New York City is massive. It’s full of diverse individuals, which makes it a pleasure to explore and paint. The citizens have strong identities, and international communities visit from all over the world. I used to travel to NYC quite often, and I hadn’t visited in five years. Since NYC changes so quickly and so often, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Definitely hadn’t attempted to paint an entire book about it before.
The timing for this two-week trip worked out well. The first part of the trip coincided with the last week of Pride month, while the second part of the trip overlapped with USA’s Independence Day. I wanted to show how these two events aesthetically unified the communities throughout NYC — dressed up in rainbow combinations and subsequently red, white, and blue.
I wanted to start off my trip quickly -- After my arrival in Brooklyn, I dropped off all my stuff, loaded up an unlimited metro card, and immediately went into Manhattan. I did most of my travel using the subways, which are the bloodlines of the city.
Although I had been to NYC many times, one of the least explored Burroughs for me was the Bronx. After a quick ride on the subway, I stood in front of the Yankee Stadium. The game was about to start against the Toronto Blue Jays, and crowds of people entered the impressive roaring stadium.
I traveled further into the Bronx into Fordham to get a more authentic view of its neighborhood and community. They had a large Latino and African American population, and many local shopping centers and parks — people relaxed under the shade, while the kids played in the sun.
Walking distance was Bronx’s Little Italy, which I learned was the FIRST Little Italy in NYC, not the one that everyone knows in Manhattan.
There are many different areas to visit in Manhattan. On this trip, I focused on several areas:
Union Square, - a key hub of NYC transit.The tall buildings and roar of the city seemed to center around the George Washington Statue. A mixture of different cultures and identities and activities. College students were shooting the breeze. Uvevsa “Mother of the Park” doing Tarot Card readings all day. Pickup-games of chess with preset tables. Nearby I could hear the Hare Krishnas singing and chanting.
A friend invited me to Laughing Lotus yoga studio close by. It is apparent that many of those in NYC could benefit greatly from having yoga - It was nice being around others who were taking care of their mind, spirit, and body. I was invited to paint one of the classes.
Financial District - I watched Wall Street fat cats were smoking cigars and having an afternoon drink next to the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). In front was the little Fearless Girl bronze statue, looking defiantly up at with her hands on her hips.
Chinatown - Had distinct lanterns and lots of boba drink spots. It was surprising to learn that Chinatown had now become a hip place for nightlife since the last time I had been there, several years ago. In the park, elders were playing Chinese Chess and poker cards. The distinct sound of a Chinese stringed instrument filled the air.
Little Italy - as one street intersection away, where people wined and dined outdoors. Every restaurant seemed to have their own host trying to lure people off the streets to eat at their restaurants. Seemed like it worked quite often!
Washington Square Park - crowds often gather there, especially since it’s so close to the NYU campuses. Animal activist group Anonymous for the Voiceless showed images that showed the truth of the horrifying treatment toward animals in common industries.
I loved how convenient the subways in NYC are. Just a ride away were always different worlds.
During a hot and humid summer night, the subways were stifling, especially since Times Square 42nd St was an extremely busy and packed station, full of people. Occasionally a subway train would pass, and the gust of wind would just push in more hot stale air that had been sitting in the tubes.
Going outside was a reprieve. Even though it was a warmer than usual night, it was nice change from the stuffy subway. The lit-up LED screen billboards of Times Square were so bright and immersive, I felt like I was in a lit up fishbowl. Everywhere I looked, even upward, made me feel like i was surrounded by billboards.
I enjoyed painting the Empire State Building, from 50 floors up at the apartment of some of my friends. The weather was immaculate and clear, as I made my way over to Central Park to see the iconic Bethesda Fountain. Close by, musicians singers and dancers performed under a bridge walkway, where the acoustics were simply fantastic.
Near the end of my trip, I made sure to make my way up to Harlem to paint the world-famous Apollo Theater and some of the local people.
The ferry from Staten Island to Manhattan passed the Statute of Liberty and offered a great view. I did the drawing in one direction, the the painting on the way back. It was a short stop — There wasn’t much to do on Staten Island, and I didn’t know much about it. Perhaps I’ll explore more there in the future if I learn about more to explore.
I spent a lot of time in the huge borough of Brooklyn. Most people, even those who live in NYC, never end up seeing it all. Many people end up staying in certain neighborhoods, especially the gentrified Williamsburg. From the recommendation of several friends who lived or grew up in the area, I checked out some key neighborhoods:
Williamsburg - One of the most expensive and gentrified neighborhoods of Brooklyn, there were constantly people were dressed down to go out, and full of local bars and restaurants. Although there were also people of all different races, the racial majority was predominantly white. Within Williamsburg was also a distinct religious Hasidic Orthodox Jewish community, who was going to Sabbath on Saturday in. One block over were basketball players, predominantly of African American descent. A few older folks were playing games of dominoes right outside the courts. Very diverse neighbored.
Bedford-Stuyvetsant (Bed-Stuy) - All my journeying was taking a toll on my health. Luckily there was a greens and smoothie juice spot The Bush Doctor that had nutritious green and ginger drinks that got me invigorated and back on my feet! I waited out a short rain storm before venturing out to a park closely, full of families hanging out and BBQing during their Saturday afternoon. I saw distinctive stoops made out of red bricks that had stairways up to their front doors, just like the neighborhood out of an episode of Everybody Hates Chris.
Crown Heights, within walking distance of Bed-Stuy, had a predominantly Jamaican & Caribbean community. Smells of Caribbean spices, jerk, and curries filled the air, since it was about dinnertime in the neighborhood when I stopped by.
Flatbush - Although I didn’t spend much time here, I noticed many people out and about, with many different types of ethnicities restaurants.
Prospect Park was one of my favorite parts of Brooklyn. The large park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park in Manhattan. Straight urban walkways led to more naturesque areas filled with water and foliage. Paddle boats drifted through the waterways. Many families were out enjoying the nice weather.
Grand Army Plaza has a magnificent monument for Lincoln and the Civil War. The park closely was filled with people jogging, biking, and exercising. I didn’t venture too far since I could have easily spent lots of time in there, and I was on a tight schedule that day.
Brooklyn Bridge Park is on the far west edge of Brooklyn looking at Manhattan from across the East River. I saw a magnificent sun set behind the tall Manhattan buildings when I went. The Brooklyn Bridge was too my right, with the Statue of Liberty to the left in the distance. Definitely one of the most beautiful places I had been to in NYC. Behind me people were playing different sports, primarily basketball, at the Pier 2 Field and Brooklyn Bridge Park Basketball Courts.
Another large borough that I spent a good amount of time exploring. Queens holds the Guinness World Record for most ethnically diverse urban area on the planet. Also most linguistically diverse with 139 languages spoken throughout the borough.
Jackson Heights was one of my first stops in Queens - it was a good introduction to the sheer diversity of New York City - In one block alone, I saw and painted Black, White, Latino, Tibetan, Nepalese, Indian, and Middle Eastern individuals.
Astoria - A new friend on the trip invited me to come along and hang out with friends who were watching pre-Fourth-of-July fireworks over the East River. They were quite magnificent — larger and more impressive than most main fireworks of small towns!
Later on in my trip, I stayed in Queens for two days, and rode along the 7 subway line, which is nicknamed the International Express.
Forest Hills - Big-name bands play at Forest Hills Stadium in the summer, and which hosted the US Open until 1978.
Long Island City - I used to frequent the MoMA PS1. I could barely recognize it with all the tall buildings under construction close by …
Queensboro Plaza - could hardly contain my awe at how the region was so developed. Construction everywhere. All situated very close to Manhattan.
Woodside - I witnessed a very diverse neighborhood - In the middle of a weekday I saw white, black, hispanic, asian people, just on one block!
Flushing, Queens - where the 'second Chinatown’ was located. Tons of Asians flooded the streets filled with Chinese lettering on the signs. ‘Chinese-immigrant population of Flushing, Queens surpassed that of Manhattan’s Chinatown many years ago’. I was happy to find a refreshing boba spot and a corner where I painted some more people. I was hoping to grab a bite to eat, but I was in a rush.
Flushing Meadows Corona Park - the location of the 1964 World’s Fair. There was a crazy M.I.B. UFOs and the large globe with fountains all around. Since it was a really hot day when I went, lots of people were playing in the mist - a nice reprieve from the heat, running around and biking in the summer sunshine.
Citi Field - Close by, the Mets were playing the Yankees in the Subway Series All-American Classic. The clash of orange and blue vs the navy blue and grey scattered the scene. The sun set behind the Mets' Home Run Apple, and heard roars from the crowd as the two teams battled it out.
PRIDE MONTH 2019
At the beginning of my trip, one of the first images that I hoped to capture was the pride flag standing together with the USA flag - I managed to find the set of 3 USA flags and 1 rainbow flag outside of Penn Station and painted on the first page of my book.
Some other notable celebrations of Pride before the climax of the NYC Pride March:
- A Drag Queen named Angel Elektra doing a children’s book reading in Union Square.
- All the bright LED screen billboards in Times Square were were lit up in rainbow.
- Lots of crowds gathered in Washington Square Park as the monument was lit up in rainbow colors during the beginning of Pride weekend in NYC.
Early Sunday morning was the annual NYC Pride March, and the subways were filled with celebratory people, donning bright and colorful rainbow combinations. Arrived in Manhattan and it was PACKED. So many varieties of rainbow and color combinations representing different gender and sexual preferences. It was a happy and joyous day for so many people who often felt left or marginalized the rest of the year.
The march went through most of Manhattan, and in front of Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. I was lucky enough to perch on a window ledge across from the Inn. It was the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn Riots, where in 1969 the LGBT community fought back against the police as they raided Stonewall Inn, since being LGBT and having LGBT employees and patrons was illegal at the time. A completely different scene 50 years later. The subway ride back after pride was again filled with rainbows once again, including an inflatable rainbow unicorn.
FOURTH OF JULY 2019 - U.S.A. INDEPENDENCE DAY
One of my main missions for this project was to capture all the different people in NYC throughout all five boroughs united in wearing red white and blue for July 4th Independence Day 2019. I started in Brooklyn and went south to the infamous Coney Island. There were lots of people on the beach and it was super hot, early in the day. The arcade area was full of people as well - the whole place was really busy and crowded.
From the shores of Coney Island, the closest boroughs was Staten Island, so I took the first car on my trip and jetted over the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge into over. At the ferry building, people were definitely festive with music and performances. Many were likely enjoying the opportunity to see the Statue of Liberty from the Ferry. This time I painted her all in one go. The statue is such a prominent symbol of immigrant hope in America.
Then went all the way into the Bronx skipping Manhattan since I would return there later. I went to Fordham Heights, a busy neighborhood of the Bronx that I had gone to early in the trip, to paint as many people as possible. I cut back through Manhattan into Queens, and painted a fire station, while other people were rushing to their final destinations to watch the fireworks that were happening soon. So many people headed toward the water.
I was running out of time! I painted lots of people in the last remaining borough, Manhattan, as I rushed to my friend’s family’s place that overlooked the East River from the top of a 60 floor building. I probably saw the most amazing fireworks in my life from that vantage point. Fireworks were coming off the Brooklyn Bridge, and bursting high into the air from two barges parked in the East River.
After, I went to Grand Central where I knew there was a large USA flag, and then along mid-Manhattan to paint the Empire State building lit up in red, white, and blue. Raindrops and heavy clouds floated by, saturating the air and caused the paint and ink to apply extra heavy.
The city had changed from five years ago. There were lots of new construction and shifts in neighborhood demographics. Yet change always seemed to be normal for New York City. Many things also remained the same - so many familiar sights, smells, and sounds. It was great catching up with friends I hadn’t seen in years.
This project enticed me to explore parts of the city that I would have otherwise not explored. I was rewarded by all different body shapes, body language, and outfits.
Given the enormous size of New York City and its huge population, I could have easily painted more of the city and its people given more time. I look forward to returning to the city and painting more of it in the future. Who knows what kind of changes the city will undergo?
Please let others know about this project and support future Soul Journal destinations! My hope is to document as many cultures around the world as possible.