American, born 1948
35 3/8 x 23 1/2 inches
Wichita Art Museum, Museum purchase, Friends of the Wichita Art Museum, Estate of Mildred H. Wood, Estate of Polly Rombold, and Roy and Joanne McGregor Acquisition Fund
Not Currently on Display
About the Artwork
Craig McPherson, a Wichita, Kansas native who moved to New York in the 1970s to pursue a career as painter and printmaker, earned recognition in the 1980s for his dramatic interpretations of New York City at night and for a series of murals depicting the world’s great harbors. The sequence of large-scale mezzotint panoramas of New York called Cityscapes, launched in 1983 with the night view of Yankee Stadium attracted critical attention to his work and established McPherson as a principal artist in the modern revival of the mezzotint intaglio print technique as a significant creative medium. Craig McPherson’s craftsmanship alone is a triumph, but he succeeds even more magnificently in reclaiming one of the great themes of 20th century American art, the siren lure of New York City.
F.D.R. Drive, the fifth and last print in the Cityscapes series, displays McPherson’s inspired and skillful manipulation of the exquisite tonal richness of mezzotint. The latter technique requires days and even months of tedious labor of abrading the entire surface of a metal plate so that it will print a deep velvety black. Then the artist, working from dark to light, polishes select areas of the plate to varying degrees in order to extract subtle nuances of tone going from black through numerous ranges of gray to brilliant white highlights. McPherson realized the perfect resonance of means and subject when he employed mezzotint to extract the glamour, mystery and emotional high of viewing the city at night from a lofty vantage point—experiencing the transformation of daytime’s grimy, scarred, functional structures into an enigmatic and seductive midnight realm of mythic potential.
In F.D.R. Drive McPherson captures the ephemera of misting rain, focused and diffused electric light from multiple sources, and an indefinable but deeply felt energy flow against the black hard-edged geometry of urban architecture. He depicted a fragmented wedge view of the highway as it runs adjacent to the East River and under a bridge. Additional levels of road, traffic and streetlights rise in tiers in the space above and behind the impressionistically flickering surface of F.D.R.’s pavement. The flow of vehicles with headlights starkly aglow moves toward the viewer until abruptly blocked from sight by a large trapezoid shape that fills the lower right corner. In the background the silhouettes of office and residential high-rises emerge from the gloom, their edges illuminated by an almost imperceptible aura of reflected light, and their facades penetrated by discrete blocks of illumination in an improvisational rhythm of intensity and loneliness. A narrow-cropped edge of the river appears in a vertical rectangle at the picture’s lower left edge. Its surface shifts and heaves restlessly as comes in and out of sight in rapid horizontal breaks across a vertical beam of distant harbor light.