Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Three weeks in New York: 1. Bedford-Stuveysant from above


View from my room in Bedford-Stuyvesant (detail)

The following six posts concern my recent, three-week trip to New York and what I found there.


I'd worried before leaving that I was about to be trapped in a Disneyfied simulacrum of New York, the city perhaps having been cleaned to sterile excess by over-zealous mayors and their planning officers. I was happy disembarassed of this delusion: Bedford-Stuyvesant at south-east Williamsburg borders, where I first stayed, is every bit as sketchy as I could have hoped- while remaining safe.

 Yes! There are abandoned cars, empty lots, graffiti, giant signs offering bridging loans, miserable diners and broken railings and so forth. Reassured, I launched into work, dragging my easel here and there.

This first set of pictures depicts the area of Bedford-Stuyvesant from the roof of my pad in Ellery Street. These are the only views I managed from above. There is something about the claustrophobia of New York that invites, perhaps necessitates, that the visitor ascend, and it is a pity that I didn't do so more.

Almost all the pictures I did were on the smaller side. I tried working larger but it did not often work out. It felt that the city, in its structured intensity, needed a tighter scale, to suggest that sense of containment. 

View west from above Ellery Street, oil on card, 16 x 18 cm

This is a view down from the roof (above), and you can see how there were grand apartment blocks, then there are little gaps where they constructed some post war clapperboard stuff, quite sadly and petit-bourgeois in comparison, as if implanted from a distant and rather unloved suburb. 

There are gaps all over this part of Brooklyn: empty lots, despite the fact that it is only 15 minutes from the centre. I wonder why no speculator wants to build there? It seemed as good a place to live as any.

Looking Down and north from Ellery Street, Brooklyn, oil on card, 17 x 14 cm

I am attempting to maintain freshness in these pictures and economy of effort. I didn't spend much time on corrections, If a thing did not "take" within twenty minutes, I wiped off the paint and restarted.

This was the view from my room (below). The picture owes something to Matisse. 

One thing I love about New York, and which it shares with Morocco, is that when you are there you have this impression of the squareness of things..or of things that are not quite square meeting nonetheless to form a huge rubric. It is fun to trace this in great blobby brushtrokes so that the parts of the scene before you somehow fits together, and you don't have to amputate a wing of a building  or kid yourself that you were standing in a different position from that you were really in to complete the picture.

View from my room, Bedford-Stuyvesant, oil on card, 14.8 x 14.8 cm


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