Explore the Nooks of NYC Through Painter Victoria Accardi's Lively Works of Art
Victoria Accardi (b. 1992), a New York City-based painter, depicts NYC through an unconventional perspective in her meticulous and intriguing works of art.
Accardi’s inspiration to paint New York is rooted in her love for observing the various elements of the city – from the manic bustle to the dazzling downtown neon signs. She explains, “I’m from here, I’m a die-hard New Yorker, I love this place so much. I’m a very introverted person, so I like that you can just move through the city and observe things, and observe interactions and people.” Her love for the city and attention to its many features is present in her art. Thus, she brings the viewer closer to the famous, almost intangible metropolis, to view NYC in an intimate manner.
Finding ideas for her paintings is Accardi’s way of interacting with her environment, as she feels, “I can’t really interact with new people or interact in crowds, but I can feel kind of anonymous in a crowd, and still feel like I am interacting and being apart of it.” As the viewer looks at her paintings, they are seeing the city through her immersed perception of a scene, in combination with her vision for what this scene could evolve into with the use of her brush. This consistently present dualism of reality versus imagination induces a surreal atmosphere; thus, the viewer is left uninformed of where or if the sites actually exist.
While observing the city, she is attracted to the distinctive, often polarizing views and experiences that can occur. She believes New York has more contrast “than any place [she’s] ever been. There is so much happening all the time, like I said you can be walking down the street on Broadway and there’s hundreds and hundreds of people around you and [you] can feel completely alone.”
In addition, Accardi loves the stereotypically unpleasant parts of the city because she thinks they are beautiful. “I’ll see a bunch of black trash bags on the side of the street at 1:00am on St. Marks Place, but the light from the neon signs and the store in front of it are reflecting off of all the plastic and it’s like so sparklingly beautiful. And I don’t feel that way when I go to a national park, or when I’m in nature, that's predictably beautiful.” She portrayed her curiosity for this overlooked spectacle in Dollar Slice (2017). In this work, two dark figures are silhouetted against the warm light of the iconic 2 Bros Pizza shop. The yellow light emanating from the store and other lights along the street, reflect against different parts of each trash bag, illuminating the plastic with multiple colors. The more you study the work, the more the colors emerge, as though you are there in real life, watching the light shift. With this work, Accardi has displayed these disregarded, substances of the city, revealing their charm and individuality.
The artist’s process for creating these works varies. She says “sometimes I have a title or a concept for a painting, and then I start collecting reference images (photos that I take) to assemble for a composition. Other times I wander around the city with my camera taking tons of photos that I sift through later, usually having no idea whether I caught anything worthwhile, for a single painting.” Her process of combining images for a composition is similar to paper collaging, since she will use up to 15 images to create one painting. However, instead of an arrangement of overlapping images becoming the finished product, Accardi transforms these separate images into modified, yet naturalistic scenes of NYC.
One of her most eye catching representations of New York’s contrasted forms are her depictions of the natural world versus developed society. In The Bachelor (2019) and 14th and 1st, L Line Florist (2016), Accardi portrayed a distinction not only “in the light and dark contrast of the neon, but also in the subject matter and the feeling of each work. With these two pieces in particular, the main focal point is the bouquets of colorful flowers. They are so bright and alive, but in their respective settings the tone changes and they seem almost garish and aggressively vibrant in contrast with the dirty gritty surroundings. I like the interplay between the sweet sentimental image of flowers, and the dark and neon lit city around them.” This juxtaposition not only intensifies the typical perspectives of nature and infrastructure, but it also makes the viewer question: where do humans fit into this dichotomy? In 14th and 1st, L Line Florist, the male figure is standing right behind flowers selling them, yet he is portrayed with a muted skin tone and clothes, blending in with the subway walls. In The Bachelor, the kneeling man is holding a rose, yet he is kneeling on concrete, under artificial light. Perhaps the piece is proposing that humans exist in a constant state between nature and society, never fully being either one.
In Birds of Peace (2019), a man stands in Union Square Park, with birds perched on his arms. Accardi recalls, “I was walking through Union Square last Fall and I saw this man standing with arms outstretched completely covered in pigeons, with light flooding out from behind him and the wings of the birds. My initial reaction was ‘SICK’…I’m not a fan of pigeons. But then the raw beauty of this scene revealed itself. I ended up talking with him (his name is Larry) he made me hold out my arm so a pigeon could land on it, which I was not delighted by, he noticed my poorly concealed horror and said ‘They’re harmless, they’re birds of peace!’ He was really nice and let me take photos of him and his birds.”
With his extended arms, the man imitates the birds stretched wings, while the birds on the ground appear they are looking to the man as though he is their leader. The green words on the back of his jacket, “STAY HIGH NEW YORK,” likely conveys multiple connotations. It could allude to the way birds fly high up, freely through the air. Additionally, it could comically imply staying high on weed, since there is a marijuana leaf on the jacket. In the background, Accardi depicted her theme of contrast by incorporating the intense red for the vegetation. This red is evocative of fire, contradicting the tranquility of the man with birds.
Furthermore, Accardi depicted a recent romantic relationship that evoked her experience of dating as a teenager in Flavor of the Week (2019). She elucidates that, “...the title for this painting was conceptualized before the actual painting came to be. Last summer I had a crush on someone who seemed to have a lot of other options so to speak, and it made me feel like a teenager again, which was frustrating. I kept saying to my friend ‘I don’t want to be the flavor of the week.’ Then I realized that I needed to make a painting about this. I knew I wanted it to have to do with Italian ice and ice cream, which I have a lot of personal attachment and nostalgia about… I wanted the painting (and most of my paintings) to have familiarity, and an almost dreamlike/ deja-vu feeling for the viewer.” Accardi communicates her feelings of teenage angst due to her stance and facial expression, especially her fierce eyes that stare directly at the viewer. In the background, the Italian ice shop conveys the “familiarity” Accardi describes, since ice cream and Italian ice are quite a common treat for a family outing. Therefore, this work may not only induce past memories of a desert shop, visually displacing the viewer into their own recollection, but also will create new memories, through the medium of Accardi’s vision.
Accardi continues: “I decided I wanted to depict myself as I was when I was around 16-years-old, and I channeled my feelings about men and relationships at that age, feelings of longing, disappointment, frustration, inadequacy, and anger. I wanted the expression to convey that.” She revealed her feelings about a situation that she believes is relatable and one that can be very difficult to endure. This shows her desire to connect to her viewers on a personal level. On the sign, the intense “ICES” letters, glowing in blend of blue, white, and pink letters, with the softly blended sky adds to the feeling of being in a dream-like state. The use of red moves the viewers eyes around, starting with the “Dolly’s” sign, moving down to her red top, to her shoes, to the striped red and white cone, then to the vendor's red hat, and back to her shirt. In guiding the eyes around the work, the viewer travels to each captivating detail.
As is represented in her many intricate works, Victoria Accardi’s unorthodox view of New York City and her inventive process of assembling photos into one cohesive composition, is a mesmerizing three-way encounter between artist, artwork, and viewer. She has exhibited a new view of the iconic city, breathing a breath of fresh air into the accumulation of art based in NYC. Accardi, with a receptive outlook, organically explores her surroundings and thoughtfully engages with strangers on the street; therefore, she opens herself to New York City, and the city responds to her with enthusiasm.
Lead Image Credit: The Bachelor (2019), Victoria Accardi