I painted on the 233rd street bridge. This is a short hop down from the 234th street bridge.
I almost painted facing south to get a view of Albany Crescent, but looking toward the sun for the session didn’t seem like a good idea.
I set up looking north over the highway with the cars and trucks constantly moving toward me and under my feet.
As I was setting up my easel, a passerby paused and remarked with a smile, ‘Getting ready to paint here! Nice…’
This bridge felt quieter than the DMV test site. I was painting in the afternoon, and soon enough parents and school children walked by regularly.
An older woman in her 70s stopped mid session to observe. She seemed tentative and did not want to bother me but I invited conversation by asking if she was an artist.
“No, but my late husband was… perhaps it was more of a hobby”
She talked about how it’s a good thing to do to spend time and not be bothered by anybody. I decided to not bother her with Tibbetts Brook thinking she didn’t want to talk, but she stopped as she was leaving, read the sign, and asked what it was.
I explained and she was very sharp. She understood the scope in a panoramic way that had me playing catch up. She was skeptical that the rail corridor could be acquired unbroken, having seen parcels be sold off over the years. She was worried about the grade, “A stream needs to flow downhill,” aware of slight elevation differences along the proposed path.
She remembered watching the major Deegan being built as a young kid from the land where BJs was built. She remembered the trains on this line and the station in Van Cortlandt Park. She hadn’t seen the Deegan ever flood like it did for IDA. She has been caught in Bronx River Parkway floods though.
I told her I had only been in the area for 2 years and she retreated defensively, mentioning the word “transplants.” I had to quickly counter that I had deeper roots of some kind here.
“My uncle got married in the abandoned church on Van Cortlandt Park S”
“You mean Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary? I will never call it abandoned. I used to work there, it was a great place except for all the leaks it had. I remember running around inside with pails collecting the rainwater coming through the roof”
This place is currently fenced off, boarded up and overgrown. I had passed it the day before and a broken pipe out front was leaking a steady stream of water. It was deconsecrated in 2017. The building is in the location of a historical wetland for Tibbetts Brook. A history of holy water.
My father’s family history in this area softened her again, thankfully, and we continued to talk about the area. By the end it was apparent she had a deep knowledge and awareness of the landscape gained by lived experience, yet also a cynicism that came from that same experience.
With a sudden, nonchalant turn, she bid me ‘anyway, have a good day’ and continued her walk up the Avenue, her shopping bag swaying lightly.
How many cars pass during the 4 hours I am here? I wonder.
I gave out some business cards, and more folks asked if I sell the work. I gave two to a mother and daughter – the daughter’s face lit up when she saw she would get a card too.
AJ stopped me as I was packing up. The painting was at a 90 degree angle so he turned his head to look. I put it up on the ledge and he stepped back with his hands on his hips to observe.
“You doing a triage? I saw you on the other bridge the other day so I had to come see what you are doing. I thought oh that would be cool if he was going down the whole way.”
He was excited when I told him I was! He said “so tell me about this project.” He loved it and asked where he could see it all when it was all done. I told him to check my website soon and that I post on instagram. He took a card home and said he would follow up. I was excited to have someone recognize me out there twice.
Very friendly interactions all around.
These 4 hour sits with a place all wrap up just about when I can tell I’m moving backwards on the painting. The daylight has changed significantly by this point, and the scene feels new.
“I better stop now before I ruin it.”