underground series: artist's statement


There are those who love trains, happily obsessed with railroads, trolleys, and subway systems. I am not one of them; my Underground series began instead as more of an arranged marriage. After 14 years of painting, I became interested in taking watercolor "beyond pretty" and trying alternative, impressionist techniques: thick paint, sprayed water, layers of spatter and scumble. Most of the non-traditional paintings I admired depicted bridges and cityscapes. What other subject, I wondered, could be equally urban, gritty, and massive? The answer lay beneath my feet.

The more I observed the subway, the more I saw its juxtapositions and ironies. Each station was predictably uniform, yet unique; its size and scale were sprawling, yet claustrophobic. Riding the post-graffiti trains is the most mundane of daily activities, yet a packed or empty car can still spike the adrenaline. Few would call the subway pretty, but its miles of grimy pipes and rail, its sheer geometric functionality, began to reveal a kind of sullen beauty.

It's doubtful that anyone has the NYC transit system in mind when he quotes the phrase "architecture is the art you can't avoid." The underground is a place urban dwellers hurry to leave, yet can't do without. Tens of thousands of riders swarm its landscape every rush hour, filling its tunnels, cars, platforms, and vertigo-inducing three-level stairwells; they become part of that underground architecture, providing a tide of evocative images.

In the Underground series I simplify complex human and station architecture into ragged shapes of light and dark, illuminated by the fractured light of speeding trains.

The series explores the rushed, off-balance feeling evoked by traveling in a confined subterranean space -- one that is simultaneously mundane yet vaguely menacing, at once over-bright and shadowy.


The paintings are done in layers of thick transparent watercolor, and sometimes opaque gouache, on heavy, rough-textured, archival cotton Arches paper.

Joan Iaconetti

New York City