Today is the second installment of a new occasional series, “The Village Seen,” to display the work of the many talented visual artists in our neighborhoods. Longtime East Villager Patricia Melvin has been painting downtown for more than three decades; you may have seen her stationed outside with her easel near Jefferson Market Library, St. Mark’s Church, on the Bowery, or another of her favorite spots.
Melvin’s work, in both oil and watercolor, has a timeless feeling that evokes scenes by past painters of the Village such as William Glackens and Edward Hopper. A resident of the same Second Avenue apartment for four decades, her sensibilities are perfectly matched with her environment. A great friend and supporter of GVSHP, Melvin was happy to talk with us about her work.
How did you become a painter?
I’ve been drawing and painting since childhood. I grew up in Irvington (New York), looking at the sunset on the Hudson River every day. I was also inspired by some works by my Belgian ancestors, Ferdinand and Henri deBraekeleer; Henri Lys; and the Hudson River School.
I have a basic traditional outlook: When I see something beautiful, I just have that strong desire to capture it. I’m mostly in love with light and how it transforms architecture, as well as the interplay between nature and the built urban environment.
How would you describe your style?
My style is realistic and expressionistic. It’s not pure realism. I’m concerned with light, but I’m not an Impressionist. My work is compared to the Ashcan School; I’m painting within that tradition.
Your work has a documentary quality. Is that an aim of yours?
Everyone says that about my work and I know it’s true, but it’s not my motive. My love is light and old things. Sometimes I’m almost afraid to paint things, knowing that they might go away. In 2001 I had access to a friend’s balcony, and I did a sketch of the Bowery looking south to the World Trade Center. One week later was 9/11.
What’s it like to be a painter en plein air on the streets of New York City?
People want to talk to me, and I’ve learned to give short answers. Sometimes it’s hard to go from colors to words. Other times, it doesn’t bother me – I’m dying for a break.
Even in the city, nature changes all the time. Or a UPS truck will come and park right in front of my easel. I do love painting in the rain, and you can almost always find a scaffolding or awning for protection.
Are you part of a community of artists in the Village?
It’s disappearing, sad to say. I moved to the Village because I wanted to learn to be a painter. I had a lot of artist friends who were older, who are not here anymore. There are still artists around, but they can’t afford to move in here anymore.