Underground Images: A History


In 1989 I was asked by Silas Rhodes, president of the School of Visual Arts in New York City where I lived at the time to create a piece of art for their subway series of posters that lined the NYC transit stations. I was honored to be a part of this tradition that had been around for decades and had enjoyed seeing many of them while riding the subway. 

Dee Ito (Marshall Arisman's wife) conjured up the copy for the poster I was to illustrate… "Even a great idea is just an idea until you make it real."

During that time in the 80’s the subway system was not in the best shape, it was depressing and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) was attempting to clean it up. So I thought I would put an angel in the subway to uplift the environment in a small way. The image I produced shows an angel in a small jail like room, painting a landscape with paint from her wings that are painting palettes.

The posters (hand silk screened in Paris!) looked great in the subway, but within a week or two I was noticing they were disappearing from the walls. No one at SVA knew why this was happening and so I contacted the MTA directly and asked why they were being taken down.

They said to me, “We are sorry Mr. Spalenka, but people are stealing your posters!”

I loved being a part of that SVA history!

SVA is presenting “Underground Images: A History,” a new exhibition showcasing the full collection of the College’s Subway Posters, which have covered the walls of NYC subway stations for almost 75 years. This is the first time the entire collection of more than 200 posters will be shown to the public.

In addition to the posters, this rich time-capsule tribute to SVA's history will include multimedia installations, progress sketches and paintings and a recreated NYC subway platform. Presented by SVA Galleries in partnership with the SVA Archives, “Underground Images: A History” will be on view through Saturday, October 14, 2023, at the SVA Chelsea Gallery, 601 W 26th St., 15th floor, New York City.

September 06, 2023 by Greg Spalenka