James Zwadlo

I grew up on a dairy farm in northern Wisconsin helping my family feed about 50 cows. I started my undergraduate degree at UW-Madison, and finished at SUNY-Potsdam, in upstate NY, with a BFA in Fine Arts. I lived in NYC and its environs for about 20 years, and now live on the South Side of Milwaukee.

My subject is people represented realistically in an abstract urban space, as seen from an imaginary aerial point of view. I title the paintings “Pedestrians” to make it clear that the point of view is the point of the painting; the people are not doing anything especially interesting, just walking in the street.

I lived for many years in NYC, working in office buildings, thinking about how to orient myself. From the aerial point of view, to me, the Manhattan landscape became, literally, a map of itself. The urban space flattened visually into a kind of “found” painting. Being a native Midwesterner, I translated my sense of the flatness of the Midwestern landscape into a solution to how to paint the verticality of the urban landscape.

I use photographs as a way to reconstruct images from the real world and transfer them to the real painting. For me, photography functions as a catalyst, as in a chemical reaction: photographs are instrumental to making the painting, but they do not appear in the completed painting.

I refer to Impressionist cityscapes, Bauhaus photography, New York School abstraction, and Minimalism as some important influences

For me, the urban pedestrian symbolizes a complex social milieu. I paint each figure as a detailed individual portrait, familiar yet anonymous. I construct the crowd from thousands of photographs, arranged randomly to suggest patterns, and in patterns that suggest randomness.

Imagery from the aerial point of view is instantly recognizable even though we rarely directly experience it. In contrast with traditional perspective, with its closer-is-bigger implied hierarchy, above each figure is equal in scale and in space, as in a
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First Collected by

Tobias Boonstoppel


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pedestrians crosswalk people dog