Sketchbooks are the window to an artist’s soul, compilations of in-the-moment observations that serve as inspiration for future works. “The Art of Marvin Franklin” on exhibition at the New York Transit Museum, December 18, 2007 – March 30, 2008, features a collection of renderings from the late artist’s sketchbooks along with many of the watercolors, etchings and oil paintings inspired by the sketches. This exhibit offers a rare insight into the singular and collective moments that inspired the art produced by the artist. Unlike many art exhibits that present the final refined works, “The Art of Marvin Franklin” delves a bit deeper to offer the public an insiders look the unrefined first impressions captured in his sketch book that inspired his body of work. Although Marvin Franklin lost his life in the line of duty on April 29, 2007, while working the night shift as he had for twenty two years, he is remembered as an accomplished artist by day and a dedicated NYC Subway track worker by night.
Marvin Franklin was a night worker on the subway tracks for 22 years, but he was also an artist. After completing his shift, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., he would hop on the F train at Jamaica/179th Street and sketch his fellow passengers on the way to 57th Street in Manhattan, where he disembarked and walked to the Art Students League for classes lasting from 9 a.m. to noon. His dreams of becoming a painter, after retiring in three years, were shattered on April 29 this year, when Mr. Franklin, 55, was struck by a Queens-bound G train as he worked on the tracks at the Hoyt-Schermerhorn station. In tribute to the late Marvin Franklin, whose work was inspired by people from all walks of life who rode the subway, The New York Transit Museum, located in a decommissioned subway station will honor him with an exhibition entitled, “The Art of Marvin Franklin.”
Says Roxanne Robertson, the New York Transit Museum’s Director of Special Projects, “An artist’s sketchbook is often the truest representation of the artist’s vision. The sketchbook captures the first impressions of the subject. It isn’t often that the public gets to see the sketches that inspire the final works. Of the images presented in this exhibit, there is a vibrancy that resonates. We see and feel what the artist saw, the desperation of homelessness, the tenderness of a mother and her children and the life forces of each individual captured in the sketchpad. This exhibit takes the viewer beyond the immediacy of the situation presented and with each stroke of the pen or brush, Marvin Franklin defined moments of the individual commute that transcended the routine commute to present private moments in one of the city’s most public places.”
“The Art of Marvin Franklin” exhibition includes five of his sketch books filled with renderings of subway passengers executed in ballpoint pen. People sleeping or reading made the best subjects since they were still. Sometimes his long commute allowed for meticulous renderings. Other times the subject would exit at the next stop with just an outline captured on paper. These sketches provided the source material for paintings and etchings done in the studio. In fifteen examples of his etchings we see his drawings evolve into more refined compositions. In a selection of watercolors in the exhibition he takes the work in a different direction adding a rich color palette to the subject matter. The work captures both the larger picture of the human experience and the smaller details of life, such as second hand shoes that don’t fit. The exhibit concludes with an oil on canvas self portrait.
Artist and New York City Transit track worker Marvin Franklin lost his life in the line of duty on April 29, 2007 while working the night shift as he had for twenty two years. He was fifty five years old. He leaves behind a wife, three children, many friends and a substantial body of artwork – much of it never exhibited before. On view at the New York Transit Museum, in Brooklyn Heights, are drawings, prints and paintings all set in the subway system where he spent much time as both an employee and a commuter. Many of the images depict homeless people. The artist was once homeless himself. After rebuilding his life, he devoted himself to artwork. “Art saved my life,” he said. He produced hundreds of sketches, prints and watercolors showing life in the subway with insight and compassion.
The night shift was 11PM to 7 AM. After work he would get on the F train at Jamaica/179th Street, the end of the line in Queens, sketch book in hand, and draw his fellow passengers all the way to 57th Street in Manhattan where he went to school. For more than a decade he attended school at the Art Students League from 9AM to noon. After school he would get back on the F train and sketch some more on his way home. With twenty two years on the job, he was three years away from retirement. Then he hoped to teach art, exhibit his work to raise awareness about homelessness and sell his artwork to raise money to help people in need.
Generous support for “The Art of Marvin Franklin” exhibition has been provided by Transit Workers Union (TWU) Local 100. Additional support has been provided by the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.