The inspiration for this series began when I found out that my favorite gallery, the Century, planned to mount a show of paintings themed “The City.” I love exhibiting there, but had nothing remotely in the category, so of course decided to do an appropriate painting immediately. As I walked home, I mulled over what I might want to contribute. Surely there would be lots of skyscrapers, suns setting over the Hudson, etc. What was the city? Really, really the city? As I walked along, I found myself under a large scaffolding with lots of signs everywhere as storekeepers strove to make their presence known in spite of the obstacle. AHA! This is the real city, I thought. I whipped out the iPhone and took a shot of what was there in front of me, then discovered that painting from that little spontaneous shot was actually fun. That scaffold obscured a view of the Chrysler Building, as it happened, thus the painting’s title. Everything worked out nicely. Here’s “Elusive Skyline”:
Well that worked out, I thought as I sat in a diner awaiting my turkey burger shortly thereafter. But what will I paint next? Hmmmmm. Aha again! Maybe it was right in front of me. If this was to truly be spontaneous, I decided that I wasn’t allowed to arrange anything. No moving that container of artificial sweeteners, although that might have been nicer. Nope, it had to be as I found it. Here’s “Diner”:
At that time I was taking a course at the Manhattan Graphics Center, located near Times Square. This business of painting from quick, impulsive iPhone shots was growing on me. One night as I approached my class in the rain, this interesting view arose before me. Hmmmm, I’d been wondering what to paint next! Here’s “Almost Times Square”:
Almost Times Square
This was becoming a series, I now realized as I walked home from the Met on the first warm day of the year. What should I paint next, I wondered. Well, that was easy. Here’s “First Warm Day”:
First Warm Day
Sitting on the subway was so boring. Thank goodness for solitaire on the iPhone. Oh, but wait a minute, what will I paint next? Here’s “Getting There”:
Walking through Times Square, I was thinking “what an incredible turmoil we all live with!” Why not paint it? Here’s “Times Square Jumble”:
Times Square Jumble
I did the subway, but how about the bus? So glad these two ladies were standing right in front of me. I call this “The Law”:
I often walk along the East River. At one point near 14th Street, the pathway narrows. As I stood there poised to take a shot, this intriguing display appeared before me. Loved those accidental shadows, so here’s “East River Spin.”
East River Spin
In this case, as in other pieces in this series, the subject matter was arrived at “on the fly.” But here, it was right in front of me all the time. I live in a one-bedroom apartment. I finally realized that I was spending my life in the bedroom, which features the bed, TV, computer, and desk, while only utilizing the “other” room about three times a year when entertaining. I then realized that I was going to the Art Students League and other groups, not so much for the instruction, as simply for a place to paint. Easily enough, I got rid of rugs, blinds and furniture in order to have a proper work space. In fact, I live on a high floor with north light, and with windows that are nearly floor-to-ceiling. I couldn’t be more privileged. So, here is “The Studio,” (formerly “the living room”).
Those of us who live in NYC are familiar with all sorts of Elmos, Mickeys, Supermen etc. on our streets. We also see Statues of Liberty, ballerinas and other human beings who are able to hold difficult poses for great lengths of time. So, it was no surprise to walk down the High Line last summer, and see a man in his underwear standing stock still in a particularly awkward position. The next time I walked by, there he was again, or still, not having moved an eyelash. Hmmm. In a stroke of genius, I contemplated the notion that this might actually be a piece of sculpture! In truth, I was afraid to touch his totally convincing flesh to find out, just in case this guy really was alive. AHA! I noted a little sign not far away informing us all that this was indeed a statue by a Brooklyn sculptor named Tony Matelli. On my next encounter, several people were having fun with this amazing piece of work, and as has been the case with other paintings in this series, I whipped out the iPhone, took a shot, and painted this from it. I call this “Playing with the Sleepwalker.”
Playing with the Sleepwalker
Just ambling along, a very typical street scene, in this case just above 14th Street on First Avenue.
And what about the country living room, featuring “Fred’s Folly,” his 9 x 12 foot plywood valance that dominates the room?
On the way to my East River walk, I happened upon this moment. I call the painting “23rd Street Phone Call.” I guess what drew me to the scene was that dappled light.
23rd Street Phone Call
Times Square is a never-ending inspiration. Everywhere you look, in any direction, at any time, a painting appears before you. My previous version was sold, so of course I needed another one, thus “Times Square Overload.”
Times Square Overload
Once again, it was right there under my nose the whole time. I’m blessed to have incredible north light in my studio, on a high floor, overlooking a wonderful garden with buildings in the distance.
What began as an amusing exercise seems to have developed into a more thought-provoking challenge. What is the significance of subject matter vis-a-vis process in the creation of art?
Certainly in a historical context, our assumptions have changed greatly over time. Only subjects of enormous “importance” were once thought to be worthy of depiction, such as mythological scenes, religious panoramas, and critical battles. Portraits were mostly of royalty and members of the moneyed aristocracy. But then, we were introduced to Hals with his laughing burghers, Courbet with his dead fish, Millet’s gleaners, and Van Gogh’s potato eaters. The twentieth century brought us all the way to Pollack’s accidental drips.
And then, of course, there’s photography. Anyone with a camera can capture the image of anything or anyone they encounter. Now, visual democracy seems to have expanded even further. Everyone with an iPhone has the capability of recording every second of their lives, if they so choose, since we have these devices with us perpetually.
I’ve come to think that everything we see in our lives is worthy of being “subject matter.” As an art student at Cooper Union many years ago, in our naive intensity, we used to stay up half the night in coffee shops discussing questions like “What Is Beauty”?
I now ask myself: “What Isn’t Beauty”?
The Spontaneity Series continues. As I do more, I’ll add them to this journal entry. The possibilities are endless, it seems.