The large ones are the most joyful. The city emerges out of washes of color. Anyone who has lived in New York knows that light shapes our experience of the city. There are moments when the light touches the cityscape in such a way that the landscape seems to vibrate and shimmer. There are moments when rain–or snow, or fog–reshapes the world around us, paring it down, turning it to glass, or lead. At their best, these paintings convey this aspect of New York City, the tenderness of it, the sharp catch in your chest when a prosaic city turns to poetry.
The surfaces of these paintings are landscapes into themselves — thin washes, impasto, patches of glitter, bits of sparkle embedded in paint. They are fun to behold, and I imagine that they were fun to create.
I used to know someone whose apartment came with a view of the Chrysler building. In those days, I was still relatively new to the city. No one in my peer group lived in an apartment with a view. My own closet-sized studio had a view of the street, which was better than having a view of a wall, or no view at all. This apartment was in a glassy skyscraper in Midtown East. On the right night, the Chrysler building loomed large, like a lantern, not quite close enough to touch, but not so far that it belonged to another reality. At that height – 25, 30 floors above the ground – the city glowed with a vertiginous beauty. I used to make up excuses to go over to that apartment, just to see the Chrysler building light up in the night.
Eventually that friendship ran its course, and the friend moved away, but I still remember that feeling of sitting in a darkened apartment high above the street, watching the Chrysler float in the sky, a second moon.
That was some time ago. My life has changed, I have changed, and yet I still feel that same wonderment at the strange, sublime beauty that is New York. A strange, sublime beauty made stranger, and starker, now that I’ve known what it feels like to be poor here, and what it feels like to have a little cash, and now that I’ve seen the city itself pass through a multitude of circumstances–flush with cash, at the top of an economic boom, at the nadir of a modern-day plague.
Sometimes, when I think of the city, I think of that line from Play it as it Lays: I know what ‘nothing’ means, and keep on playing.
And I keep on playing.
Read a great New York Times profile of Tabboo! — it tells the story of Stephen Tashjian, aka Tabboo! — artist, drag performer, 40+-year resident of Alphabet City, sometime puppeteer, fashion lover, survivor.