COVID has taken its toll on almost every aspect of life imaginable, from education and office work to our area’s world-famous art scene. Even fully vaccinated aficionados aren’t rushing back to the Met en masse — or, for that matter, flocking to the Frick.
Still, we Scarsdalians are luckier than many. We’ve always known we’re fortunate, of course, but there’s yet another reason why we’ve got it good: despite the seemingly never-ending pandemic, we can enjoy a local artist’s exhibit just beyond our town’s borders at Boleria Brazilian Bakery at 362 Mamaroneck Ave. in Mamaroneck. There, you’ll find a series of silkscreen prints, each featuring portraits of New York City subway riders.
The creative mind behind the show is Gabriela Bornstein of Quaker Ridge, who has a knack for teasing out the exquisite from the mundane. Forty-three of her works are on display in the bakery until Oct. 22, between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily. The best times to check out her works, though, are each Tuesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. “I’m going to be there during those hours, giving guided tours and making portraits of some visitors,” Bornstein said.
She first hit upon the idea of depicting subway riders in 2008. “Any time I took the subway, I took my sketchbook and would just draw the people in front of me,” she recalled. “The whole idea, the whole concept of this work is to connect with people and pay attention.”
In the years since she first embarked on her artistic endeavor, Bornstein has noticed a profound shift in commuters’ behavior. “When I started … people were more aware [that I was drawing their portrait], but I think with the phone, people are so entertained that it’s harder to get to connect with somebody,” she noted. “They rarely see what’s going on around them.”
Passengers who do notice they’re being sketched overwhelmingly react positively. “Most of the people are very happy,” Bornstein said. “They feel like someone is paying attention to them, and many people say, ‘Wow, you made my day,’ and ‘Can I take a picture [of the sketch]?’”
As is the case with most artists, however, Bornstein has encountered the occasional setback. “Some people have asked me to stop what I am doing,” she said. “I can count on my fingers how many people did not like it. As I remember, it was two women … one told me she doesn’t like to have her privacy invaded.”
A far greater challenge is capturing someone’s essence before they reach their stop. “Fifteen minutes is very good,” Bornstein confided. “These are sketches of people on the subway, so it’s not like photography.”
After many years of practice, she added, she’s become adept at guessing who will reach their stop in a minute or two, and who is settling in for a longer journey. “I try to feel the surroundings first, and I try to capture things that are unspoken,” she said. “I see somebody, and this is very quickly, because I know they might leave soon. I’m like, ‘I’d better choose somebody before the next stop!’”
There’s no one reason why Bornstein focuses on a particular passenger. “Sometimes the person has a certain style that I like, and sometimes it’s just someone that I see [who has] something that catches me,” she explained. “It doesn’t have to be a beautiful person or an ugly person.”
Fairly often, her chosen subject is a reflection of her own mood. “I think it depends on how I’m feeling that day,” she noted. “If I’m feeling happier, I probably will pick somebody who has that vibe at this time. If I’m feeling more down, I will probably choose somebody that looks like they’re feeling that same way.”
The sketches are a passion project for Bronstein, who works as a freelance art director and graphic designer and took classes in silkscreen production. In addition, she makes custom portraits, including portraits of houses. Her subway sketches are another entrepreneurial venture — she’s created a line of T-shirts, leggings, mugs, backpacks and other items sporting her portraits, some of which may be found at her Etsy store (etsy.com/shop/NYCunderground) and also at the Boleria bakery. Prior to the onset of the coronavirus, Bornstein also sold her art at street fairs, coffee shops and art galleries.
The way her latest show came about is particularly apropos for an artist focused on forming connections. It began when Bornstein, who is originally from Rio de Janeiro, connected with a group of Brazilian women via a WhatsApp group. “I learned about the existence of the bakery, and I went there right away,” she recalled.
Coincidentally, her daughter became friends with the bakery owner’s daughter, which eventually led to the parents becoming friends as well. When Bornstein proposed staging an exhibition at Boleria, the owner was “super open,” she recalls. “She was very happy because we are joining forces. People go there to see my art, and the people that go to enjoy the bakery see my art as well. It’s a win-win situation for us.”
Bornstein moved to Scarsdale from Brooklyn nine months ago, yet she’s already put down sturdy roots in the community. Given her determination to find the common bonds between herself and others, and capture those moments forever, it’s no surprise. “I have a slogan,” she said. “It’s ‘I see you, I feel you, I don’t know you, I draw you, I love you.’”