020. Encountering the fruits of his labor in uniform succession on the Arts Warehouse gallery wall, it suggests what became a cliché in that first year: that we’re all in this together.
Hanowitz titled each portrait, quite simply, with the name of the sitter, when such a name was given (there’s also the mysteriously titled “Woman From Office Depot”). We meet Manny, with eyebrows slightly askew above glasses, and a guarded half-smile. And Ian, a freckly teenager with tousled hair. And Angus, an earthy fellow with a scraggly beard and a cigarette dangling from the lips. Marie has an asymmetrical haircut and a mask positioned under her chin, in the safely socially distanced posture. Jim is characterized by a rippling forehead, lines around his eyes, and a full-on Santa beard, while Don, large of ear and with a shaved head, appears almost alien.
Each is clearly the work of one artist painting one series, given the consistency of the thick impasto brush strokes that help to evoke each person’s character, with the artist choosing backgrounds of different colors to bring out certain traits. Lulu, for instance, appears almost spectral against a gray backdrop.
Hanowitz is by no means a caricature artist, but nor is he a photorealist, and it’s interesting to discover which aspects of the human countenance he emphasizes in each portrait, like Audrey’s prominent red-hued cheekbones, or the way Scott’s eyes are dwarfed by the thickness of his dark glasses. Maya appears pensive and long-necked; Ela’s dental imperfections only endear her more—not to mention the heart-shaped sunglasses she sports, and the greenery reflected in them.
The works are neither flattering nor tactless, and yet everybody comes across as personable and engaging, and they should feel honored to be a part of Hanowitz’s series—not a rogue’s gallery but an everyperson’s gallery: Osceola Park as an eclectic microcosm for America.
Neal Hanowitz’s “Neighborhoods: Intersecting Encounters” runs through Feb. 26 at Arts Warehouse, 313 N.E. Third St., Delray Beach. Admission is free, and gallery hours are Wed.-Fri., 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. For information, call 561/330-9614 or visit artswarehouse.org.