Oil Work and No Pay Makes Jay Wilson Move His One-Man Show to the Sidewalks of New York

updated 10/13/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/13/1986 01:00AM

After laboring more than five years on a series of 20 larger-than-life oil paintings, Jay Wilson, 24, was going nowhere in the art world. Gallery owners simply looked the other way, and he couldn't get a showing anywhere. "Some said my work was too gonzo. Others said it was not gonzo enough, so it's difficult," Wilson reports in frustration. "Then I realized that there are a lot more people on the streets of the city than those little art-ghetto pimps could ever dream of bringing into their galleries. So I decided to get my work out there for everybody to see."

Last month Wilson left his job as a gofer for a film licensing company and launched a one-man roving street exhibition. Choosing a different 4-by-6-foot portrait each weekday, he mounts the painting on a backpack frame and makes a 10-mile trek through Manhattan—wending his way past the business crowd in midtown, past the street hustlers on 42nd, down to the art trendies in SoHo and the East Village.

Wilson, a 1984 honors graduate in fine arts from Pratt Institute, doesn't really expect to snare an art dealer this way, and he will run out of paintings to walk in a couple of weeks, but he is delighted by the public response to his mobile showings. Many bystanders watch bemused as he passes, but others follow him for blocks. "One woman, who could have been a bag lady, introduced herself as Mrs. Rockefeller and insisted I make an appointment to see her at the Museum of Modern Art," Wilson says. "Who knows? Maybe she was for real. I guess I should have asked her for a card."

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