New York—and its ever-changing landscape—has long-inspired artistic expression. For centuries, artists made their homes along the Hudson Valley, inspired by the Hudson River’s breathtaking scenic beauty and changing interplay of light. In the 1800s, Thomas Cole—founder of the Hudson River School—settled in Catskill to the north while Jasper Cropsey settled in Hastings to the south. Featuring themes of romanticism, their bold and realistic paintings captured the brilliance of New York’s countryside.
It was not until the first decade of the twentieth century when artists turned their attention away from the state’s bucolic landscapes to the raucous urban scene of Manhattan. Instead of majestic mountain ranges, subjects were the arching bridges, swinging cranes, and streamlined ocean liners resting in the harbor. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, artists took the elements of the Sublime, combined them with Modernism’s interest in structure and form, and applied them to the manmade industrial one—thereby creating a new visual vocabulary for the twentieth century: the Industrial Sublime.
A major figure in the abstract expressionist movement, Jackson Pollack joined the Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros’s Experimental Workshop in New York. Here, he studied unorthodox mediums and techniques, including the use of liquid paint, which he later adapted in his large drip paintings to achieve a more immediate means of creating art. As the paint flowed from his chosen tool onto the canvas, he added a new dimension to painting by applying paint from all directions.
A leading figure in the NYC pop art movement, Andy Warhol’s work explores the relationship between artistic expression, celebrity culture, and advertisement that flourished by the 1960s. Between 1962 to 1984, Andy Warhol’s silver-painted, foil-draped studio, The Factory, was a NYC Mecca for artists, intellectuals, playwrights, Bohemian street people, Hollywood celebrities, and drag queens. The 1960s in particular ignited an impressive and wildly prolific time in Warhol’s life, extending into the early 1970s, where he produced his most iconic works.
In the 1980s, Keith Haring revolutionized graffiti art. After enrolling in SVA, Haring found a thriving alternative art community that was developing outside the gallery and museum system, in the downtown streets, the subways, and spaces in clubs and former dance halls. Inspired by the musicians, performance artists, and graffiti writers that were shaping this burgeoning art community, Haring soon found his place in the art world by creating drawings in white chalk upon blank paper panels throughout NYC’s subway system.
The British graffiti artist, “Banksy,” unveiled new works of art all around New York City every day throughout October 2013. Many of the surprise exhibits followed his signature street-art style: stencils spray-painted on streets, walls of buildings, and under bridges. On October 31st, a set of balloons that read “BANKSY!” tied to the side of a warehouse visible from the Long Island Expressway in Queens was the final farewell to the city and the artist’s month-long street art residency.
In the city that never sleeps, it should only be another New York City minute before the next great art movement is born.
Industrial Sublime: Modernism and the Transformation of New York’s Rivers, 1900-1940,” is at the Hudson River Museum, 511 Warburton Avenue, Yonkers, through Jan. 17, 2014. Information: (914) 963-4550 or hrm.org