Artist paints pretty as a picture

By Allison Plitt

When you look at any of Sharon Florin’s oil paintings, you could easily mistake them for photographs.

In fact, Florin walks through the neighborhoods of Long Island City and Manhattan taking photos of the city, using them as a basis for her paintings. Most of Florin’s paintings depict exterior scenes of the city—buildings, bridges, subway stops, and pedestrians.

Florin says one of the main influences on her painting is American realist painter Edward Hopper.

“Edward Hopper painted street scenes bathed in light in a very special way and the light of the city is a big influence on my work,” she says.

Florin has been painting in the same studio in Long Island City since 1980, explaining, “I work by natural light and I took the studio because of the windows and the north light.”

Besides Hopper, Florin says she is also attracted to the work of the Precisionist artists Charles Sheeler and Charles Demuth.

Florin explains, “I was very influenced by the Precisionist painters. They would paint industrial areas with very clean lines, geometic forms and smooth surfaces.”

Florin never starts with a white canvas. She blocks in her canvas, painting with burnt umber and then adds a burnt sienna wash over the entire canvas. This technique allows the subsequent colors she paints to “pop off the canvas.” She also uses rulers to create perspective for her very detailed architectural landscapes.

“The New York urban landscape is my subject,” Florin says.

Although she was born in Brooklyn, she grew up and lived most of her young adult life in Queens. When Florin was 15, she attended a summer arts program at the USDAN Center for the Creative and Performing Arts on Long Island.

“USDAN had just opened that summer,” she recalled. “I took a class where I was introduced to oils and by the end of the summer I had decided I was going to be an artist.”

While in high school, she began taking Saturday classes at the Art Students League of New York. Florin chose Adelphi University for the arts program recommended by one of her teachers. On her summers off from college, Florin continued to take lessons at the Art Students League.

“The League is a wonderful place because in any given class there will be people of all different ages, backgrounds, and skill levels. The instructors will walk around, look at what you’re doing, and work with each student one-on-one. Occasionally they’ll do a demonstration as well. It’s just a rarefied atmosphere,” Florin says.

As a student, Florin drew and painted from the model, but that would soon change. She recalls, “When I was a student, I worked from the model and from life, but in 1978, I went to the Ninth Avenue Food Festival and I took photographs with a new camera. There was one photograph that was just wonderful and I thought, ‘This would make a really great painting.’ I started working from my photographs and I’ve been painting that way ever since.”

Her artwork took a more abstract turn a decade later when Florin decided to paint the images reflecting off the new glass-paned buildings. “Around the late 1980s, I was noticing a lot of the new construction, glass box buildings, that had these wonderful reflections of the older buildings that would become distorted. I was intrigued by the shapes that were created and I started painting them,” she says.

Since Florin has been painting New York for over 40 years, she has seen neighborhoods change significantly. “A lot of the places that I painted over the years don’t exist anymore. I’m an urban documentarian—capturing a bit of the history of the city that might remain, but more often than not—won’t.”

In her years as an award-winning painter, she has had solo exhibitions, participated in group shows and received commissions from individuals to paint specific sites and buildings. In recent years, she has taken up quilting and, as a member of the Empire Quilt Guild, participated in an exhibit at the Manhattan Borough President’s Office in June.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that many of her fiber-art quilts are arrangements of fabrics with New York City themes. Her hometown continues to inspire her.

“I’m always looking up. I’m always noticing things,” she says reflectively. “I’ve lived in the city my whole life, but I’m constantly discovering things. You just have to look.”

Sharon Florin’s work is on exhibit at the Crescent Grill (38-40 Crescent St. in Long Island City) until the end of July. Her work can be seen at www.sharonflorin.com and sjfnewyork.blogspot.com. She can be contacted at sjfstudio@aol.com.