Monday, 26 August 2013

Oil painting 14 - Manhattan from Governors Island

The island is a free ferry ride from lower Manhattan. It is only open to the public at weekends, which turns it into a popular recreational getaway for New Yorkers. Formerly owned by the military, it contains a disused fort, barrack buildings and homes for army families.

It was damaged by Hurricane Sandy and has a dilapidated, informal atmosphere where it feels as though the crowds have taken over and can do whatever they like. During the days we were there it had a jazz lawn party, which meant the ferry was filled with spectacularly dressed visitors, and a VW rally.

It is only when you move away from Manhattan that you realise how high the new Freedom Tower is, and although I thought I was familiar with the New York skyline, this view was completely new. Painting a wide tidal water rather than the canal or a lake was also new, I hadn’t done much study of large expanses like this. A lot of the same rules applied as with the Year of the Boat but there are far fewer reflections and I was trying to summarise the repetition of the waves with strokes. We had two beautiful days of constant sunshine which meant the days were full of vibrant colours and I captured the contrasts of sun-hit land and water. As with the balusterade in Bryant Park, I consciously didn’t adjust the straight line perspective into a curve as we track round the wide angle view, keeping it as a straight edge to give a sense of the rigidity of the land against the organic water. Curving the line would have softened that effect.

Two small boats appear in the painting although a lot of crafts of different sizes came, including the Staten Island ferry and a large clipper. I deliberately avoided the rest of the boats so I could focus on the water.

Although faced with one of the most spectacular man-made skylines in the world, I pushed it up to the top of the view, preferring the impossibility of painting water and this natural expanse. From this vantage point, it looks like a small tropical island but one that has been crammed full of skyscrapers. While the other New York paintings are in the centre of walls of skyscrapers, giving at best a breathing point in a green square, this view allows you to take a breath and appreciate the vibrant energy of the city by stepping away from it.

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