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Metropolitan Romance: The Art of Craigslist's Missed Connections

by Alana Yu-lan Price(crossposted from Tikkun Daily) The rush and anonymity of city life draws us apart, even as it draws us together. Jammed in the bus and streaming through the street, millions of strangers cross paths without hearing each other's stories. Those who do exchange a word or a glance often lose each other to the closing of a train door or a shy failure to exchange phone numbers in line at the pharmacy, and many end up posting plaintive regrets in the "Missed Connections" section of Craigslist's online classifieds site. Sophie Blackall, an artist based in Brooklyn, brings to life strangers' sometimes poignant, sometimes funny searches for each other by illustrating a new post from the New York City listings every week.

To see more illustrations, visit the Tikkun Daily Art Gallery.

Blackall, who calls herself "a terrible eavesdropper," is perhaps best known as the illustrator of the Ivy and Bean series and of other children's books. "I'm just delighted to hear little bits of people's conversations and imagine the rest of the stories," she says. Her joy in others' quirks and yearnings is apparent in her loving illustration of what she describes as the "funny, sad, beautiful, hopeful, hopeless, poetic posts on Missed Connections" -- the modern equivalents of "messages in bottles, smoke signals, letters written in the sand."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009 - w4m - 23 (Hoboken, NJT station) I just wanted to say thank you for offering to help carry my little orangey/pink suitcase. It really meant a lot because I was having a really terrible day. -Half asian girl in the green shirt

Not all of the Missed Connections posts on Craigslist are as poignant as the ones Blackall chooses to illustrate. "There are hundreds of them that are just phony or all about sex or sort of vengeful about something that went wrong," she says. Other artists, such as the cartoonists who created I Saw You: Comics Inspired by Real-Life Missed Connections, have tended to pick edgier and sillier posts to illustrate. But there are also hundreds of posts that convey an earnest and moving desire for connection, and it is this quality that Blackall finds comforting and inspiring. She says:
So many people read these Missed Connections, on a daily basis even. People are as intrigued by them as I am. I think they read them for all sorts of different reasons. Some people vaguely hope they might see themselves -- that somebody saw them. But I think there's a more universal pleasure in realizing that people see each other in this really sort of intimate way ... We all think we're just streaming along in this train underground, and all being regurgitated out the other end, and streaming along in another crowd somewhere else. To think that while you're sitting there someone is noticing really tiny, minute details about someone across from them -- that they had a Band-Aid on their ankle or that they had bitten fingernails, or that one of their shoelaces had come undone -- there's something very tender in that. I think that's what it is: it's that tiny glimpse of tenderness in the great morass.
I love how Blackall's drawings breathe particularity and emotion into the impersonal, urban spaces that are so often sites of alienated encounter. Her illustrations express the powerful yearning for recognition and interaction that so many of us experience in our post-industrial cities and transient neighborhood communities.

-m4w (L train to Manhattan) You were reading Catch-22 on the subway this morning. I have never seen such a beautiful profile. I wanted to say hi, but then you

Paul Shortt, another artist who uses Missed Connections as his muse, similarly seeks to remind viewers of the fleeting interactions that flicker through seemingly impersonal commercial spaces every day. He goes to the actual site where the missed connection occurred and finds a way to reproduce the cry for connection in that space. The experience of looking at Very Small Array's map of where connections are most frequently missed (or at least reported as missed) nationwide is pretty bleak:

I don't know where romance used to happen. But these days people are glimpsing and losing each other in the coldest commercial spaces: Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Jamba Juice. No wonder we're struggling to track each other down on the Internet. A chain store is not exactly conducive to a slow, organic get-to-know-you process. Blackall's illustrations have a wry yet hopeful quality that goes well with the tone of Missed Connections posts, which often start out "this is a long shot, but ..." The artist says that since she started this illustration project, she has received dozens of emails from people who have actually rediscovered each other through various Missed Connections boards. As she draws, she keeps in mind that the searchers' quests, while difficult, are not totally futile. Once, she says, she even heard from the author of one of the posts she chose to illustrate: the man who posted in search of someone with whom he shared a bear suit at a party. She told me she was tickled to receive a photo of the scene that she had imaginatively illustrated weeks before. Sadly, the man with the bear suit has yet to find his missed connection ...

Saturday, October 17, 2009 - m4w We shared a bear suit at an apartment party on Saturday night. I asked for your number and you gave it to me, but somehow I don't have an area code written down. I had a great time talking with you, and I don't trust Chance enough to wait until I see you in the elevators...

Several galleries have contacted Blackall about displaying her work, but she is waiting until the release of her upcoming book before committing to any exhibitions. She says Workman Publishing is planning to publish the illustrations next year under the title, "You Probably Won't Read This: A Year of Missed Connections." You can visit the Tikkun Daily Art Gallery to see some of our favorite Missed Connections illustrations. And to keep up with the new work that Sophie Blackall posts each week, don't forget to visit her blog. Prints of the illustrations are available on Etsy.