Painting 15



The day before I started this project, IDA flooded this section of the highway and 80+ cars and trucks were stranded in the still raging waters the next morning.

This being the last painting session within the CityCorps project period, I wanted to return to the 238th street bridge and paint from the exact location I took a picture on that day. I have a few more sheets left in the watercolor block and will likely continue to the end of it, producing a total of 20 watercolors and 1 oil painting.

  At the outset, I knew heavier rains were expected in NYC in an abstract sense, but now I have a clearer idea of what that means within the local landscape where I live. I thought this was still in the future, but that story is unfolding now. The increasing rains will bring back water to where it once was. The only question is do we respond and prepare now? Or do we wait and pretend it won’t happen until disaster forces us to deal with it.

As for bringing TIbbetts back above ground – the cynical longtime New Yorker reaction seems most appropriate,

“I’ll believe it when I see it.”

  That’s what Diane said when we talked about Daylighting Tibbetts Brook after she asked if I had seen the flooding from IDA.  She thinks it is a good idea—I have yet to meet anybody who thinks otherwise—but like a true New Yorker, she expresses cynicism that it can be accomplished.

She shared an aesthetic moment from that day when the highway was a water body littered with abandoned cars.

“Just for a few moments, I don’t know, there were no cars or anything, just the water, the sun, and the quiet. It was breathtakingly beautiful!”

I shared with her, “I experienced something similar, right over there..” pointing to where I was during the IDA aftermath.

“ I was struck by the beauty of the first bald eagle I’d seen in the Bronx flying above the highway observing the drama below.”

 She was surprised by that moment “who would have thought? In the middle of this disaster in this grimy city?!”

Mid conversation, a man with a costume that made it look like he is riding a T-Rex came gallivanting by. It was a hilarious and surreal interruption that stunned us both, and I was slow to think to even take a picture.

It was Halloween after all.

“Nice chatting with you!”

I later saw Dianne working the polls when I went to vote on Election Day and waved hello.

 ——————
The woman with the elevator problem stopped by again, this time expressing concerns about safety in her building. She seemed worked up and had a drink in her hand. I asked her if she had any elevator trouble and she said “you are a good listener, you remembered!” As we finished talking, I recognized the face of the quick witted woman from the other day. She said “oh nice, you are painting the view from the other side!”

The mood on the bridge was extremely positive.  Perhaps Halloween helped. Plenty of younger kids in cute costumes strolled by, some parents held them up to look at the painting. One kid wanted to inspect my palette rather closely and I can’t help but think he was disappointed it wasn’t candy.

  I realized I should have come with my own bag of treats to hand out.
 The Halloween energy was electric, and after almost forgetting what day it was, it felt delightfully odd and ritualistic, the deep roots of the practice bubbling up in glimpses, at times outside the logic of capitalism.  

In this liminal time, before the dark days are upon us, we are caught up in forces larger than ourselves.

One older teenage girl in a costume with a group of friends passed twice over the course of an hour.  Each time she approaches and looks closely, then turns with a bright eyed smile “THAT LOOKS AMAZING!”
 It was kind of funny because it was the exact same interaction each time.

A middle-aged couple stopped twice during their shopping errands. They took a card and made me promise to post the “finished” painting on my website. They were extremely excited by seeing me painting where I was, but also a bit disappointed I think – they said “oh it looks great, I see you are not finished!”

  One woman came up very excited, “Oh this is great, you are painting nature! This is perfect you can come out here, spend time by yourself with nobody bothering you, you don’t have to spend any money!”

  “Why don’t you add more colors besides just two?” – she asked. It was appreciative and aware lately that I lean into green and blue a bit too much.

I asked her if she wanted to make a brush stroke or two and she jumped at the chance. She delved into the blue and made a large mark in the lower right “see you’ve got some color now!”  Then she went for the yellow and made a larger mark in the upper right – “Now you’ve got a sun!”

  I laughed, ready to get the brush back, mainly because I realized I had some freshly squeezed and unset watercolor in the palette that I didn’t want her scooping that up. That would end up being expensive.

The marks came at a good time and introduce a twist, just as I was getting into the painting. In a certain way it is fun to have unexpected problems pop up.

  “Bye now!” She said, perhaps sensing I wanted the brush back, or frustrated by not enough water on the palette paints.  

“I’m an old person, I’m not in my twenties anymore! All I do is shop and buy groceries, I can’t set up on the bridge and paint like this, I’m almost 50!”

 I told her to just give it a try sometime and see what happens.

 I can work with this, I thought, checking how much time I had left.

I handed out a bunch of business cards this time, and one or two Tibbetts Brook fliers.

Another younger fellow in perhaps his 20s stopped and said “wow you are good, not like me…” and quickly produced some of his own work on his phone.

 I said I liked his work and he seemed surprised. “You think so?”

“Sure, look at those color choices and your line work! It’s really nice”

 He earnestly thanked me and I told him to keep up the good work.

Another 20 something year old came up to the easel and just said “FIRE” and gave me a pound.

 I was going to tell him “ACTUALLY, Water.”

 This painting ended up being one of my favorites yet.

 I painted the future corridor of #daylightingtibbettsbrook in zip code 10463 as part of the #CityArtistCorps! Thanks to @nyfacurrent, @NYCulture, @QueensTheatre, and @MadeinNY for the support!

And thanks to the Kingsbridge Historical Society for the incredible maps!

#watercolor #daylightingtibbettsbrook #bronxart #bronxartist #northwestbronx #painter #bronxlandscape #streamdaylighting
#bronx #everydaybronx
#art #artist #pleinair #pleinairpainting #landscapepainting

Painting 14

10/28 

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.

Slightly unsettling.

  A man passed as I was getting the easel set up,

“Getting ready to paint here! Niiiice………” with a smile.

This bridge felt quieter than the DMV test site.V I was painting in the afternoon, and soon enough parents and school children walked regularly by.

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 only had 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 the 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.

She turns nonchalantly and suddenly, saying “anyway, have a good day,” as she walks up to the Avenue with an empty shopping bag.

 ———
 How many cars pass during the 4 hours I am here?  I wonder.
 —————

I gave out some business cards, 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 day light has changed significantly by this point, and the scene feels new.

“I better stop now before I ruin it.”

Painting 13

I painted the culvert where Hester and Piero’s Mill Pond descends underground into the broadway sewer, spilling approximately 5 million gallons of fresh water a day over the waterfall into the darkness.

This summer, I’d seen several ducklings, a few Canada geese, and a swan cignet get stuck in the lower section directly after the falls.

It was a cold late October day and I brought gloves to keep my fingers warm as I painted.

A man approached with large strides and removed his headphones.

“Oh you are painting huh? That looks nice!”

I asked him if he is an artist and he said “no I’m a hiker!” with clear pride in the artistry of his craft. He is from Yonkers and hikes regularly through VCP, detailing the five or six mile path he was on today.  He asked me what the #daylightingtibbettsbrook sign meant. We talked about daylighting streams as a way to improve ecology and quality of life for the community. We talked about the Getty Square daylighting of Saw Mill in downtown Yonkers.

“Getty square used to be very run down – they did a great job there it looks beautiful!”

He pointed out a bunch different chair shapes he saw in the painting.
 He had me pose “casually” for a photograph, “as if i was painting” at the easel. I was already painting at the easel when he said this, mind you. An older man took a similar picture twenty minutes earlier, wordlessly, but with a smile.

The hiker hopes that the Putnam Trail is extended down the rail corridor to the Harlem River. I mentioned that the stream could accompany it and that is what Daylighting Tibbetts meant and saw a lightbulb go off.

“That would be great! Everybody loves a water feature!”

After a nice chat, he put his headphones back in and said loudly with a grin, “back to the music!”

An older man came by and was happy to see me painting. He said he liked the colors I was using, connecting them to the colors of fall and how he loves to see them appear now, “that’s how you know there is a creator”

 He has been walking in the park for over 40 years.

He asked me if I’m a spiritual person and had me write down a URL for a website “where you can ask about anything in the Bible and get an answer back right away!” – he seemed quite amazed by this.

Another older man asked, “it’s beautiful, what is it?” later returning with his friend. They talked about high water’s they saw just yesterday in this location. We talked about the stream daylighting idea and the walking path extension.

 “oh that would be cool…I guess” w/ a shrug and wink.

“Keep doing what you’re doing buddy” with a pat on the shoulder as they walk off.

A biker stopped about 15 feet away to rest and look at the “water feature,”  outfitted in a pale pink and black biking spandex and a radio loudly playing 80s instrumental synth pop.

I was enjoying the music, and he stayed there for about 10 minutes.
 Before he rode off he coolly yelled over “Hey! ………… I like what you’re doing” with a nod.

Likewise friend.



I gave out a few fliers, spoke with some folks.  I thought about the beauty behind seemingly repeating comments like “ Hey that’s nice!” – “good work bro” etc. To which, I respond with variations of “thank you kindly” or “I appreciate you” and a smile.  It’s a nice ritual and feels important in public space.

I’ve heard talk that this pipe exceeded capacity during IDA, but it is not certain, perhaps it was clogged with the water chestnut.  The water of the lake had no place else to go, so it spilled over the dam, and down to the highway.

What does it say about us if we let it happen again? Especially since we are clearly expecting it now.

That pipe is now connected to untold insurance claims. Climate change opens up new zones of sacrifice within our society. Who are we setting up for loss in the future with non-action?

  Mario stopped and we had a bilingual chat for about 20 minutes. My Spanish is horrible, but somehow we can get somewhere. I gave him a Spanish translated flier and he read it and said “¡Wow, Muy interesante..!”
 He was very animated and friendly. I told him he can keep the flier and he reacted over exaggeratedly, putting the flier up in the air and saying something like “oh thank goodness I can keep it!”

It was funny.

He kept saying “¡Eso es mucha agua!” asked where the stream used to go, pointing in the exact historical direction. He pointed out elements in the scene I was painting, connecting the physical object in the world to the depiction in the watercolor. He did this about 3 or 4 times with a generous “woooooooow esta y esta!”

He pointed at my painting “Esto es hermoso…”
And then he pointed at the drain “esto no es hermoso”  and then gestured with a sweep at the lake and the changing trees.

 “Hermoso…..”.  Laughed and said goodbye.

 As I was finishing up, a blue heron landed in view near the drain, quietly prowling, looking for dinner.

Painting 12

I painted in the BJ’s warehouse parking lot, the former site of the Stella D’oro cookie factory.

This was another spot I knew of with no fence blocking the view. It’s under a sign for the larger complex, RIVERDALE CROSSING. These type of name choices are funny, solely meant to capitalize on the nearby affluent Riverdale name, yet mostly a congested car centric, pavement covered national chain mall.  What exactly are we crossing here?

I was standing in the former rail bed, as it appears the mall built out into the right of way.

This is the loudest location I’ve painted at yet. There is a stone wall across the highway that I’m sure amplifies the highway. There were many speeding bikers and a few popping mufflers raced by.

My first choice to place the easel happened to disturb a large orb weaver spider. I was startled and moved to a different spot.

I set the composition with what looked like a green ash in the foreground and I was able to lean out over the steel reinforced bank to look far down the corridor.

Viewing into the distance is part of what needs to happen. I kept thinking about the 2080 maps from NYC government that indicate the floodplain is back both along this rail path and the historical Tibbetts brook path.

 How to get a sense of water that is coming?

New York’s coasts have already risen 1 foot since 1900.  It is almost common knowledge the rains are getting heavier.  New York City — formerly a humid continental climate — is now within the humid subtropical climate zone.

All the while impervious surfaces increase.

A middle-aged man watched me for a bit, apologetic “but just wanted to see what you were doing”

A younger man approached with a “That’s cool, bro.” We talked about the Deegan flooding and Tibbetts and how crazy that rain was. He had to turn off the breakers in his basement as he saw the water rising, later having to do extensive repairs on the sheet rock. I told him our car had to go in the shop. I wished him good luck with the rain coming the next day. I think I was more worried about it than him but the underlying concept of the “next one” rang true.

 A young couple pulled up in their car and rolled down the window,

 “Aye, you sell those?”
  
 “Sure!”

I gave them both a card. She later followed me on instagram. They were happy to tell me that they are looking to decorate their place. I kind of love that they didn’t even take a look at the watercolor paper. I hope they like my work!

———
  This site holds the ghosts of a labor union struggle with the old cookie factory. And before that, between indigenous people and colonizers. But it is hard to see in present day.

 I think about how land can erase struggle, and what other struggles will unfold here.

 I am painting in this moment where a community deciding how to live with water again.
 How water will change them and how may they change water?

———

As the cars raced loudly by, I wondered, can it all be blamed on carbon?Co2, accumulating in the air, warming the planet, then the oceans, adding more water to the jet stream system bringing heavier rains?

Wetlands are excellent at carbon capture as well as slowing down water – How much carbon was emitted when when this land was drained? It’s clear we need to invite the wetlands back.

————

This rail corridor is so straight, but the historical Tibbetts Brook had a lovely meander. Will this be a problem? What if Tibbetts unburied and we still have flooding catastrophes?

I finished this dispatch the next day during a rainstorm that already shut down a small section of the BQE. I hear a story from the suburbs. Neighbor pumps basement and floods next neighbor’s yard.

 What are flood ethics when we are all technically downstream?

I unclogged a few storm drains during a walk. NYC government is actively encouraging citizens to do so, which feels oddly feeble and depressing

 Flooding concerns have unfolded in realtime for me simply through this process of sitting in place and painting it.

 It’s almost overwhelming in a way, there is a real presence of water, and a sense of it’s increase.

 It makes me think of “Shorakapok” – the Lenape word for the Spuyten Duyvil creek, meaning “the sitting down place.”  The Dutch called these same temperamental waters the “spitting devil.”  One response was to try to tame and mold the land. The other response was to sit down and observe.

I would love to hear a Lenape perspective on water in this area. It’s a shame I don’t know how to find one.

Painting 11

 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.