Posts Tagged ‘WPA painters New York City’

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.

Haunting desolation on South Street in the 1930s

October 26, 2015

South Street was a still and empty place of tenement dwellers overshadowed by the Brooklyn Bridge in “South Street Stoop,” painted in 1935 by O. Louis Guglielmi.

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“[Guglielmi’s] dreamlike works were critical commentaries on the social injustices of capitalism,” states Bruce Weber, author of Paintings in New York.

“The son of Italian immigrants, Guglielmi had grown up in Harlem and experienced  his own financial difficulties in the early 1930s and applied for federal relief. Beginning in 1935, he received a regular government paycheck as a member of the easel division of the Works Progress Administration.”

Three subway scenes from a 1930s painter

February 2, 2015

The head scarves, newspapers, advertisements, and hats are definitely Depression-era. Substitute the newspapers for iPhones, however, and it’s eerily familiar.

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This 1935 painting by Daniel Celentano, Subway, looks strangely contemporary: a packed car, a cross-section of New Yorkers, and almost everyone minding their own business, looking down or away.

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Celentano needs more recognition. A WPA muralist born in 1902, he grew up as one of 15 kids in a Neapolitan family in Harlem’s Little Italy.

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His work captures the rhythms of 1930s life in the city’s immigrant enclaves and beyond: festivals inspired by saints, laborers at work, and a coal stove keeping passengers warm as they wait for the train in an El Station.

CelentanoselfportraitIn the second painting, Celentano gives us a glimpse of the hustle and bustle under the elevated tracks in a working-class New York neighborhood.

Celentano’s New York Street Scene, the third painting here, offers a view of the 1930s elevated train far off in the distance. But what is going on in that green booth with a figure of a woman hanging inside it?

[Above, Celentano’s self-portrait, 1940]

A “dreamlike” vision of the Third Avenue El

July 8, 2013

In his 1934 painting “Third Avenue,” precisionist Charles L. Goeller depicts a crisp, geometrical street corner, with the gray elevated train tracks and then the sleek Chrysler Building looming in the distance.

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“The artist lived just a few doors east of this corner, yet his rendition of the familiar scene is strangely dreamlike,” states the website of the Smithsonian Institute, which has “Third Avenue” in its collection.

“Like his fellow painters in the precisionist movement, Goeller stressed the clean geometry of the modern city. All elements of his painting direct attention to the rising spire of the Chrysler Building, a vision of an ideal future shaped by American engineering.”

“Such foreground details as trash lying by the curb and scarred red paint where a sign has been removed from a wall seem deliberately introduced to contrast with the flawless edifice in the distance.”