By ERIC GROSSFELD
Daniel Hauben, a Kingsbridge resident and life-long Bronxite, has been nationally recognized for his tribute to Bronx life, the magnificently crafted glass piece titled "The El" that is set up at the Freeman Street subway station.
Hauben's work was selected among forty other pieces included in Americans for the Arts' prestigious Year in Review, which was created to recognize influential public space artwork. "The El" was commissioned as part of a $10.4 million effort to revive the Freeman Street station.
The MTA Arts for Transit and the Bronx Center for the arts celebrated the Bronx artist's work at an MTA Celebration on August 13, during which Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion presented to Hauben an award.
Five years ago, Hauben was selected to create an art piece as part of Arts for Transit's effort to bring to local subway stations a representation of local community culture. Though it would be no easy task to complete, at least for Hauben choosing his specific cultural focus was a no-brainer. "I thought to myself, what would be better than images of the elevated trains, images that would translate well through the stained-glass medium?"
Though it is located above ground (hence the title, which is short for "elevated"), "The El" captures the spirit, "the feeling of the bustle of life on the street below," the artist said. Since he's been living in the Bronx almost all of his life, Hauben noted that he used "images of the Bronx to find inspiration and subject matter worthy of depicting."
Creating his six-piece stained glass set diverted Hauben from his traditional medium of artistic expression: painting, which has been his passion for over a quarter of a century. The challenge for the artist was "using the material, faceted glass, which leaves the image more simplified. Since the glass is flat-shaped, to be translucent, the image becomes less detailed," Hauben said, adding he had to "retain a sense of specific feeling and scenery in such a delicate space."
Setting high standards valued the time for the completion of "The El" at five years, during which Hauben collaborated with fabricator Larry Gordon to transpose Hauben's realistic original painting onto the faceted glass medium. The physical features of the end result are as impressive as the work's symbolic meaning: "The El" showcases strong use of light and color with its meticulously crafted glass pieces, which number in the thousands. The entire construction is held together by epoxy, which protects it from cold weather conditions.
Year in Review juror Ted C. Landsmark, whose artistic credentials include serving as president of the Boston Architectural College, praised "The El" as an artistic journey, offering "opportunities for reflection on where [subway riders and workers] were and where they might be going." He added that the work "struck me as exemplary in combining a dynamic elevated shadow and light iconography, with a street-level vernacular retail narrative that manifests New York's diversity and vibrancy."
The artist himself was too more than impressed with his work. "The Bronx elevated trains depicted give you that vertical sense. The pattern of shadows compliment and influence the street scene." As an artist, Hauben fixes himself on that exact location: on the Bronx streets. In order to capture real feelings and perceptions, "I never can be separate from the world. Being on-location provides to me my greatest influence," Hauben said of his style.
He fended off suggestions that oppose his method, such as using the famous Madison Avenue in Manhattan as a backdrop. "That's just ridiculous," he remarked.
While analyzing and capturing his surroundings, the artist frequently finds himself attracting large crowds of passer-bys who are curious about Hauben's vision. "I'm a sitting-duck on the street," Hauben joked, adding more seriously: "I find people open up about their neighborhoods and their lives while I paint." It's Hauben's down-to-earth mentality and artistic style that fosters these connections, which he uses to his artistic advantage, incorporating personal and cultural specifics to transpose the spirit of his target onto a painting.
Local praise attests to the belief that Hauben captures the Bronx perhaps too well. "People tell me after they watch me work, or after they view a finished painting, how they find nuances and significance to street corners and avenues they pass by everyday," he said. "They start seeing what an artist sees."
As an artist, Hauben takes comfort in and is proud of the fact that his work resonates on a personal level and that it is able to invoke emotions within his audience. The key to his success: "Always remember, from an artist's perspective, nothing is too ordinary."