Painter Robert Beck has to put up with the same UWS construction as the rest of us, but he sees it a little differently. (Yes, he’s still looking for an UWS studio.)
By Robert Beck
The fact that a subject is unusual often is what gets me jazzed about painting it. I find night construction with the extremes of light and indefinite forms very attractive. Not just as a still image, but also as a fun event to watch unfold. Elements appear and move through pools of light, shadows, and silhouettes. You pick things out of the darkness. The sounds, sights, and smells are condensed. A few yards, rather than blocks. A moment rather than a schedule. That’s what makes an encounter, and encounters are what I paint.
I was returning to New York, and my wife sent me a photo saying, “Here’s what you are coming in to.” It was a phone picture she took that afternoon of the utility guys digging, pounding, and making a lot of noise out front. Later in the evening, the workers and equipment went away, leaving lights trained on the open excavation. The next day they returned and filled in the hole. I had a great view from the window.
My interest in painting an industrial nocturne had been whetted, and I kept my eyes out for some night construction to paint from life, but I couldn’t find the right place at a time when I was free and the forecast wasn’t awful. Other prospective subjects were piling up, so I decided to do this one in the studio.
I first did a monochromatic study in raw umber (dark brown) on the panel, referring to Doreen’s photo for the mechanics of it and translating the light using what I’ve learned from the many paintings I’ve done outside at night. The next day I added color. It sat on a shelf for a week; then I decided it needed the car in the upper right, which added something subtle but important to the swirl of the composition.
It looked to me like a wound being treated. A glimpse into another world. It has that mystery, that wonder for what’s down there. Perhaps even more so in New York, where you know a lot is going on that you don’t get to see.
You can contact Robert Beck at robertbeck.net.