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August 28, 2013

Artist brings a smile to faces with his free artwork

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

After ticking off Maryland and Virginia, Bataclan embarked on a marathon drive along a route that is coincidentally shaped like a crooked smile (trace West Virginia, Kentucky, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming). He then backtracked to his 48th state (Iowa). After a short respite in California, he reached New Mexico last weekend and on Tuesday he crossed off the last square on the map, Oklahoma.

SmileyB originated in a city that often knits its brows and grimaces. Bataclan, who was born in the sunny Philippines and grew up in neighborly San Francisco, attended graduate school in Ohio, where he sampled the Midwest's special blend of conviviality and chumminess. When he moved to Boston, he noticed a chill in the air that was unrelated to the winter temperature. In 2003, unemployed and antsy, he started depositing his anime-inflected artwork around the city — on park benches, outside banks, inside post offices and at the airport. He hoped his works would thaw the faces of Bostonians.

On a dreary February day in 2004, his art helped a woman in pink sunglasses who, in turn, assisted him in discovering his true calling. The mystery individual was from Greece and had just completed her first chemotherapy treatment in Boston when she stumbled upon his artwork. She later contacted him (he puts his website on each note), thanking him for the jolt of hope on an otherwise bleak occasion. (Bataclan has received numerous emails from people sharing their tragic situations and explaining how his artwork has changed their attitude toward life.)

"This is my ministry," said Bataclan, who supports himself as a professional artist and funded his tour through Kickstarter. "Even without money, I will give away one or five paintings a month. She started me doing this indefinitely."

Bataclan's strategy is to drop and run. No waiting around, watching and wondering whether the art will find a caring custodian or will end up wet, cold and alone. He scouts for areas with heavy foot traffic and benches — all the better to exhibit the art. If he can't locate an elevated platform, he will rest the piece on a step or the ground.

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