Chris Ferguson parked his Yale Transit shuttle bus right across from the colorful and aromatic line-up of food carts on Cedar Street. That gave him an idea, a big idea, for his next series of oil paintings.
Ferguson drives the bus for a living. He paints every day, as well—and his depictions of New Haven are getting around town, too.
The Fair Haven native, who found himself drawing all the time as a kid at the Strong School, Betsy Ross, and Co-Op High, drives a big Yale Transit bus between the medical district and the Veterans Administration Hospital in West Haven. He took the early morning shift because when it’s over at around 12:40 p.m., with much of the day left, he can paint.
With luck he’ll be back in Westville at his home studio working on the compositions that he’s been planning for some time: a parade or fusion of the food trucks on Cedar Street to be created on some 13 to 15 small oils on canvas. Ferguson takes pictures on his phone to form the basis of research for the new series.
He hopes to show those perhaps next year at the DaSilva Gallery on Whalley Avenue in Westville, which now represents him.
First you have to do the work,” said Gabriel DaSilva (pictured), who welcomed the artist and a reporter Tuesday morning.
DaSilva said he liked Ferguson’s work the first time he saw it at Don Wunderlee’s former gallery in Westville Village several years ago.
“Those were landscapes but not recognizable [places],” DaSilva said.
In the years since Ferguson has painted local restaurants, the pavilion at Lighthouse Point Park (pictured), and spots in West Haven.
Local is good for a local gallery, and as the work has also evolved to evoke recognizable places, “It makes it more appealing” to local buyers, DaSilva said.
“As a kid I did cartoons. When I went to Paier, I learned fine art and that it’s possible to make a living through art,” Ferguson said.
Since 2002 that has also meant juggling responsibilities for a wife and 6-year-old daughter, and so driving the Yale shuttle daily.
He gets up at 4 a.m., is at the Hamden depot at 5:20, and starts his driving shift at 6. He finishes at 12:40 p.m., gets a lift back to pick up his car in Hamden at 1:05, and can reach his studio by 1:15.
“I like to start at 1:15 and finish at 3:15,” he said. At that time he needs to pick up his daughter at the Mauro-Sheridan Interdistrict Magnet School on Fountain Street.
Ferguson said he knows down deep he’s an artist because when life intervenes and he has to be away from the regular painting schedule, he detects it immediately: “It hurts when I have to go a few weeks without painting.”
DaSilva sees in Ferguson’s work “a classic technique.” The horizons are classically at the one-third point in the composition, he noted.
The work is representational; Ferguson said the image is based on a photo. DaSilva still senses the feeling in it that comes through from a “chalky” painting style, rather than hard-edged, and with palpable sense of mood.
In the painting of Sol de Cuba, for instance, “you know the sidewalk is straight and boring [in reality].” But Ferguson’s is rounded and gives a welcoming softness to the image, along with a Hopper-esque touch to the slightly delineated folks dining in the window.
Which brings us to food. Or the food trucks, with whom Ferguson’s shuttle shares Cedar Street daily.
DaSilva likes the food trucks as a theme. Talk about local appeal.
Ferguson said he has compiled lots of pictures already that he takes from his shuttle and during a lunch break. He said of the many trucks there, he has his eye particularly on one that sells sausages and another where two African men busily cook up breakfast every morning for passers-by. It’s not so much the food itself that interests him, but the motions of the people at work.
The photos are the research. The resulting dozen or so planned compositions will be fictional creations, he said. As he drives he thinks about the paintings to be or interacts with his passengers, quite a few of whom know he’s an artist, with some attending his shows, and even buying the work.
As Ferguson showed some of the photographs on his Samsung Galaxy Two, DaSilva exclaimed, “Firemen, Doctors, and Food!”
That could be the name of the show. The two men talked about timing. This year all of DaSilva’s shows feature works on paper. Next year it’s oil on canvas shows for 12 months.
Looking at his phone, DaSilva said, “I think this fits perfectly. Maybe in the fall of next year? I give you one year. How does that sound?”
“That sounds good,” said Ferguson, who had no idea DaSilva was going to propose a solo show. He has had one before, at the Azoth Gallery at the New Haven Free Public Library, back in 2009.
“Artists work better under deadlines,” DaSilva said.
Ferguson didn’t need any convincing.
To follow Ferguson’s project and comments and humor on the life of an artist and bus driver, check out his blog.