Current artists: Amon Azizov, Wei Chen, Qiao Fu, Gao Min, Guo Kun Sheug, Artashes Karslian, Ji Yin Jin, Li Qun, Lin Ruo, Dean Lu, Ren Jien-Guo, Jorge Rivera, Sharif Sadiq, Peter Walsh, Xiang Yue Chuan, Dario Zapata, Zhuang Xuemin

Organized by Peter Walsh, Ongoing.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Breaking News: Appellate Judge Issues Interim Stay Blocking Enforcement of New Park Rules; Artists to Work Through the Holiday Season

In a dramatic turnaround, just one day after a New York State Supreme Court judge ended a Temporary Restraining Order and denied a motion for a Preliminary Injunction blocking the enforcement of new NYC Parks Department Rules, Justice Peter Tom of the Appellate Division, First Department, issued a new Interim Stay that will effectively allow artists to continue working in four key New York City parks through the holiday season. The decision came late yesterday evening, December 16, 2010, after arguments on an emergency motion filed by the artists’ attorneys, Phillips Nizer LLP.

Reached today by phone, attorney Jeffrey L. Shore, litigation counsel with the Phillips Nizer team, stated that the interim stay will be in effect at least through January 7th. Whether that stay is continued past that date will depend on Justice Tom’s full decision on the motion to block enforcement of the new park rules till the appeal of trial court’s December 15, 2010 denial of a preliminary injunction is settled, possibly sometime later in January. A Phillips Nizer press release dated today, December 17th, states that they believe that there are “at least six legal errors” in that decision.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Judge Denies Preliminary Injunction; New Park Rules To Be Enforced for Now

Judge Milton A. Tingling, Jr. of the New York State Supreme Court has ruled against a Preliminary Injunction in the Dua et al v. NYC Parks Department case. The judge also vacated the temporary restraining order against the city issued on August 25, 2010, almost four months ago. That means that the Parks Department's new rules dramatically restricting the ability of artists to work in four New York City Parks (Central Park, Union Square Park, Battery Park and the High Line) will go back in effect.

Although the ruling is clearly not a good sign for the artist plaintiffs, the judge, writing in an eleven page decision, did indicate areas still open to argument as the case moves forward. He called the City's assertions that the rules were created to prevent congestion and address issues of park aesthetics "somewhat specious" and stated that there was "insufficient evidence adduced at this time to confirm or deny" the artist plaintiffs' claim that congestion and aesthetics are "merely pretextual." The case will continue in February as will two other cases filed by artists in Federal court.

Robert Lederman, president of the street artists organization A.R.T.I.S.T., has provided the following link to the compete text of Judge Tingling's ruling:\ cision-Denynig-Preliminary-Injunction

More commentary to follow soon.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Edict of 1853

"Clown Playing a Drum"
  Honore Daumier, c. 1865-67
The British Museum, London
“… he met the challenge with a swift and flexible drawing style that could summarize a situation with arresting economy. The soft, greasy lithographic crayon was his ally in this effort; compliant and responsive, ‘it followed [his] thoughts,’ he reportedly said, whereas ‘the lead pencil was stubborn and did not obey’ him.
Théodore de Banville remembered seeing the artist in his studio on the Quai d’Anjou drawing with the ‘débris’ of used crayons, which he repeatedly rotated in order to sharpen them. It was this habit of using broken ends and stumps, de Banville observed, that gave his lines ‘hardiesse.’”
Colta Ives, “Drawing at Liberty: Daumier’s Style,” Daumier Drawings, (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992), p. 8.

     Charcoal on newsprint: these are the preferred materials of the professionals making portraits in New York City’s Central Park. Not just any charcoal but a particular Chinese crayon manufactured in Shanghai. Marked '3-Stars' on the box, each stick is similar in size and form to a Conté crayon but slightly greasier. You can see several, gifted to me by Xiang Yue Chuan, in the photo below, one neatly wrapped in masking tape to keep the fingers clean during a long workday outdoors.

     These coal black sticks give a vivid painterly hue to a drawing, although personally I find them unforgiving. Unlike the hard and dusty German-made Faber-Castell Pitt Charcoal pencils I use which allow me to lift pigment with a kneaded eraser, add highlights or make corrections, the Chinese 3-Stars require the accurate placement of a mark the first time around. Indeed it is these punchy, confident marks that give the best of the Central Park artists’ work, like Daumier’s in the quote above, their “hardiesse” – a boldness of line and form.

     Of course, if you have time on your hands, a twig of willow vine charcoal, a waxier French-made Conté crayon or a round stick of machine-compressed charcoal does allow you to build up a richness of tones which is impossible to get with the brassier Chinese crayons, especially if you are sprinting to complete the likeness of an over-scheduled tourist in a busy park on a blustery Manhattan afternoon.

      The 3-Stars are made for speed. One edge of the tip lays down a clean line, the other a broad stoke of shadow, the crayon’s oiliness giving a fine inkiness to a drawing with no room for erasure. These are still charcoals, though – nowhere near as fatty as Daumier’s litho crayons which bend and melt like chocolate in the hand under the warmth of an artist’s fingertips.

     This is no idle shoptalk. This is political economy focused to a diamond-like perfection: materials plus knowledge plus skill plus labor produces the customer’s image and the artist’s livelihood. The wrong mix of these ingredients and the artist loses the commission.

     There is no coincidence in my choice of Daumier, the paid caricaturist, as a reference point when discussing the work of the artists in Central Park. Daumier, who captured the bustling vibrant public space of nineteenth century Paris streets, exemplifying Baudelaire’s call for artists to abandon the ancients and embrace the modern world, routinely gave image to the barrel-organ grinders, the ‘saltimbanques on the move,’ the itinerant street musicians of that city. 

     Like today’s Central Park portrait artists, those “expressive matter vendors” of the 1850s and 60s were under concerted attack by municipal forces. Indeed, as described by T.J. Clark in his classic study “Absolute Bourgeois: Artists and Politics in France 1848-1851” (London, 1973), the 1852 arrival of Empire in the aftermath of a coup d'etat against the short-lived Second Republic produced an immediate crackdown against street entertainers. "From that moment, the war was on against the saltimbanque. The high point of the campaign came in 1853, when the government drafted a law against the whole profession, and ordered its Prefects to put it in force" (p.121). The Edict of  1853 established Paris’s own licensing scheme to control street artists and performers, driving them from location to location as they attempted to make a living.

     It is this battle over public space by street artists and Daumier’s grappling with understanding the provisional place of artists in modern society that is so ruthlessly conveyed in his drawings and watercolors of that time.
“plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose”
Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, January 1849
(, retrieved December 5, 2010)

Peter Walsh drawing Wei Chen in Central Park, Manhattan, May 17, 2010.
 NOTE: The 3-Star Drawing Charcoal mentioned in this post, and other supplies used by portrait artists in the park, are available at UDAC in Long Island City, Queens at 30-10 41st Avenue, 4th Floor.