After years of painting from appropriated imagery, I have been more and more inspired to paint from my own pictures, wanting complete autonomy and authorship of the image, and also realizing that by painting from photos that I myself took, I have a direct connection with the image and subject matter, and somehow even more feelings and thoughts hopefully become transmuted into the painting. I was inspired by T.J. Clark’s book “The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and his Followers”: a post-Marxist critic, Clark discusses in this how the impressionists didn’t want to paint the tourist-y parts of Paris, but the sections where the gentrification of this city was affecting the people who lived there, and the transfiguration of the city itself. I wanted to paint sections of New York City that were vital to me, but perhaps forgotten or overlooked by the tourists and even current residents, and love the New Yorker Hotel, which we see all the time when we go to the movies across the street. Just down from the Empire State Building, the New Yorker hotel was built around the same time, and is an amazing art-deco masterpiece that has endured throughout the ages. One of the largest hotels in the world when it was first built in 1928, it was like a micro-city, with the “largest power plant in the United States” at the time, with the largest barber shop in the world, five restaurants (and 10 dining salons), 92 “telephone girls” and ballrooms that hosted many of the popular Big Bands, such as Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey. Spencer Tracy, Joan Crawford and Fidel Castor stayed there (as did my Uncle when he first came to New York!), and Nikola Tesla spent his last decade there. In 1971 Muhammad Ali even recouped there after his historic fight with Joe Frazier at the Garden. It closed for a while, and then was taken over by the Moonies—the Unification Church of the United States! Gradually they relinquished their claim on the property, and it became a hotel for the public again, joining the Ramada chain in 2000 and is now part of Wyndam Hotels.
For me, the building is almost like a “King Kong” of buildings of the city, reminding me of New York’s former glory, coexisting with it’s 21 century comrades of contemporary architecture, and holding its own—barely (sometimes the lights in the iconic sign are out—I always remember the Saturday Night Live guests would stay there and they would plug the hotel with a slide of the sign in the 70’s), and I often hear rumors of its closing. But like how hopefully New York still stands strong as the power center of our country, which still holds its own as the great nation of the world. I feel its symbolic of our resilience as a city and as a country to stand for the values we hold dear and to keep fighting for our strength and nation.
I have always loved early 20c paintings by American modernists of buildings and architecture, especially those of Sheeler and Demuth (and Bellows!) that seemed to be remarking on America’s growth and industry, in addition to nostalgia for bygone years soon passing in the industrial age, and the elements of abstraction that happen in the tight-lipped repressed way they painted.
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Charles Sheeler, River Rouge Plant, 1942, collection of the Whitney Museum.
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Charles Demuth, My Egypt, 1927, collection of the Whitney Museum.