Sunday, May 10, 2009

Subway Art

If you think of the New York City subway only as a transportation system, you don't grasp its full significance in the lives of New Yorkers. In the tiled walls, sculptures and murals that decorate stations, it is a also a work of art. And in the ways that certain lines and stations gain layers of meaning in the lives of passengers, the subway is also a huge repository of New York memories. Both of these under-appreciated traits, the subway of art and the subway of memory, inspire the paintings of Rochelle Weber.

I first saw her work yesterday, at a fair outside the Museum of Natural History at 81st and Amsterdam. As a lifelong subway rider, the grandson of a transit worker, and the author of the book Transit Talk: New York's Bus and Subway Workers Tell Their Stories I was immediately taken with the textures, strong colors and sense of composition in her paintings.

Weber hated the hot and smelly subways that she rode to her summer job while she was a college art student. She turned to paining the subway system, however, as part of her interest in scenes of the Lower East Side. Using acrylic paint, she discovered a way to give her paintings the look and feel of subway tiles. She made her first sale in Virginia Beach in 1986, then looked north for more sales. Owners of her work range from private citizens to public figures like Rudy Giuliani.

Weber's paintings are carefully composed. Even where they don't duplicate the exact proportions of subway station signs, they vividly recall actual images to be found on the subway. In some of her works, she brings together fanciful associations that a station might have in a person's life, like her 57th Street painting that brings to mind Judy Garland and her famous Carnegie Hall concert. A painting given to Mark Messier, formerly of the New York Rangers, contains references to the Rangers, 34th Street and Madison Square Garden. As a frequent patron of the Astor Place stop on the Lex, I'm particularly partial to the painting depicted here.

This summer, Weber is booked into art shows all around New York City. She works on commission. If you want to check out her work and her prices, visit her web site at


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