Sweet City Stroll

9:45 in the evening. I trot down the steps of the National Academy after posing for Michael Leigh’s watercolor class. Modeling bag slung over my shoulder, lightweight spring scarf knotted around my neck. Off I go, south on Fifth Avenue. One of the most famous streets in the world. It’s quiet. Upper east side quiet. And if you think that “upper east side quiet” doesn’t have a character uniquely its own then you don’t know New York City. Posh residential buildings on one side, Central Park on the other. Starry sky, gentle breeze, street lamps aglow, just a few lone souls here and there, discernible only by their movement in the urban shadows. Why are they out in the street at that time on a weeknight, on the slumbering, proudly and complacently not “happening” upper east side? Well .. I am. Why not them? On that mild spring night, I think about how many times I’ve made that walk. I couldn’t even count how many times. That short walk from 89th to 86th where I catch the crosstown bus.

I pass the Guggenheim, whose chalky white wedge of a daytime presence transforms into a darker, ghostlier, more abstract form when the sun goes down. An ambiguous, eerie grey structure of circular lines and shapes that dance with the night sky. I stare up at it and think how I like the Guggenheim better at night. It’s closed and sleeping, but like all of New York’s cultural institutions, it keeps the lights on in the foyer.

Calm and content from a super pleasant art class with super sweet people, my walk is a saunter. A post-modeling on my way home kind of saunter. The relaxed pace we assume when we take an all-too-familiar route. At that time of night it’s as close to soundless as you’ll ever get in New York. All I hear is the clunking of my boot heels on the sidewalk. And it sounds even more pronounced and echoey in the crisp quiet air. And I am reminded how much I love this city at moments like this. Across Fifth Avenue, in the dark in the park, I see the spinning red reflector of a bicyclist pedaling toward the reservoir. An evening workout. At the next corner, a white-haired man strolls with his senior golden retriever. The dog has a slight limp and the man patiently allows him to take his time, to stop and sniff, to lumber around and investigate those unseen things only dogs are aware of. An aging but pampered pooch. I think then that the dog has probably made that walk on that particular Fifth Avenue corridor even more times than I have.

I pass the apartment buildings. At each illuminated entryway the doorman peers out and glances at me. He realizes he’s seen me before on many a night. He nods. I nod. I go on my way. To 86th Street. And at that intersection emerges the bus. The big blue city beast pulling up to the corner, blocking my view of the Neue Galerie. Gotta catch the bus. I speed up my walking pace just a little while whipping my Metrocard out of my wallet. The bus doors open. “Hi!” I say cheerily. “Evening ma’am”, says the pretty darn handsome bus driver. Doors shut. Left turn, then right turn, and through the park. And the upper east side recedes away. Until next time, when modeling brings me back . . . which won’t be long.

Georgia O’Keeffe, City Night, 1926:

O'Keeffe-city-night

16 thoughts on “Sweet City Stroll

  1. Grier Horner says:

    Beautiful post. You see so much in this urban night and feel it – and express it – so keenly. And the O’Keefe painting is the perfect illustration.

  2. fredh1 says:

    This is lovely, Claudia. I love O’Keefe’s New York paintings, and I love walking in the city in those times and places where it’s relatively quiet.

    • artmodel says:

      Fred,

      Yes, O’Keeffe’s New York works are really great. It’s easy, and natural I guess, to associate her mainly with the southwest desert. But she clearly had a connection with this city.

      Thanks for your comments!

      Claudia

  3. Derek says:

    That is a lovely post.
    The painting reminds me of a place I have been back in 1970’s visiting
    NYC. I have lived there for a number of years. I fancied O’ Keefe’s work of this city.
    Here is one from aussie doing lanscape of the city of Sydney
    Robert Pengilley
    http://www.artrecord.com/index.cfm/artist/10545-pengilley-robert/
    I also fancied lanscape paintings I am thinking of doing in the future for a future exhibition sometime next year hopefully I am healthy enough to do this. I feel so inspired.

    Derek

    • artmodel says:

      Derek,

      The Sydney landscape is really elegant and inspiring. That’s a wonderful painting by Robert Pengilley. I’ve tried my hand at some cityscapes myself. Easier to do than the figure, but has it’s own challenges.

      Thanks for your comments!

      Claudia

  4. cauartprof says:

    Claudia,
    I read your post with my morning coffee. What a treat! Lovely description of a beautiful walk. As an undergraduate I was challenged to push my figure drawing abilities by taking a summer course at the Art Students League. I was a naïve kid from Ohio having never been anywhere near New York. I came in on the train and transferred to the subway at Penn Station (could have my details wrong, it was a long time ago). My first view of the city was coming out of the subway at 57th Street. The view was unbelievable for a mid-Westerner and the O’Keefe captures it pretty well. Thank you for rekindling that amazing time. You have a real gift for descriptive verse.
    Best,
    Chris

    • artmodel says:

      Chris,

      Your memory is absolutely correct! You would transfer to the subway at Penn after your arrival by train. And the vicinity of the Art Students League at 57th Street – midtown Manhattan, right in the heart of things – is an ideal spot for one to get their first sight of NYC. 57th is great street.

      I’m so glad you read this post with your morning coffee. I love that! I keep reminding myself to do more of these kinds of posts. I enjoy writing them.

      Thanks for your comments and your personal recollections 🙂

      Claudia

  5. Ed Ettlin says:

    These wonderfully written words bring back memories of past vacations and the desire to travel again. The O’Keefe painting is indeed very fitting.

    • artmodel says:

      Ed,

      I’m so gratified by the positive feedback for this post. I’ve resisted the urge to tweak the writing, as obsessive revising can ruin things. Much like painters who can’t leave a work alone and just walk away. And I too feel the desire to do more traveling.

      Thanks so much for your comments!

      Claudia

  6. Rob says:

    Such a super writer; your sensitivities come alive with your word choice. Cool picture, too!

  7. Steve says:

    Hey Claudia, love the use of light & shadow in her painting as well as the beautiful imagery in your narrative. I worked at the Town Club on east 86th street for a time in the early 90’s and afterwards my cohorts and I would stroll across the quiet streets silently enjoying the relative peace after a hectic day, while enroute to the nightlife on third & second avenues. For a young person who had to work at night it was a great neighborhood to be in. I’ll always love NY…

    • artmodel says:

      Steve,

      Thanks for sharing your memories of east side nights! I really enjoyed it. You expressed yours as well as I did mine. That area is such a lovely part of the city.

      Thanks again for commenting!

      Claudia

  8. Jennifer says:

    As I read through your post, I realised I must have done some of that walk when I was in New York, having visited the Guggenheim and been in Central Park, which was quite a thrill to recall 🙂 Loved the Georgia O’Keeffe painting of skyscrapers, as it so well captures that sense of gawping up at the sky (I was that tourist, with head craned upwards!), but also simplifies the buildings down to monoliths.

    • artmodel says:

      Jennifer,

      So many people are impressed with the O’Keeffe painting! It is very effective in conveying the visual power of the big city night. That moon peeking through the skyscrapers? That’s really how it looks. I’ve seen it countless times, and it never gets old.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Claudia

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