How many Mexicans can a foreigner meet in two weeks? That was an arbitrary question that Jason Schell asked himself before embarking on his current art project. Schell — who hails from Pennsylvania, but has lived in the D.F. since 2008 — got a taxi driver’s license and tooled around the city for 14 days. Needless to say, each one of his passengers asked what a gringo was doing driving a taxi in Mexico City.
This was his chance to explain that he is a painter and wanted to do a series of portraits of 100 chilangos. About half of the people he drove let him take their photo, and signed a release allowing him to later do their portrait. He is currently about halfway through the series of paintings.
His best passengers were old men, who liked to tell their stories and always left tips. Older women tended to be mistrustful and wouldn’t allow him to take their picture. A prostitute, on her way to an assignation, suggested that her face was not her best feature and that perhaps he’d like to a more complete photograph. A drunken passenger wouldn’t tell Schell exactly where he was going, and kept asking him questions along the lines of, “Does your family know where you are?” and “Will your friends miss you when you’re gone?” The artist was sure that he had a serial killer in the back seat, and luckily was able to ditch him when the man had to go pee.
When he is not driving a cab, Schell teaches graphic design at the American School. He has exhibited in both the U.S. and Mexico, and in fact, you can see some of his work in two metro stations. He hopes that when he finishes the portrait series that they will be exhibited in different parts of the country and eventually find a permanent home in Mexico City.