In every major city, it can become all too easy to get lost in the shuffle, unless of course you go the extra mile to get to know your neighbors. For our new week-long series, “Know Your Neighbors,” we’d like to introduce several people in each major borough of Boston that are working to help create strong communities. Some of these strangers are up to radical work in the non-profit, arts, and music world as well as just being wonderful human beings. By looking around, asking questions, and working to get to know the people we pass by each day, Boston will hopefully begin to feel stronger and more connected. We continue this series with the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston. Our next subject: Eric Kluin, Newbury Street’s longtime resident street artist.

Q: Eric, you’ve been painting on Newbury Street for over twenty years. How did you decide upon this spot to begin working on your paintings?

A: This place next door used to be a Japanese restaurant. There were four glass plate windows. They were looking for something to be created on the walls. Pat Lyons liked my drawings  and commissioned me to create murals inside. I created a piece called ‘wash, rinse, spin and dry’. It’s just naked people swirling around. For Boston it was risqué artwork. And that was exactly what I was looking to do.

Q: How does working out on Newbury street compare to your previous work spaces?

A: Pat Lyons was the owner and any notoriety I have is completely due to him. I used to live above a nightclub here in Boston. You’d go up a bunch of rickety old stairs into my little spot with cigarette butts and paintings everywhere. I brought people up to my studio and I’d tell them that the paintings were half sold and the women were half fucked. But things changed for me. That was a hot time when I had that space. That space sent a message to any artist that, though it may not sound aesthetic, having a really cool place impresses the shit out of most people. It made a huge difference.

Q: If you weren’t here painting this afternoon, what would you be doing?

A: I’d be sitting in the sunshine somewhere relaxing. The only thing I have against working in the bright sun is that my left side gets a better tan than my right. I paint any day that I can. I have quite a unique relationship with this place. Pat Lyons and the owners of Sonsie on Newbury set me up here. Now to do anything these days in public you’d need a permit. But I’m sort of a grandfather in the street scene.

Q: It sounds like you’ve really created a niche for yourself in Back Bay and a comfortable spot to make work in.

A: Actually, if I ever made a lot of money, the first thing I would do is hire somebody else to be me. I would pick somebody who looked like an artist. He’d have to look pretty cool, be tall, have dark hair and be thin. He’d need to talk about the validity of the emotional content of his work. You know, all that bullshit.

Q: Would you want to watch this from afar?

A: No, I’d just assume avoid it. I’d like to think of myself as sardonic but cynicism often overruns things.

Q: If you had to choose.. would you rather be rich or famous?

A: If I was famous the riches would just come along. You could be rich and nobody would know who you are. That wouldn’t be any real fun. The level of notoriety that I have here is perfect.

Q: What types of feedback do you get from the onlookers on Newbury Street?

A: It’s mostly positive, but yesterday it was a street full of assholes. I’m pretty sure there was a Red Sox game going on. Anybody that actually lives around here is out of town. The visitors see me and want to know who the guy without the shirt on is. As a whole, I’d be an absolute liar if I said I didn’t appreciate the people that walk by and check out my art. That’s one reason I don’t get along with most other artists, is that they think I’m out here strictly for the attention. I’ll be honest, it’s definitely a part of it. But what pisses me off about that, is that they won’t admit they’d like the same thing! Anyone in the art world has an ego. You have to have an ego if you want people to read, see, or hear what you’re making.

Q: How do you feel about your own work at the moment?

A: At the moment, I really suck. The work that should take me 20 minutes winds up taking me forever. It’s just a head- clog, but it will pass.

Q: Do you have one piece you’re most proud off?

A: I made a killer Prometheus a while back. I was trying to draw him for 20 years and finally one of them worked. It was a huge drunken painting on the wall of my loft,  but it was a bit too serious. I’d love to illustrate the hobbit & the metamorphosis, but twist them a little bit. I don’t want to make them all ancient greek, but instead, give them a fun twist. At one point I made a vulture on my wall and every day he was there staring me in the eye asking, “are you going to make it another day?”

Q: If you could make the rules and bend them however you please here in Back Bay, what would you change?

A: I’d love to give Tulaney a one way ticket to the moon. He’s personally changed Newbury st. more than anything. He’s the guy that bought up most of the Newbury St. property himself. Tulaney doubled, tripled, and quadrupled the rent. Most lofts here have his name all over them and remain unoccupied. I have no idea who he is but I’ve talked to a few too many people who have lost their dream businesses because they couldn’t afford to pay their rent.

Q: Do you imagine spending many more years in this very spot or would you prefer to be elsewhere?

A: I really should move on but I like it here. I left Phoenix Arizona and I was finally able to stay sober. Things had been really bad. I was about to die, but with the help of some remarkable people, I got sober. Unfortunately, a few years back I just kind of lost it and lost my ambition. I’ll be back to this very spot if nothing better comes along. I don’t really anticipate something tremendous happening to me. I’m just out here sort of fulfilling my obligations. I could win the lottery and still want to be right here doing the same thing.

Read more from BDCwire’s “Know Your Neighbors: Back Bay” series:

Pt. I – Jazz pianist and composer Mitch Hampton