Two series of paintings, “Made in TRiBeCa” and “The Highline,” are the result of Peter Colquhoun’s long fascination with urban views in and around New York City. Colquhoun’s history with the older areas of Manhattan began in the early 1980s. He maintains a studio in TriBeCa, as well as a residence in Greenwich Village located near the newly refurbished Highline, from which he gains multiple rooftop views of the Meat Market District,Chelsea, the West Side Highway and the Hudson River. An advocate of representational painting, Colquhoun enjoys long-standing friendships with other like-minded painters, including Ephraim Rubenstein and Bob Feinland, a friend from art school days at the then Brooklyn Museum Art School in the 1970s, followed by the New Brooklyn School and New York Academy in the early 1980s, and Pratt Institute in the late 1980s.
Colquhoun’s technique often combines impasto and staining on the same canvas, as in the exquisite view of Reade Street: the sculptured white surface of a high-rise building in the middle distance glows amid the soft greens defining the triangular park and the complementary hues of terracotta reds; pale yellow light complements misty lavender-grey shadows from surrounding structures. In Colquhoun’s sensitivity to the play of light/dark in leafy streets, of distant sentinel skyscrapers and foregrounded colonial brick structures, one is reminded of urban scenes by Edward Hopper or Neil Welliver. An important conscious influence is that of the English-born painter Rackstraw Downes, whom Colquhoun considers an American artist. “In the way they curve optical distributions, I admire the ability of Downes and Feinland to expand the field of vision,” Colquhoun observes. With regard to tonality, he names Edwin Dickinson and Richard Diebenkorn, particularly his landscapes from the 1960–70s. We can see this latter influence in his composition of the Weichsell Beef Company, seen from beneath the new Standard Hotel on the Highline. Most of his work is in oil on linen; a few smaller works are in oil on wood panel.
Since 1993, numerous residencies, including a C-scape Duneshack Residency in Provinceton, Massachusetts, have proven productive. Also on the East Coast, he has painted seascapes at Cape Cod, East Haddam in Connecticutand Cranberry Isle in Maine. The Morris Graves Foundation took him to California, the Alfred & Trafford Klots Residency to a chateau inFrance. The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation Residency at Taos, New Mexico, resulted in atmospheric paintings of desert scenery and architecture. “I am now almost reluctant to leave New York City because of the Highline,” he says. “If I reach a saturation point with a section of the city, I paint still lifes with flowers.” Now, he finds that the plantings cultivated on the Highline implicitly offer compositions that add a sense of movement within the static contexts of steel, glass and concrete. “Places are meaningful, they feed me as a painter. Certain locations generate a specific power or energy. New York City, of course, generates this in a very alive, constantly changing manner.”
He has been sketching and partially painting en plein-air for over two years on the new Highline elevated park that runs north from Gansevoort Street in the old Meat Market District northward to developing areas above Chelsea. After completing a work in the studio, he returns to the site to find it utterly changed. The glowing blue created by the tarps used during construction of a concrete passageway over West 16th Street gave a magical, if temporary illusion of rising into the sky; this gave way to the next stage of construction, solid grey interiors lit by colored neon. Colquhoun captures an evolving record of a rapidly transforming neighborhood. In contrast to quieter TriBeCa locations further south, with their colonial and federal buildings, the Highline elicits nostalgia for waterfront commerce in the days of cast iron and elevated rails, now cleverly alluded to in abstract new concrete and stainless steel patterns in conjunction with the old tracks, interspersed with exquisite plantings of indigenous flowers, grasses and trees—a tamed version of once-wild growth.
TriBeCa, however, remains of special importance. Here, more than anywhere else, he can capture the subtle changes in the seasons amid the changeless original architecture of old New York. Allen Street, Broadway at Thomas Street, the Customs House, Duane Park, West Broadway at Chambers are a few of the scenes that Colquhoun has captured in his evocative style. In “Made in TriBeCa,” over thirty paintings were exhibited July 6–28 at Bond, 25 Hudson Street, as part of the “First Wednesdays” collaboration between TriBeCa residents and businesses. Concurrent with the TriBeCa exhibition was his open studio, featuring a selection of paintings Colquhoun made in Brittanyalong with new work executed on the Highline. Many of the paintings in both shows are displayed on his website www.petercolquhoun.com Colquhoun’s paintings are represented in Manhattan by George Billis Gallery, 521 West 26th Street, New York, New York 10001. On the web at: www.georgebillis.com
American Arts Quarterly, Volume 28, Number 4.