Daniel Hauben gets inspiration from the Bronx


By Megan James

When Daniel Hauben looked out his window as a child growing up in the Bronx, he was drawn to the geometry of the city.

"I saw other buildings just like mine, buildings encased in even rows of bricks, punctuated by windows, doors and fire escapes, and fringed on top with the haphazard intersecting patterns of antennae and chimneys," he wrote on his Web site.

The Kingsbridge artist has been painting that landscape ever since, capturing not just the details of buildings and landmarks, but the bustling feel of the neighborhood.

"It's not that pretty but, darn it, that is the Bronx," said Helmut Zitzwitz, curator of the Hudson River Gallery & Conservators, which will host an exhibition of Mr. Hauben's work.

Mr. Zitzwitz is right about one thing: that is the Bronx. But the paintings have a strange beauty about them, too.

Mr. Hauben's landscape, overgrown with metal and brick, is crisscrossed with elevated subway tracks and train trestles, sunlight slicing through the tracks and slats.

In a painting called "Kingsbridge Heights, Late Afternoon," the view of Broadway from above is serene. The rooftops seem warm to the touch and the road below gleams in the setting sun, almost like water in a river.

In "Broadway Car Wash," the metal towers of the Broadway Bridge look like a great drawbridge rising in the background as the shadows of signposts and passersby play with cracks in the sidewalk.

Mr. Hauben's one-man show at the Hudson River Gallery & Conservators, in Yonkers, opens Sept. 20 and runs until Oct. 25. The gallery will host a reception on the first day, from 1 to 5 p.m., with Mr. Hauben - who will have just wrapped up another one-man show in Germany - on hand to talk about his work.

"He's still one of the few painters who paints life," Mr. Zitzwitz said. "In other words, he doesn't go out and take a photograph and go back to the studio and do his work."

People approach Mr. Hauben at his easel on the street and often ask to be included in the painting. Some will come back every day to make sure they make the cut.

On his Web site - www.artistwing.com - Mr. Hauben recalls painting a group of men playing dominoes on 182nd Street and Southern Boulevard, when a 13-year-old boy on his way home from school asked where he could stand to be included in the painting.

"While I was directing him as to where to stand, another kid complained, 'He isn't even from this block. Why should he be in the picture and not us?'" Mr. Hauben wrote.

So he gave in and put all the kids in the painting, not telling them that once back in his studio he had to remove some of them for the sake of composition.

Mr. Zitzwitz's wife, Barbara, who serves as gallery director, has always loved Mr. Hauben's work for t

"I've lived in the Bronx all my life," she said. "When I look at it, it reminds me of home."

In a city whose landscape can turn on a dime, Mr. Hauben captures a moment frozen in time.

In his gallery, Mr. Zitzwitz pointed to a painting of the intersection of 96th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan, in which a man leans out of his top-floor window to peer down at the traffic below.

"Nothing in America looks the same after 100 years," he said. "Somebody will come up and say I can make a heck of a lot more money if we put another Trump Tower here; let's tear this building down. I love his work for that reason. A hundred years from now, this will not look like this."

Mr. Hauben, who has won the Bronx Council on the Arts' Bronx Recognizes Its Own Award seven times, was recently commissioned to complete 41 panoramic paintings for Bronx Community College's new library, which is scheduled for completion in about three years.

"I kid him and say this is going to make him immortal," Mr. Zitzwitz said.

In his Hudson River Gallery & Conservators show, one painting stands out from the rest. It's a self-portrait, depicting Mr. Hauben's face centered below a tangle of warped buildings, teetering against a blue sky.

It isn't indicative of the artist's work, Mr. Zitzwitz said, but it captures something about the way he sees the world he paints.

"That's the Bronx," he said. "Everything's thrown together in one pot and stirred. And there he is, thinking, 'What am I going to do with this stuff?'"

Hudson River Gallery & Conservators is located at 86 Main St., in Yonkers. The exhibit can be seen Wednesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call 914-964-0401 or go to www.hudsonrivergallery-conservators. com.