Yesterday, however, a friend was going through some of my images, a product of my invitation to have a fresh perspective peruse my catalog in preparation for the November show. This new observer stopped at the Phone Booth image and decided it was a favorite among the myriad subjects I've portrayed. Why, I wondered. Because it's "enigmatic," he noted. It invites question and speculation. Honestly, I hadn't considered these adjectives, but was thrilled that one of my paintings could prompt this kind of rumination. And I realized, in the end, isn't this what art is supposed to do - elicit thought and contemplation?
I spent some time on Google - and even Flickr - and discovered that phone booths, especially old phone booths, are a popular subject for artists and photographers. There's an obvious nostalgia attached to the phone both in this age when nearly everyone has a phone in their pocket. Indeed, phone booths of any variety, whether vintage or modern, are rapidly facing a dinosaur-like extinction that will consign them to a technological dustbin shared with rotary phones, 8-track players, and turntables. (In England, the demise of traditional red phone booths, seen as iconic national symbols, has generated widespread outrage over the last decade.)
The subject of this painting is part of a line of about six vintage phone booths at Manhattan's Pier 40 complex. I hadn't seen this many phone booths together since my undergraduate years. But sitting in one recently, I realized that there's something to be said for the simple pleasure of walking in, closing the door, and having the light flicker on as the ventilation fan begins its faint humming. Removed from the comfortable climes of one's home phone, chatting in the fluorescent glow of a vintage phone booth, semi-isolated from the outside hustle, isn't a half-bad substitute for lounging with one's phone on the couch. As a slave to nostalgia, I couldn't help but smile and ring up my wife on her cell phone just to relive the experience of my youth.
"Phone Booth" (2006). Watercolor, pen and ink, on 9"x12" paper.