Artist Derrick Adams, an urban visionary artist with 20 years of public displays to his credit, says the city’s parks are one of the few places where people make eye contact. And they were the inspiration behind his latest towering art work, entitled The City is My Refuge, now on display in the Amtrak Rotunda at Penn Station.
It’s the capstone of over two decades of work for the Baltimore born and now longtime Brooklyn resident and assistant professor at Brooklyn College, whose art career has included public displays ranging from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Hudson River Museum, among many others.
As part of its Art at Amtrak series, the train giant unveiled his latest work, replacing the panels of Dahlia Elsayed and Saya Woolfalk, which debuted last June.
This is not Adams first transportation creation: three years ago, he created panels at the Long Island Rail Road Station at Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, a laminated glass artwork—85-panels that line the full length of the station platforms
The City Is My Refuge will be on display through the Summer and coincides with a current solo exhibition at the Flag Art Foundation on West 25th Street. Art at Amtrak project plans to use local artists at other on-line stations but New York’s Penn Station is the only display venue so far.
Adams, a Columbia MFA graduate, describes himself as a multidisciplinary artist who said he uses the influences of popular culture on the formation of self-image, questioning how African American experiences intersect with art history, American iconography, and consumerism. He has been exhibiting since 2001, with solo exhibitions at the Milwaukee Art Museum, Hudson River Museum, The Gallery in Baltimore City Hall, Museum of Arts and Design, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver. His work is part of permanent public and private collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Birmingham Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
For his unique art style, he layers, hybridizes, and collages images, materials, and different types of sensory experiences. He’s seen by some as a 21st Century pioneer in the footsteps of artists from Henri Matisse to Romario Bearden.
He said he has been Brooklynite since 1993.“That makes me a native,” said the artist during a recent interview conducted below his towering art work in Penn Station. He said he has work and family that call for his frequent trips to his native city of Baltimore.
As an artist, he said he draws inspiration from NYC Parks, particularly Washington Square in Greenwich Village, Marcus Garvey in Harlem and Fort Greene in upper Manhattan. He said those parks in particular lent themselves to thought and discipline for this artistic project. Time spent there helps him to see all city people in a whole new light. “I like the parks in the City” said Adams. “They are non-transactional. No one is buying or selling anything to anyone. This makes all of us all related.” The artist explained that unlike other places in New York City, parks tend to lend themselves to direct eye contact, which is a very important part of this specific work.
Upon inspection of the artwork at Penn Station, you will see people’s faces and leaves, in a background of darker green. Some images in this work are solid colors and with some combining of skin tones showing both our diversities and similarities. At a first look, you might find this work confrontational, but after this the broad canvas is a measure of the intimacy that we, as total strangers, share here in NYC.
The urban environment portrayed has an audio component, created by Adams, that can be accessed via a QR code at the station, broadening interpretation of the installation.
The vinyl panels were curated by Debra Simon Art Consulting, and overseen by Amtrak’s Sharon Tepper, as part of her role as Director of Planning and Development of NY Penn Station, as a part of Art at Amtrak. With this artwork, the upper level concourse has become a large room, with the artists work lining its four corners,
Whether you are catching the Acela to DC, the 6:09PM for Long Beach, or just looking at the artwork, make some time for gazing at the giant work at our nation’s busiest transportation terminal, envisioned by one of New York City’s most creative visionaries.
“That makes me a native,” Urban Artist Derrick Adams, a Brooklynite since ‘93.