Over the past 10 years, he’s picked up over 400 “lucky pennies” — coins found face up on the street that, as the folklore and your mom tells you, give you good luck.
At the time he started collecting them, Worthington wasn’t so lucky — he was unemployed. Walking the streets, he was amazed at the amount of coins littered all over the place — in a city of wealth, money dropped wasn’t important enough to pick up, even the lucky ones.
His artistic impulses kicked in, and Worthington, a self-described “urban folk artist,” started picking up the pennies, ultimately crafting four-inch-by-four-inch paintings — small enough that you can hold in the palm of your hand, like a coin — with the penny at the center.
“The penny’s kind of magical,” said Worthington. “It radiates energy from the center of the painting.”
The subject matter for each piece is easy — the location where he found the penny, and date, serve as sources of inspiration.
“I’ve certainly never lacked for imagery,” said Worthington, whose influences range from pop artists like Warhol to KAWS.
One painting he recently finished is an homage to hot dogs and French fries thanks to a penny he found by Nathan’s in Coney Island. In the piece, Worthington ably employs the bright, solid yellows, reds and greens of the slogan, but makes it his own by juxtaposing that with white and black images of the food for a comic book feel.
A more abstract piece was made from a penny found at the corner of Myrtle and Prince streets in Downtown, a red spiral circle dripping like blood that speaks to that corner’s violent past.
By marking each piece with the date he found the penny and the city, the paintings have become Worthington’s own travelogues — many of the pennies were found in Brooklyn, naturally, but also France (the Euro cent), Iceland (the króna), and Barbados.
Worthington has nearly 90 “Lucky Penny Paintings” completed — some are in private collections, some are on the walls of his DUMBO apartment, and 25 currently are on display at Smith Hanten real estate in Cobble Hill.
“People say the pieces are a nice breath of fresh air in the neighborhood,” said Peter McGuire, a broker at Smith Hanten, which devotes his window space to art by local artists.
With hundreds of pennies waiting to be made into paintings, and new ones found almost every day, Worthington will never lack for work, or inspiration.
“As long as I find them, and they don’t stop making them, all the pennies will be painted,” said Worthington. “I’m always looking.”
And would he consider himself blessed by the penny’s folklore fortune?
“I would like to think so,” said Worthington. “I have a ‘life is meant to be enjoyed’ point of view. I like to think that over all, luck’s been on my side.”
Michael Worthington’s “Lucky Penny Paintings” at Smith Hanten [165 Smith St. at Wyckoff Street in Cobble Hill, (718) 834-0300], now through Sept. 30. For info, visit www.pennypainting.com.