Subway: Patterns of Life, My Inspiration

In spring of 2023, I visited the NYC area for 7 weeks. I felt released from the time pressures of a short visit, and was free to explore the many galleries and museums as well as understand the intricacies of the NYC Subway System. As I navigated my daily subway route, I realized the subway itself was a gallery. I was pleasantly surprised by the various mosaics and sculpture works nestled within many subway stops throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. What a treat for me, the visitor, to discover this, as well as those who pass through these stops during their daily errands and commute to work.

Beyond the grit and frenetic energy, the subway was almost a magical daily journey for me. I felt the vibration and sounds of the track and brakes of the subway. At times I was jolted but then rocked into a relaxed state almost to sleep. Some moments I could imagine myself floating through this system of tunnels as I saw other subways pass by or pass in the opposite direction. I was captivated at how you enter at one location, sit within a tube which transports you to another location, and walk out to enter a new world within the city. I was intrigued with traveling underground with people, strangers to me, all part of humanity’s diversity in ethnicity, religion, gender, age, style and occupation. There is the business executive, police officer, college professor, student, construction worker, musician, artist, parent with child, waiter, performer. There are elders with groceries, children with school backpacks, homeless with belongings, couples in love. There are those who are joyful, angry, confused, quiet, helpful, suspicious, exhausted or caught in their own world of illusions. Mixed in with the citizens of the city, are the many travelers whether solitary or within groups. Such a variety of those who have and have not, yet here we are all in this tube together. Truly, a metaphor for us to consider.

I like to sit with my artist’s eye and view the many expressions, postures and style of those around me. I found during my commute time, I could think back on my observations at the most recent art I viewed. When lulled by the sway and sound of the subway car, I had time to think and ponder what my next experience would be and where my creativity would lead me. During my visit at Neue Galerie,  I was reminded of my love of Gustav Klimt’s work, of how he surrounded his figurative work with pattern and also of Emil Nolde’s skill in evoking emotion with the contour lines of his figurative work. At Morgan Library, I viewed Ferdinand Hodler’s sensitivity when combining delicate graphite contour line with watercolor. And, at Jeffrey Deitch Gallery I viewed Bisa Butler‘s art. Standing, surrounded by her quilt tapestries of individuals, celebrated in color and pattern, was an absolute delight. With these thoughts in mind, I was inspired to create a series of individuals surrounded by the mosaic patterns of the subways.

Once back in Portland, I experimented in ways I could reproduce a mosaic look surrounding figurative work in graphite. I settled on pastel pencil for color vibrance, and continue on in this direction. How wonderful for me to complete my next art series honoring the subway, those who ride it and the art that’s within it, a microcosm of our world.

My Visit

What a joy and privilege to immerse myself in the abundance and diversity of the city’s museums. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET), MET Cloisters, Guggenheim, Morgan Library, Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), NY Historical Society, Whitney, Brooklyn Museum, Neue Gallerie, Museum of the City of New York, Jewish Museum, Natural History Museum, Cooper Hewitt, National Museum of the American Indian, The New Museum and the New YorkTransit Museum to the many small galleries along the way. This was a time of renewed independence and a time to share with my husband, daughter and friends. Thank you New York for providing this diverse culture in the arts and people, connecting it all with the NYC Subway Transit System.

Annette Sabater

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