What I love about Dana’s portraits

I think Dana’s portraits are revealing and fun — and what is more true about being human?

Man reading on the BART (SF subway)

Man reading on the BART (SF subway)

I’ve always had a weak spot for pictures of people reading. Dana has made scores of quick, colorful drawings of people reading on the San Francisco Subway, Bart. I can identify with these people and with Dana as she sees them and draws out the best in each person. Reading in a public place is a kind of unique activity — we’re simultaneously doing something very private and yet totally visible — often, in a crowd. When we read on the subway, our mind is lost somewhere in the page before us, yet we’re still showing something. Maybe we’re trying to conceal it — maybe we think no one is looking at us. Looking at the drawings, I am pulled into wondering about each person’s mindset at that moment and yet aware of the eternity of how they are presenting themselves, and how that page is such a permanent refuge. Though each drawing is quick, each face is much more than a surface.

I love flipping through these drawings as much as I love scanning the real faces of my fellow city dwellers on my own Washington, DC, Metro on any given day. These people are real and Dana has captured their essence. I’m reminded how much I cherish my reading time and I feel like I know each of her subjects just a tiny bit. I want to know and share their books, magazines, and Kindles.

it doesn’t hurt that Dana’s technique adds more color to each of us than we could ever show, and that her line listens so sensitively to each feature and shadow. Visually, the bright portraits evoke Andy Warhol, Alex Katz, and David Hockney and yet the work is highly original and captures its day and subject succintly.


This woman sat for her portrait at an event

I am fascinated to compare the subway drawings with the portraits Dana does at special events, like those at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Will it be more women than men who volunteer themselves? It seems there are a lot more men in the subway portraits than in the event ones. Is that just a function of who goes to museums vs. who uses the subway? Can I tell anything about how men think they “look” compared to women, from the way they hold themselves and what Dana captures?

Looking at the portraits, you can tell the readers, of course, because their eyes are down; portrait sitters are looking up and often straight at you. Portraits done from photographs seem to have more attention paid to the detail, but less sense of movement in the face — they’re more eternal but just as delightful — you can see more of each person’s context and life. On the subway, readers may not be aware they are being remembered visually, but the results are so sweet I doubt anyone’s felt their privacy invaded. I mean, she’s only drawing what each person has chosen to share, yes? Portrait sitters in person know they are entering into a bit of an adventure; when a work is from a snapshot, their smile is a record of the day the picture was taken and their desire to please the photographer.

Does it seem like I’m reading a lot into these? It’s because I think it’s worth it. Portraits are endlessly interesting to those of us who love people… Dana’s capture a sense of vitality that is often missing in contemporary work. By taking public commissions and requests, Dana brings people new visions of themselves and offers them something original and relatable to take home and share with loved ones.

Robin Moore is an art consultant who has known Dana for many years. She recently commissioned Dana to do an original glass-tile back splash for a kitchen renovation project. You can see examples of Dana’s architectural glass work here. Learn more about Robin’s business at RobinMooreLegacies.com.