Vickers was the Chief Designing Architect of the New York subway system from 1906 to 1942 and an avid painter.
Engineering fascinated him and he saw the massive structures of modern cities as feats of the imagination.
Skyscrapers and suspension bridges were the marvels of his era. Of the latter he wrote, “one could not…gaze at the graceful arches, the mighty spans and the soaring pylons without a deep and abiding respect and admiration for these accomplishments.”
If you’ve ever been in the New York subway you will have seen impact of his work because Vickers was responsible for designing, or overseeing the design of, the decorative tiles and mosaics found in many subway stations.
As an artist he strove to promote an idealistic and optimistic view of the American century. His work married themes and techniques of modern art with the “noble monuments” of contemporary technology and construction.
Robert and Elizabeth Kashey, in their essay on Vickers, claim that he “painted fantasy towns with blazing roofs and men riding on zebras as an answer to the functional world he had to deal with most of his life.”
Vickers wanted to connect construction and art, the engineers and the designers, for “if the combination of strength and beauty may only be had as the joint product of [engineering and architecture], then it is time for us to discard our prejudices and our narrow views, for it is only the beautiful structures that remain as noble monuments.”
Vickers painted in Fantasy Castle with Men on Zebras in1923 and you can see it right in the neighborhood at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College. (Update 11/13: Mary Ellen informs me that the picture is currently in storage and unavailable to the public. Our students will be able to see it in private viewing.)
I am looking forward to what our students will make of it, and make with it in mind. Last year it was the peasants and medieval agriculture of Breugel’s Spring. Vicker’s painting is a real contrast. Perhaps we will see some skyscrapers and feats of engineering.
* The Take One Picture project is originates with the National Gallery in London. Take a look at some of the great work it has engendered.