The Metro Masterpieces of Daniel E. Greene
Although highly regarded as a portrait artist, Daniel E. Greene is also known for his remarkable interior scenes and robust themes from the underworlds of pool halls to carnivals, inside auction houses to the corridors of New York City subways.
“Greene is drawn to interiors that are by their nature theatrical … stages on which his characters play roles that are indistinguishable from the roles they play in life,” remarks Maureen Bloomfield, co-author of Greene’s new book, Daniel E. Greene: Studios and Subways, and art critic.
Bloomfield continues, “Although Greene’s works fit comfortably into genres, the artist never fully abandons a theme. Thus, many years after the first subway paintings, he still finds inspiration in the metaphor of the traveler.”
His love for theme can be taken to an even more tapered level. For instance, his Subway series can be broken into sub-categories: the designs of the mosaics which identify specific stations; paintings of dim subway tunnels; an arrangement of geometric tiles that decorate the subway stations; and, of course, portraits and figurative artworks of subway travelers.
So what sparked his love for subways? Well, one could say it was his extensive honeymoon with his wife and fellow artist, Wende Caporale.
From Rome to NYC
During their honeymoon across France and Italy, notes Bloomfield in the book, Greene and Caporale were particularly taken with the ancient mosaics of Pompeii and Rome.
They were intrigued by the “cubes of marble, tesserae, and fragments of glass, the earliest representing figures, and the later, geometric patterns, which ignited a memory from [Greene’s] Art Student League nights, when he waited for the train to and from the 57th Street station,” she explains.
The legendary artist always thought the people sitting on the bench, waiting for their train under the mosaic sign would make for a great picture. “It immediately occurred to me, however, that it was going to be more than one painting,” recalls Greene.
Here are some of Greene’s best subway paintings, pulled straight from the award-winning artist’s new book. Enjoy!
Superb NYC Subways
“In counterpoint to the glimmering designs and beautiful models is the reality that they are underground,” says Bloomfield. “Therefore, we enter the realm of metaphor: the traveler whose soul will be weighed against a feather in tilting scales — either embarking on a trial or returning from a mythic journey — on [his or] her way to Wall Street by way of the Land of the Dead.”
Left Waiting in the Cold
From the splattered grime to the ornate detail of the colorful title, from the intense gaze of the man in red to the bundled up figure fighting for warm against the frigid air, Greene did not skimp on the details of this oil painting. What’s your favorite feature?
New York’s Hot Mix
No, this is not a photograph. Greene’s innate ability to capture details is nothing short of astounding. The graffiti on the New York’s Hot Mix sign combined with the sense of age in the dirty grout and the multicolored tile really keep the viewer’s eye engaged from corner to corner of the composition.
One in 472 Stations
“The Wall Street substation is unique among the 472 stations,” says Greene. “It has a turn-of-the-century quality with wooden turnstiles. It’s beautifully decorated, and the only one with blue mosaic walls. The station itself is pictorially filled with variations and can be painted multiple times.”’
High Perspective Equals High Praise
“This is one of my very first subway paintings, and it’s completely unlike any of the others,” states Greene. “I was intrigued by the colors, the strong contrast and the perspective with a vanishing point way above eye level.” The painting was created in 1992; the station it captures was destroyed on September 11, 2001.
From Drawing to Painting
The artist’s Father-in-law, Ed Caporale, agreed to pose for several paintings. For this particular piece, the two went into the subway, and Greene completed a quick study. Once they got back to the studio, Greene formulated the idea of the painting while Ed posed as if he was still in the subway.
Greene spent more time drawing this art piece than he did actually painting it. “If one paints impressionistically, perspective can be alluded to,” explains Greene. “If one paints realistically, perspective needs to be perfect.”
An Alternative View
To create this composition, Greene took a picture on the downtown platform of the Wall Street station of the uptown platform from across the tracks. “The vertical and horizontal segments are quite varied and asymmetrical,” notes Greene. “I was intrigued by the way it accidentally designed itself. The three transit riders were a beneficial addition.”
Broken Titles, Beautiful Composition
The subject of this painting, Guida, was a young woman who worked in Greene’s studio and agreed to come to the subway for pictures. This specific spot in the subway had numerous elements Greene considered “artistic and paintable,” including where the broken tiles revealed the cement, the stained mosaics and the curve of the left side.
The artist deliberately posed the model against the light mosaics to make the dark tones of her face stand out.
A Relatable (and Quiet Colorful) View
“This became one of my most popular subway paintings,” says Greene. “Apparently the view is one many subway riders and collectors can relate to. The open door with a poster of two women within provided an insight into a subway car that one does not always observe. The door is about to close, and I painted the extreme left with deliberately blurred strokes to simulate movement.”
An Illuminated Sense of Depth
The tunnel-like view captured in this painting captures one of the most familiar vantage points of a subway station. For Greene, reports Bloomfield in the book, the most difficult technical aspect was creating accurate diminution of the white tiles as they lead away from the viewer.
Painting in the Moment
Last but certainly not least is this fun self-portrait. “I imagined this is the way I have looked while painting in the subway,” remarks Greene. The artist worked both with studio mirrors and by working on-site at the Wall Street subway station, which allowed him to add elements such as the turnstile doors to the composition.
Which one of these subways is your favorite? Tell us in the comments below!
And, be sure to check out Daniel E. Greene: Studios and Subways for an in-depth look at the work and life of true American Master Painter, Daniel Greene.