City art is a term that describes those artworks that are inspired by urbanity and city-related themes. City is a broad term, and when one speaks about city art, he/she has to think above the most usual concepts of the urban landscape, such as the buildings and houses. City art is also consisted of city’s history, culture, sub-culture, its population, its landmarks. Let us focus on New York, the city that has been most represented in what we call city art. The cityscape of Manhattan is perceived as the most exploited theme in city art. However, there are thousands of great artworks that were inspired by thousands of other New York City famous architectural or cultural sights and symbols – The Statue of Liberty, New York Subway System, vibrant night-life, Wall Street, Brooklyn or Haarlem themes, and so on. Therefore, city art is much more from urban landscape – this form represents the spirit on one city, not only its architectural characteristics.
Artists have been inspired by cities since the Ancient times. During the Middle Ages, this art approach was not so much popular since cities in modern sense of that word did not exist, at least not in Europe. The first major city art paintings emerged during the Dutch Golden Age painting, when Masters such as Jan Vermeer painted quite accurate portraits of Delft, The Hague, Amsterdam and other cities. In addition, during the 17th and 18th Century, Venice and other Italian cities witnessed great paintings by Italian Masters depicting famous buildings of the cities, squares and panoramic views.
Impressionists and Post-Impressionist introduced a new form of city art – they were largely focused on the atmosphere and dynamics of everyday life in the city. This approach influenced a number of artists in the 20th Century who were part of different art movements; but, the focus has been shifted to people, citizens and cultural landmarks. The number of artworks depicting panoramic view of a city declined, while many artists began creating works inspired by marginalized or subjugated groups (i.e. homeless people), by the city’s history, communal policies and problems (abandoned factories and industry buildings).
City art is used in all possible art movements and styles. But, it's difficult to imagine sculpture or ceramics or even glass art as part of what we call city art. Although the Impressionist paintings are the most famous city art pieces, there are other movements who contributed to this artistic approach. Hyper-realism has a number of great examples of city art, so does figurative art. On the other hand, there are movements whose practice can be related with the city art, but their status can be problematic. Street and urban art are important for city art, but the practice of street artists is embedded into social, cultural and artistic dynamic of cities themselves. Therefore, only the artistic representation of street art pieces could be named as city art. Similarly, performance art pieces often take place on public spaces. Still, they are part of a city’s inner dynamic, and it’s out of the range of the city art.
Ten artworks presented in this article are related with contemporary art, but with several exceptions. The aim was to present those artists who are still active and whose practice is renowned and recognized as the most representative when it comes to city art.
Editors’ Tip: The City as a Work of Art: London, Paris, Vienna
When it comes to city art, there are some cities in the world that are most represented. These cities are New York, Paris, London, Madrid, Mexico City, Boston, Berlin. However, this list indicates that more global approach is needed, since all these cities are located in Europe and North America. What about the cities in Asia, Africa or Latin America that also inspired a number of artists in their work. For this moment, we recommend the book that is entitled “The City as a Work of Art: London, Paris, Vienna”. This book examines public buildings and homes in ninteenth-century London, Paris, and Vienna, and explains how each city reflected the characteristic lifestyle of its population.
Richard Estes is an American artist, best known for his photorealist paintings. The paintings generally consist of reflective, clean, and inanimate city and geometric landscapes. This artist was one of the founders of the international photo-realist movement of the late 1960s. Estes' paintings were based on several photographs of the subject. He avoided using famous New York landmarks. His paintings provided fine detail that were invisible to the naked eye, and gave "depth and intensity of vision that only artistic transformation can achieve.”
Featured Image: Richard Estes - Artwork
Yvonne Jacquette is an American painter and printmaker known in particular for her depictions of aerial landscapes, especially her low-altitude and oblique aerial views of cities or towns, often painted using a distinctive, pointillistic technique. Her paintings are intensely colored, elaborately detailed panoramas of cities, and the countryside at various day and night. By using the Pointillistic technique, her artworks look like contemporary Neo-Impressionist paintings.
Featured Image: Yvonne Jacquette - East River with Brooklyn Bridge, detail (courtesy of theartroomonline.net)
One of the greatest pieces of art ever made – Guernica, created by Pablo Picasso does not represent the urban landscape nor people walking down the street. This is a painting about the horrible destiny of a beautiful city of Guernica that was completely destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. The painting became a universal symbol of horrors of wars and devastations. Guernica and its citizens were only inspiration – the final product is a powerful composition whose subjects and message can be used for so many other, similar examples.
Featured Image: Pablo Picasso - Guernica, detail
William Klein is an American-born French photographer and filmmaker. Klein achieved widespread fame as a fashion photographer for Vogue and for his photo essays on various cities. Within the world of contemporary photography, he is known for his extensive use of unusual photographic techniques in the context of photojournalism. One of the most influential photographers alive, his works related with New York are the most important part of his oeuvre.
Featured Image: William Klein - Atom Bomb Sky
Rackstraw Downes is a British-born realist painter. He is primarily based in New York City where he has painted numerous cityscapes and urban scenes. However, Downes has also created a significant number of landscape paintings on site in Maine and Texas, of subjects including the harbor of Portland, Maine and the Donald Judd structures in Marfa, Texas.
Featured Image: Rackstraw Downes - 110th and Broadway, Whelan's from Sloan's 1980–81, detail
Antonio Lopez Garcia is a Spanish painter and sculptor, known for his realistic style. A vast number of his work is also characterized by hyper-realism. He is the most famous Spanish painter when it comes to the city art. He began to paint panoramic views of Madrid about 1960. Still, he does not focus exclusively on panoramic views; he also paints people on the streets, desolate spaces, images of his garden and landscape.
Featured Image: Antonio Lopez Garcia - View of Madrid from Torres Blancas, 1976-82, detail (courtesy of robertorosenman.com)
Stephen Wiltshire is a British architectural artist. This amazing artist was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to art. In relation to the city art, Wiltshire is known for his ability to draw from memory a landscape after seeing it just once. This photographic memory by Wiltshire made him globally popular. He has created a number of stunning urban landscape pieces of London, New York, Venice and many other cities. In May 2005, Wiltshire produced his longest ever panoramic memory drawing of Tokyo on a 32.8-foot-long (10.0 m) canvas within seven days following a helicopter ride over the city.
Featured Image: Stephen Wiltshire - The Ritz and Piccadilly (courtesy if oceblog.com)
Childe Hassam was a prolific American Impressionist painter, noted for his urban and coastal scenes. He was one of the artists who made Impressionism popular in the United States. He was one of the most influential American artists of the early 20th century. As American Impressionist, he created dozens of remarkable paintings depicting streets of Boston, New York and Paris.
Featured Image: Childe Hassam - Rainy Day, Boston,1885, detail
George Hendrik Breitner was a Dutch painter and photographer. He was one of the most important figures of the Amsterdam Impressionist movement, while his artistic legacy is marked by his paintings of street scenes and harbors in a realistic style. He painted en plein air, and the majority of his most important paintings depict rainy weather while documenting street life and atmospheric effects.
Featured Image: George Hendrik Breitner - The Dam, Amsterdam, 1895
Edouard Cortes was a French post-impressionist artist of French and Spanish ancestry. His first exhibition in 1901 brought him immediate recognition. Cortes is known for his nickname "Le Poete Parisien de la Peinture" or "the Parisian Poet of Painting". His colleagues, public and critics named him as Parisian Poet of Painting because of his diverse Paris cityscapes in a variety of weather and night settings.
Featured Image: Edouard Cortes - Paris, detail. All Images used for illustrative purposes only.