Snapshot Paintings

Everyone knows how difficult it is to ‘capture’ the spirit of a place through photographs. And yet we still take a spontaneous snapshot because the scene or the moment somehow represents the character of that space and our experience of it.

A brief visit to New York earlier this year was hastily recorded with photos ‘on the go’. Later, when I had a chance to review them, I realized that I was actually trying to record textures, reflections, the luminosity of the architecture at twilight or at night, the blur of people passing along the avenues, and other intangible impressions.

Two of these snapshots were reinterpreted as paintings to celebrate  the qualities of light and materiality that I experienced in New York:


A view of Broadway at night, with the Empire State building in the background.  I was drawn to the ethereal glow of the Empire State’s pinnacle, which appeared to float disembodied above the rest of the building.  The bright lights at street level accentuated the dark sky creating a strong contrasting band.


Subway steps at twilight.  The warm colors of the concrete steps and cream-painted walls contrast with the blue twilight sky.  The surrounding buildings throw animistic shadows across the scene, lit by the muddy orange glow of the subway’s globe lights.

4 thoughts on “Snapshot Paintings

    • Thanks Liz – it’s really an experiment to see if the painted image has more ‘artistic’ worth than the digital version on which it’s based – the jury is still out for me so it may be a short series!

  1. Hi Matt,

    I very much enjoyed your posts. In fact, they caused me to revisit older posts, even the first one I read about constraints and parameters as generators of concepts. When I first read that post a couple of years ago, I was cowed by the formulae and slouched away defeated. This time I had very different reactions to that and your others posts. Here are some of my reactions.


    I immediately began thinking about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Within severe musical and physical constraints, they are wonderfully creative and expressive. What I especially enjoy is the differences between Fred and Ginger.


    I love these two paintings. I also liked your commentary, but, now I want to know how you painted them. Digitally on your screen? Watercolor on paper? Oil on canvas? I agree with Fran that you should do more. Too bad that you can’t come to our potluck because everyone would like to see them.


    I will never look at a chair the same way again. Your journey through Craig’s List greatly enlarged my appreciation of chairs – particularly rocking chairs (proudly made in the USA!) Your musings on spirit chairs reminded me of a docent-led tour of the Met. I love docents and the tours they create but this one started a little shaky. She began in the armor section (aarggg!). She had everyone look at in the tiny opening between the shoulder plate and the breast plate. She said, ‘See those leather straps holding the two plates together. Those are called “points.” If you cut them, the plates would fall off. That’s where the term “there’s no point in continuing” came from.’ I thought, “Hmmmm this is going to be a great tour.” Next we visted the American colonial furniture section (double aarggghhh!). She had us look at an adjustable petit point pole fireplace screen. She said that these screens were very important because small pox survivors filled their pock marks with paraffin before powdering up for company. The screens shielded their faces and prevented them from melting.


    I liked your small sculptures very much and I also liked the paintings/drawings (? … what are they) they inspired. For some unknown reason they made me think Kathe Kollwitz’s sculptures which I have never seen in person. I have seen a photograph of a very small sculpture she did of her and her husband immediately after he died. It is very moving even in a photograph.

    I hope you do more. I wonder how you created sense of monumentality in your tiny work. Must have something to do with proportion and finish, or more precisely – knowing when to stop in order to convey the feeling you wish to convey.

    You inspire me to do try some more tiny sculpture of my own. I originally thought I would sculpt rather than paint. My first teacher had me do 30 second sculptures in response to words she gave – pity, joy, pathos, guilt … Then she had me take a few and arrange them in a little ensemble. Finally, she asked me to identify my favorite piece. She then ordered me to throw it on the floor.…0.0…1c.1.9.img.3lp7dwHtJYk&bav=on.2,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.45100731,d.cGE&fp=e132596aed7beb2e&biw=2347&bih=1165


    It struck me that your work is part of a long tradition. I know you are familiar with Hockney’s book on the secret knowledge of old masters. I wonder if you’ve watched the BBC documentary recently.

    For me the most amazing thing about the documentary is that Hockney was around 70 when he made it. As he liked to say, “Inspiration does not visit the lazy.”

    And Hockney’s curiosity and discipline reminded me of Kenneth Clark. I liked his book, NUDE, but assumed that I wouldn’t like him. I assumed he was a snooty aristocrat. Last week I read his memoir, Another Part of the Wood: An Autobiography. It is wonderful – insightful, revealing and very funny. His memoir led Sandy and me to begin looking at CIVILISATION chapters on YouTube.

    I thought of you while watching his chapter in Civilisation on “The Pursuit of Happiness.” He focuses on architecture, music and only a bit on art. I loved it especially because I am musically-challenged and architecturally-ignorant. I now know 1000x more in those areas than I did yesterday. Here’s a link to the program. I think you might like it. Among other things, you will learn that Martin Luther was a tenor.

    I enjoyed spending last night and this morning thinking about your blog. Thank you.


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