Narrative Portraits of NYC Subway Riders by Chris Russell
We used to spend a fair amount of time riding and commuting on the New York City subway and the routine can become pretty mundane. The cold or incredibly humid concrete city gets to people and the subway isn't usually where they are finding their joy. It is also a place where diversity and all the colorful characters of the fantastic city meet in a single confined space and we're pretty sure there is no better place to people watch. Chris Russell, over the course of 4 years, in 8 pocket-sized accordion books, has spent his commute drawing his fellow subway riders in an arrangement reminiscent of traditional Chinese landscape paintings!
The series, entitled Foolish Behavior in the House of the Gods, was recently on display at The Center for Strategic Art And Agriculture and he was named one of the top 10 artists to watch from the 2013 Bushwick Open Studios by Hyperallergic.
Artwork photos by Matthew Grandin.
These narrative portraits of New York City subway riders, created over the course of three years in eight pocket sized accordion books, echo and reimagine the tropes of traditional Chinese landscape paintings. Mirroring the arrangement of Chinese landscapes’ topographical elements, in these works commuters, discarded cans, and Shang Dynasty bronzes alike become sentient in their interrelation to one another, creating a complex portrait of the human experience.
Placing an unending stream of subway riders in the sublime stylistic context of traditional Chinese landscape painting, Foolish Behavior complicates the everyday mundanity of the commute. The viewer is prompted to rethink her fellow subway riders, considering them not as the person who took her seat or is talking too loud or as one hardly noticeable within the throng, but as entire narratives in and of themselves. Russell also portrays the human limit to this kind of complete empathy in his unfinished figures who departed the subway before their unwitting portrait could be finished. These synecdoches, eyes, ears, legs, convey the sense that our understanding of others is boundaried by time spent together, and that our memories can never truly outlast the present moment.
Chris Russell was born in Palo Alto, CA, in 1982, and currently lives and works as a special educator in New York. He is the contributor illustrator for Stonecutter: A Journal of Art and Literature, and his work has been featured in Higher Arc, Washington Square Review and 92Y's Podium. His recent exhibition at the Center for Strategic Art and Agriculture, in Brooklyn, NY, was titled "Foolish Behavior in the House of the Gods," and consisted of 8 connected accordion notebooks filled with daily illustrations over the past 4 years, and spanning over 75-feet.