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  • What's New

    A Somewhat Curmudgeonly View of Railroads and the Use of Alizarin Crimson
    RailNews - June 1997 - Page 36

    What's New

    Text and Paintings by Ted Rose

    I'm just old enough to remember steam locomotives in regular use, to have witnessed the dramatic physical and social changes implicit in the diesel revolution, and to have seen the final fling of private-carrier passenger operations. The American railroad landscape presented a heady, multi-colored view to this dazed, wanna-be artist. But railroad for tunes and places were in serious decline when I was young; their overall image was one of decay, and I knew even then that I had no interest in depicting the quaintness of old things representing such despair. Melancholy is not for the young. Neither is history. I didn't paint much after 1963.

    Fortunately for most of us, American railroads survived. By the time President Carter signed the Staggers Rail Act in 1980, the constant downsizing, abandonments, and waves of industry-wide mergers had changed the whole railroad landscape. Then, for the first time in my lifetime, railroad fortunes began to improve.

    In 1983, after 20 years of storing images and ideas, I began to concentrate on painting again. This was not entirely because of the evolving status of American railroads, but I was very glad to know that my visual future was going to include more than suburban cul-de-sacs, Interstate directional signs, and Wal-Mart parking lots. I began painting old stuff, and still enjoy depicting the things and places of memory as I attempt to portray what part of my own past felt like. And I have a good time painting the survivors, equipment, and people from another time: porters, handlers, hostlers, shop men, Frisco's 1522 and crew, Steve Lee, or the narrow gauge.

    So what's new? Most of railroading. There are the regionals, short lines, and spin-offs, of course-many of them nice reminders of railroading past-but big-time, mainline, contemporary railroading is a sight to behold.

    Some observers have complained that railroading is just not the same, and find the big roads no more interesting, aesthetically, than conveyor belts. To each his or her own. I find the eagles, alligators, and other new reporting marks and symbols every bit as enter tailling as a Wabash flag or Maine Central pine tree.

    I like the reality of tripletrack out of North Platte; the well-maintained plant on the old Reading; or the several places around the country-like Belen, New Mexico-where I can see nearly a hundred trains in 24 hours. The "good old days" just weren't the same.

    As a painter I once relied on an elegant, dye-based color called Alizarin Crimson. It handled beautifully in washes, mixed well, and approximated the intense violet-red color of an American LaFrance fire truck. But the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM), under the auspices of the Artists Equity Association, found that Alizarin Crimson fades, is not permanent, and should not be used as a watercolor pigment. Suitable alternatives are now available. They aren't the same. For most painting purposes, they're better.

    In today's railroad world, David P. Morgan might have lamented the loss of the ampersand, but he would have rejoiced in ever-increasing gross-ton-mile and market share stats and reveled in the phenomenal improvement in labor productivity. From trackside, he would have described this resurgence for us in dramatic prose.

    Contemporary writers and photographers have ably chronicled and recorded the look and feel of present-day railroading on these and other pages. But where are the art works, where are the paint ings of the rail road environment during these last years of the 20th century?

    Like our late 19th century brethren, American realist painters seem to have forsaken the present for a loving look at the past. As a result, we've created a market niche for ourselves as visual his torians and preservationalists. This is commendble but limiting, I think. Railroading is now in comparatively good shape, and shows a visual presence as commanding as any within my memory. So, without intending to bite the historical hand that feeds me, here are several paintings of the railroad present, and what there is for me to be excited about and commit to paper. I may lament the loss of Alizarin Crimson, but I happily indulge in the bright pennanence of its several replacements.

    I see things as paintings: the interplay of light and color, shapes, pattems, and the structure or composition of the whole. These are similar to the concems of a good photographet; but my medium is watercolor-and the painting process is for me as important as the subject matter. I don't try to replicate the look of a photograph, nor do I feel a great need to use the medium as a document of past or present. What concerns me in one painting or series may be done with or expanded upon in the next. Reflections on watet; the structure of grain elevators, the roundness of tank cars, the wake of lake ships, the gestures of sectionmen, the starkness of mine tailings-all are quite intriguing.

    For me, two things in painting are constant: My reliance on the visually tangible world, whether in the expression and structure of a person's face or the front end of a 4-8-4, and my use of watercolor as medium of preference. The subjects of past or present are variable, determined simply by my concerns in painting, but I'm glad of a vigorous railroad present that allows me the opportunity for choice.

    Here's a floral arrangement of bright shirts and hardhats-a BN crew takes care of business after a switching move put a couple of cars on the ground outside Birmingham, Alabama.
    RailNews - June 1997 - Page 37

    Cleanup Crew

    Watercolor 12" x 16"

    Remnants of earlier days linger. This fortress-doored UP boxcar is marked by the bubbly drink glass of The Rambler, or one of its clones, as a yard man works his way by. The shapes and color arrangements here were of dominant interest.
    RailNews - June 1997 - Page 38












    The Rambler

    Watercolor 9" x 12"


    For this painting, the title provides the scope of my focus while I passed a truck on US 287. Whenever possible, I use painting titles to enhance an idea. They become an integral part of the painting process.
    RailNews - June 1997 - Page 39












    One Load West 94 Loads East

    Watercolor 12" x 16"


    The tides of fortune on the regional Chicago Central & Pacific are typified in this rainy 1993 scene at Dubuque,Iowa, where the highway bridge arches Mississippi River floodwaters, and the Illinois Central waits on higher ground.
    RailNews - June 1997 - Page 40











    Troubled Waters

    Watercolor 10" x 14"


    Old and new in Fort Worth, Texas. The time of day may be taken as a metaphor, but I used it to provide the range of grays emphasizing both the differences and the close relationships. Warbonnets, ho.
    RailNews - June 1997 - Page 41











    Sunrise, Tower 55

    Watercolor 10" x 14"


    The compatible combination of old and new was what seemed most striking here. Pennsy's concrete-clad, stone-arch, four-track bridge serves Conrail well. Though the steel fabricating function in much of Johnstown is diminished, east/west traffic flows less constrained now than does the Conemaugh River below.
    RailNews - June 1997 - Page 42











    Johnstown Crossing


    Watercolor 14" x 20"


    Backlight and haze of dust are used here to simplify the contour of tank cars, emphasize repetitive shapes, and create a feeling of sinuous movement.
    RailNews - June 1997 - Page 43













    Watercolor 12" x 16"


    Last light in western New Mexico reflects from Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe rails while traffic on parallel Interstate 40 continues east and west. The green signal aspect denotes the approach of westbound goods no longer on the highway.
    RailNews - June 1997 - Page 44











    Watercolor 12" x 16"


    Union Pacific moves west, Southern Pacific moves east: just how will they combine? Would Edward H. Harriman, once thwarted by anti-trust fervor and the relatively new ICC, now approve? We'll see. This is not a double crossover.
    RailNews - June 1997 - Page 45












    The Harriman Metaphor

    Watercolor 18" x 18"

    Article Details

    • Original Author Ted Rose
    • Source RailNews
    • Publication Date June 1997

    Article Album (1 photo)

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