Stories Behind the Brushstrokes

Ashley Owen 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.”

Ashley Owen

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.”

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Ashley Owen is a freelance writer and former editorial intern for Cape Cod Life Publications.

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