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Meet the Artist: Peter Salwen


On display until January 31 at St. Agnes Library is Peter Salwen’s “20 Views of the City”. Peter Salwen studied fine art at New York’s High School of Music & Art, Cornell University, the Art Students League, and the New School. He also leads walking tours of New York City (including most notably “Mark Twain’s New York") and is the author of Upper West Side Story: A History & Guide (Abbeville Press). See his website,, for further information.

Streetscape with Red Awning, 2013

What led to your interest in becoming an artist?

It's just something that was always there. The visual side of experience has always felt very strong and vivid for me, along with the feeling that I'm supposed to do something about those sensations that get stirred up by sunlight, colors, contrasting shapes and so on.

What is your inspiration in your art?

Well, that's pretty much it. The world around us is a constant show of really cool things to see, especially in the city, but everywhere, really. Even ordinary, boring stuff—sunlight falling on a wall or roofline, a traffic light, a crowd crossing a street—it all can seem truly magical if you look at it the right way. "Inspiration" for me is just letting something catch my attention and give me an excuse to get started.

West Side Nocturne No. 3What other artists have influenced your work?

Hard to say. I love Monet, Sisley, Vermeer, of course, Homer, Edward Hopper—and also Fairfield Porter, Richard Diebenkorn, Wolf Kahn and a slew of others. I'm taking a workshop next fall with a young guy I admire a lot, Colin Page, half my age, and I'm actually hoping his influence may show up in my palette and brushwork. You never stop learning.

Do you have a routine for when you are making your art?

Mostly, I work directly on the canvas, but I try to nail down the main business of each painting ahead of time with at least a few preliminary compositional sketches and value studies. That way you have a road map to help you remember where you meant to go. Though art being what it is, you may end up somewhere else altogether—which can be a nice surprise.

What are you trying to communicate with your art?

Mainly, I'm just out to share my personal delight in what I see. I'm not much of a "message" artist, and you won't find a lot of social commentary, say, in my work. If there is a message—and this is true in my books as well—it's probably something like, "Hey, guys, look what I found here! Come give it a look!"

What is the best advice you have to give someone who is just starting out?

Keep your eyes open, draw all the time, and paint every day, if you can.

What’s your favorite piece of art that you have created?

The one that's on the easel right now. Always. It better be.

What are you working on at the moment?

I've been playing with some inside-outside themes recently, getting into some of those playful effects you get by looking in or out through windows & open doorways—sort of a two-for-the-price-of-one situation.

Sidewalk Sentinels in Early Snow

Rain and Smoke on Amsterdam Avenue


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