Posts Tagged ‘subway paintings’

Reading the newspaper on the subway in 1914

June 20, 2016

Rather than hiding behind newspapers, riders stare into tablets and smartphones. Instead of actual straps overhead, strap hangers today have a stainless steel bar to grab.

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And could that really be a wood floor riders rest their feet on, unlike the one inside subway cars today?

But otherwise, the experience of taking the subway hasn’t changed much since Francis Luis Mora, a Uruguayan-born illustrator and instructor at William Merritt Chase‘s School of Art, painted “Evening News—Subway Riders” (top) in 1914.

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Colorful ads beckon riders’ attention. People sit crammed in close in a row against car windows. And most everyone looks away from each other, their eyes focused anywhere but their fellow commuters.

Mora’s “Morning News,” above, from 1912, gives us a different lineup of riders, also looking away or into newspapers, with one man doing that thing of reading over a fellow rider’s shoulder.

Mark Rothko’s solitary 1930s subway platforms

April 22, 2013

Rothkosubwayseries2Waiting for the subway to pull into the station can be a collective experience.

But not for the people in Mark Rothko’s Subway Series paintings. These figurative scenes, completed in the 1930s, depict isolated, Giacometti-esque New Yorkers who appear to be trapped in their own individual worlds.

These subway paintings “enabled him to focus on the horizontals and verticals, treating the figures as tall, spindly, stick-like forms,” according to the caption accompanying one of the paintings on the website for the virtual Musée Historique Environment Urbain.

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“They are flat, stiff and inexpressive and yet suggestive of an inaccessible inner drama.”

Rothkosubwayseries3A 2012 biography of Rothko by James E.B. Breslin had this to say: “As in all his subway paintings, Rothko’s interest is not in the trains but the platforms: modern, public, urban spaces where strangers come and go—or wait.”

“His stations are not grimy, dark, hellish underground spaces; nor are they filled with quick-moving, shoving, noisy rush-hour crowds. Rather, they are bare, compressed areas which contain a slow, quiet, and solitary mobility.”

Rothko, born in Russia and raised on the West Coast, moved to New York in the 1920s and soon began his career as a painter. Classified as an abstract expressionist, he spurned the label his entire life.

An earlier post on the most famous painting in the Subway Series.