Woman Searches for Subway Sweetheart in New York City

Her object of affection looks suspiciously similar to Willy Wonka.

ByABC News
February 14, 2014, 12:17 AM
An artist posted signs in New York City subway stations hoping to find an unknown admirer.
An artist posted signs in New York City subway stations hoping to find an unknown admirer.
Ben Gittleson

Feb. 14, 2014 — -- Subway riders in New York City have been spending the last week looking for man who closely resembles Willy Wonka, after a Chilean artist put up mock subway signs asking passengers to help her find her "missing love."

Just in time for Valentine's Day, the posters ask people to keep an eye out for a man approximately 6 feet 1 inches tall, with yellow pants and a denim jacket. The posters are designed to look like typical informational subway signs. A notice at the bottom encourages riders to upload photos of "possible suspects" to Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #missinglove.

When the artist crossed paths with the man -- who bears a striking resemblance to Willy Wonka from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" -- he was with a friend, was holding a newspaper and sneezed, according to the poster.

"Pay attention NY!" the poster reads, in English, Chinese and Hebrew. "This is about my heart."

The woman behind the signs, Chilean artist Maria Luisa Portuondo-Vila, told ABC News she felt a connection with the man the moment she laid eyes on him. She tried to give him a drawing and her email address before she got off the train, but lost him in the crowd at a Manhattan subway station.

"I thought, OK, I'm going to look for him, and I'm going to find him," Portuondo-Vila, 30, said.

She spent two months making the poster, even speaking with police in Chile for tips on how to draw a portrait to mimic a police sketch, like on a "wanted" sign. She sees the search as an art project, much like other work she's done.

After she posted the signs in New York City subway stations last week, social media rallied around her.

"I never thought that the people's reaction would be this. It's amazing," Portuondo-Vila said.

The overwhelming response shows that her missed-connection experience speaks to the wider public.

"I wrote on the poster, 'Pay attention New York, it's about my heart,'" she said. "But it's about New York."

While helpful travelers have uploaded photos of men, none have been Mr. Right –- at least not yet, she said.

"If I saw him again, I'd want give him the drawing and say, 'Thank you,'" she added. "My project makes sense for a lot of people."

Some Twitter users have joked that the mysterious, hat-wearing man resembles Willy Wonka –- and particularly Johnny Depp's iteration of the character in the 2005 version of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

"The first time [I heard that], I said no, it's not like Willy Wonka, but now I laugh," Portuondo-Vila said. "The man, I think, he was a little hipster."

Portuondo-Vila, who is from the Chilean capital Santiago, is in New York for five months on an internship at Textile Arts Center in Manhattan. She said she collaborated with graphic designer Andy Dockett on the "missing love" project.

A visual artist and performer who works on "action art" projects, Portuondo-Vila has another art installation coming up on Sunday, starting at 10 a.m. near 79th Street in New York's Central Park. The urban art project, called "The Move," will examine snow, garbage and immigration.