The Artist’s Commute: Amitai Plasse

For Amitai Plasse, New York life is pretty hectic.  With a demanding job and three young kids, the 30 minutes of free time in the morning and evening that the subway offers him is a valuable opportunity to sketch. Of his commute, Ami says: “it keeps me loose, provides me with some good material for character drawings, and is more than just a little cathartic.”

After scanning the subway car to find an interesting subject, Ami uses his Moleskine pad and whatever other tools that happen to be in his pocket (ballpoint pens, markers and watercolor pastels) to start sketching. His mission from here is to document his subject’s essence; that is, whatever is most important about them—an expression, a gesture—as quickly as possible. The challenge, as he describes it, is that things can break up pretty quickly. “My sketches can last from anywhere between 30 seconds and 10 minutes on the train, and then often some time finishing up after the fact.”

I asked Ami if he had any fun stories of people’s reactions to his work underground. There were several occasions, he described, where you would have people striking a pose or, inversely, sliding away. Others are simply curious about how they are being depicted. “Once I was drawing a transit worker,” he said, “directing people on the platform at Fulton Street. She was a heavyset woman and I was just into the sketch when she started walking over to me to see what I was doing. All I had was a rather bubbly, quick sketch of her and she sadly said, ‘Yah, I know I have to lose a little weight.’ I felt kinda bad on that one.”

Finally, Ami had this to say about his relationship with the subway: “So many folks look at the train as an annoyance or a hassle. I look at it as a source of endless personalities and stories. As I look around the car—filled with white, black and all shades in between, jabbering away in countless languages, millionaire investment bankers shoved in with homeless people, kids on their way to school, construction workers, secretaries, professionals, whathaveyou—my mind wanders and I wonder who they all are, where are they going, where they are from, what goes on in their lives. It gets the imagination rolling.”

Ami online:

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