I’ve been flipping through more Arthur Getz cover art from The New Yorker and came upon this beauty from 1957. Let’s take a look.
Mr. Getz was an expert at capturing small moments of New York City’s outdoor culture, and what is more ubiquitous in NYC culture than the sight of heavy construction parading right under the nose – or just over the heads – of the citizens? This scene of the renovation of a brownstone is as busy with textures and colors as a paisley tie, but hangs together beautifully thanks to his composition and palette.
The first thing I notice in Getz’s composition is how he directs your eye. Your view naturally starts at the upper left where there are sunlit construction workers and juicy detail in the nearest brownstone’s lovely oriel window. From the top left your eye slides down the chute and the wood planks, past the palisade of old doors to the dump truck; you inevitably climb the intricate façade of the buildings to the right of the truck, up and up to the hazily blank sky, where you can’t help but land with a thud on the bulls-eye of the whole scene, the wrecking ball. It’s a superb construction, sweeping your eye all around the view.
In landscape painting there is a general rule that warm colors advance and cool colors recede. This scene adheres to the rule with great success, with the warm brownstone tones closest to us, the middle ground scene of doors and rubble painted in slightly cooler shades, and the background sky and skyscrapers in the coolest, grayest tones – even that yellow apartment building is about as chilled a yellow as you can get in paint. I love how the artist ties together the scene by splashing periwinkle blue here and there – on a couple of the doors, under the scaffold, the brownstone handrail, the debris chute, one plane of the roof gable, and even high up on the top balconies of that yellow building. Getz’s loose but masterful treatment of the brownstone’s architecture is so admirable too, from the carvings and rustications in the massive sandstone shapes to his seemingly casual squiggles indicating the elegant wrought iron balustrade of the staircase.
Finally let’s point out Mr. Getz’s effective use of angles to make this scene dynamic and yet balanced. There are a number of strong diagonals echoing through this composition, that drive from the upper left to lower right, as I’ve indicated here:
They are formed by weighty, dark masses within the picture and give it a dynamic leftward and downward push. The scene does not ‘fall over’ from all that thrust though, because Getz brilliantly balanced all those forces against one thin, gangly yet very important element: the crane arm holding the wrecking ball. Its push is from lower left to upper right, and because it is a dark structure against the lightest part of the picture, and is more finely detailed than all the dark chunky shapes, and it holds that formidable feature of the portentous wrecking ball, it balances all that leftward thrust and makes the scene satisfyingly stable.
Arthur Getz created a stunning snapshot of NYC life here, marrying its iconic brownstone architecture with the careless jetsam of city construction zones. I would call this one of his best works ever for The New Yorker.
— Pat Achilles