When Gowanus area resident Joseph Mariano retired in 1996, he knew that he wanted to spend the rest of his life painting. Standing in his sun drenched studio, he showed me his many works. There were portraits and landscapes, some of Jamaica Bay, some of different scenes along the Gowanus Canal, one of his favorite subjects.
Very often, Joseph takes a canoe out onto the water and paints the bridges at Carroll Street and 3rd Street. He likes to explore the canal's many inlets, places well hidden from others. Often, he encounters egrets and Night Herons. There used to be horseshoe crabs, too, but he has not seen those in the past five years.
Except for a life-drawing class in graduate school, Joseph is essentially self-taught. His style varies from delicate, as in the watercolor of the bumble bee above, to bold colors and lines in the canvases of urban grit along the shores of the Gowanus Canal. The portrait of his wife Linda, reading, displays the artist's tender, playful side. He credits Linda, who is also an artist, with having taught him much.
" She is my muse and I am hers" he told me, smiling.
Joseph and Linda moved to the Gowanus area in the mid-1970's. A few violent incidents in their old West Village neighborhood convinced them that it was time to leave with their infant daughter. Inspired by a New York Magazine article entitled
"Brownstone Districts of New York", Joseph found his way to Carroll Gardens, where he and Linda rented an apartment. They bought their house near the Gowanus Canal shortly afterward.
Sitting in the couple's charming kitchen on a recent afternoon, they pointed out all the work that they had done over the years. The house had needed everything, from windows, doors, banisters and fixtures. But the result is as unique and artistic as the house's inhabitants.
Over coffee, we spoke of art, of the Gowanus Canal and of its future. I asked Joseph what he envisioned for the polluted waterway, which he knows so intimately. "Ideally, it should be cleaned and protected." he said. He hopes for a wetland restoration and adaptive re-use of the old factory buildings along its shores. Most of all, he hoped that the Gowanus area will not be turned into the" New Miami or a second rate Venice."
On my way home, I though about Joseph's comment that any change in the area is "a double- edged sword". There is beauty to be found along the Gowanus Canal, even in its decrepit state. But it takes an artist like Joseph to see and capture it.
Thank you, Joseph and Linda, for inviting me and for sharing your art.