New York City is a visual cacophony. From the blaring taxis to the dense throngs of people, New York City is a feeling. Through large, kaleidoscopic oil paintings, painter Robert Gilbert evokes the unmistakable emotion of the boisterous, bustling, sleepless city. Robert Gilbert’s “A Study of Manhattan: Power, Dominance, and Excitement,” is on view at The Art League gallery April 4-May 6, 2018.
Bestowed with cache of nicknames and memorialized in print, film, art, and song, few cities have captured our imagination as much as New York City. What makes Gilbert’s own portrayal of the Big Apple so unique are the dynamic, crisscrossing lines that sear through his paintings to guide the viewer’s eye.
The effect is bold and unapologetic—much like the very city he depicts. With billboards, buildings, and crowds of people all clamoring for attention, Gilbert narrows his viewer’s focus by painting these “lines of refraction” as the final touch. According to Gilbert, the refracting lines “reinforce the structure within a painting—they emphasize the verticality or perspective point,” and his paintings are incomplete without these linear patterns traveling across the picture plane.
Gilbert’s paintings are constructed with the mind of an architect and abstracted by the hand of a painter. Beginning from photographs, Gilbert approaches the structures in his paintings —from the Brooklyn Bridge to Rockefeller Center—as if they were “part of a puzzle,” trying to determine what materials the buildings are made of, how they affect their environment, and how he can evoke their essence without painting hundreds of stories.
With the city's steel behemoths looming overhead, Gilbert remarked that it's easy “to feel insignificant.” He often places the viewer at ground level into the thick of the melting pot, in order to immerse and confront them with the tireless mayhem of New York City. “I don’t want to paint just a skyscraper,” Gilbert noted. “I want to paint a story.”