High-Flying Nighttime Vistas Capture New York from a Bird’s-Eye View

“I really love to get lost in the detail when I paint, and then to step back and see the composition from far away. And I want the viewer to experience my paintings from both distances, and especially to go up close […] and see that each brushstroke has its own personality.” So says Alexandra Pacula, the Polish-born, New York-based contemporary painter, whose glowing nighttime urban vistas are currently lighting up the walls of Gallery Henoch in “Luminous Heights.” Though this is the artist’s first solo exhibition at the gallery, featuring many new works, it reflects years of close observation and extensive exploration of New York City, which could be described as her muse.

True to the exhibition’s title, for this series Pacula aimed to get as far above the city as possible, capturing it from a high-flying bird’s-eye view. So she went where the tourists go—the top of Rockefeller Center and the Empire State Building—and came back to her studio with photographs of the city spread beneath. “I’ve always been fascinated with seeing the city from above because the experience of it is totally transformed,” she once explained. “The buildings look like Lego pieces and cars and people are like ants navigating a labyrinth. The city becomes a vast network of light reminiscent of a computer motherboard.”

Her words describe such compositions as Evanescent Glow or Radiant Clusters (both 2014), in which the urban grid and its dense forest of buildings is demarcated by the thousands of lights that keep total darkness at bay. Some works, like Hasty Impression (2014), border on complete abstraction, while others, including Soaring Empire (2014), are immaculately and photorealistically painted. The cumulative effect of Pacula’s stunning nighttime vistas is that of a kind of pleasurable vertigo—as the eyes range over her mid- to large-scale paintings, the mind and the body seem as if they themselves could take flight.

Alexandra Pacula: Luminous Heights” is on view at Gallery Henoch October 2 – 25, 2014.

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