TOMORROW 1pm EDT – David Dunlop’s Studio Workshop 2 – Design and Color

2015-05-22 03.24.41 pm

2015-05-22 03.35.14 pm 2015-05-22 03.35.32 pm

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Texture and Design, Weak vs Strong

Cezanne looked for planes of reflectance. His challenge was to unite biological vision with art history. Art history gave him a library of subjects and designs, models for  composing pictures. The process of vision provoked more questions and proved to be more difficult to penetrate and apply in painting. The history of design reaches far  past Cezanne’s hero Poussin into our universal history of  letters and pictographs. That history extends into the nature of perception.

Use of compositional models like the “S” or serpentine form and the “V”  form and the height of the horizon can be traced through art history. These models can also be universally applied to any visual field waiting for pictorial organization. In example 1 Cezanne has used the Serpentine design which culminates in a soft inverted “V”, Mt St Victoire. He applies complementary colors and contrasting values within simplified shapes. He has one horizontal area of blue laying on the left  below the Mountain and above the serpentine road. His composition reflects  reconstituted and distilled Poussin designs. In this blogpost I will demonstrate how to use these principles to design better photographs and better paintings.

example 1. Cezanne’s landscape.may15,18, paul cezanne,landscape, mt st victoire1878-80

In the following examples I present photos which offer weaker or stronger design. I will use Cezanne’s landscape as our model. In example 2, I have a photo of marshlands from Rye, New York. This photo has Cezanne’s high horizon and the flat area of blue on the left. It has a incline rising from lower left  to the right.  As a result of the design the image appears to slide out of its frame. It tilts without interruption. It wants an effective serpentine design. This image is a poor candidate for painting without redesign. Example 3 has its reeds laying in an ascending “V” shape which gives the picture too much vertical thrust. The triangular design keeps us within the frame but, it too misses an effective serpentine design. Example 4 presents a the composition again but, with a clear serpentine design wending its way toward the horizon. The organization of the reeds presents a tactile texturing opportunity to enliven the serpentine design. This is the preferred design for a painting.  Example 5 demonstrates the serpentine form.

example 2. tilting and unbalanced marshlands.may15,18,photo 3, horizontal flawed,rye marshlands9_edited-2

example 3. too much vertical movement in the marshlands.may15,18,photo 2,flawed with too much rise,rye marshlands11_edited-2

example 4. the preferred marshlands with serpentine design.may15,18,photo1, preferred swirl, rye marshlands10_edited-2

example 5. serpentine shape illustrated.may15,18,photo1, preferred swirl, rye marshlands10_edited-3

If I use the  image without the pronounced texture of the reeds the image loses much of its motion as well as its tactile appeal (see example 6).

example 6. image with insufficient reinforcing texture.may15.18, photo flawed by lack of texture and direction,rye marshlands13_edited-3

Next, Examples 7 and 8 each demonstrate the use of same design template as in the photos above. Here, in place of the reeds the serpentine shape is water( light) meandering back to the same high horizon. In example 7 the distant wedge shape on the horizon ( my Mt St Victoire) declines toward the end of the serpentine shape.  In example 8 the wedge shape declines in the opposite direction.

example 7. Serpentine of water with horizon wedge declining to the left.may15,18,photo with water swirl in lieu of reeds,rye marshlands2_edited-1

example 8 . Serpentine of water with wedge declining to the right.may15,18,photo with waterway swirl,rye marshlands6_edited-3

The next examples ( examples 9, 10 and 11) show my step-by-step process of building the painting with reedy textures, variegated color and complementary color contrasts which further animate the feeling of moving contours. The Serpentine pattern has been exaggerated in the painting as have the colors.  This design refers back the Cezanne and Poussin.

example 9. step one, finding the composition and the flow of the textures.may15,18,marshlands step2

example 10. step two, unitary fragmenting and coloring the flow of the textures.may15,18,marshlands step3

example 11. step three, the painting in its present form.may15,18,marshlands step4, oil on anodized aluminum,24x24_edited-1




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Action Figures

When a culture wants pictographic information or symbolic images then stability and clarity matter most. As soon as artists  (classic Greek artists were first) wished to describe the action and reaction between characters  then,  instability becomes a goal.  Eventually instability couples with uncertainty (ambiguity) for a new effect because, together they evoke greater motion and a broader range of interpretations. The evolution evoke motion and active interaction between  characters was slow to develop.  After the fall of Rome, Gombrich notes that art resumed its symbolic function until the Renaissance rediscovers persuasive, natural, dramatic interaction.

As the Renaissance unfolded into the Baroque, artists like Caravaggio continued their interest in  instability as an enlivening force in painting. His figures interact as they  gesture, turn, and lean (see example 1). By the 1700’s  the Rococo influence in Venice had liberated artists like Francesco Guardi to experiment with loose bravura paint gestures to describe his figures. His brushwork suggests movement (see example 2).

Example 1. Caravaggio.may15,11,persian,iran, battle of pashan begins mid 1500s,watercolor,ink gold and silver on paper, two artists,abd al vahhab and muzaffar ali

Example 2. detail from a F. Guardi painting.may15,11, guardi, francesco, mid 1700s

In Persia artists pursued the narrative power of instability in the 16th century while working on small images in watercolor, ink, gold and silver on paper.  Example 3 is  a detail from  “The Battle of Pashan Begins” by Abd al-Vahhab and Muzafar ‘Ali .  Later European modernists would see these works as they searched other cultures for inspiration. In this early 20th century painting by Andre Derain notice how the palette, graphic shapes, and interaction of the figures  share  dramatic action and  interdependent instability as in the Persian painting (example 4).

example 3. Persian mid 1500smay15,11, persian,iran mid 1500s battle of pashar begins watercolor ink gold and silver on paper, abd al vahhab and muzaffar ali

example 4. Derain 1908may15,11,andre derain

As I try to evoke figures in motion I look to sources like the Persians, or Guardi, or Derain. The following examples are step-by-step demonstrations of how I  balance stability and instability and, clarity and ambiguity within a painting. Example 5 uses linear perspective principles as well as composition precedents set by Cubists like G. Bracques. Example 6 presents step two of the same image. In this image you see  how  I have strengthened linear perspective in the foreground which helps ground the shadow sweeping across the bottom of the image. I also simplified the tone and color of the figures on the right.  Earlier they were too confused to be effectively suggestive.

example 5. step one, Times Squaremay15,11,times square, Multiplicity, oil on aluminum,36x36_edited-2

example 6. step two, Times Squaremay15,11,times square,multiplicity,oil on aluminum, 36x36_edited-2

In examples 7 and 8 I again look for a balance between instability and stability and, between clarity and ambiguity. In step one (example 7)  the secondary figures are too blurred and awkward to solicit our sustained attention. The central street level area is too ambiguous or confused to attract us. In step two (example 8) I have introduced new figures to the central area. They appear to be interacting. On the left side  the figures have become more legible but, still uncertain. They are grouped to suggest  modes of interaction. The large forward blurred figures continue to move the action into the painting.

example 7. step one of Caught in RainMay15,11,city,Caught In Rain, oil on anodized aluminum,36x36_edited-2

example 8. step two  of Caught in Rainmay15,11,city,Caught In Rain, oil on anodized aluminum, 36x36,rerevised_edited-3

My last image  presents a horizontal array of images. They move in and across the painting. Classically, horizontal friezes of figures were often depicted on sarcophagi or on triumphal arches. The action figures moved left to right. Here, I have the figures lined up horizontally but their motion indicates  a movement to and from the viewer. The central protagonist moves into the image ( example 9)

example 9. Horizontal Arraymay15,11,gct,tall lady, oil on steel, 30x48

I invite you to visit an exhibition of my paintings which includes a couple of the examples you’ve  seen here. The opening reception is this Friday, May 15,2015 at the Susan Powell Gallery in Madison, Connecticut from 5 to 8:30 PM. The Show runs until June 15.  The Gallery’s address  is  679 Boston Post Road in Madison,Ct. 203 318 0616.

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David Dunlop’s Studio Workshop 2 – Design and Color

David Dunlop’s live streaming Studio Workshop 2 – Design and Color is now scheduled for May 23rd at 1pm EDT.  We will post more information about it later this week, and we hope to see you then!
David'sStreaming Into the Woods
Thank you for all of your comments about David’s first Live Streaming Studio Workshop 1 – Into the Woods on David’s You Tube Channel.  We love to hear your comments!


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Designing Translucence

You and  have learned to look into the ambiguous confusion of water and easily accept its varieties of abstraction. We have learned to see undulating abstract rhythms as a recognizable feature of water. Water has become a launching pad for artists’ experiments in abstraction. Water offers translucence, shadows, reflections, blurred motion, sparkle, ambiguous depth, ambiguous objects, varieties of illumination, theatrical exaggeration, and a subtext of vitality and fertility.  All these qualities need not arrive in a single picture, but it’s fun to try. When Andrew Wyeth experimented with watercolor he could let dark smearing stains of watercolor trigger ideas for narration. An abstract pool of uncertainty needed only an articulated leaf edge or a ruffled horizon to trigger the viewer’s recognition that the subject must be water ( example 1).

John Singer Sargent followed a similar path. He, like Wyeth, began with simple curving composition with a high horizon which lowered the viewer to the surface of the water (example 2). After setting the compositional structure an artist like Wyeth can allow the paint to flow in loose large areas then apply a few darkened shadow edges and voila. The effect appears complex but, the process is simple.

example 1. Wyeth watercolor sketch.april15,27, andrew wyeth,a,wc pool

example 2. Sargent watercolor sketch.april15,27,john singer sargent, watercolor stream

Here are a series of steps using oil on aluminum pursuing translucence and opacity as Sargent and Wyeth used watercolor.  Example 3 presents my photo after a few adjustments in Photoshop. It contains some elements which I initially borrowed but, as you will see they sabotaged my design and required changing. In my initial  design drawing (example 4) I have structural lines of the composition; a high horizon with a meandering triangle from the bottom with darkened side triangles pointing into the composition, and a  reflective band of sunlight.

example 3. photograph.april15,27,maine,acadia national park stream2_edited-2

example 4. composition design for painting.april15,27, step one design sketch

My palette initially has only gamboge yellow and ultramarine blue and a touch of carmine lake. I lay in large areas without regard to edges.  I already can sense the composition here (example 5). I applied the paint with a flat 8″ soft synthetic flat brush.  Next (example 6) I  extract paint by  very lightly teasing the surface with  the same 8″ flat and a 4″ and a 2″ synthetic soft flat (watercolor wash style brushes). My gentle brushstrokes find a subtle fluttering of the horizontal stream bed  as well as the angles  of the banked hillside and stream bank.

example 5.  the edgeless lay-in.april15,27,step two the lay in

example 6. discovering light and texture.april15,27,step three, the initial translucent deletions

Finally, I add opaque pastel color as highlights on rocks and as solid  areas of sunlight in the upper territory (example 7).  Here’s where I make a misstep. I trust the photo’s suggestion that I use three equidistant highlighted rocks in the foreground.  Their arrangement is suspiciously regular. I remove the middle highlighted rock and create a small aggregation of highlighted rocks along  the lonely larger one in the center right. I  invent a pattern of submerged and overlapping rocks in the area of the  excised, previously highlighted, middle rock. This new arrangement is less suspicious and less overtly regular (example 8).

example 7. Suspicious highlighted triple rock arrangement.april15,27,forest stream and sunlight, oilon aluminum,18x18_edited-1

example 8. New arrangement with less regularity.april15,27,step 5,forest stream and sunlight, revised oil on aluminum,18x18_edited-2




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Texture Vs. Atmosphere

Everywhere we look we can see specific visual information change. We see articulated textures blend and dissolve over distance whether it’s a carpet of leaves in the forest or gravel on a road.  As a photographer you can accentuate this experience by adjusting your camera’s aperture.  The wider the aperture the faster the background dissolves. As a painter you can use the etc. principle as described by Ernst Gombrich. When we look a forest or crowd we can only focus a small area, 1% of our field of vision. We guess that most of the area (the out-of-focus trees or people) are similar.  We extrapolate. We are unaware we  do this.  As a painter if we give the closer areas more specific edge information or more specific textures then  blend and dissolve the same elements as they move into the distance  we can provide a strong illusion, a parallel to how we see.

Fog and Mist allow us to foreshorten the dissolution of texture and edge information. We experience mist and fog as  obscuring and often luminous forces.  With  fog  we can quicken the application of the etc  principle. Here are examples which feature compound texturing which relies upon the etc principle without  using  fog. Examples 1 and 2 are both oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum.  By generating a profusion of linear information the eye has a difficult time resting in one spot and allows the brain to experience complexity which  suggests the rich complexity of a stand of sea grass.

example 1. Sea grass 1.april15,20,shorelines,seagrass, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum,24x24_edited-1

example 2. Sea grass 2.april15,20,shorelines, twisting seagrass,oilon brushed silver anodized aluminum,30x30_edited-1

In the next examples you see how I reduced the edge information as I worked on the painting. The reduction relies upon layered applications of  semi-opaque glazes which are textured and, selectively teased  and deleted with brushes and rags.  Examples 3, 4, and 5 demonstrate this process.

example 3. step one april15,20,barn island step one,oil on anodized aluminum,36x36

example 4. step two april15,20,barn island step two

example 5. step three april15,20, barn island step three,shorelines Mist and Light, oilon anodized aluminum,36x36_edited-1

Examples 6 and 7 demonstrate the application of both a luminous semi-opaque glazing atmosphere in the background and a darker transparent glaze in the foreground. Both glazes receive selective deletions with rags, brushes, and squeegees.

example 6. step one april15,20,meadow, Mist and Flora,step one a, oilon aluminum,29x29_edited-1

example 7. step two april15,20,meadow, Mist and Flora,step 2, oilon aluminum,29x29_edited-1

I often begin the blurring a profusion of  textures with the photo in both the camera and later with Photoshop (Photo Elements). Example 8 presents the altered photograph. It will spur  ideas and experiments in the later painting in example 9.

example 8. altered photo april15,20,calf pasturephoto11_edited-1

example 9. painting april15,20,calf pasture oil on anodized aluminum,24x24

The full sequence of image development can often go through a variety of steps. I begin on location or with a photo which I manipulate in Photoshop (example 10). Next, I make quick  design sketches which usually consist of triangles, curves, ellipses ( basic forms) united in a cohering pattern. Next I might begin with a watercolor sketch as you see in  example 11. Then I enlarge the scale with an oil as you see in example 12.  I may do a variety of differently scaled oils, all  very different.

example 10. B&W photo april15,20,plum island ma,_edited-1

example 11. watercolor sketch april15,20,plum island ma watercolor,_edited-1

example 12. 1st oil painting. april15,20,plum island, oil on aluminum,18x18_edited-2

In the next examples I further manipulated the design. I decided to unite the picture by having the serpentine sky/cloud pattern be  mirror-reversed (vaguely) in the shape of the forward body of water.  Example 13 represents step one here. Example 14 represents step 2.

example 13, step one april15,20,plum island,step one

example 14, step two april15,20,plum island step two,shorelines,Deep Horizon, oilon aluminum,18x18_edited-1


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David Dunlop’s Studio Workshop 1 – Into the Woods is now on YouTube

David’s first Live Streaming Studio Workshop 1 – Into the Woods is now available on David’s You Tube Channel. David focuses on different painting techniques used in painting a forest scene and paints a demonstration oil sketch.  We hope that you enjoy it! We will post information about the May Live Streaming Studio Workshop 2 – Design and Color, in the next few weeks.
David'sStreaming Into the Woods

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Find Color In Black and White

Camera Obscura machines of the 17th and 18th centuries helped artists to unite the tone of their paintings. The image seen through the lens of a camera obscura appears softer and the colors are slightly subdued giving a more unified feeling of tone. Vermeer and others capitalized on these effects. Today we  manipulate photos to resemble antique photo or camera obscura effects. When we strip the color from an image and heighten the contrasts of black and white the resul has a classic or older appearance, almost antique.

I removed the color from some photographs and converted them into higher  contrast black and whites. Experience a more adventurous, innovative and personal  color palette when referencing  a black and white  image as you start a painting  Looking at  B&W monochromes I was released from bonds of imitative color and prescriptive color.

The process begins with a standard color photo of a marsh which is  converted to black and white. Next I drive up the contrast with darker shadows and brighter highlights. The resulting black and white image appears in example 1. After considering this black and white photo I tried a demonstration image in front of students. This image was only 12×12, an oil on anodized aluminum. From this experiment I decided to make another larger 24×24 oil on anodized aluminum (example 2). To begin I further simplified the design. I interrupted the darker areas with a few crosshatched strokes of brighter color to energize the image. I further blended the misty background to unify the image and offer the inevitable feeling of mystery that fog provides. Next, I changed surfaces and sizes moving to a 46×48 oil on canvas (example 3). I  simplified the image still further. I must wait   for drying to apply colored glaze effects and other layers of gesture and texture.

example 1. marsh photo.march15,31.shelburne pond 11_edited-1

example 2. 12×12 demonstration oil paint imagemarch15,31,Marsh Meadow Mist, study, 11x12,jpg

example 3. 24×24 larger oil paint imagemarch15,31,Marsh Meadow Mist, oilon anodized aluminum,24x24

example 4. 46×48 largest oil  on canvasmarch15,31,meadow,marsh,mist, oilon canvas, 48x46_edited-1

Looking at a black and white image  liberates my re-design and re-definition impulses. I convert the particular information in the background to misty uncertainty as you see in examples 5 (the black and white photo) and  6 (the painting as it departs from the photograph).

example 5. photo of marsh grass.march15,31,shelburne pond_edited-2

example 6. Paintingmarch15,31, bending Marsh Grass, oil on aluminum,24x24_edited-1

Examples 7, 8, an 9 present the sequence of the image as it moved from color photo to black and white to the reconfigured painted image.

example 7. color photomarch15,31,maine acadian lake3_edited-4

example 8. black and white photo of samemarch15,31,maine acadian lake6_edited-3

example 9. Close analogous harmony in blue and green oil paintmarch15,31,marsh, Blue is Quiet Here, oil on aluminum,24x24_edited-1

Examples 10 and 11 offer evidence of  both reinterpreted color from a black and white photo as well as a reconfigured image.

example 10. Black and white photomarch15,31,plum island ma,_edited-1

example 11. New color palette and altered designmarch15,31, the skys bright harmony, oil on canvas,32x36

Examples 12 and 13 present a black and white vertical photo which was redesigned into a squared and colored painting relying on pinks in the light and blue-greens in the dark areas.

example 12, vertical BW photomarch15,31,randalls farm june13large_edited-2

example 13. Painting converted to square and invested with color.march15,31,marsh, Languid Sunlight, oil on canvas, 34x36_edited-2

I hope you are able to join me on April 11th at 11 AM  for a first  trial at an internet live streamed class.  Watch and interact with me in my studio. For instructions visit this website.





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SATURDAY, APRIL 11th at 1PM EDT – Join David Dunlop for his First Live On-Line Streaming Workshop

David Woekshop Header

Saturday, APRIL 11th at 1:00pm EDT
We would love to have you join David on Saturday, April 11th at 1:00pm EDT for our very first one-hour live on-line streaming workshop. You will be able to watch the workshop/class by going to our website and clicking on the Workshop button on our home page. That will take you to a web page that should have the streaming class available during the period 1pm EDT to 2pm EDT. We will be in Connecticut, so it will be 1:00pm Connecticut time, which is on Eastern Daylight Time.

Our first On-line Workshop will be FREE, and you will be able to tweet or email questions to David during the workshop.  The workshop/class will feature David’s discussion and demonstrations, as well as questions from you, the viewer. This will be our first experiment at finding a format that we will all enjoy together.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Workshop 1 – Into the Woods
April 11,  2015  1-2PM EDT (One-hour class)
The Workshop will focus on different painting techniques and models used in painting a forest.  David discusses historic ideas, palettes, vocabulary, intentions and methods.  Reaching back to 17th century landscape painters, we will explore how they sketched, composed, and painted.  David will use contemporary techniques as well to demonstrate current developments in landscape painting and paint a demonstration painting of a forest in oil, beginning with composition designs and a preliminary watercolor sketch.

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Directions For Sunlight

We celebrate the sun. We’ve worshipped solar deities since our beginnings. As  diurnal animals we need sunlight to work, hunt and grow food.  Our brains are sensitive to the contrast of light and dark, always turning to the light like sunflowers. The sparkle of jewelry, the flash of fire, the theatrical placement of light on a stage all attract our attention. Over centuries artists have improved their ability to suggest sunlight and to place it theatrically in a scene.  Artists learned to spot sunlight like a theater’s lighting crew. 600 years ago we were less skilled at this. The light was ambient, figures, even figures in landscapes appeared as if they were illuminated for high school yearbook portrait.

My parade of examples begins in 1430 with  work by a Flemish master (example 1). Observe the lack of unitary direction to the light and the artificially  bright figures  in the foreground. There are no pools of  directional sunlight here. Yet, within less than hundred years all that changed. DaVinci would catalyze the development of natural light in painting. Caravaggio and the Baroque period follow. Now lighting is firmly chiaroscuro (light against dark) with a clear sense of the direction of the light (example 2). Another century later in the 1600s Jacob Van Ruisdael is directing sunlight in landscapes (example 3). Ruisdael has the edges of rocks, the foam of falling water, the corner of a roof, the edge of a cloud , the surface of a meadow all collect directed sunlight. These spots of sunlight assemble themselves into a rising triangle, a singular design made out of a fallen patches of sunlight catching on strategic surfaces.

example 1. Flemish master 1430smarch15,23,dutch,belgian,master of the female half lengths .._edited-1

example  2. Caravaggio, late 1500smarch15,23,caravaggio,callstmathew

example 3. Jacob Van Ruisdael, 1600s,march15,23.ruisdael, jacob van, landscape with mill and waterfall_edited-1

These lessons in plotting spots of sunlight cross the Atlantic to  Thomas Cole, the first of the Hudson River painters. In 1830 Cole  borrows English, Dutch and Italian recipes for directing sunlight as you see in example 4.  His Indians are bathed in a sunbeam just as like his cliff faces. The edges of sunlight define the design and dramatic structure of Cole’s painting.

example 4. Thomas Cole 1830smarch15,23,cole, thomas, catskills, full image_edited-1

example 4a. detail of Thomas Cole painting.march15,23,cole, thomas, catskills detail_edited-1

As artists moved into the 20th century they were flattening the picture plane and offering paint strokes that were as much about the appearance of the paint as they were contributors to any illusion as you see in example 5 by Wilhelm Trubner in 1905. A century later I am still negotiating the location of sunlight as I reach back in art history to Thomas Cole for  lighting design ideas which I  modify and apply with new tools on new materials ( example 6.)  I have the advantage of being able to see more art history than my predecessors. I can borrow the universal lighting of the 1400s with its disregard for unitary sunlight and place my image on a 14th century platform of 23karat gold leaf ( example 7.)  Or, I can borrow the darker palettes of  Caravaggio and J. Van Ruisdael  and spot my sunlight with a dark sense of chiaroscuro as you see in example 8.

example 5. Wilhelm Trubner 1905.march15,23,german,1905,wilhelm trubner, landscape, oil_edited-1

example 6. Using  spot lighting but with squeegees as well as brushes on anodized aluminum.march15,23,forest, trail of sunspots, oil on anodized aluminum,36x36_edited-1

example 7. using omnidirectional light of the 1400s on gold leaf .march15,23,water garden, oil on gold leaf on aluminum, 22x12 image size, framed 30x20_edited-3

exaexample 8. dark chiaroscuro Lighting on brushed silver anodized aluminum.march15,23,Waterweed and sunlight, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum,18x18

Or, I can blend art these historical ideas within a 21st century urban subject. Here I apply directional lighting like Caravaggio combined with flattened paint patterns of the modernist 20th century combined with new materials like anodized aluminum and paint applied with rubber brayers(rollers), varied brushwork, and paint selectively excised with squeegees  (example 9).

example 9. Times Square with Caravaggio’s Lighting director.march15,23,city,times square strollers,oil on anodized aluminum,36x36_edited-2

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