The Evolution of the New York Subway System

flash animation of 1 94" x 68" acrylic painting in various stages, 2003-2004

The complexity of the New York City Subway has fascinated me since I first encountered the system in 2002. I couldn’t fathom how daily, millions of people could rely on such a complicated transportation system, which must overcome so many variables and operational difficulties. That was when I decided to create a painting to help me understand why the New York Subway system is the way it is, starting from the very beginning.

Beginning with the Elevated and trains in Manhattan and the existing Railroads in Brooklyn around middle of 19th Century, and through the unification of the 3 subway companies in 1940, I chronicled with paint the changes to the New York Subway System on the same painting. I began by painting the subway system over a map of New York as it existed in the form of rail tracks and elevated line began in 1832. I updated the map as changes were implemented by whiting-out lines that were eliminated, and changing the colors of the existing lines when a new color coding scheme was implemented. MTA map has evolved through various popular and unpopular experiments, eventually arriving at the considerably simplified The Map of today.

Before any major subway overhaul that requires a substantial reworking on the painting, I took slides to document the painting after every change. With a total of 10 images gathered, of a painting that bears little resemblance to its starting phase, I turned them into a morphing animation to display how the painting evolved over the one year period of its creation. By watching the animation, viewers will not only able to witness how the subway system and the painting evolved, but to observe how I eventually took a different route with the way I completed the painting. The current image was far from what I had in mind at the beginning.