9/11 Memorial – Paintings from Views Atop the Trade Centers

In the mid 1980s, when the Twin Towers were still young, I did a series of paintings inspired by the spectacular views I could see from the observation deck of the World Trade Center. The 10th anniversary of 9/11 seems like an appropriate time to present these pieces — only one of which has been shown before; the others have lain dormant for 28 years. It is strange to consider that these views, unlike so many other landscapes, are no more. Certainly there are other views like them, perhaps from the top of the Empire State Building, but these views are now memories, hovering high above lower Manhattan like ghosts.

Upon seeing these pieces, another landscape  painter observed, “I can so see you you in these.” Even 28 years ago my interest in abstraction, creating a unified light, and exploring paint texture was clearly evident. What was of particular interest to me in this series were the abstract patterns created by the docks as they jutted into the water. That, coupled with an interest in a unified overall light, was my goal for the series.

"Jersey Shore" by Mitchell Albala

"Jersey Shore" (detail) by Mitchell AlbalaAbove: Jersey Shore, 1983, oil on canvas, 29 x 24 inches. Even as far back as 1983, at the start of my painting career, I was interested in surface and the tactility of paint. At that time I handled texture in a very methodical and deliberate manner. Left: I would apply carefully controlled and fairly regular-sized strokes to each pass of color. As compared to paintings of the last decade, this earlier approach (also seen in Manhattan Bridge, below) was very mechanical and did not allow for much spontaneity. That isn’t to say that my brushwork today is a completely spontaneous and slap-dab affair. It isn’t. The mark-making is always considered and thoughtful. But today I use a greater variation of texture and much less regularity which is, to my eye, more organic. (For example, see Ballard Bridge and its detail at my portfolio site.) That said, the older, more mechanical approach to texture and broken color was able to hold the color of the light within a unified veil of atmosphere, like an image projected onto a screen.

Above left: Jersey City Water, 1983, pastel on paper, 14 x12.5 inches. Right: Jersey City Sky, charcoal on paper, 1983, 12 x 10 inches. These two drawings served as compositional studies for Jersey Shore. An important choice I had to make was whether the painting would be land-dominant or sky-dominant. I felt that Jersey City Water (left) gave the impression of looking down, while  Jersey City Sky (right) felt more spatial and drew my eye outward and into the sky.

Above: Jersey Shore Study, 1983, acrylic on canvas, 14 x 14 inches. My interest in broken color led me to experiment with a pointillist approach. I hoped to achieve the same veil of light by using more regular-sized dots or strokes as opposed to thick, texturized strokes. Each dot or point was not applied individually! I created a mask for the shore line and then used a brush splatter technique.

Above: Manhattan Bridge, 1983, oil on canvas, 19 x 28 inches.

Above: Manhattan Bridge Study, 1983, acrylic on paper, 9 x 14 inches. This was one of nearly a dozen color studies I did for this piece. In trying to achieve a unified light, I had to find the right color relationship between the land and water (the positive and negative shapes).

Above: Manhattan Bridge Study, 1983, charcoal and pastel on paper, 9 x 13.5 inches.

Above: A Bend in the River, 1983, pastel on paper, 8 x 9 inches.

About Mitchell Albala

Mitchell Albala is the author of Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts and Techniques for Plein Air and Studio Practice (Watson-Guptill, 2009). Now in its fifth printing, it has sold over 25,000 copies and has been called a "new classic of landscape." A respected teaching artist for more than 25 years, he currently teaches at Gage Academy of Art and Pacific Northwest Art School. He has also lectured at the Seattle Art Museum and written for International Artist and Artist & Illustrators magazines. He is represented by Lisa Harris Gallery. See his paintings at mitchalbala.com.