Hunched over his easel, half-framed glasses perched on his nose, artist Wally Abdel is a regular fixture on the sidewalk outside the Apple Bank for Savings at the corner of Myrtle and Clinton Avenues. There he spends hours each day deep in concentration, meticulously drawing portraits in charcoal.
Wally is a versatile artist who works in a number of different mediums and with varied subjects, but you may have noticed he has a particular passion for portraiture. For between $50 and $90 you can leave him a photograph or sit and pose a while and he’ll compose an exceptional likeness.
“People love their faces being drawn,” he said. “Through that I can communicate with them, do my best, and give them quality.”
A Clinton Hill resident by way of Morocco and Belgium, Abdel first picked up drawing 45 years ago, when he was around four or five years old. He’s never looked back–and for the last several years, he’s pursued his craft on the street. He’s lived on Washington Avenue since 2004. He says the artistic nature of the community and the influence of the Pratt Institute had an instant appeal for him.
“There were many artists around–teachers, students,” Wally recalls. “So I said, ‘Oh, this is the right spot to come.’”
The response since Wally’s taken up work on the corner has been a good one, with passersby regularly stopping by to watch him work or inquire about a portrait–but Abdel hopes to soon expand his reach from the street to the classroom. With the help of his friend Dee Dee, who he met through a mutual friend/fellow artist, he found space on Tompkins Avenue in Bed Stuy where he plans to start teaching drawing classes in the next week or two.
“One of his ideas for the community was to open a school, like not-for profit, and have it for kids,” Dee Dee notes. “My idea was open one where senior citizens and kids can learn.”
Now they plan to take on students of all ages and skill levels. Classes could begin as early as Friday, though Abdel and Dee Dee have yet to post their flyers.
“We have a beautiful space,” Abdel said. “And it’s for the kids and all different ages, but especially for the kids who are gifted and want to save their talent.”
Fashion designer Elizabeth Gordon-Tennant, who stops by to debate purchasing a Notorious B.I.G. drawing for sale, is impressed with Wally’s artistry.
“It’s really cool that he can draw inspiration from life as easily as he can from historical people,” she says, noting the mix of portraits. “I like the fact he’s a Brooklyn-based artist, working in Brooklyn, celebrating the people who have made Brooklyn what it is.”
To commission a portrait or to inquire about a class, contact Wally at 347-922-5121–or, you know, just stop by and see him at his usual spot on Myrtle and Clinton.
By Paul McCaffrey