DALLAS — From purse-clutching housewives to ear-budded teens, the portraits spread across the dining table like a vast reflection of a life spent in transit. And actually, they are.
Compulsive sketcher Arthur Blanchard spent decades riding the bus before a knee injury sidelined him earlier this year.
In the process, the 87-year-old retired banking lawyer drew hundreds of fellow passengers, a collection that like much of his work documents a largely invisible segment of Dallas.
“It’s a sociological study like nothing you’ve ever seen,” said Bob Schutze, whose Beaux Arts framing studio in Dallas’ Design District is showing a broad array of Blanchard’s work, including a modest sampling of his “Bus People” set.
Shown mostly in profile, the characters in Blanchard’s Bus People mosaic are like a public-transit reframing of “The Canterbury Tales,” whose author, Geoffrey Chaucer, is among the artist’s mental palette of quotable sources.
“Look at that woman,” he told The Dallas Morning News with a grandfatherly creak, noting one portrait of a big woman in a loud dress. “What can you tell about her? She’s 67 at least, maybe 70. She likes bright colors. She’s greatly overweight; she does not look healthy. And she’s riding the bus. What’s the saying? ‘Dukes don’t emigrate.’ Rich people don’t ride the bus, so you know you can generalize.”
Here’s a pair of men sitting together, one talking while the other half-looks away.
“I remember this old pair vividly, because this old character reminded me of my grandfather,” Blanchard said. “He was a gabby old fellow. He’s laying it on the line. The other person may or may not be interested — but he’s giving the appearance of listening.”
Blanchard talks about his subjects affectionately, even sympathetically.
Some are painted, some are pastels, some are done over in ink.
But all began as pencil sketches on the bus.
They populate Blanchard’s Lakewood home like residents in a small town — some on side tables, some on shelves, others in the basement or bulging from bags in a back room. In all, he guesses he’s done about 300, and that’s not counting the ones still in sketchbooks.
“These moving portraits are a rare representation of the sheer range of humanity which has utilized DART over the last few decades,” Schutze wrote in the introduction to Blanchard’s exhibit catalog. “People of all creeds and colors, shapes and sizes — all observed with warm detachment and piercing artistic precision.”
DART recently featured images from the exhibit on its Facebook page. It’s not the first time the transit system has been featured in art, said spokesman Morgan Lyons. Some artists have recorded videos or captured DART in still-art images.
“We’re one of the few accessible public spaces for great people-watching,” Lyons said.
Blanchard can’t recall when he wasn’t drawing people. He grew up in Haskell, Okla., near the Arkansas River, during the Great Depression. He found he had some artistic talent, even if it wasn’t always appreciated.
“I did learn fairly quickly that drawing is not often fun for the drawee, especially if the drawer is slightly malicious and the drawee is female,” he wrote in his exhibit biography. “Grade school teachers were all women in those days, and I alienated more than one to my sorrow with my saucy pencil.”
Even his wife, Louise, doesn’t like him drawing her. “He doesn’t flatter me,” she said.