PROSPECT-LEFFERTS GARDENS — Every day, hundreds of new faces appear in the neighborhood — in bars, on street corners, glued to a doorway or stuck in the crook of a tree.
No, they’re not Prospect-Lefferts Gardens newcomers. They’re the work of the area’s resident street artist, Shmotchsky, creator of a simple and ubiquitous tag: two boxy eyes and a rectangular mouth in a permanent grimace or grin.
For about five years, the anonymous artist has been putting thousands of the faces on the streets of “PLG,” as he often calls it, drawn on stickers, dominoes, shells, keys, mailing labels or anything he can get his hands on.
“The only rule I had was it had to be something from materials I got from the neighborhood,” he said in an interview with DNAinfo New York, including objects found in dollar stores, garbage piles or the Phat Albert discount store.
Shmotchsky, whose identity is unknown beyond a few close friends and relatives, started the project to give “a kind of mascot” to the neighborhood he’s “been in love with” since moving here almost 15 years ago.
“I want people to appreciate the neighborhood, so I try to put them in places that gives people a reason to look,” he said. “The end goal isn’t people seeing them. The end goal is people appreciating the neighborhood and being more aware of it.”
To that end, Shmotchsky has had a lot of success, particularly with the younger residents of Prospect-Lefferts Gardens.
He says many of his fans are children who use the artwork as an ongoing scavenger hunt, sending photos to his Instagram account when they find a Schmotchsky — a combination of “street art” and “tchotchke” — placed by the artist on a window ledge, mailbox or flower pot.
One such fan is the 4-year-old daughter of Prospect-Lefferts Gardens resident Gema Fleishman, who says her toddler searches for faces “every time we’re on the street,” she said.
“She absolutely loves it,” she said. “She says, ‘Mommy, let’s look for the funny faces.’ She’s so excited when she finds one. She wants me to take a picture of her with every sticker.”
Shmotchsky himself fell in love with street art as a kid, coming to the city on trips with his family in the 1980s when graffiti and wheatpasted posters were everywhere.
“Manhattan used to be just covered,” he said. “Cost and Revs were the two big legends. I knew their names when I was 8 because they were all over town.”
Now, he’s blanketing his own corner of the city, specifically targeting the boundaries of “PLG” — Empire Boulevard to Parkside Avenue from Prospect Park to New York Avenue, he said — placing between 100 and 300 stickers or objects at a time, usually at night.
“I walk this neighborhood constantly,” he said.
Because of that effort, it’s now hard to find a lamppost, parking sign or rolldown gate in the area unmarked by the Shmotchsky face.
But good luck finding a Shmotchsky object that’s not glued down; a growing local fan base has taken to collecting his work off the street, including Prospect-Lefferts Gardens resident Stephen Green, who started picking up Schmotchsky pennies, dice, and wood blocks in recent months after first discovering the artist last summer.
“Little by little, as I paid more attention to these nooks and crannies, I just started finding them,” he said. “Especially on the bridge on Lincoln Road. … I’d always just find them laying there."
At first, Green wasn’t sure if he was supposed to take the objects and, through Instagram, asked the artist directly if his growing collection was kosher.
“He said ‘That’s the whole point! It’s yours!” he recounted.
He estimates he now has “60 some-odd Schmotchskys.”
“It’s just so much fun to take you out of your day and walk the neighborhood, go get a coffee,” he said of Shmotchsky hunting. “It makes you very present.”
And that’s the goal, according to the artist himself, who keeps the project going “to encourage the neighborhood to be creative and enjoy and appreciate the little things.”
“It’s really trying to bring the neighborhood together,” he said. “And when people really love a neighborhood for what it is, they’re less likely to knee-jerk want to change it.”