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Times Square Street Portrait Artist Sets Up Shop in Clinton Hill

By Janet Upadhye | August 22, 2012 1:01pm

CLINTON HILL — Wally Abdellatif has been painting portraits of tourists in Times Square and Central Park for the last 12 years. But he grew tired of the crowds, the competition and the long commute, so he decided to change locations and work from his own neighborhood, Clinton Hill.

Street portrait artists are not a commom sight in the borough, but one week ago he set up shop on Myrtle Avenue and he hasn’t looked back.

“I enjoy working here,” the eight-year Clinton Hill resident said. “I can build a relationship with my customers because they are also my neighbors.”

One of those neighbors, the owner of the Clinton Hill Express Deli, is the one who convinced him to make the move.

“People were asking for Wally,” Ramzi Allahabi said. “He is somewhat of a well-known artist in the neighborhood.”

Allahabi offered the Moroccan-born painter and sculptor the prime location of the sidewalk outside his bodega. And his services have been in demand since.

Abdellatif made an average of $100 dollars a day in the hot tourists spots of Manhattan, but he is confident that he will end up making a better living in Brooklyn.

In the week that he has been working from Clinton Hill, he has had three to five customers a day. He charges $25 dollars to do a live portrait and $35 to draw a portrait from a photograph, which is more than enough to sustain him.

On Tuesday afternoon, he drew 13-year-old Jordan McNeil’s portrait with charcoal, while her mother, Sandra Pigotts, watched on.

“We’ll frame it and hang it in the house,” said Pigotts. “It is lovely to have original art on the walls.”

In the fifteen minutes that Abdellatif took to draw a life-like portrait of the teenager, several people stopped to ask prices, make appointments, or just gawk at his work.

“It is my 4-year-old, Oscar’s birthday soon,” said local mother, Amy Lawday, who passed by. “I wanted to get a portrait made of him, but others were very costly. Abdellatif’s work is affordable and fantastic.”

Abdellatif has been drawing as long as he can remember and loves his job.

“I am always growing and learning creatively,” he said. “I am happiest when I progress as an artist.”