Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Erector Square: Sidney Harris

City-Wide Open Studios
50 Orange St., New Haven, (203) 772-2709
Erector Square: Sidney Harris
Oct. 15, 2006.

Sidney Harris is a legendary New Yorker cartoonist. And, in his Erector Square studio, he had numerous books of his classic cartoons for sale and piled high on a table in the middle of the room.

But of even more interest to me—because they showed a facet of his talent with which I wasn't familiar—were the paintings he had on display. There were several colorful abstractions. What really caught my eye, though, were the large urban street scenes he had painted.

Harris told me that he takes photographs and works from them. He is particularly fond of construction sites, he said, because "they are more interesting than just a building."

He pointed to one.

"That's the Reuters building. This sign with the diodes goes up about four floors," he said. As he talked to me about the work, he waxed enthusiastic about the details. Pointing to scaffolding, he exclaimed, "I just love doing this!" Indicating a wire originating high in the right corner of the composition that is slung down and across the street, he recalled feeling, "'Oh good! Now I can do this line!'" after working three days to get to that part of the painting. Harris doesn't start with a drawing from the photograph. He said he completes them piece by piece, starting with one area. He does take liberties. Gesturing at a woman in the Reuters building painting—they weren't titled—he said, "She's a ringer," added to the scene from a different photograph.

Working from photographs, with the requisite close study that entails, affords surprises that clearly delight Harris. In the lower right corner of one scene, a taxi was driving by. When painting that area, he noticed that the façade of a nearby building was reflected in the cab's back window and onto the shiny metal of the hood of the trunk.

"'Wow, what a revelation,'" he recalled thinking. "That's not just random light and dark." Similarly, while painting from a photograph shot inside "a Madison Avenue bus going uptown, around 60th Street," Harris realized that two people standing in the front of the bus were reflected in the shiny ceiling.

"Sitting in the bus, you would never notice that," said Harris.


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