Gowanus: Off the Water’s Surface

Mark Ilitzky
Dec 12, 2014 4:44PM

Stunning with toxic beauty, the abstract and psychedelic work on view was captured by Steven Hirsch’s lens at the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, one of America’s most polluted waterways. Revealing otherworldly waterscapes in the slime and detritus atop the tainted water, Hirsch’s painterly images swirl in a frenzy of elusive shapes and bright and explosive colors. The artist, known for his many projects depicting the fringe, states, “I would sit there on the side of the canal, and what looked like a giant painting by Monet would be there in front of me hovering on the surface of the water.”

In 2011 Steven’s first series of this work was published in ABC News by Tiffany Hagler-Geard. Steven Hirsch’s project on the Gowanus Canal started to catch the attention of the public and the media because of its magnificent colors and composition taken ‘Off the Water’s Surface’ of one of the nation’s most extensively contaminated bodies of water. Later on in March of 2014 The New York Times continued telling the story of how this artist was finding beauty by taking photographs of the gurgling bubbles in the Gowanus Canal in an article by Kia Gregory.

Today many of the more than 25 photographs on view reveal such hints of Impressionistic hue and texture. Hirsch, in his exploration of the industrial wasteland, finds a saturated palette of golds, deep purples, gleaming silvers, ebony blacks, phalto blues, and intense pinks. And within the intangible worlds depicted, arise visions of figures, faces and bodies, and natural forms like waterfalls, landscapes, glaciers, and galaxies.

The images that Steven was able to capture are particularly beautiful mainly because of their wonderful composition, contrasts, colors, and variety. But most of all because the actual subject was untouched, and barely capture the juxtaposed nature of the image - that it was in this case toxic waste atop the water. With these images, and the story behind it, Lilac Gallery felt the urge to share it with everyone else, thinking it would be important in the times that we are living today, with all of the flourishing contamination, to find beauty and a streak of hope in all our surroundings. 

They have been published extensively in several major publications worldwide like Mail Online, CITYLAB: The Atlantic Monthly, WIRED Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, Feature Shoot, New Scientist Magazine, Time Out New York Magazine and PAPER Magazine recommended as number 1 of the 7 Must-See NYC Art Shows in the opening week. More recently an article by Michael Greenberg was published in The New York Review of Books, The Paris Review, L’Oeil de la Photographie and The Telegraph in the U.K. As well the exhibition has had ample coverage on NBC 4, PIX11, New York 1, and CBS radio among many others.

These images have been seen all around the world in the art, science and environmental circles. The show has gotten a tremendous response from the public and the main message is to show the viewer that Steven Hirsch was able to achieve one of the hardest things in photography; which is to shoot something naturally ugly, like contamination on a waterway, and give it the most beautiful perspective through the artist lens.

“Gowanus: Off The Water’s Surface” is on view at the Lilac Gallery through January 5 of 2015


© All credits and rights of the images belong to Steven Hirsch

Mark Ilitzky