Eskor Johnson spends a day in the life of The Love Child.
Twenty-three hours in the life of The Love Child, one for each year he’s been alive and counting. Potentially twenty-four, had I not arrived an hour past our scheduled meeting time—a friend, Natalie, was baking me a lasagna—and had he been born earlier than January 11, 1989. To apologize I’ve brought along a piece for him in a Tupperware container and I’ve also brought Natalie, to redirect the blame. This is on Prince Street, at one of three locations The Love Child usually sets up shop. He likes the lasagna: “This is mad good,” he says after a bite. “This is mad good.”
Jay Michael Gittens: Grenadian born-and-raised until age ten, British Virgin Islands until fifteen, now New York; newly slim (“That’s why I wear the suspenders. These pants don’t fit me anymore.”) and wearing it well; aka The Love Child, street artist and starer into space. Media: acrylic, oil (once, accidentally), canvas, wood, cloth, paper, paraphernalia.
It is windy today, enough to disturb some of the smaller pieces Jay has taped down to the concrete ledge he uses both as seating and showcase. The passers-by are a mix of New York everything, though they mostly have in common the sartorial sense it seems is requisite to walk around Soho. Jay is in red sneakers and blue jeans and blue polo, and cool snapback cap with New York graffitied on the front (the “O” is an eyeball). He is tall. Though he smiles often, when he is not his face falls into a haze-eyed stare that seems morose and bored. Perhaps this is a necessary symptom after entire days spent in the throng of so many people in transit, a near-overdose of temporary audiences. His laugh requires his whole body and goes Kee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee, like Ernie from Sesame Street. There is paint on his hands and when he gives me back the Tupperware there are little dots of yellow on the lid. Jays leaves these traces most places he goes.
His setup today is of eighteen pieces, eleven of which are on paper, two on wide planks of wood, two much larger than the rest, three framed, one that is his first oil piece (accidentally) and one on a rough-edged section of brown paper that looks torn from a gift-wrapping roll. For those of you counting, there’s some overlap going on here so the math doesn’t quite add up. One of the two larger ones, for example, is also the one in oil and also framed. The frame Jay found somewhere and is made of metal and does not really match the pell-mell of color within its boundaries. To dry this painting Jay left it out on top of a phone booth overnight—it was neither rained on nor stolen. “I have another frame on top a phone booth,” he adds. “Just like a big wooden joint.” While Jay and I talk about his beginnings in photography and drawing, Natalie snaps pictures and inspects the paintings. So do some of the pedestrians who pause mid-stroll to look at whatever has caught their eye.