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Jane Dickson’s art reminds me of lively lonely nights in sleazy old Times Square…

I recently caught up with “All That Is Solid Melts Into Air,” an exhibit of paintings by Jane Dickson which bring to life the Times Square of the old sleazy era in the 80s and 90s. Her style is her own but its impact reminds me of Edward Hopper’s, evoked primarily through urban night scenes; as in Hopper’s works, deserted streets and places have a loneliness that’s not entirely sad, but also thoughtful, introspective, almost peaceful, and sometimes even inviting—as in this picture of a guy with a placard for a club called Dreams (I vaguely remember that club’s name, although I don’t remember if I ever went there)…

Jane Dickson: “Dreams” 2018

Dickson’s paintings in this excellent show at the James Fuentes Gallery on NYC’s Lower East Side (on display through February 17, 2019) feature a woman’s face looking through noirish Venetian blinds; a boy at a bus stop in an ominously red full face mask; a girl dancing in peep show with a customer on the other side (we get the peep show’s window eye view)…

Jane Dickson: “Peep,” 1992-96

 

There’s a painting of a low angle on a woman navigating a baby stroller down a stairs; the front of the big Peepland that was situated mid-block on the south side of 42nd between 7th and 8th Avenues; cops running on the street in some kind of frenzied police action; an evocation of the Terminal Bar that used to be (if I recall correctly) at 40th and 8th Avenue; and my favorite painting, showing a long hallway leading to the “employees only” area of a strip club, with a solitary half-naked dancer, almost out of eye view, leaning against the wall–you can almost imagine the rasping sound the linoleum would make beneath her high heels…

Jane Dickson: “Employees Only,” 2000

The colors of Dickson’s paintings and their varying sizes suggest indirectly a complex mix of personal emotions, those of the painter or (more vaguely) of the subjects of the pictures, just as Hopper paintings do for their era. One painting I also particularly liked, and one of the largest, was a vertiginous angle on the stairway/escalator leading downstairs in the old Nathan’s Hot Dogs that used to be at 43rd and Broadway…

Jane Dickson: “Nathan’s,” 1984-86

I went down that stairway many a time to eat a frank in the forlorn expanse of the lower level dining room (I lived in Times Square myself in the 80s, only a few blocks up).  This painting in particular reminds me how the old raunchy neighborhood (I never called it “The Deuce” myself back in the day) might have made you feel lonely, or was a place you went to hang out when you were already feeling lonely (or horny); but it didn’t necessarily make you feel ashamed of being lonely (or horny), as the new overly technological tourist-filled Disneyesque miasma of 21st century Times Square does for me. Once you were allowed to sit in your solitude in Times Square, perhaps feeling forsaken but not defective for not having a wife or family in tow; knowing that you could find distraction only steps away in any number of strip clubs or peep shows or in library-like adult bookstores where you could stand wordlessly side-by-side with other strangers and browse through assemblages of erotica that sometimes, depending on the particular store, could appear to the scholarly-minded almost Smithsonian in their range. After all, it was in places like this that I found rare mint copies of the original John Willie BIZARRE magazines from the 1940s, at prices so low it was clear the merchants had no idea of the value of what they were selling.

So if you have a casual interest, a deep nostalgia, or a fascinated yearning for the bygone Times Square depicted in HBO’s series The Deuce (see my own thoughts on the show here), check out Jane Dickson’s beautifully evocative paintings at the James Fuentes Gallery, located at 55 Delancey Street. Here is a link to more info, and another link to an interview with Ms. Dickson and a preview of the paintings. Also check out this interview by Ben Yakas in The Gothamist on the occasion of the publication of her book of street photography and art, Jane Dickson in Times Square, which you can find on Amazon here.

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Postscript: It’s funny, but I just realized, in looking this over as I was editing, that my selection of the pictures to illustrate this review really evokes a typical night for me back in the 80s or early 90s. I didn’t assemble the pictures consciously with this in mind, but studying them now I see how they match the pattern of my many lively lonely travels through Times Square. Seeing a guy advertising a club, I might have gone to the venue, or maybe first to a peep show, then to the club; later, in the strip joint and having had a few beers, I would invariably head to the men’s room and might well have seen a dancer having a cigarette back near an “Employees Only” area; and finally, having had my raunchy fun at the club (or even been disappointed, as could frequently happen), I’d stop at Nathan’s for a hot dog and Coke…a meal that could be lonely, yes, but also satisfying in a quasi-Romantic “I’m a lone wolf” kinda way…  😉 You know, “lone wolf” as in David Janssen in the great old 60s tv series The Fugitive? Except that I was probably just running away from having to spend too much time alone with myself…

But that’s the subject for another post someday.

 


All examples of the paintings shown here are by Jane Dickson, as displayed at the James Fuentes Gallery NYC January 16 through February 17, 2019.

 

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