(The Ugly Beautiful)
This series of work is an ongoing exploration of a number of places that I have visited while working in New York City, Philadelphia and throughout the Northeast. While working in the scenic department in New York City, as well as working as a conservator in Pennsylvania and surrounding states, I was able to explore areas that were off limits to the general public. The Brooklyn Navy Yard and Admire Row in the compound of Fort Totten, the Domino Sugar Factory, as well as the Lowes Theater in Brooklyn were just a few places that I have had the pleasure of documenting with my sketchbook and camera. I have also explored a number of buildings in South Philly as well as the neighborhood of Fishtown. I have taken images during my travels to cities and states like Pittsburgh, Virginia, Chicago, and Ohio. These buildings that were once vibrant with activity are now abandoned or on a smaller scale of capacity.
I am fascinated with how these spaces have weathered over time and the beauty that they withhold. These abandoned spaces are now a mere reflection of their past. What draws me to them initially are the facades of the buildings. Some of these structures have a haunting presence that is hard to ignore. I find myself mesmerized by the monumental scale as well as intrigue of what’s inside. The boarded up windows and doors only heightens that intrigue. I feel that I am not alone in this endeavor. I find that I strike up conversations very quickly when people see my work and they are familiar with the structure that I am painting; either they have passed it on their way to work everyday or it’s a staple of their community. They feel that it’s a monument of the past and an iconic symbol of its community. I find out from many people, whether they’ve lived in the neighborhood their entire life or for just a few years, that they want to preserve these buildings as a reminder of their identity of the past and for future generations to have a link to what once was. I can’t stress how important these structures are for me personally. I would love to see some type of history remain in these areas so that there’s a visual and historic understanding of what made the areas so unique to begin with as well as preserving the genetic makeup of the ethnic culture and original purpose of the structures that once was a vital fabric to the overall function of the cities and way of life there.
Viewers are always wanting to know about these structures and if I have ever ventured inside. For example, the paintings “Yard,” “Interior,” and “Cold Storage” are all examples of interiors that pose the question of what else is in the building. They have a strong impact on the viewer by the composition and how the light is penetrating throughout the space and the use of contrast from very dark and ominous corners to pockets of light revealing the beauty of decay. This is also relative in the narrative images that I have created. There’s a drama that is present by how the figures occupy the space. This is not always intentional. The figure naturally takes the attention of the viewer and creates an overall drama and mood.
At a time when clean and new are very welcomed by most, my eyes once again are drawn to the ugly beautiful; the spaces that have character and a reflection of the past. Time is often dismissed in these spaces. It’s a quietness that transcends to the viewer. A moment of stillness that is powered by the light, the structural elements of the spaces, and the additional props and color palette also contribute. I find that these images have an energy that needs time to adjust. Similar to when you enter a space on a bright sunny day and your eyes are in shock because of the extreme contrast from light to dark. I find that these paintings need the full attention viewer so that the time and space around it can truly breathe so the raw patinas and textures that give the painting balance can begin to be appreciated.