Line by Line: Matteo Pericoli / CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood / December 13, 2009
After all these years spent drawing window views, I’ve come to the conclusion that contemplating a window view isn’t so much an action directed outward, but inward, one of reflection. The view looks back at you, and asks: “Why are you here? Is this really the place (in the world, in your life) where you want to be? How did you get here? (Both practically and metaphorically.)”
That’s what happened to me ten years ago when I was moving out of our Upper West Side apartment and suddenly realized that I would have lost forever the window view I’d been looking at (mostly unknowingly) for seven years. That’s when I realized that that particular view symbolized my life path and decisions made up to that point. And that’s when I told myself, “Now I have to draw all of the window views of the city!” Obviously I never did that, I just drew 63 (out of a hundred plus I had visited) that were after published in a book called The City Out My Window: 63 Views on New York. In the seven years prior, I had worked on long scrolls depicting Manhattan as seen from its surrounding rivers and from Central Park. My goal had always been to try to draw the whole city, yet I never imagined that what I had been looking for was instead the reverse process, i.e. to draw how people see the city, rather than what the physical city looks like.
I decided that there are two kinds of window views: active and passive. If you feel that your choices have brought you to where you are at that very moment in time and space (i.e. the viewpoint provided by your window), then the narrative around the view is active. If that’s not the case, it’s a passive view. Children’s window view drawings and texts are among the most telling because theirs are quintessentially passive views, thus we can infer a great amount of information about how children perceive their place in the world from their particular perspectives (literally).
Back to my Upper West Side view from ten years ago. When I realized that I couldn’t leave the view behind, that it was too much a part of me, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could peel an imaginary film off the window and take everything with me, window frame, glass, view, and all?” I tried photographing the view, but (perhaps I am a bad photographer, or maybe for technical limitations) what I was getting was either the window itself or what was beyond the glass, not both, or at least I was not getting my mental image of it. If you open the window and take a picture, you see an urban landscape; if you photograph the frame, you mostly see the frame. A window view is both.
So just like with my long skyline drawings, the only way for me to reproduce a window view is to obtain as many photographs as possible, use them to mentally reconstruct the view, i.e. the space between the sheet of glass and all the physical elements that constitute the view, and rebuild it as a line drawing. Often the writers’ photos came with descriptions, but often it would end up the other way around: i.e. I would be the one describing the window views to them with my drawing. ➡︎
Leibovitz presented him with a series of photographs she had made of her window view, but he insisted on working in his own way, stamping his own presence on the subject. "I don't draw a fleeting moment, I try to capture a sense of wholeness, of permanence."
The actor Steve Martin's view across Central Park was "so iconic, so fairy tale" that Pericoli decided not to include it. "It was just what you would expect; there were no surprises." Others, whom he will not name, refused him access. "Many people wanted to guard their private view and I respect that. It also made me feel happy in the sense that what I was doing had some deeper meaning." ➡︎
◘ Slideshow: Personal Views of the City / The New York Times / 2009
◘ Gallery: Matteo Pericoli's Rooms With a View / The Guardian / 2010
◘ Skyline of the World / Matteo Pericoli
◼︎ The Summer Issue: Matteo Pericoli / Sadie Stein / The Paris Review / June 20, 2011
◼︎ The City Out My Window: 63 Views of NYC / Janaya Williams / WNYC / 2009