WASHINGTON — Bren Bataclan watched from behind a tree as a young couple approached the fountain and studied a small square object leaning against the base of the monument. From his hiding spot, he could see the woman reach down with empty hands, then stand back up clasping a canvas. The duo held a brief conference, their words too faint for Bataclan to hear. Finally, they reached an agreement that pleased him: The woman walked off with the artwork, grinning broadly.
The painting was Bataclan's eighth giveaway of the day and the 114th since he set out this summer on a cross-country expedition supporting his SmileyB project. More important, with this canvas, he released two more smiles into the world.
"I like to help others, and in my own small way, I'm doing that," the 44-year-old Boston-based artist said last month. "When I'm leaving paintings around, for 90 percent of the people, it's an enhancement to their day. For the other 10 percent, it's an intense, more direct easing of pain."
Bataclan arrived in Washington July 20, stop No. 39 on his 50-state tour that marked the 10-year anniversary of his creative endeavor. His mission: Deposit art around the country with the return promise that the recipient will crack a smile more often. In the off-chance that the image of a whimsical worm or a cuddlesome panda doesn't turn that frown upside down, he attaches a note to each 8-by-10-inch canvas that reads, "This painting is yours if you agree to smile at random people more often."
"I asked her, 'Will you legitimately smile more often at people,' " David Fiedler, the fountain finder from Austin, Texas, said he asked his companion, Alyssa Kahn. "And she said yes."