Stories Behind the BrushStrokes
Barnstable artist Frank Chike Anigbo found inspiration for his canvases worlds away on Skid Row.
Painters render the subjects they are passionate about, and Frank Chike Anigbo finds his subjects far away from his Cape Cod home. Since 2005, he has visited Los Angeles and documented the lives of homeless men and women who walk the streets of the Skid Row neighborhood. Painting is his way of bringing these people out of anonymity and making them visible and distinct. In return, his subjects provide Anigbo with a rare honesty that appears on his canvases. “Most of us walk around with masks on to hide who we really are,” Anigbo says. “But with people with absolutely nothing, I find incredible sincerity. They have nothing left to hide. They lost it all already.”
In his studio in the Old Schoolhouse in Barnstable, paintings of all sizes and stages of completion line the walls and classic music echoes around the spacious room. Anigbo works a full-time job, and he does most of his painting very late at night. After 2 a.m., he says, he is at his most alert and emotionally vulnerable. Barefoot and donning a black-and-white cotton scarf and blue plaid button-up shirt, he carefully scrutinizes a six-by-14-foot painting, titled The Equestrian Portrait of the King of Skid Row. He adjusts the spotlight toward his canvas to illuminate its subjects, and his precise hands blend oil paints on a vibrant pallet. With the silhouette of his tall frame stretching across the canvas, he meticulously paints, rubs, and scrapes the pigments until he’s satisfied. He’s been working on the piece for nearly a year. “I consider myself a contemporary social realist,” he says. “However, my focus is at the very bottom end of society.”
Though Anigbo has exhibited works at the Cotuit Center for the Arts, the defunct Wilson Gallery in Dennis, and the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, the Barnstable artist has never given much priority to exhibiting his work. It is the process of creating art that compels him like nothing else. “Painting just feels like the most direct way to vividly express emotion and tell the truth about something you want others to hear, even if I never get to show it to anyone,” he says.