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Art and the City: attention-grabbing works exude emotion
Art Business News, August, 2004 by Debbie Hagan

Some artists have a knack for capturing the heartbeat of a city. Edward Hopper comes to mind.

In his most famous painting, "Night Hawks," lonely hearts gather beneath the eerie light of a latenight diner. In another painting, "Approaching a City," a view from a train unveils a maze of imposing buildings. Both works convey the lost and lonely feelings one can experience in the shadows of a major metropolis.

Hopper connects so well with city emotions that many artists have taken their cues from him. One is Carol Jessen, a popular artist with Editions Limited, Emeryville, Calif. Her image, "Cafe Europa" published as a poster, reminds us of"Nighthawks; but stands on its own. The viewer peers into a late-night card to see a handful of diners. However, Jessen cleverly chooses a warmer, candlelit palette to evoke an alternative mood--one that's quiet and intimate. The two artists present contrasting views of a similar New York City scene, but both are valid.

People love cityscapes. These images tap into a specific place and time, say dealers. They arouse memory and mood. They reflect urban life.

"It's a genre that has stood the test of time, and it's still going pretty strong," says Joe Muller of Kennebeck Editions, Louisville, Colo. At the last Artexpo New York, Muller introduced paintings by a new Ukrainian artist, Dimitri Danish.

"I sold all four of his works in 10 minutes," he says. Now Muller has released three giclee prints by Danish.

"What we like is that he puts the figurative into his work;' says Muller, who prefers cityscapes with a figurative element. "His figures are mysterious, and people can put themselves into the painting."

Kennebeck also sells giclees by Sally Storch, who transports viewers back to a slower, more genteel city life, where families still run their own businesses and waiters fawn over diners seated at white linen-draped tables.

Reflecting a dark, more Hopper-esque mood is artist Ray Turner. Rather than dwelling in Hopper's creepy shadows, Turner contrasts his darks with halos of golden sunlight. A setting sun temporarily gilds an inner city ball field in "The Last Game." Commenting on this image, Muller says, "It's one of my favorite pieces done by any artist. It's a darker piece, but warm. It reminds me of sandlot baseball games."

He continues, "Some cityscape artists try to be realistic in recreating a place.... Our artists tend not to be about the place, but about the mood."

Creating the Right Mood Is Key

Perhaps mood is the key element to a great cityscape, say dealers.

"I don't think you can interpret a city [without implying mood] and still catch the viewer," says Joanne Chappell, owner of Editions Limited in Emeryville, Calif. "The artist has to impart his feelings, the time of day, and how it feels to be sitting there under the light of the city. With [artist] Isidre Vilaseca you feel the sunlight hitting the city, the dramatic, cool morning light. They all have a feeling of 'I felt this, and I want you to feel it,'" she says.

Of course, a happy scene to one artist might be viewed as cold and distinct by another. "The moods that artists create would vary even if each were to paint the exact same street scene," says Eric Dannemann, president of Chalk and Vermilion, Greenwich, Conn.

"Liudmila Kondakova's artwork emanates a quiet reflection, an early morning stillness, and her Parisian street scenes, in particular, have a rather old-world charm and a nostalgic, vintage feel. If Kerry Hallam were to paint that same street it probably would be at high noon, with the sun blazing and people enjoying themselves at outdoor cafes and strolling along the promenade, people-watching. Even if the scene he created was at night or during a rainstorm, it would still have punches of intense color that hint at the pace of the city."

Alternatively, if Thomas McKnight were to paint the same scene it "would likely be a bird's eye view of the scene, with the viewer comfortably ensconced in a luxurious penthouse surveying the city," says Dannemann. "Of course, different moods appeal to different buyers, and this has to do with artistic style as well. Kondakova's painstaking realism and subtle light variations might attract a different buyer than Hallam's high-energy, vibrant Impressionist pieces--or, maybe, appeal to the same buyers for their different moods."

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