TAKOMA PARK – Local artist Eric Gordon said he sees a semblance of zombies, or what he likes to call “creeps,” in riders of the D.C. Metro and he sketches them when he uses public transit.
Gordon said he couldn’t take full credit for the idea of depicting riders as akin to zombies or creeps.
“I think that’s not my theory. It’s the morning, nine to five, daily grind, people going to their daily jobs,” said Gordon. “A lot of times people would much rather go to the beach or have a cup of tea, stay at home, do something like that.”
Although he grew up in Montgomery County, he said he first started sketching riders on the New York City Subway. At the time he worked as a bartender and would travel home around 3 a.m. or 4 a.m.
When he and a co-worker would finish their jobs and they traveled using transit, they made a game of capturing “creeps” in their sketchbooks. They would sit across from each other and pretend to draw one another; however they were secretly sketching the person who was sitting behind each other.
“You have to be really sneaky to get a good drawing,” Gordon said.
A creep has several meanings for Gordon in his artwork. One definition of creep is the stealth with which he draws riders he sees, trying to prevent the person from realizing what he is doing. Another is the mannerisms he has observed in riders of public transit for years – the way they carried themselves, the way they moved brought him to a conclusion that they did not like where they were going. He said at least two meanings of “creep” coexist when he sketches.
“If you don’t necessarily love your job, you’re a creep,” said Gordon, referring to Metro riders. “I’m getting a little bit sneaky drawing you, so I’m a creep. So it’s just the word has a double meaning – even a triple meaning.”
In addition to the first two meanings, Gordon also identifies himself as a Metro rider.
“It’s a little bit of both, but we’re all in there, you know? I’m commuting, too. I’m just passing the time in a different way than you,” Gordon said.
Often, as someone on the train or bus realizes that Gordon was drawing them, he says they turn away or look in a different direction. They were “creeped out” that he was drawing them.
He said he believed that many riders he encountered were traveling to jobs but that they would rather be going somewhere else.
“People are in their own worlds because commuting is not necessarily fun for those people; they really don’t like it,” he said.
Gordon said his experience riding the subway may affect the way he draws each rider; he acknowledged that not all Metro passengers act the way they do in the morning because they dislike their jobs.
“Part of that’s me probably putting my feelings about commuting a lot (on them),” he said.
Shanthi Chandra Sekar, director of galleries at Takoma Park Community Center, pointed out that Gordon’s work was different from most of the other pieces in the exhibition because he did not communicate the subjects’ thoughts through thought bubbles.
In Gordon’s pieces, “the conversation is sort of unsaid, empathizing,” she said.
During her commute, Chandra Sekar said she, like Gordon, has observed other riders on the Metro. Gordon’s work for her evokes both memories of riding the Metro and curiosity about what the people might be thinking or feeling.
Gordon said he finds pleasure when his drawing has the look he wants. While he enjoys sketching the riders and trying to match the contours of some of their faces or profiles with the lines representing the inside of the train car, the person could move at any moment, even halfway through a drawing.
“It’s really exciting…this profile I’m drawing of this guy, and (then) all of a sudden, boom, (doors open) and he’s out the door,” Gordon explained.
He said he finds it easier to draw people who were asleep, an occurrence he found routinely during his trips on the NYC subway at night.
“You can draw as long as you want because they’re out like a light,” said Gordon.
Chandra Sekar, an artist herself, said she was amazed at Gordon’s work that captured fleeting moments without needing time to sit and ponder them.
“I think that for an artist to be able to capture that moment, to capture it in time is just wonderful,” she said.
Gordon said he does not always use colors viewers might associate with skin tone. Part of that may come from the idea that the District and Montgomery County are ethnically diverse. He added that skin color is not the most important part of the people he draws.
“I don’t know if I necessarily need to make these things super real,” Gordon said, regarding creeps’ skin color. “I’m just fascinated by the character of them.”
In many ways, as an artist, Gordon becomes a creep any time he rides the Metro and has a sketchbook.