Every once in awhile, it's the newspaper underlayer that inspires the painting, and that is exactly what happened with City of Dreams. Ironically, it was exactly two years ago to the day that the process began with a trip to NYC for an outdoor art show in the Upper East Side.
The water towers of the city have been a source of inspiration and power for me since my first trip to the city in early 2000s. The funny thing about growing up in Western NY, is that everyone thinks you are from NYC when you tell them what state you live in, but it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Six hours away from Rochester, NYC was a far away land full of mystery and danger…really, I thought that it was an absolute certainty that I would get mugged or worse if I went there…and at the very least, I would be in a constant state of lost.
In the early 2000s, working at my corporate job, we often had our team meetings off site in the City. This, no doubt, was because my boss, Beth, was a big-time foodie and found us the best places to eat during out stays. I have her to thank for exposing me to things like beef tartare, escargot, ceviche, and grilled octopus.
New York embraced me whole-heartedly during my stay...except for that time that a local told me to "pack your tourist ass up and go back to wherever you came from” during my very first morning in the city. I am truly grateful for this interaction because 1. He taught me that looking up and gawking at the sheer enormity of the skyscrapers around you with your mouth hanging open was a sure way to make you a target to anyone interested, and 2. New Yorkers don’t care what you think about them, they speak up easily and often and share what they are feeling and thinking without abandon….something we should all strive to do more often.
"Pack your tourist-ass up and go back to wherever you came from.”
It was on this trip that I saw the water towers for the first time. Initially, I thought that they were remnants of equipment that was no longer used and found them nostalgic. I didn’t know what they were, but I loved the shape of them…they felt like old souls keeping watch, perched on the tops of buildings creating the very recognizable skyline of NYC. Eventually I began sketching them and then painting them.
During a show in New York that I was displaying View from Chelsea, a man approached me and shared that he works on water-towers, installing them and maintaining them. I was so surprised to learn that they are still the standard for getting water to high-rises with floors over 5 stories. The technology hasn’t changed since the late 1800s. In a city that changes constantly, it was oddly comforting to think of the water towers as constants.
A few months back, a friend dropped off a 1919 New York Evening Telegram newspaper to use in my art. It’s one of the oldest papers I’ve received and I wanted to honor the paper with a piece that was timeless. I pulled the photos from my trip to NYC in 2017 and started focusing on the water towers, noticing that the birth of the Evening Telegram and the birth of the Water Towers design in New York was right around the same time.
The initial image was a very warm and cozy sunset full of yellows and browns. I changed that up for City of Dreams, choosing more pastels and pinks to instill a sense of nostalgia. I wanted to create contrast for the viewer by using a more current image with glass buildings offset by the old timey water towers and stories from 1919. My hope is that you feel like you are stepping into the piece and feel that although you don’t know exactly where you are or when you are, you feel welcomed and full of hope and possibility.
City of Dreams: Start to Finish