On a windy and bitter cold Sunday in January 2009 I traveled with my buddy Willie Joe to Laurel Hill Park near Secaucus, NJ, just off of exit 15X on the New Jersey Turnpike. Laurel Hill used to be known as Snake Hill, and it's an unusual geological formation that seems to have been dropped in the middle of a vast swampland on the banks of the Hackensack River. The Turnpike skirts the eastern face, and motorists have for decades been enchanted by this very odd, very graffitied rocky knoll. Folks may also recognize its profile as it served as the visual inspiration for the Prudential Insurance logo.
I have personally been curious about this place, and finally made time to go there and climb it, for the purpose of taking photographs as I began my study of the New Jersey Meadowlands for this project. Many people have climbed it, mainly the local youth, primarily for the purposes of underage drinking and spray painting various illegible words and phrases on it. With Willie holding fast at the foot of the hill, I climbed it, utilizing a rusted fence that wrapped up the steep contour of the north side.
After about 10 minutes I had reached the summit at the south end which offers a perfect 360 degree view as far as the eye can see, as there are no other land formations or large buildings anywhere nearby. The closest obstructions of any size are the Palisades to the east and the New York City skyline just beyond, and city of Newark to the south west. The surrounding windswept landscape was very bleak and very cold, a perfect setting for some amazingly sublime photos.
I started the painting a few months after the trip, and after one sitting I had a completed sketch showing the south view, with the swamp, the Hackensack river and a railroad bridge in the foreground, the city of Kearny, NJ in the mid ground, and the Pulaski Skyway outlining the horizon in the distance. I put the painting aside and started another, and it sat for almost four years.
I pulled the painting out, and even offered it for sale, as I was satisfied by the sketch, as it had a nice, painterly, impressionistic quality and said everything I felt it needed to say. Shortly after, I took it out for a studio visit by a gallery curator, and she asked me if I had planned on finishing the painting. From that point on, it took on a life of its own and became what it is today.
Its interesting to note that I had officially declared this project over, until this and two other paintings from that 2009 trip made re-appearances in my studio. I still feel that the project is done, but my needs have changed. I'll need new paintings for some other events I have coming up, and this project still has plenty of unused material for subject matter.
See below, Kearny, 30" x 48", oil on canvas, then (2009) and now (2013).