Rooftops by Charles Newman, 2010
(Click on the painting to see it in a large size.)
I saw this painting this past weekend at an exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) Museum in Philadelphia. The show presented paintings by three PAFA alumni who are also contributors to the city's famed Mural Arts Program.
This painting is one of four by Charles Newman that to me captured the city that I have known and loved since my childhood. Philadelphia was a rust belt city long before the decline of the auto industry. Newman's works examine this sad and challenging underbelly of the city--without falling prey to maudlin anger. "I try to find the beauty in the decay," the artist wrote in a short explanation of his works for the exhibition.
In Rooftops, we get an intimate glimpse of a tightly compacted corner formed by the tops of three rowhouses of the kind that is ubiquitous in Philadelphia. The artist paints en plein air from the roof of one house, as the vision repeats itself in row upon row to the horizon, we know.
In the foreground, the windows beckon us to think about the people living inside. Are they awake, making coffee, getting ready to go to work? What do they do? How do they feel about where they live and what they do? Do they see a way forward? Or do they feel hemmed in, crushed? We sense or imagine their frustration. We don't see them, but we know they are there, they are part of the image.
We look beyond to the tree--leafless, its branches reaching above the brick rows. We see the gray sky, tinged with pink. Signs of hope. Do the people have hope? Is there hope? We hope so.