Monday, June 22, 2015

If Edward Hopper were alive

Edward Hopper (1882-1967) is one of my favorite American painters. His works featured common urban and suburban landscapes: gas stations, motels, bars, office suites.  In contrast to the more upbeat and sentimental portrayal of American life in the 1940s-50s, Hopper’s work often expressed alienation, anxiety, and loneliness, prefiguring our contemporary sensibilities and interactions.

It should be said that his urban settings now belong in the past. Today, an average city restaurant, hotel, or office building represents a vastly different picture, a scene which is more crowded, hip, and hyperactive. Yet recently, during my evening walks through the streets of Chinatown, I have discovered spaces, which would likely be an inspiration for Edward Hopper if he were alive and working today.

These are waiting areas for Chinatown intercity buses. People who travel on these usually cannot afford going by plane or even by Amtrak, nor do they own a car. The waiting rooms are open late into the night. They are strangely modern and generic, and exceedingly brightly lit. The loneliness and boredom of the waiting passengers is nearly palpable. The only communication that exists in these impersonal spaces is between the people and their cellphones.

“The spare bands of color and sharp electric shadows create a concise and intense drama in the night”, these words of one of the Hopper’s scholars could well apply here. Fifty years after Edward Hopper’s death, his timeless paintings still resonate.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Free Grass

Final years of the Bloomberg administration saw the beginning of an ambitious and much advertised campaign called Million Trees NYC, aimed at greening of New York City’s urban environment. The considerable cost of this program was something not often mentioned in the press. Yet much of green infrastructure of the city happens naturally, all by itself, and at no cost at all. 

Beat-up Lower East Side streets have grass that spontaneously grows in cracks of the pavement, between a street curb and sidewalk, or around concrete and brick walls. These strips of grass remain unnoticed – and sometimes they even get eliminated. But what if we spread and cultivated these “cracks” until they transform the sidewalks of the city into a pattern of decorative and friendly green surfaces? Introduction of special metal channels will control the growth, preventing any further deterioration.  Once put in place, these grass strips, like all weeds, will go on forever.