One time I was riding on the R-line when I noticed a young college-aged artist intensely looking at me while scribbling away on a notepad. At first I was a bit startled by the potentially crazy behavior but I remembered that a lot of college artists are assigned to draw people on the train. Right before I got off at my stop, he handed me the portrait of myself. He wasn’t expecting any money but I handed him five bucks anyway. The drawing was really good and I ended up framing it. Artists like the young guy who drew me on the train didn’t just make me a drawing, but created for me a happy memory.
Yuriy Modlikskiy was just like the guy I described above, except for him being a bit older, at 65 years old. Modlikskiy, a Sheepshead Bay resident, is a Ukrainian immigrant who has made a habit out of drawing people he sees on his long 45-minute commute from Sheepshead Bay to Manhattan. Like the young artist I encountered, he doesn’t expect money for his effort, rather, simply the joy of people receiving a nice piece of art.
Modlikskiy was a former Russian book illustrator who created illustrations for more than 200 books. When his hearing started to fade, he had trouble getting work as an illustrator. Now he spends his time restoring art and antique furniture in Manhattan, but on the way uptown, he can’t help but draw the people he sees.
“What else do I [do] with the time? I never saw a lot of faces like this — all different — in Russia,” Modlikskiy told the Post.
Not all of Modlikskiy’s drawings are happy portraits of subway riders. He also captures pictures of homelessness, people sleeping and other imagery that catches his eye on his daily commute. He adds these pictures to the voluminous sketchbooks he keeps at home.
It has been three years since I bumped into that artist that drew a portrait of me, and I think it’s time for an update. I’ll be looking out for Modlikskiy in hopes of getting some free art.