Felix Morelo crouched in Union Square on his hands and knees on Sunday morning at 10:30, as passersby prepared for the Pride festival that would provide hours of marriage-themed glee. Chalk in hand, he scrawled: “I WILL ATTEMPT A TRAIL OF CHALK FACES AROUND THE PARK. (DONATIONS ARE COOL)”
By 3 p.m., when the park ranger asked him to stop due to heavy pedestrian traffic, Morelo had created a line of 640 cartoon faces. Each filled its own hexagonal ground tile, simple circular caricatures differing one from the other in at least one aspect (though Morelo jokes that “even God repeats himself”), and together they reached almost halfway around the block.
Skinny and weathered, with curly dark hair, Morelo said he moved to New York from Colombia at the age of 11, and graduated from Parson’s in 1990. Now 39, he still hasn’t felt the success he hoped to achieve as an artist.
“I may not be getting shows but I want to do something big before I go, not just feel like a failure, you know. It’s about pride. It’s like fuck it, I’m just as good,” he said. “I want to be known in a larger scope. It’s like letting them know that I’m here.”
Hence the faces: his sidewalk art, which began about two or three years ago pushing both body and mind to their limits. Morelo drew his record 2,056 faces during a marathon 13-hour session that announced his move to Brooklyn by covering it in his doodles. By the end of the endeavor, he said his hand was shaking and he was hallucinating, but believing that numbers are the way to attract attention, he continues to draw as many faces as he can. Almost two weeks ago, he covered a park in Queens with 1,160.
“I feel like artists have the chance to climb the social ladder. It gives you access,” Morelo said, while admitting some of his art is fueled by anger at his current situation. “By doing these faces… I still have to force myself to be strong, you know, physically and mentally.”
From donations Sunday, Morelo made about $75 (some of which was spent to take his girlfriend out for $2 falafel). Between donations such as these, occasional art sales, unemployment checks and food stamps, Morelo says he gets by, but he has gone through two short periods of homelessness. (Morelo also used to give “Free Advice” in Union Square on everything spanning from discontent in jobs to trouble in relationships, but stopped doing so after getting a ticket for accepting money without having a permit.)
In addition to faces, Morelo also draws “bad luck” and “good luck” spots – circles enclosing one phrase or the other in all caps – representing his philosophy that life is a balance. Believing street art allows everyone to be a judge of his work (provided they don’t just step on it), he hopes one day to penetrate the art world and find a gallery home. Some of his work is currently being featured as part of the annual biennial for the Museo del Barrio, whose curator he met while drawing on the subway.
If he ultimately succeeds, Morel says he won’t mind the failures he has endured. But if he doesn’t, he said he would cover the Earth with his bad luck spots forever.
In the meantime, he invited The Observer to his birthday party, under the stipulation that we bring a present. Five bucks, he said, would suffice.