Pairoj Pichetmetakul began his art project “The Positivity Scrolls” as an apology. In 2013, he saw a young thug viciously beating up an elderly homeless man, and out of fear he just walked away. He had plenty of reason to fear for his own safety if he’d interceded – he was a recent immigrant who spoke little English, with no way to call for help – but the incident left him deeply troubled.
So he sought amends through art.
Now, Pairoj seeks out the homeless in New York City, accompanied by an art cart and long, long rolls of canvas. He made that elderly man invisible. Now he seeks to bring visibility, positive visibility, to every homeless person he meets. He asks them questions about their lives, their wants, and he asks, last, if he can paint them.
Most, he says, say yes.
Inspired by his past as a Buddhist Monk in Bangkok, and specifically by the scroll paintings that adorned Wat Hua Krabue Temple where he lived, he paints his new friends onto 150-foot-long rolls of canvas, cut into manageable lengths for transport and then stitched together again when full. So far, he’s filled four and a little more, with 250 side-by-side portraits.
He hasn’t shown many of the paintings publicly. It’s hard to find space to exhibit anything on that scale. But exhibition is not the point. The point is Pairoj, his canvas spread on the sidewalk while he paints with a broad brush the face of men, women and children that the world all too often chooses not to see. And while he paints, his own hat is out for the subject of his painting. He draws eyes and donations, and never keeps a cent.
Pairoj says that if he ever gets to exhibit the expansive scrolls, he plans to donate the proceeds to The Bowery Mission in Lower Manhattan, a provider of shelter, food, and medical care for homeless New Yorkers where he is a volunteer.