Tom Christopher | South Salem artist captures city culture
Ein Artikel in englischer Sprache über Tom Christopher, erschienen auf der Homepage des Lewisboro Ledger, 08. Januar 2014.

South Salem artist captures city culture
by Reece Alvarez

Hidden in plain sight, Lift Trucks Projects, the Croton Falls art gallery and studio of South Salem artist Tom Christopher, contains a subtly visible treasure of works by the resident known for his expressionist paintings of New York City.

“You come up out of the subway into Times Square and it becomes a reward for a long journey,” he told The Ledger recently. “You could stand here for hours and watch all the patterns hitting the crosswalk. Everyone has a different walk — purposeful, hesitant; it is really a fun city to watch.”

Mr. Christopher said his fine art career began in the mid-80s, but he has been an artist going as far back as his time in grade school.

“I was the kid in the back of the classroom drawing stuff — hot rods and Rat Fink,” he said.

Mr. Christopher bought the Lift Trucks property in 2008 after he outgrew his small studio in his South Salem home where he raised two sons and has resided for decades.

The old forklift business has been in existence since 1922, originally as a feed, grain, and hardware store, later becoming a forklift service and sales business. Artifacts of the building’s past can still be found throughout Mr. Christopher’s studio; punch-clocks, rotary pay phone, and signs of all sorts — including the Lift Trucks name — remain embedded in the structure.

City muse

Having spent decades on the East Coast, with 10 years based in Long Island City in Queens, Mr. Christopher has developed an intimate relationship with the city that has been recognized in his paintings of the famed metropolis.

“Tom has an uncanny talent for capturing the essence of New York City from the perspective of those who have enjoyed the sights of the city on foot,” said former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in a 2001 New York Times article.

The island city’s unique geographic location and urban canyons give the city’s light and shadows a quality that cannot be replicated, Mr. Christopher said.

“New York has amazing light,” he said. “You won’t find it anywhere else — these 60-foot shadows of deep blue and purple shadows.”

With much of his work selling abroad, particularly in Germany, France and Japan, Mr. Christopher has tried to paint other cities, but without the kind of intimate knowledge of the locations and the people who inhabit them, he has found replicating his New York City relationship with other European cities to be difficult.

“You have to know the people,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe the things people say.”

People are as much a part of Mr. Christopher’s paintings as buildings, he said.

While artistically and physically rooted in New York City and Westchester County, Mr. Christopher is a California native and spent much of his youth there. He earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in 1979 from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif.

As a young artist in need of an income, Mr. Christopher began his career doing illustrations and sketches for various publications, including album art for CBS Records, illustrations for Motor Trend Magazine, and work as a courtroom artist for CBS news, where he learned skills that would carry into his fine art career.

“Part of the training is to not listen, just watch. They say, ‘Don’t listen, don’t listen,’ because then you get caught up in the drama of the courtroom, so I am always drawing and watching things. I try to take that approach to the street corner and just draw people,” he said.

Art today and tomorrow

Mr. Christopher’s paintings —98% of which are sold in Europe — typically sell for between 6,000 and 60,000 USD, he said.

When asked why he thought his work was more popular abroad, Mr. Christopher alluded to varying cultural perspectives on art between the two continents.

“There is more of a history of painting and drawing,” he said about Europe. “They just look at you differently. If you’re an artist here it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, my grandmother does art,’ and over there it’s, ‘Wow, an artiste.’ You are looked at as a professional.”

What constitutes the value of art, particularly modern art, is an age-old question Mr. Christopher addresses in terms of accessibility and the ability of art to communicate and engage — attributes he has seen wane in some arenas of modern art.

“I have to say it seems like everyone is looking for the next big thing, the shock of the new,” he said. “I don’t think it is reaching a lot of people. It should touch people. You should be able to communicate. What good is a book or piece of music if no one hears it, if you alienate 90% of your audience.”

Where art will go in the future is anyone’s guess, Mr. Christopher said, but what he does know is that it has only become harder to be an artist, particularly for young people.

“It is really tough,” he said. “I think it is really a tough road for young artists right now. You can’t fall back on a drawing skill. Illustration for hire is gone. When I got out of school you could get a job. I did little dot heads for The Wall Street Journal, I worked for Motor Trend Magazine drawing cars, I did album covers — you could work as much as you wanted. You could make a living while doing your painting. Now I don’t think you can. People should be able to get out of school with a skill and get a job and support themselves. It’s just wrong.”

 Mr. Christopher’s next gallery exhibition will be in Paris at Galerie Tamenaga in March then Frankfurt Germany at Galerie Barbara von Stechow in September.

(Photo by Reece Alvarez)

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