Friday, May 20, 2011

Our Towns Exhibition

This TED lecture by James Howard Kunstler shows how postwar city planners sold us on dead-end dreams that have filled our world with blank malls and suburbia.

Thinking about such things makes me search my motives when I look for townscapes to paint. Am I just looking for nostalgic visions of the human-centered places that hardly exist anymore? Is the plastic franchise landscape worth painting?

For me, the answer is yes to both questions. What interests me most is time—how changes in human thought play themselves out in layers of architecture. I’m fascinated by odd juxtapositions: mom-and-pop stores next to mega corporations, or commercial and residential spaces butting up against each other.


Tomorrow, the Mill Street Loft will open a group exhibition called “Our Towns: the Cities and Towns of the Hudson Valley.” Nearly 30 artists in various media will be participating. The juror was M. Stephen Doherty of Plein Air magazine.

I’ll have four oil paintings in the show, three of which are plein air pieces. If you’re near Poughkeepsie, New York tomorrow, Saturday, May 21, please come by the opening reception, which is from 4-6 pm. I’ll be there, and I’ll also be doing a gallery talk on Thursday, June 9 at 6:00pm. The exhibition will be up through July 15, 2011. For more information, call 845.471.7477 or visit Mill Street Loft's website.

Reminder: Mill Street Loft’s other exhibit on Hudson Valley landscapes is still accepting submissions through May 23.      Extended to May 31, 2011.

Related Previous Posts:
Powers Market
Dalleo’s Deli
All Three of the four paintings are reproduced in Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter

15 comments:

bmcelhaney said...

James - All the best with the show "Our Towns Exhibition"!

I admire your work and appreciate your generosity in sharing your art, your artistic understanding and insightful musings.

r8r said...

...the creation of future nostalgia!

stevec said...

Are you familiar with Bill Wray's stuff? He does a lot of paintings of urban scenes, and (to my eye) he seems to be very good at choosing a palette of colors for a painting. http://williamwray.blogspot.com/

-- steve

MrCachet said...

All four of these are wonderful paintings, James. The signs of our times...

Bill said...

This was not so much about art as politics. A left wing rant, against failed left wing policies, with a proposal of more left wing solutions. Consumerism is what drives this economy. It's what's made us the richest people in the history of humanity and allows us to hand out grants to virtually every nation on the planet. Every time anyone, in any country, bar none, wants or needs anything, they look to American consumers to bail them out, or supply their wants.

Looking at European culture today is just sad. Virtually everything they have to offer architecturally is from a long gone past. Today, most live in square box flats that make our urban areas grand by comparison. Except, of course, for their elite politicians and privileged families who live lives of absolute luxury.

If this fellow wants a solution, it's simple, rugged American individualism and not buying into this collectivist silliness.

The Art of Kim Kincaid said...

I love your "townscapes". (Are you ever temped to paint a dinosaur peeking over a roof or tree?)

Vicki said...

It's a slightly different slant on this topic, but you may be interested in a book called New York's Architectural Holdouts http://www.amazon.com/Yorks-Architectural-Holdouts-Andrew-Alpern/dp/0486294250
It is a photo essay & history of places in New York City where owners absolutely refused to sell their small property to some company that was going to build a huge building. The result is goofy, charming, and (in my mind at least) a tribute to stubborn self-respect. You have to love those who are willing to fight the Goliaths.

Erik Bongers said...

The first minutes of the talk, I thought James Howard Kunstler was a real-life Asterios Polyp, but it turned out he's quite the opposite.

Basically, his urbanistic message can be put in a short and much less academic and intellectual sounding rule-of-thumb:

"Downscale to human size"

etc, etc said...

"Downscale to human size"

But yet the positive examples he offers is mostly pre-modern architecture that emphasized grandeur, monumentality, and ornamentation, which seems to me to be an antinomy to his aesthetic/political views. I kind of agree with what he is saying (assuming he is saying that most modern architecture sucks), but yet to me his logic isn't entirely consistent.

Erik Bongers said...

@etc: I completely agree.
I'm sure there are many contemporary cases of "human size" architecture and urbanism he could have used.
But by selectively using pre-modern examples to show how it should be, he seems to be suggesting that Greek columns and Gothic windows is the only solution.

KB said...

James, I can't help wondering if you could have still become the artist you are while living in the suburban San Francisco Peninsula, rather than moving to a rather different Valley? :)

Every time I travel overseas it's always a disappointment to come back -- for the simple reason that here I feel like I never see people -- only facades and cars.

Emily said...

That man does seem to be on a soap box, especially about what our soldiers think of when they are deployed (my experience is that they remember people more than places), but I agree that we need to "human size" our life.
I grew up in the country, but moved to the city for school, and I can't tell you how much better I feel when I go home and can breathe. I feel that many non-historic SC cities have become claustrophobic with only a few places for "civic life", everything else is impersonal.

James Gurney said...

I don't think Kunstler is being political, at least not partisan, in what he's saying. He's speaking of how larger human values are expressed in civic design and architecture. Lately he has also been writing a lot about how the world may change with a different energy economy. He is a champion of the public sphere, something that is sadly lacking in the suburban model. I believe his voice needs to be heard.

But the TED lecture doesn't give him the scope to really develop either idea, so I recommend his books "The Geography of Nowhere" and "The Long Emergency."

KB, In my own case, suburbia may have been the ideal petrie dish for my imagination, and Dinotopia was a kind of wish fulfillment for what I longed for growing up in a suburban world.

R8R, Yes, Thanks for mentioning Bill Wray.

Erik, I don't think he's only advocating gothic or Greek examples. He mentions the New Urbanism movement, which doesn't have any particular default architectural style, but has more to do with how we deal with cars and foot traffic.

My Pen Name said...

TED lecture doesn't give him the scope
I find TED lectures to be shallow, smug and reeking of the corruption of the chattering classes. They don't want to hear any really challenging ideas (how about one HBD, for example? ) they want to hear things that make them feel righteous and clever but nothing that will truly challenge current mores. Its the malcolm gladwell-ization of what passes for intellectual discourse.

however I like James Kunstler's take on the suburannization of the landscape and the absolute waste of resources - not to mention it banal, and ugly.> I truly think our age is incapable of producing beauty.

@Bill - consumerism, as you call it, has been what's driving the country into long term ruin.
yes, kunstler rants and is angry and sometimes immature (a typical baby boomer trait - a remarkably immature and selfish generation) but his point is that we have been mis-allocating our resources and most of this has been through government subsidies to 'drive' the economy in that direction.

Roads are the most heavily subsidized part of mis-directed effort to sustain the economy via suburbanizing farmland and wilderness. It is, as Kunslter says, a road to nowhere.

BTW, Kunslter is popular on both the left and traditional right (non neo-conservatives) he often writes for the american conservative magazine.

Rayford said...

It's unfortunate that it's nearly impossible to live in the kind of community he describes without paying a huge premium or going severely into debt doing so. Unless of course you're lucky enough work out of a home studio or have the ability to telecommute. Us 8 to 6'ers are kinda stuck in this paradigm until home owners, land developers, business owners, and civic engineers start thinking in terms of community rather than personal fortresses.