Monday, November 5, 2007

The Brooklyn Bridge

Long before I moved to New York City, I think I had made up my mind that my favorite landmark in this city was the Brooklyn Bridge. Sure, there were plenty of other logical choices that might seem more obvious, particularly for a non-resident: the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center towers pre-9/11, Ellis Island, Times Square, and even Macy's (yes, if one is a shopaholic). But there was just something about the Brooklyn Bridge that set it apart, an intangible quality that I guess encompassed its strength, beauty, and the engineering innovation that went into its construction.

Reading David McCullough's wonderful history of its design and construction, The Great Bridge, one realizes that this iconic structure is a modern marvel and triumph of late 19th century engineering, without succumbing to the sterility that often characterizes "modern." And this doesn't even begin to address the demographic and socio-cultural changes wrought by the bridge, most pointedly for the future history of Brooklyn, which had cultivated a very separate identity from Manhattan. Obviously the Brooklyn Bridge plays a special role in defining the character of New York. It appears regularly in popular culture, referenced in songs, stories and film. I love, for example, Frank Sinatra's version of the 1940s Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne song:

"Like the folks you meet on
Like to plant my feet on the Brooklyn Bridge
What a lovely view from
Heaven looks at you from the Brooklyn Bridge

I love to listen to the wind through her strings
The song that she sings for the town
I love to look up at the clouds in her hair
She's learned to wear like a crown

If you've been a rover
Journey's end lies over the Brooklyn Bridge
Don't let no one tell you
I've been tryin' to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge

All the folks in Manhattan are sad
'cause they look at her and wish they had
[ Lyrics provided by ]
The good old Brooklyn Bridge

If you've been a rover
Journey's end lies over the Brooklyn Bridge
Don't let no one tell you
I've been tryin' to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge

You'll miss her most when you roam
`cause you'll think of her and think of home
The good old Brooklyn Bridge"

Naturally I had to paint it at some point . . . So about two years ago I took my younger son for a walk across the bridge. I was amazed at the amount of foot and bike traffic, and not just from the army of tourists admiring the bridge (and there were plenty of them). We snapped a boatload of photos, enjoyed watching the people, and marveled at the stone and steel up close. I was most surprised by the color variation in the stone used for those incredible Gothic arches. From a distance, the bridge looks pretty uniform in color, reflecting the gray of the water on a sunny day, and taking on a rusty hue at sunset. I'm also partial to the bridge lit up at night because on our first date, my wife and I were at the South Street Seaport, overlooking the bridge from the balconies that face the river. So even after all these years I get a little thrill when seeing the Brooklyn Bridge.

This painting was done nearly two years ago . . . so when I'm a rich and famous artist (ha!) critics can categorize this in my "early period." (Actually, the fact that I'm willing to let this earlier piece see the light of day reflects my continued satisfaction with the final product.) My aim here was to capture the bridge in a way that didn't appear cliched or typical, which would be so easy to do given the number of photographs and paintings depicting the Brooklyn Bridge. I also wanted to show something of the color and textural variation that defined these iconic arches. And finally, I wanted to convey the sense of being there, staring upward, admiring the handiwork of Roebling and his workers. (Watercolor on Fabriano paper, 9" x 12")

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BooCat said...

Dear BrianC, I am surprised you were allowed to take the photos. I understood that right after 9/11 photographs were not allowed on any of the NYC bridges. I seems a good thing that that kind of rampant paranoia has settled down somewhat.
This is one of the best activities I have ever done in New York. Friends and I took the subway to the Brooklyn side and walked back across late one afternoon with the sun going down over Manhattan. It was marvelous.
Your painting, as usual, is a delight to the eye and the spirit.

One Wink at a Time said...

Wow, what a great perspective. It very nearly makes me dizzy (I know, that's not a huge feat...) to look at it. This would be amazing, say, about 9' x 12', don'tcha think?

Barbara said...

You can probably tell I'm digging deeper in the archives. What a great thing to have had your work in a group showing - and a sale! Cheers to you, even though it was over a year ago! This perspective of the bridge - well, I've mentioned before that your perspective and your use of color keep my interest. I'm glad I found this photo ... I'll visit often :)

Your Christmas entries were fun, too. I am SUCH a Virgo - I have everyone pick the wrapping paper they want for their gifts or I assign it and then we all take turns with the wrapping. We just look at the paper and know whose it is. We haul it all up to Grammie and Grampa's in Charlottesville. It is a merit badge of sorts for me that my mother-in-law applauds my method!