Valeri Larko lived in Jersey City for three and a half years after she completed art school, and those years - and the glimpses of Hudson County's urban landscape - changed the way she looked at the world, helping to shape her art into something starker than she ever expected.
Larko, along with Hoboken painter Tim Daly, has been selected by New Jersey Transit to paint the murals that will viewed by thousands of commuters each day in the lobby of the soon-to-be-opened New Jersey Transfer Station in Secaucus.
Tim Daly, a fixture in Hudson County for his urban and Meadowlands landscapes, will do panels for the southern wall, and Larko will decorate the northern wall.
Although the official opening of the transfer station has been delayed until some time in 2004, most of the artwork for the station is ready. The vision of the two artists will greet commuters daily to and from Manhattan.
The Secaucus Transfer Station - often known as Allied Junction - will connect five of northern New Jersey Transit's rail lines, allowing passengers to access Midtown Manhattan without having to pass through Hoboken.
The work on display in the lobby will present unique views of NJ Transit rail facilities throughout the area covered by the five lines, so that visitors to the lobby will get visual glimpses presented through the eyes of the artists.
Hudson County was an inspiration
Larko moved into Jersey City during the summer of 1986 and lived there until the end of 1989. A graduate of Du Cret School of the Arts in Plainfield, and later, the Art Students League in New York, she said she discovered the unique beauty of urban landscapes while living in Jersey City.
"I always liked the outside," she said, believing that her artwork would follow a more naturalistic vein. "But then I started wandering around Jersey City and discovered a very urban panorama."
"My work grew and changed," she added. "Even after I moved out of Jersey City, it had an impact on me. To this day, I still do urban and industrial scenes."
Her reputation in this field grew and her work began to appear in numerous public buildings and office spaces around the state. These include the state Veterans Administration building, Rutgers University, Montclair Museum and Rutgers University.
For most people familiar with the arts scene in Hudson County, Tim Daly needs no introduction. Daly moved to Hoboken around 1980 after growing up in neighboring Jersey City. He had a brief excursion into what he calls "the 'burbs," where he says he got bored.
Daly studied at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, where he acquired the tools he needed to begin. Some of his paintings are deliberately dark. He says they emphasize the mystery of the night pieces. But even the brighter daylight images have a mood to them, cast by his limited use of color. Over the years, he has done numerous landscapes and spent a great deal of time along old Route 7 and other parts of the Meadowlands and Hackensack River. Mostly, he sketches the scene on the spot and takes photos, then brings these back where he can reproduce them on the larger scale. One of his early works depicting a railroad crossing in the Meadowlands stands five by seven feet. Many of the bridges he has painted have a built in sense of mystery and yet still exist in reality.
Invited to participate
In Spring of 2000, Larko and Daly were among numerous artists invited to submit work through the New Jersey State Council on the Arts for possible use in the train station. Larko and Daly were part of eight, and then selected as the artists whose work would become immortalized in the train station.
"Apparently, NJ Transit went through the council's slides and came up with what they liked," Larko said.
Although Daly often worked with large-scale projects - limited only by the size of his studio space or the truck to transport - Largo's pieces were generally designed so that she could transport them in the back of her station wagon.
"I'm not a muralist," she said.
Her work on the station will include four pieces: two large murals 27 1 /2 feet long and two murals 13 feet long to fill three sides of the north Mezzanine waiting room.
"I think NJ Transit liked the themes I worked with," she said, although she noted this project differed from projects in the past. Most times she worked live, painting on the scene. In this project, she was required to paint from photographs. Her panels include four scenes from around the state; a rail bridge in West Trenton, another near the Delaware Water Gap, one bridge on the Jersey City Bayonne boarder and a fourth from Brille.
Daly, who has proposed several ideas, including a variety of views of the state in areas like Bay Head, the Jersey Shore, Ridgewood and Mountain Lakes, would be responsible for the north mezzanine. Daly said he had submitted work to NJ Transit in two rounds of competition. His first proposal was a 360 degree circular painting of Snake Hill in Secaucus and a second work of a similar scene slightly farther away. He and Larko were selected in the second round.
His project involves 32 different canvases of views from around the state. Although billed as a "commuter's view" of the rails, he said he collected the images by various means, in some cases walking through areas around the state.
This has been a full-time project for him since Oct. 2000.
"This is the best painting experience of my life," Daly said. "These are some of the best paintings I have ever done."
For both artists, this is something of a change, since both usually wander out into locations for inspiration. But this work is commissioned to depict specific types of scenes.
Larko, in fact, has been inserting images of historic trains on three of the bridges she depicts, working with a historian to get the correct images.
"I wanted to do historic trains on all four panels, but NJ Transit wanted a more modern train on one," she said.
Both artists are working in monumental proportions, creating a mosaic that seeks to tie in the various corners of the state so that commuters can witness the whole panorama in one place.
Larko said she drove across the state for weeks taking hundreds of photos, searching for the right images.
"Each image will play off the other since they will all be in one room," she said.
Daly says he still has a few pieces to finish, but that NJ Transit has asked for the work to be mounted by April 2003. Many of the images for this display will be available for public preview at the Hudson Reporter-sponsored Hoboken Artists Tour in October. Daly will open his Hoboken studio to show off the work.