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Missing the Man Who Painted: Dupont Circle


He’d been sitting at his spot at three in the morning, waiting for the drunk guys to come out and buy the drunk girls paintings. Next thing he knew, a woman was shaking him awake, telling him he was covered in blood. He’d been kicked in the head and dragged to just outside the Dupont metro stop. This was July of 2013.

Carlton J. calls himself “the homeless artist.” He used to sit in Dupont Circle, the area by Bank of America and CVS. Once, he panhandled there. Then, he started to sell paintings. Carlton got into painting in 2008, the day after Obama was elected. He was sitting in at the feet of a statue, sketching a picture of Obama onto the sidewalk using some charcoal he’d found. An elderly white woman approached him, he said, and asked him where he’d learned to draw. He said he just that liked to. She came back the next day and gave him a big bucket of black paint and a big bucket of white paint.

But she forgot to bring him any brushes. So he went to an alley and ripped up an old foam mattress he found. And he painted with that. By the summer of 2013 he had colors and brushes. But he still says that when he paints black and white with sponges, that’s what the people buy. It’s where he started. There are hundreds of shades of gray that make up a painting. The world he creates starts with white water and ends with black sky, but you can’t be entirely sure how you got there.


But in July of 2013, something happened to him. Someone, no one knows who, beat him up as he sat waiting for customers, and kicked him in the head repeatedly. They dragged him to the metro station. Then they left him there, to be taken to the hospital by someone else. He did get to the hospital, where he had a row of staples put in, starting at the top of his head and ending at his ear.

A few weeks passed after the incident. Carlton kept painting, but there was something wrong. His paintings, once so delicate and detailed, now looked sloppy and unfinished. The colors blobbed together instead of blurring. The tiny men and the leaves on the trees looked like a child painted them. No one was buying.

Carlton is gone now, people who used to see him around don’t know where he went. But when you walk through Dupont Circle, you should know that a homeless artist lived here once. And his work was beautiful.


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