Saturday, December 31, 2011
Walt Whitman vs. Modernity
As my last post of 2011, I thought I'd unveil the latest in my series of iPad painting of famous New York City artists. Today's portrait features renowned 19th-century poet Walt Whitman as he confronts an emerging New York of the future--here embodied by the rising Brooklyn Bridge.
Whitman's 1856 poem "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" speaks to the New York that he knew and loved. Some scholars have argued that Whitman's later silence towards the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge decades later serves an indication to the threat that the bridge posed to everything he had invested in 'his' New York. And so the Bridge looms over Whitman in this portrait--its imposing face directed towards us, while Whitman's is turned away. The bridge stands tall over the village-like Manhattan that Whitman knew (when the bridge was constructed, the NY skyline was hardly more than 4-stories tall).
And so one begins to see the complex relationship between artist and city in the history of New York. At times the artist defines the city and contributes to its mystique; but at other times, the city threatens, even overshadows, the artist.