Harry Shokler: Waterfront – Brooklyn

13 Dec

The skyscrapers were beautiful. They did not seem like mere corporate shells. They were monuments to the arrogant yet philanthropic spirit of America. The character of each quadrant was invigorating and one felt the flux of its history. The old world and the emerging one served up in the brick and mortar of the artisan and the architects.”
(Patti Smith, Just Kids)

Harry Shokler, Waterfront – Brooklyn, ca. 1934

A big city is never as dreary, lonely and miserable as in winter months, and yet, in those desolate times, some artists are capable of finding a certain magic and these paintings of New York City in snow by American painter Harry Shokler are an example of such beauty. “Waterfront – Brooklyn” shows a Brooklyn port, busy despite the cold weather and snow. I bet there was nothing poetic about this scene in real life, just coldness and misery, but through the eyes of the artist the scene is transformed into a harmony of white, greys and browns. The drab industrial part of the city becomes a place where all hope is placed because the workers and the industry will pull the country out of the economic depression of the thirties. Streets, rooftops and cars are all covered with a layer of snow, but the workers are threading their way through the snow and the work has to continue despite the weather conditions. In the distance, through the fog and over the water, the skyscrapers of Manhattan look upright and elegant, at once their elongated form appears ghostly and intimidating. They can be see as visual symbols of hope and progress, they are like lighthouses in the depression, signaling the better times that are surely to come. Surely, I say, because hope stays the last. In Shokler’s another artwork called “Skyline” the skyscrapers appear again and this time they are the stars of the show. Again, in the foreground of the painting we see the snow-capped roofs of vibrantly coloured buildings of the industrial part of town, and then, over a visual layer of water, the skyscrapers appear, so otherworldly and awe-inspiring, like mirages almost, seen through the snowflakes that further brings a hint of magic into an otherwise drab scene.

Harry Shokler, Skyline, 1942

5 Responses to “Harry Shokler: Waterfront – Brooklyn”

  1. Upside-down Land 14th Dec 2020 at 4:16 am #

    Thanks for doing what you love and offering your fine writing and images of interest. I’m always glad to be able to visit your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Byron's Muse 15th Dec 2020 at 3:25 pm #

      Thank you for reading my blog and for your kind and encouraging comments, it’s really appreciated.


  2. smilla72 15th Dec 2020 at 11:23 am #

    Hi Byron’s muse and thanks for these beautiful paintings by Harry Shokler, another artist that I didn’t know before. I wrote my first comment for your wonderful blog on August 15, exactly four months ago. But there is another anniversary that your Shokler post has invited me to celebrate: I’ve been to New York exactly ten years ago, and even twice: in Summer and late Autumn. I went there alone of course and was always daydreaming about New York’s past while strolling through the Big City ‘s streets. In my mind I always had Alfred Stieglitz’ photographs of New York covered in snow, photographs of exact the time when Shokler painted. Stieglitz was a visionary, way ahead of his time. In the first decade of the 20th century he founded the Photo-Secession, an avant-garde movement dedicated to the progress of photography. His photographs are visual rather than technical. He saw New York in the same way as Utagawa Hiroshige saw Tokyo. I recommend you to google Stieglitz’ melancholic and highly impressionistic views of snowy New York. You will see that iconic City as vulnerable and highly endearing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Byron's Muse 15th Dec 2020 at 3:18 pm #

      I know and love the Stieglitz’s photographs that you speak of, they are very poetic!


      • Frank Hudson 18th Dec 2020 at 2:23 am #

        Photos not only poetic, but connected through Edward Steichen and his sister Lillian with her husband Carl Sandburg.

        Love those Shokler cityscapes. Makes me think of Isabel Bishop’s NYC paintings from roughly this period.

        Liked by 1 person

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