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Dana Nehdaran is an Iranian Jewish artist living in Hell’s Kitchen. In March 2021, he got COVID and 15 days later had a stroke. As a result, he lost a quarter of his vision. After three days in hospital, his neurologist asked him to not do anything strenuous for three months while he recovered. During this time Dana painted himself more than 300 times — now he’s honing his portrait skills on local people in his studio. Here’s his West Side Story.

Dana Nehdaran at his home studio on W42nd Street. Photo supplied

So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I was born in Isfahan, Iran and studied painting at the Soureh Art University in Shiraz before living in Tehran as an artist. I moved to New York in January 2015. New York has the best galleries and museums in America — and I wanted to be part of that scene.

How did you end up in Hell’s Kitchen?
I lived in Kew Gardens, Queens. I visited a friend in Hell’s Kitchen who lived at Sky on W42nd Street. I wandered around and I loved the neighborhood. Within a year I was living in that building.

What’s your favorite thing about Hell’s Kitchen?
It’s close to Hudson River, Broadway shows, Chelsea galleries, all the trains. It also has a lot of nice bars and restaurants — and a big swimming pool in Manhattan Plaza. You never get bored walking around.

And what’s your Hell’s Kitchen pet peeve?
Nothing really but I wish we had an art supplies store and a Trader Joe’s supermarket

Did you stay put when the pandemic hit or did you find an escape for some of the time? 
In early March last year, I got COVID and 15 days later had a stroke. As a result, I lost a quarter of my vision. After three days in the hospital, my neurologist asked me to not do anything strenuous for three months while I recovered. During that time, I filled a sketchbook with ink-on paper self-portraits after which I returned to painting on canvas. My sketchbook demonstrates both an evolution of technique and a greater degree of comfort sitting before a mirror.

Self-portraits were appropriate during my recovery since there was no need to worry about whether the model was tired, thirsty, hungry, or moving too much. Most importantly, I was able to take my physical limitations into account and during this time painted myself more than 300 times. More recently, I have asked some friends to sit for an hour and to talk about their memories and childhood experiences. In a sense, I’ve began to function as a therapist, with my couch serving as something akin to a psychoanalyst’s. For some of my subjects, sitting still for one hour away from cellphones resembled meditation. In addition, these sessions served a therapeutic function for me as well. During the portrait sessions, I began to more fully engage with people once more and became more skilled at representing the emotions of my sitters. I’ve now asked more friends, neighbors, people from the gym and folks I met at parties to pose. I’ve completed over 100 portraits of others now — and intend to keep going for at least 200.

A timelapse video of Artist Dana Nehdaran painting a portrait of W42ST Publisher Phil O’Brien over an hour at his studio in Hell’s Kitchen.

What did you do for work pre-COVID? What are you doing now?
I was and am an artist painter.

What’s the most interesting thing that you’ve learned during the pandemic?
Human company! How humans need each other.

Tell us one thing that’s given you hope during the pandemic?
My art supplies that I had at home.

What’s the most serendipitous (random/obscure/ insane) experience that’s happened to you in Hell’s Kitchen?
I traveled to Vienna and watched the Amadeus movie there. I came back to NY and some days after I saw Tom Hulce in the street, I asked him, “Are you Amadeus?” and he said “I was”. We chatted for some minutes. I found him very humble.

What’s your closest brush with world fame and celebrity?
A famous Iranian actress named Elnaz Shakerdoost took a selfie in front of one of my paintings — My Mona Lisa — at the DD Museum in Iran and posted on her Instagram.

What’s your superpower?
I guess I see everything beautiful, because they really are!

What song do you sing at the top of your voice in the shower?
Who is it by Michael Jackson.

Which people inspire you the most?
People who I meet, see in person.

What’s your favorite quote or saying?
“Actions speak louder than words.”

Do you love Times Square? Why, or why not?
I love it, because any time in 24 hours if I feel bored I go there and I see happy people with happy faces.

Do you love Hudson Yards? Why, or why not?
I do not love or hate but I love The Shed because of the contemporary art.

If you could bring one thing (person/place/event) back to HK that is no longer around, what would it be?
The Landmark cinema which was in the VIA building because it was an art cinema.

Dana working at his easel in Hell’s Kitchen. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Anything we missed?
I would love to paint the portraits of more Hell’s Kitchen locals as I work to complete my project. Please email me at nehdarandana@gmail.com and follow me at @dananehdaran_studio

Dana’s Hell’s Kitchen Happy Places

Manhattan Plaza Health Club: I can swim and make friends with people in the neighborhood easily.

International Grocery: I love this place because they have some groceries from my country.

International Groceries on 9th Avenue between W40/th41st Street. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Hudson River: I usually go there to see the sunset. Those colors and the contrasts make me happy.

Sunac Deli Supermarket: It has great breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet, easy to grab — and extra hot sauce.

B&H Cameras: They have the best of camera and other stuff.

Farida: I love this Uzbekistani restaurant. It’s similar to Persian food. The kebabs are great and they are nice people.

Restaurant Row: I love walking along the street on a summer evening and hearing the music and seeing the happy people.

Metropolitan Lumber & Hardware: I buy lots of stuff there and they are kind, helpful people just minutes away from my studio.

Metropolitan Hardware on 11th Avenue. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Hell’s Kitchen Gourmet Deli (on the corner of W43rd St and 10th Avenue). They do great juices on my way home from the gym. They will mix any ingredients that I ask for.

JMC Custom Framing. Whenever a client wants a painting framed, I head there. Candido makes great frames at good prices.

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