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.

Painting 10

I painted from the rooftop parking lot of a Target.

The development is called “River Plaza” and was built on the site of a former industrial site with a large warehouse housing New York Presbyterian Hospital medical records from 2002 to 2005. The project cost 90 million dollars. After razing that warehouse, the developers found that the site’s soil was soggy and the water table was only 14 feet.To attempt to stabilize the soil, “developers drove 1,500 steel piles capped with concrete deep into the soil to reinforce the still-soggy former riverbed.” (NYT 9/15/04)

  “Architects said they were especially determined not to block the panorama from the roof, which includes the stanchions of the George Washington Bridge and, farther off, the spire of the Empire State Building.”

  They did not block the view, but they certainly did nothing to integrate with the river.

In 2004, estimated tax revenue for the city was said to be 12 million annually from this development.

  I would guess that that figure is lower now.

  Property Tax was listed on a commercial property database website $105,940 in 2021 – with an assessed value of $4,284,000.  This seemed low, some houses around here are easily that price. I searched for another confirmation but could not find it. I checked another comparable mall property in the area and it is valued at 67 million, with 800K in property taxes. I found a reference to a 17 million dollar exemption at this site for a living wage law with any development that utilizes 1 million of public funds or more.

I found this view, following the tip from “T” at Siren Slope, who told me to paint around here. I wasn’t exactly sure where he meant, but after a bit of walking I found the panorama.  It’s a striking view in the far corner of a 600 car parking lot. It’s not pedestrian friendly to get here. I was able to use the concrete rail as an easel.  It was a bit windy and I considered a panorama painting but couldn’t risk the loose paper flying away.

Thoughts begin in landscape, and by this I mean the unified experience of human-moving-through-environment.

Landscape is how we see that experience.

  I immediately processed the view through a Brooklyn real estate logic lens. Why am I not in a shoddily constructed overpriced loft with stainless steel appliances? But this is the Bronx, with a different timeline of spatial contestation.

  The broadway bridge is off to my right and marks the spot of the channelization of Harlem River.


A guy parks his car close and comes over to look. “Oh that’s great, you are painting the river! That’s going to be a million dollars one day” – pointing to the watercolor paper…. Or perhaps the view.  

I laughed and said “maybe after I’m gone!” and he doubled down “you never know! It could be, it could be.”

I’m standing in the former waterway of the Spuyten Duyvil Creek. Straightened out and filled in about 100 years ago to making shipping easier.

My father’s grandparents lived in the Bronx around that time. My grandfather might have been about a toddler. I recently inherited a family heirloom that I’m looking at while writing this – a converted crystal oil lamp that came from their house in the Bronx. The lamp is intact and cherished, and the former watercourses are largely forgotten.

Spuyten Duyvil is Dutch, and some translations put it as “spitting devil” or “in spite of the devil” After this painting session, I look at the name with a new respect on how weather may shape land. It was the windiest time I’ve had yet. Several times the paper came up in the wind, even knocking my glasses off once. I had to secure the brushes from falling off the ledge. At one point the wind splashed my cup full of brush washing water in my face, soaking my sweatshirt and dotting my glasses.

The air was crisp and the wind was strong

A passerby laughed seeing I was struggling and said “It is a nice view though.” Another was happy to take a flyer about Tibbetts and thought it was a cool idea.

In the distance it was clear it was raining. I had to make a quick decision to pack up or tough it out, and it looked like it would be quick. I decided to stick it out, thinking it was sort of cool that I’m thinking about water and rain is a part of this process. I’ll get some rain marks on the paper, it will be great.

The rain continues to get worse. The paper is soaked now and suddenly puddles of pigment are clearly lifting up again.

Uh oh. The painting is running away. Just as I was really getting into it.

I folded the cover over, packed up and took shelter at the top of the Target Elevators. The heat was on, the doors were open, and the escalators were constantly running. I was able to place the painting down to dry for about 20 minutes, and use Wi-Fi to see the storm cloud was indeed tiny and now gone. A few people said nice things and joked “what did you get caught in the rain?”

I used the restroom, walking through Target with easel and painting (several smiles and thumbs up along the way). I bought a coffee to warm up at Starbucks.

The sun had returned and I went back to finish up. I allow for as close to exactly the same amount of time for each painting and I wasn’t quite done yet.

“In spite of the devil”

Was this small squall a shred of a memory of the landscape that once produced the name “Spuyten Duyvil?” If there is a mischievous spirit in this area, I felt it throw water in my face. This Plaza with Target and Marshalls will encounter this spirit eventually.

A 2017 NYC flood plain projection for 2080 shows that the waterways are expected to comeback in ways that are existential for this place. Building this mall here feels impossibly stupid, but here we are.  

The river should be for public use in this day and age, it is a public good, an asset. For most of the afternoon, I was the only person within a wide area taking the river view in. I spotted a few recreational boats but not many at all.

 The metro north passes along the banks along a functioning railway.

The tail end of the Putnam Corridor is off to the left of the view, the last small stretch being used almost like storage. We hope Van Cortlandt Park can connect all the way down here along the Putnam Rail right of way.

Target and River Plaza have a vested interest in Daylighting Tibbetts Brook, a clear project that can only help their bottom line. If they are not supporting it now with political and monetary backing, they should be soon.

If the people who straightened out the Spuyten Duyvil over 100 years ago knew most of the trade traffic would be occurring in trucks in a cramped parking lot behind a national retail store along the banks of the water, I think they would throw their hands in the air.

 I put a few #DaylightTibbettsBrook flyers under some windshield wipers as I walked out of the parking lot.