Posts Tagged ‘Social Surrealism’

Dreams and illusions on 1930s Chambers Street

July 23, 2018

It’s an ordinary Depression-era day in “View in Chambers Street,” painted by O. Louis Guglielmi in 1936. On this shadowy, marginalized downtown street, we see rundown tenements, sidewalks almost empty of people, and a disorienting perspective.

Faces show little detail, but body language tells us more. A female figure appears to confront another woman sitting on a stoop, and a couple round the corner beside a faded ad, looking downward in different directions.

Amid the despair, though, there’s a strength of the human spirit. Even in rough times, when banks can’t help make dreams come true (see the faded Bowery Savings Bank ad) and even the circus can’t offer any magic (“The Greatest Show on Earth” ad is partially torn), people persist.

The couple look in different directions, but their arms are locked as a team. The rickety baby carriage contains their future.

Guglielmi, who grew up poor in Italian Harlem, painted in the social surrealist style—using abstract, dreamlike images to convey something about society.

His Chambers Street blends a down and out urbanscape with the working poor who live there, who remain stoic in the face of uncertainty.

This Guglielmi painting of a child playing hopscotch beside a stoop on South Street has a similar foreboding quality.