New York Finger Paintings

New York Finger Paintings

October 27, 2011 at 4:00 am

Jorge Colombo looks like any other commuter in Grand Central Station as he moves his finger back and forth across the screen of his iPhone. But while it appears Colombo is checking his email or perhaps sending a text, he’s actually painting. 

No bulky canvases, messy paint brushes or easel needed — the pocket-sized iPhone has allowed Colombo to bring his art form to the streets of New York. Using an app called Brushes, he captures candid New York City moments with a swipe of his finger. His digital finger paintings are done inconspicuously on location because he says he “prefers an image to carry my memory of the hour or two I spend standing on a sidewalk, drawing from urban life passing by.”

Colombo often scouts painting locations, like New York’s most iconic terminal, but refers to much of his images as “accidents of everyday errands.” His latest book, “New York: Finger Paintings,” showcases 100 diverse scenes of New York City life. “I’ve been fascinated by the visual patchwork of the cities,” he writes. “I look for the traces, the scars, the accidents that have changed the character of a building or a street over the years.”

Below is a selection of images from “New York: Finger Paintings,” with insights from the artist:

Following is an excerpt from the book written by Colombo:

Cities end up acquiring their visual personality by way of collective contributions. Hard as they are to trace back to their origins, there are factors that define prevalent styles of windows or a main palette for buildings. Sometimes the identity of a city is obvious—details and landmarks easy to spot—but often that identity is to be found in subliminal touches. I find it a richer challenge to extract the intrinsic New York–ness or the San Francisco–ness out of a nondescript vista. That essence can be in the proportion of the sidewalks, scale of the buildings, quirks of architecture, urban vegetation, or quality of light…

I grew up in Lisbon, Portugal, and moved to the United States in 1989, at the age of twenty-six. I’ve been fascinated by the visual patchwork of the cities I have lived in (Chicago, San Francisco, New York). I look for the traces, the scars, the accidents that have changed the character of a building or a street over the years. Architecture and urbanism’s grander designs are fascinating, but so are the instinctive interventions of mere users, clumsy and misguided as they may be. There’s as much humanity in dysfunction as in sophistication. Every detail, accretion, modification, damage, or patch speaks of the people who at some point passed through the landscape. I like to imagine their stories. — Jorge Colombo, New York: Finger Paintings, Chronicle Books (2011)


This video shows how Jorge Colombo’s finger paintings are made. The video is from Colombo’s Night Windows series, which will be on view at the Jen Bekman Gallery in Soho from Dec. 10- 23, 2011. The Morse Code soundtrack spells the actual address of the building in the picture.