Monday, April 22, 2013

FROM THE TRAIN...then and now


Over the years I've carried notebooks in my pocketbook whenever I traveled on trains, which all began when I first went to Pratt Institute as a freshman in the art school.

I commuted to Pratt rather than living in the dorm. I later thought it would have been better if I had moved in there, I might have been a better student. But in fact the time spent on the train was a kind of neutral space I could inhabit, between the challenges of school and the world at home, where I lived with my parents and grandmother (and my sister, when she was home from college.) And it happened I had the unique experience of being neither fish nor fowl for that 1 to 1/12 hours twice a day, hanging somewhere in between, in which time I was completely myself, fit to dream of art thoughts, poetry urges, and maybe some romantic fancies (fantasies?) The train time became almost like a very nice black hole in which to drop in and away from possibly difficult school problems and likewise, to separate myself from the role I played in my family and be utterly myself, alone.

During those four years (that seems such a long time to be traveling every day to and from your "life", your raison d'etre), I wrote in a black and white composition notebook the following (and keep in mind that I had become very much in love with color, paint, and trying to find in myself the capability of being an artist)...


Winter Landscape (night)

Zinc, chaulk,
cream, wet
plaster rains
in the night
sky, lights
filling the ice
with channels
of crystal

plum color
foams in
bushes along
the edge
of train tracks

the sky is
a poured canopy
of frozen vapor -
color locked
in the ice

the distant
landscape is
carved of
slate: light
from a fireball
drops, cooling,
into the labyrinth
of blue rock -
freezes in
a moment of
burning sparks -
lighting the night

light thrown
from windows
of cities -
yellow shadows
out onto the sea
of cold

inside the houses
from window squares
of light -
color dances
on 4 walls -
like furnace
flames leaping


While traveling back and forth to Pratt, I was writing things of a subjective nature that were not part of the curriculum (perhaps not a good idea!) but instead were more or less reflections of the inner surface of my mind, the nature of which I was keeping carefully unto myself, lest it be fouled by too early hatching into light-of-day exposure. This bit of writing (above) bridged the realms of poetry and painting and gave me the feeling that I could in fact paint what I described. (I want here to mention a wonderful teacher in that first year at Pratt: painter Richard Lindner, who taught a course called Creative Expression. It involved field trips to places like the Gowanus Canal, and the market on Delancey Street, where he asked us to respond to the experience both in word and in image. He would have us bring back the results and the class would evaluate which "expression" was the most ideal. Hence my pleasure in both modes!)

Following Pratt were four years commuting from Merrick to New York to my first job, followed by several more years once married and living in White Plains when I commuted again to New York City to a job. The next ten years were almost absent of train trips except for occasional trips down to New York from Hudson, New York. Then came many years in Roosevelt Island with my two daughters, where we began making trips out to Merrick to visit my family. And then very little of trains until 2005 when I moved here to Branford and began working at my old job every two weeks, starting a sequence of regular trips, notebook in pocket, with attempts at drawing on the train, inscribing on the back of each drawing: "from the train" and the date. Now that I have a phone with camera, taking pictures from the train (enjoying the sometimes strange resultant imagery.)

Following are a couple of pages from a notebook; photos taken on the move; and an ink drawing. With the drawings, nothing stays still and things must be quilted together: a house from this moment, and a tree from that...

#1  A notebook entry:





#2  Photos taken as landscapes swirl by:







#3   And an ink drawing: "From the train, 2/6/2013"


3 comments:

Unknown said...

My favorite post yet! I love this so much. I appreciate trains for the very reasons you are talking about. They are wonderful "in-between" places...you aren't required to do anything but observe (or not) or sleep, or dream while awake. Love the poem and the photos!

LianaK said...

Lovely post! I have not taken a train ride in years but I think back on our many trips as kids back and forth from NY to pumpkin hollow along the Hudson river. So nice to lose yourself in the rolling scenery for a few hours.

LianaK said...

Lovely post! I have not taken a train ride in years but I think back on our many trips as kids back and forth from NY to pumpkin hollow along the Hudson river. So nice to lose yourself in the rolling scenery for a few hours.