Six in the City presents six new portraits of a choreographer, a novelist, and a poet, and three visual artists. Though sometimes only briefly, I have crossed paths with each of these artists in New York City. Some I have worked with and others I have shared a podium with or experienced the inspiration of their art. Each painting delves into the personality of the subject from my point of view.
The intent is to bring the person into the room and to capture a glimpse of their personality in the process. I want the viewer to feel the presence of the subject and to instill in the viewer the desire to engage the person in conversation, or merely to occupy the same space for a while.
All of these subjects are well known, though not necessarily a household name. All excel in their field and are creative and intriguing. I hope to capture that spirit and at the same time inspire the viewer to get to know the subject and their art a little better.
Sandra Bloodworth, "Duke Riley" Oil on Linen, 40" x 60"
Duke Riley, 2014
Oil on linen, 40” x 60”
Artist Duke Riley refers to himself as an artist and a patriot. Riley is known for his interest in the space “where water meets land in the urban landscape.” Riley looks at people who live marginally within societies and documents the friction that exists between a single human being and the collective group dynamics as it conflicts with institutional authority. He is interested in the “edge” and he lives somewhat on it. Riley uses drawing, printmaking, mosaic, sculpture, performance, and video and often creates complex installations. Riley pushes the boundaries of rigid moral constructs and engages “a sense of danger and possibility,” as he puts it. Specifically, Riley says he “combines populist myths and reinvented historical obscurities with contemporary social dilemmas, connecting past and present, drawing attention to unsolved issues.
Riley created artwork at the Beach 98th Street station on the A line in the Rockaways. Respectful of the sea, Duke uses the image of rolling seas and floating debris to acknowledge its inherent destructive capability, all the time invoking the strength of this seaside community. Duke’s work often includes maritime history and community customs, and at the Beach 98th Street station, he includes the unique Jamaica Bay stilt houses that can be seen from the A train as it crosses Broad Channel.
I met Duke when he was selected by MTA Arts & Design to create the artwork for the Rockaway subway station. He is an artist whose work and personal life are completely melded. In many ways, it is impossible to separate the artist and his work because the two are so intertwined. I have had the privilege to know Duke and to become a fan of his work.
Jane Dickson, 2014
Oil on linen, 60” x 40
Artist Jane Dickson has a long relationship with Times Square, having lived and worked there for most of her adult life. Her affinity to Times Square began when she took a job at the large electronic billboard company, Spectracolor. In 1978, she set up her studio in Times Square and the same year she co-organized the infamous Times Square Show where Colab, a collective she belonged to, installed an exhibit by artists interested in pop culture and the disenfranchised. Dickson went on to command great success in the art world, but always kept her ties to Times Square. Nowhere is that more evident than in the artwork she created in 2008 for the number 7 line subway station at Times Square. There her “Revelers” greet you as you travel through the station, reminding you that everyday is a celebration in Times Square. Dickson went on to exhibit in the major galleries of Soho and Chelsea over the last decades and often returned to the subject matter of Times Square, lights, and hotels. More recently, she has been the focus of a renewed interest in her early involvement with Times Square and Colab upon the thirtieth anniversary of its organization.
I met Jane Dickson in the late 1980’s when she created a poster depicting Times Square for MTA Arts & Design. It was not surprising that she, who had portrayed Times Square for most of her career and had a studio there for over thirty years, was selected to create permanent artwork for the station. I had the privilege to work with her on that project and admire her as an artist and an amazing person.
Sandra Bloodworth, "Jane Dickson" Oil on Linen, 60" x 40"
Sandra Bloodworth, "Elizabeth Streb" Oil on Linen, 60" x 40"
Elizabeth Streb, 2014
Oil on linen, 60” x 40”
Elizabeth Streb is an anomaly in the world of dance. She began choreographing and performing upon her arrival in New York in 1975, including risk in all of her performances; risk that engages the audience and connects them to that moment. The works, which she calls “popaction,” are influenced by the circus, rodeo, and daredevil stunts. Streb approaches her choreography as a scientist might, studying the effects of gravity, math, and physics on movement. Streb’s background included extreme sports and that influence of skiing and motorcycling is apparent in her work. In 2003, she established SLAM (STREB Lab for Action Mechanics) in Brooklyn where rehearsals are open to the community – she also provides classes where the public can learn to fly. Her choreography consists of diving off 16-foot high metal scaffolding or launching performers through the air in quick succession. The performances incorporate custom-made trapezes, trusses, trampolines and even a flying machine. As focus turned more to her than the performance, Streb stopped performing in 2010 to keep the spotlight on the company. She is a MacArthur Foundation ‘Genius Award’ recipient. STREB’s company performs in theatres, festivals, and serves as ‘artists in residence’ in world-class art museums. In 2012, Streb was commissioned by the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Mayor of London to participate in the London 2012 Festival where the company dancers performed events at major landmarks including the Millennium Bridge and Trafalgar Square. Streb’s choreography and the STREB Extreme Action Company are chronicled in director Catherine Gund’s documentary Born to Fly.
I met Elizabeth Streb in August 2000 when she and her company used Vanderbilt Hall as a rehearsal space, allowing the public to view them as they passed through Grand Central Terminal. At the end of the month, the company presented their work to an audience. It was an amazing performance and I have been a fan ever since, always wanting to paint Elizabeth. I ran into her a couple years ago and shared this desire. She stopped by a few days later and we naturally gravitated to Vanderbilt Hall where she shared how important the space was to her and how the performances there in many ways changed the size of her audience, in effect capturing an audience of a grand scale.
Alex Katz Revisited, 2014
Oil on linen, 60” x 40
Alex Katz, one of the most significant painters of our time, has been the subject of at least 200 international solo exhibitions. Katz’s portraits are said to be both psychologically complex and emotionally ambivalent. Rob Storr, formerly of the Museum of Modern Art and currently on the faculty of Yale Art Department, says that Alex Katz possesses a quality that can only be defined as unquantifiable “cool.” The crisp, sharp, but cool quality of his work is itself a portrait of the artist. Katz was inspired by Abstract Expressionism and though he was originally an Abstract Expressionist himself, he broke away from the pack and distinguished himself as a representational artist. He often based his work on photographs, but he also worked from life in his portraits and his landscapes. His favorite subject has always been and is still, his wife Ada. He has painted portraits of Ada for over 50 years.
In 1984, I asked Alex Katz if I could paint him and he agreed. I included that portrait in my show “Urban Principals,” at SOMA in 2012. Thirty years later, I once again requested to paint him, this time through his son, Vincent. I am once again grateful that he agreed.
Sandra Bloodworth, "Alex Katz Revisited" Oil on Linen, Oil on Linen, 60" x 40"
Sandra Bloodworth, "Reif Larsen" Oil on Linen, 60" x 40"
Reif Larsen, 2014
Oil on linen, 60” x 40”
Novelist Reif Larsen is known for his first novel, The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet, which was the subject of a bidding war among ten publishing houses landing him a million dollar advance in 2008 from Penguin Press at the tender age of 28. The novel is unique in that it incorporates charts, graphs, lists and maps that accompany the narrative in the margin of the pages of the book, almost as if a guide to the novel. It lends a layer of information and insight into the main character, 12 year old mapmaker, T. S. Spivet. Stephen King described the young novelist’s work, “I’m flabbergasted by Reif Larsen’s talent, and I was warmed by his generosity. Here is a book that does the impossible: It combines Mark Twain, Thomas Pynchon, and Little Miss Sunshine. Good novels entertain; great ones come as a gift to the readers who are lucky enough to find them. This book is a treasure.” The novel was recently adapted into a soon-to-be-released film entitled The Young and Prodigious Spivet by director Jean-Pierrer Jeunet that is scheduled to open this fall. Larsen is also a co-owner of Rucola, a small Northern Italian restaurant in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn.
In 2010, I was invited by Applied Brilliance to participate in a dialogue with Reif Larsen about Creativity and found the experience delightful. Possessing a keen wit and a generous spirit, Reif lent a sense of being in the present to the conversation that kept our dialogue moving and intriguing. I commented that his use of notes and drawings and his story telling in general was reminiscent of southern literature, not unlike Faulkner, as he led you down various paths describing every aspect along the way in detail.
Marie Howe, 2014
Oil on linen, 60” x 40”
Marie Howe was born in Rochester, New York into a devout Catholic family, a circumstance that would become an underlying factor in much of her poetry. In 1987, her first book of poetry, The Good Thief, was published and received an award by the National Poetry Series. In 1998, she won the Lavan Yonger Poets Prize from the American Academy of Poets. Her former professor at Columbia, Stanley Kunitz, commented, “Her long, deep-breathing lines address the mysteries of flesh and spirit, in terms accessible only to a woman who is very much of our time and yet still in touch with the sacred. Howe’s work is greatly influenced by the death of her brother, John, from an AIDS-related illness in 1989. She comments that it changed her aesthetic, entirely. In 1994, Howe co-ediited, with Michael Klein, In the Company of MY Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Pandemic. She went on to publish, What the Living Do, a powerful lament for her brother. Later she returned to what she described as her obsession with the metaphysical in The Kingdom of Ordinary Times in 2008. Howe is a recipient of many awards and fellowships including ones from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation.
I met Marie Howe in 2013 when MTA Arts & Design and the Poetry Society of America presented a celebratory poetry and music event in celebration on the Centennial of Grand Central. Having lost my brother a few years before, I connected to her poem ‘What the Living Do’. Several months later, we invited her to read at the memorial of a long-term MTA staff member and friend, and she read this poem. In April of 2014, she collaborated with the Poetry Society of America, MTA Arts & Design, and artist Gabe Barcia-Columbo to present Springfest: Poetry in Motion in Grand Central’s Vanderbilt Hall. Gabe Barcia-Columbo created animations of poetry from Poetry in Motion and they were projected on the walls of Vanderbilt Hall. I extrapolated one of the animations, to animate Marie.
Sandra Bloodworth, "Marie Howe" Oil On Linen, 60" x 40"