Friday, 6 September 2013

Oil Painting 15 - The High Line

The avenues of New York are so straight, they’re almost like artificial terrain for a computer game. I’m not used to seeing such obvious points of perspective with no curves, nothing is this straight in Britain.

This phenomenon of distance struck me walking around New York in the first few days, but the obvious problem was to see it and represent it as it most dramatic, you’d have to be set up with an easel in the middle of the road.

This particular location on the High Line park provided an alternative to certain death on a junction, with the added drama of being raised up above the middle of the infinitely straight 10th Avenue.

This park created from an old, originally constructed to transport traffic from the Meatpacking District of New York into the city after trains on the street killed so many people that it gained the nickname Death Avenue. This area became a sleazy hangout point before a further reinvention as a chic village, full of boutiques and bars. The High Line, opened in 2009 after a long campaign, has become one of the city’s most popular attractions.

The planting is more natural than I expected, lots of tall grasses and wild flowers. I guess it helps with maintenance and reflects nature claiming the unused railway initially. The people in the bottom-right corner of this painting are lower than my viewpoint, looking through glass like a TV set at the long Avenue in front of them.

There are well-kept lawns up there, wooden loungers that are always full of people sunbathing or working on Macs, sculptures which reflect the art gallery district underneath the HIgh Line and some wet barefoot walks that kids are always splashing around in.

It’s nice to have the nature in the extreme foreground, contrasting with the geometry of the straight streets and angled architecture.

The biggest turning point in the process of painting was the decision to add the text on the bright yellow advertising board. It is rare that I add legible text into paintings but I thought that such stark advertising was a reflection on Manhattan’s culture and grounds the painting in reality. Any space as prominent as this will be used for advertising and it is the first thing your eye goes to in the scene: it dominates the view. The text of the advert is simply what it says, not an artistic comment.

The brown brick building on the right hand side gives a comparison between old and new New York. A lady stopped to tell me that this building was the ‘real’ New York, and the other buildings could have been anywhere. Modern buildings, designed by computer, have no human fingerprints within them and global architect’s practices no longer build unique streets to compare with the New York brownstones and art deco skyscrapers. I thought about other people I know who battle to retain the distinctive identities of their area against erosion and loss. The range of attitudes of New Yorkers about the High Line sum up an inherent conflict underneath the surface of any reinvention.