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Sidewalk Art by Well Known Street Artist Destroyed on Upper West Side

By Leslie Albrecht

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

UPPER WEST SIDE — One man's art is another man's graffiti.

A chalk and oil pastel drawing by a well-known street artist was scrubbed off an Upper West Side sidewalk last week, apparently at the request of residents in a nearby apartment building.

Artist Hani Shihada said he was devastated when he got a phone call from a distraught fan Friday telling him his most recent work, a painting he had been working on for several weeks at Broadway and 87th Street, had been washed off the sidewalk.

"I can't stop thinking about it," Shihada said. "It's unbelievable what they did. I can't sleep."

Shihada, 51, has used New York's sidewalks as a canvas for more then 25 years. His work has appeared in Hollywood films and in ad campaigns for Nickelodeon. Earlier this year the Carlyle Hotel commissioned Shihada to draw Pablo Picasso's 1932 painting "The Dream."

About a month ago he started his latest work, a richly-hued picture of Haitian children on a tobacco farm.

The painting was on the southwestern corner of Broadway and W. 87th, in front of a Capital One bank and a few hundred feet from The Boulevard, a 22-story luxury apartment building.

Shihada was almost done with the work when someone removed most of the painting, leaving a faded version of it still visible on the sidewalk.

Antony Geralis, a pianist and conductor who lives on W. 87th Street, noticed the painting's disappearance and contacted The Boulevard's resident manager.

The resident manager told Geralis that The Boulevard's board had the painting removed from the sidewalk, Geralis said. He did not give a specific reason, Geralis said.

The Boulevard's resident manager declined to comment to DNAinfo. A doorman at The Boulevard who did not want his name used said some residents had complained about the painting.

Phone calls to the building's property management company were not returned.

Geralis said he felt Shihada had been treated disrespectfully, because no one notified the artist about the plan to remove his work. Shihada's cell phone number and website were listed next to the painting.

"He brings tremendous joy, he's bringing art to everybody that walks by, you stand there and watch him and children smile," Geralis said. "This was so mean-spirired to just sandblast his work away. There are much better ways to have dealt with it."

Shihada said he tries to work in spots that aren't directly in the path of pedestrians. He said his work is meant to inspire people, not provoke them.

"I don't like to inconvenience anybody in any way," Shihada said. "I want to finish the work. I don't want anybody to complain."

Shihada uses a combination of chalk and oil pastels that can last for months on the sidewalk. He works on his drawings over the course of several weeks, working from eight to 10 hours a day, he said.

Shihada said he received a generally positive reception from passers-by — including police officers — at Broadway and 87th, some of whom stopped to watch him work and talk to him.

One woman complained that Shihada "always" draws black people, he said. Shihada said others have complained in the past that he only draws portraits of white people.

Among his admirers was Liz Braffman, a resident of The Boulevard, who said her three children were "fascinated" by Shihada's sidewalk drawing.

Braffman said she was unaware of anyone complaining about the painting or asking for its removal.

She said her 5-year-old daughter noticed the painting's disappearance and asked, 'Why would someone do that?'

"She really thought it was an amazing piece of art and so did I," Braffman said.