Painting 11

watercolor painting of the old putnam line from the 234th st bridge in the Bronx, by Noel Hefele

 I live on a hill. Each time I go out to paint I stroll down the hill to meet the water. It feels like a ritual now of participation within the watershed. I go downhill to meet the water.

The skies were that fall blue but the sun was a bit unseasonably warm.  I explored a bit looking for where I’d paint, – checking the Bailey playground along the fence line. No good now, but will provide views when the leaves fall soon.

I set up in the middle of the 234th street bridge, right alongside driving test site run by the DMV from the curbside that is quite an operation.  Many people come here to take a test.  A constant stream of new drivers over the course of the day. This is one small way the impervious surface addiction is sustained.

I was directly over the Putnam right of way, with a view into the distance between the chain linked fence, which I’ve gotten better at ignoring.  Other areas of the bridge have a metal horizontal bar right at my eye level, which makes it frustrating to find spots you want to spend 4 hours with. But this spot was great. The ledge of the bridge proved useful for supplies

Immediately after setting up a woman in her 70s approaches. She is having a frayed nerves moment, having just escaped being stuck in the elevator. She unloads her story and I try to empathize. Mid-story she interjects to say “you are a good looking fella” to which I reply “you are sweet to say this.” She didn’t like how someone down the street was looking at her and said “what are you looking at you fucking asshole?!” In a thick new york accent.

I asked her if she saw the flooding from IDA that happened here. She said “yes, they planned it.” Correct, in a sense, I guess.

Another guy came up and stood close looking, we talked for about 15 minutes. We talked about how it’s a problem nobody cares anymore.
 He has been in this country since 1961 and says this time since covid is the worst he has seen it. He is a part of the driving test site. He commented on the bad traffic below and how it’s a problem everywhere now. We talked about Tibbetts and I gave him flyer in Spanish, while apologizing for any poor translations. He said he appreciated that I had it in Spanish.
 He was happy to take the flier and said he was going to give it to his daughter, she is interested in this kind of thing.

Another older woman with an elegant sparkly loose knit cap approached “You must be very smart! You have to be very intelligent to do this! Did you go to school or where you just born with it?” – I told her I knew I liked it and practiced a bunch – a part of learning was thinking your previous work was bad. She was quite happy and kept calling the painting beautiful. As she walked away she said with bright eyes and a big grin “AND, It’s Nature!”

  There was wisdom in that simple declaration and it made me laugh.  Artists and Academics can do backflips to stumble upon that conclusion as if it is some sort of revelation, and this local landscape inhabitant gets it as she walks over a bridge she has likely walked over 100s of times before. I’m standing on a bridge lined with cars and litter and broken, over a highway, by a big Box Staples store – and turning my attention to this thin ribbon of green gets recognized as looking at nature. It’s the urban nature we have and we should value it.

Another guy really appreciated the painting and asked if I have a YouTube Channel. “You know that guy Bob, whatever his name is? You know how many people just watched that motherfucker paint? And this was before YouTube!” He was adamant that I was leaving money on the table and I should just start filming myself paint and teach people as I go.

He is right of course.

I got his instagram and his YouTube, and I’ll subscribe to his YouTube and check out his music. He said he makes some good money on the platform.

An older man took a look at the painting with a smile “Beautiful, That was my dream.”  And I felt incredibly lucky to be painting at the age I am. Many many people have helped facilitate this. To be out here having the support of my city as a NYC Artist Corp just added to the fortunate feeling.

An younger guy said “you are really good at this man”

A woman picked up her small child so he could look. “See, he is painting the view from the bridge!”

A young woman approached with many pointed questions. “Is this your hobby or is it a job?”  I pointed out my #workingartist NYC Artist Corps t-shirt and told her about the Tibbetts Brook project. She is from the area and didn’t know about the plan, happy to take a flier. She asked if I had an instagram and I gave her my card, and she said she draws a little but isn’t very good.  She was taking her driving test and was keeping one eye out “Oh I’m next! – The is so cool, I show up at my driver’s test and wow there is somebody painting!”

I met a neighbor from my block at the end of the day. She was an art teacher for 19 years in the NYC public school system. We chatted for a bit about the painting, her experience, Tibbetts Brook, the Jerome Park Reservoir and how people want access to it. She took a flyer and was happy to learn more. She mentioned she was glad to see an artist painting right here, in this location on the bridge.

I had the painting standing against the fence as we spoke. A woman in her car rolled down her window “excuse me, I’m sorry for the interruption but  that is absolutely gorgeous.”

 I had many additional interactions this session, all with positive energy and kind words.

 I hope these bridges will have staircases down to the new stream.

I know the City as Living Labs folks have conceptualized these 7 bridges that cross the right of way as “stitches” and today I really felt that.

By Noel Hefele

Noel Hefele is an artist living in the Bronx