Volume 75, Number 11 | August 3 - 9, 2005

Andrew Jones in front of a neighbor’s 1830 high Greek revival-style stoop on W. 11th St. A fan of stoops as a subject to paint, his own building lacks one, having been removed by a previous owner.

Painter stoops to a subject Impressionists ignored

By Cathy Jedruczek

A native of Baltimore, Andrew Jones was always captivated by urban architecture. So he was delighted to see all the 19th-century houses when he arrived in the East Village in 1985.

“I didn’t know New York has so much history that survived, because when you hear about New York, you hear about Times Square and skyscrapers,” Jones said, recalling his initial reaction. But to find subject matter for his painting, Jones would venture out to Europe and other parts of the States.

Things changed in 1994 when Jones bought a house in Greenwich Village on W. 11th St. and decided to do some research on his new neighborhood. He took pictures of brownstone stoops, portals — the columns flanking the doorway and the entablature above it — and iron railings and, as he put it, became “hypnotized by the beauty of the forms.” Since then, local architecture has remained the focus of his paintings. His “Brownstone and Iron — Views of the Village” series will be exhibited at the Elliot Smith Contemporary Art gallery at 327 W. 11th St. between Greenwich and Washington Sts. from Sept. 14-Oct. 12. The opening night on Sept. 22 will benefit the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

Elliot Smith, owner of the gallery, which mostly showcases prints of well-established artists, decided to display Jones’s work because, he said, “It’s original and well done and it has wonderful relationship to the neighborhood.” Smith, who for 20 years owned the largest contemporary art gallery in St. Louis, sees Jones’s painting as having “a refreshing twist” on the subject matter. The exhibit will include a “stoop shadow series,” where iron railings are portrayed as shadows cascading down the steps of a single stoop and a collection of paintings focusing on brownstone portals and iron railings.

While walking the streets of the West Village, Jones noticed that houses have different types of railings. Learning the style of those patterns, allowed Jones to date houses within two years of their construction. One of Jones’s paintings portrays houses on Charles St. between Greenwich and Washington Sts. Those built in the 1820s are in Transitional style — a combination of Federal style, which dominated American architecture from 1776 to 1820 — and Greek-revival style, which was popular in the early 19th century. From 1833 to ’39, houses were built in Greek-revival style, often called National style, which was very elaborate, with a lot of Grecian detailing, like anthemions (flat floral or leaf decorative forms). Around 1840, Jones says, the style was simplified and instead of different scrolls, craftsmen used a Greek key pattern on railings. Then in the mid-1840s, railings were made with yet a different pattern — a medallion and four little squares in each corner.

Jones says he especially enjoyed working on the stoop shadow series, and says he will continue to do so even after the show. He is intrigued by the affects of sunlight and he thinks it’s the “convergence of reality and abstraction” that fascinates him the most. Jones paints with oils only, and since it takes a long time for the paint to dry, he tends to work on several paintings at once. He executes his paintings in stages and sometimes puts them away even for a year before completing the last phase. Often he does second and third versions of the same work, in order, he says, “to achieve slightly different subtleties.” Jones says his heart is idealistic and that he’s not “painting the gritty side of the city.” “I’m painting the elegance,” he says.

American Impressionists such as John Singer Sargent, William Merrit Chase and Childe Hassam are some of Jones’s favorite artists. Most American Impressionists lived in the Village at least for a period of time, but they never painted stoops, Jones says. “They would include it in the background, but they never explored it as a subject matter. They should have painted them; they walked by them every day.”

Jones’s paintings adorn the walls in his house. There is a painting in a gold frame that captures the view of the old townhouses on Washington Square North. “You can see that the foreground is the shadow of the trees, but shadows of the trees behind you,” explained Jones. There is a painting of stoops on Jane St. that Jones decided to do because he was “delighted with the juxtaposition of the old iron in the late afternoon light.” Then there are paintings he did while traveling to Europe — old houses in Florence, a French cathedral and a semi-abandoned garden near a chateau outside of Bordeaux. There is also a painting of lagoons in Cape Cod — a place he frequented on family vacations.

Jones’s house, which was built in 1845, lost its stoop and the original front door when it was converted to an apartment building. However, Jones did his best to renovate its interior accurately: Doorways have Greek ear portals and an original staircase has big banisters. But what gives his house real 19th-century feel is the furniture Jones collects. A round table, which has been in his family since the 1830s, and two rosewood recamiers (a style of sofa) from the late 1830s are some of the valuables he acquired on auctions or from dealers. Even though his parents did not live in New York, they collected New York furniture from the 1820s and 1830s.

Jones went to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and then to law school at Yale. His Wall St. job in bond rating has no relation to art. But he finds both the painting process and his job to be “structured and analytical” and thinks his artistic talents help him in the business world. Although he doesn’t have professional training, he grew up in an art-oriented household, watching his mother paint and visiting museums while on vacation with his family.

He has great appreciation for art, to the point where he salvages architectural elements from homes that are demolished in his neighborhood. “A lot of people buy the houses not because they are old, but because the address is very chic, very stylish, because it’s a wonderful neighborhood,” said Jones of the Village. “And they destroy all the beautiful work and the interiors.”

Jones seemed to be particularly upset with Annie Leibovitz’s project to convert two 19th-century houses on the corner of W. 11th and Greenwich Sts. near his house into modern-looking buildings. Leibovitz, the photographer, best known for her pictures of a nude John Lennon hugging a clothed Yoko Ono, did not like the buildings’ original interior architecture, so the construction crew she hired tore down the original plasterwork, removed window shutters and columns. Jones, who spoke to Leibovitz in the beginning of the construction, thinking that she was an architect, found out that she decided not to keep the original elements.

“My heart just sank, I felt so awful,” said Jones of how he felt when he found out of her plans. “So at that point I kept my eye out for what was happening.”

He became really alarmed when one of the walls suddenly shifted dangerously during the construction and had to be supported by huge metal braces. Instead of taking the wall down and rebuilding it, Jones notes, the construction crew patched it all up using bricks that don’t match the color of the originals. They also ignored the Flemish-bond brick pattern used in the 1840s, he noted, so as a result there are now spots on the wall where bricks don’t align correctly. “It’s done really badly,” he said.

“There are many people who do not appreciate the neoclassical work,” he said. “It’s an issue of taste. But I wish that when people bought houses, they would preserve the interior. Something seems wrong with buying the house that was preserved for 150 years and then destroying it. At the minimum pieces should be preserved and stored somewhere.”

In his basement, Jones has window shutters and pilasters from Leibovitz’s house neatly stockpiled, along with pieces of the mahogany staircase from the rectory of St. Ann’s Church that was recently demolished on E. 12th St. and the cast-iron center of a fireplace from the former Limelight dance club, which was once a church. He would like to start a salvage project that would keep an archive of characteristic architectural elements from different periods. He also hopes to create a trust that would accept an easement. If somebody wants to sell their house, they would be able to put an easement on certain elements in the house they would like to see preserved and the trust would have legal rights to insure those elements are not disturbed, explained Jones.

“I know owners who would like to do that and for whom it’s inconceivable that someone would come in and destroy what they’ve preserved,” said Jones standing in front of Leibovitz’s house. “They don’t realize that it’s very much in fashion now to demolish things.”

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