Fish and Slips

NYC subway fish artHere is a piece of subway art that’s had me distracted and bothered for some time now.

As you can see, it depicts a subway car as a zeppelin-cum-flying fish.

The fish, transporting all kinds of bizarre characters, floats gracefully above some version of New York City. There’s a knight, a couple of aliens, a guy playing the saxophone, a woman in a red dress with a giant lizard on a leash, a boy and a girl making out, a painter, a couple of punk rockers, a ballet dancer, a guy reading the newspaper, and a business man falling out an open door.

I’ve seen every one of those characters on the subway before. Almost. OK, so substitute a soldier for the knight, and a couple of clowns in full make-up instead of aliens. Plus, anything goes on Halloween. And it wasn’t a woman with a lizard, but I did once see a man pull a lizard out from his pant leg and try to get some teenage girls to play with it, eventually by tossing it at one of them. (That’s not a euphemism. I am talking about a reptile. It bounced off the girl and landed on its back on the floor.)

I know this is supposed to be a representation of the width and breadth of humanity that depends on New York City public transportation. (Oh, look at those characters. Isn’t New York a wacky place? Aren’t we crazy? We love us! And there’s an echo of Atomic Age futurism and industrial hope. But there’s something about that businessman that bothers me.

Forget about what it might mean, e.g., the recent failures of American finance, artistic hostility toward briefcases. I’m talking about the execution of the cartoon itself. It’s very stylistic. The artist was clearly careful in his or her choices, holding to certain ideas of perspective and geometry: the mechanical shine to the fish, the shapes of the buildings and bridges, the boats on the river.

NYC subway fish picture close-upBut look at the businessman’s arm.

He’s reaching into the car, grasping a pole fixed to the center of the floor. There’s no way he could have a grip on that post and be hanging completely out of the car. His arm would have to be double its present length!

It’s a trick of perspective; three dimensional reasoning intruding on a two-dimensional image. It’s a mistake.

Yet the artist seems to be so deliberate about everything else. I might conversely assume it’s intentional. But that just seems worse. Why ruin the order of the whole thing to achieve that single sight gag? It seems so imprecise, careless. Almost lazy.

A joke told poorly sucks, no matter how good the punchline is supposed to be.


2 Responses to “Fish and Slips”

  1. November 4, 2009 at 11:46 pm

    you know you captured everything i used to think about this image when saw it on the subway, i had no idea others might be thinking the same or even notice what we did…alexander

  2. December 24, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    Merry Christmas to you both!

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