People often say that New York City is a lonely place, and that despite the inherent close proximity to others that living and working in an urban environment demands, it’s nonetheless still all too easy to feel isolated; I’m sure very few people have escaped this feeling at some point. I used to live in an apartment in New York City with a really great view, or at least better than the view from my current apartment, which is nothing more than a weathered brick wall. The large window in my bedroom looked out onto a typical urban landscape, and the building next to mine had floor to ceiling windows, so whenever I wanted to I could peer into the apartments of my neighbors. I knew it was creepy, but I justified it to myself by rationalizing that anyone who would move into an apartment with floor to ceiling windows is consciously giving up a certain element of privacy anyway. Besides, it wasn’t just curiosity or nosiness which compelled me to look through my window into someone else’s. What I really loved about my unsolicited admittance into the lives of others was that it reminded me that behind each window there was someone leading a life as real as mine, full of love and happiness and sadness and frustration, family, jobs, friends, expectations and loneliness. Coming to this realization is an intense sensation, and like many other aspects of living in the city, it can get overwhelming. But I found that the great benefit that came of it was that it humanized the experience of living in New York City. Instead of passing nameless, faceless strangers on the street, I try to remind myself that every person I walk by is probably either coming from somewhere, or going somewhere, or wishing they had someone or something to go to or happy to be out on the street and have the power to go where they please. Now that I no longer have such a good view of other people’s windows, it’s a lot less often that I am reminded of this reality. I most recently felt this way when walking into the Anton Kern Gallery*, where New York based artist Nicole Eisenman was having a show. Her paintings have a skewed perspective reminiscent of the Northern Renaissance, when Flemish painters decided against the strict mathematical perspective techniques which were popular in the Italian Renaissance. In other words, the spaces in Eisenman’s paintings have depth but not in a realistic way, enriching each composition with abnormal angles and planes. Eisenman paints characters, not people. Some have large, cartoon like eyes, others have green skin. Features are rough, oversized and expressive. Like the settings that they occupy, there Eisenman’s figures carry a distinct unrealistic quality, which surprisingly serves to make them more identifiable, and even likable. Their features are like those found in Communist propaganda or Art Deco murals, dense, uncomplicated, dominated by solid colors and simple lines. In one painting, a young man with a head the size of a balloon and skin the texture of an Aurbach painting, checks his phone while standing on a platform waiting for a train. In another, the strangers sit on a train, one, with eyes the size of serving platters stares out the window peering out at a smudge of green foliage, another sleeps with his mouth wide open, his skin a purply-gray hue. Behind them, somebody slouches in their seat, a computer on his (or her) lap. Eisenman sensitively builds a relationship between painting and viewer because the scenes she depicts are common but also involve an element of intimacy, in very much the same way that my view in my old apartment did. Like the windows of my old neighbors, Eisenman offers her viewers a quick glance into the lives of others, moments that are both public and private, shared and hidden. These moments humanize each character, they breathe life into their being, making you wonder about the moments which Eisenman doesn’t paint, about the lives you don’t acknowledge, about the faces of people you pass on the street.
*Nicole Eisenman’s solo show
Was on view at the Anton Kern Gallery, 532 W 20th St,
From May 19th to June 25th