NEW YORK – JUST LIKE I PICTURED IT.
by Stephanie Hentschel
Looking at the pictures of Tom Christopher, you see cyclists and pedestrians hurriedly attempting to thread their way through the traffic roaring daily through the city; you follow the path of taxis and buses plowing their way through the crowded streets between skyscrapers and imposing buildings – sometimes slowly, sometimes at top speed – and again and again their movement is interrupted by red lights or pedestrian crosswalks; interspersed among all that, you catch glimpses of construction workers intently concentrating on doing their work properly, in spite of the obvious chaos that is always rampant in a metropolis.
With indefatigable fascination, over and over again Tom Christopher sketches glimpses of urbane, exhilarating metropolitan life in New York. His pictures tell stories and anecdotes about individual people, snatched from the day-to-day life of the city’s residents and tourists, a hectic and amorphous mass of humanity that seems to pervade every last corner of the buildings and streets. Just like short still pictures from a movie, he sifts out frequencies, freezing time for a brief instant to permit more detailed insight into what is happening. The ordinary day-to-day life of the individual becomes a stylised symbol of urban life in the metropolis, with the immediate moment serving as a starting point.
As a result of the steep perspective and deep urban canyons, the viewer quickly feels transported into the very midst of the restless hustle and bustle of this city that never sleeps.
Working on the basis of sketches and photographs, the artist creates a structural grid of fine graphite lines on canvas which he then sheaths in a colourful layer using a vibrant palette of diverse hues executed with expressive brushwork. The predominant use of primary colours, his accentuated treatment of shadows cast and blank areas of white that occur ever more frequently on the canvas generate an augmented luminosity of the colours themselves as well as the dynamics and resonating structure of the surface of the pictures by means of the striking contrasts they achieve. Sprays of paint, slight paint splatters and blurring create a tactile surface structure, thus additionally eliciting an impression of spontaneity and undiluted vitality of the events that are depicted.
Speed and movement are the primary themes that Tom Christopher explores in his works – not only through his choice of motifs but also by means of his painting technique. The never-ending bustle of the metropolis – the energetic currents that it spawns and that seem to awaken within it – all serve as the foundation for his inspiration. Colours, sounds, movement and energy that the artist absorbs on the city streets have a direct impact on the manner in which his pictures are crafted and the effect they have on the viewer.
Therefore, the recent project on Broadway where the artist worked on his newest works in the midst of that bubbling cauldron, directly on Times Square, in the glassed-in interiors of the Brill Building, right before the eyes of the public, seems eminently intriguing. The artist himself is transformed from a ceaseless, persevering observer of urban life into a specimen under observation in a kind of display window, where he is only separated from the surrounding bustle by a thin layer of glass. He and his creative process quickly become the focus of attention and suddenly the setting seems like a picture within a picture, as if the artist himself has become the central focus of one of his works, directly influencing its dramatic tension.
The visual impressions and ephemeral moments that we experience day after day and absorb quite subconsciously are what Tom Christopher spotlights visually in his pictures, thus imbuing them with special meaning at the same time. Lights and colours from advertising billboards, traffic-related noises and snippets of conversations between passers-by hurrying past, their confluence triggering the constant pulsation of the metropolis, are elevated into concrete motifs of paintings and are thus slowed down for a brief period.
Over the course of the years, Tom Christopher has observed the transformation of the city, how it has developed and all of the small individual factors that are constantly in motion, knitting together the fabric of the great whole. In the same way as those changes seem never ending, in his works the artist also moves in time with heartbeat of the city, thus serving as a mirror of that ordinary but simultaneously extraordinary spectacle.
Inspired by the approaches and painting techniques of the Expressionists, Tom Christopher focuses on the modern and contemporary themes of the metropolis of New York, its structures, dynamics and moods, capturing those impressions on canvas in a very purposeful fashion using bright colours with rapid and characteristic brush strokes that reflect the volatility of urban life.
Short lines of text, quotations or snippets of various conversations picked up randomly on the street are incorporated into Tom Christopher’s pictures as titles. The purpose of the text sequences is not so much the function of a meaningful title explaining the pictorial theme: instead they are a part of the work of art itself, like a kind of enhanced stylistic device. In this way, the artist does not provide any concrete interpretational aids; rather he allows the viewer to become part of the inspiration and the experiences that he draws from the exciting and enthralling life in the metropolis. The central idea of Tom Christopher’s art is also underscored by the brief sequences that do not reveal any concrete meaning for the most part because of the lack of context. Just like the fleeting pictures and visual impressions of the metropolis of New York, syllables and snippets from a wide variety of conversations, on the telephone or between two passers-by, are registered subconsciously just in passing.
In Tom Christopher’s pictures, all of the threads come together with the aim of artistic realisation of movement, dynamics and the energy of the metropolis of New York. The title, composition, selection of colour and motif of his pictures achieve a fusion that captures the pulsating, vital and diverse life of the huge city on canvas, bringing it to a standstill for one brief moment.
Ultimately, the result is a continuous interplay of concrete representation and abstraction, movement and standstill, beauty and reality as well as an expressive painting technique erupting with colour and narrative content that seems to burst open the limits of the canvas, thus perfectly mirroring the spatially and atmospherically limitless metropolis of New York in all its facets.