Artist Tom Matt’s NY: The Series Featured at Joe: The Art of Coffee on Waverly Place Until Thursday, March 15th — Interview with the Artist

From NY: The Series by Tom Matt

My new favorite local coffee shop, tied right now with Think Coffee, is Joe: The Art of Coffee, a few blocks from the park heading west. Currently on the walls of their small yet welcoming space on Waverly Place is artwork by New Yorker Tom Matt who has put together the terrific NY: The Series which features New York City locales set against the backdrop of the New York Times. The art is featured on Joe’s walls until this Thursday, March 15th.

I asked Tom some questions via email and here are his responses:

What inspired you to put together this series of NYC shots ? New York followed a series on Paris, yes? 

At the turn of the millennium, I knew that I wanted to create a body of work celebrating New York City. I wanted to draw the city using pastel, and didn’t know what kind of surface to draw on as my ‘canvas.’ It dawned on me one day, while sketching on a scrap of newspaper in Esperanto Cafe on MacDougal Street – to draw ‘my take’ on dynamic views of the city, on top of the front covers of NY newspapers. I liked the layering effect of pastel with body copy of headlines and articles peaking through here and there. This technique also spoke of layered narratives of all of us living is such a diverse and vibrant city.

Some years later, I decided to travel to France several times, where I created my Paris series, drawing on top of the Le Monde paper. I draw all of these on-location, which I prefer, and finalize them in my studio.

Was there a different feeling focusing on New York vs. Paris?

The main difference between Paris and New York is that our city is enormous next to Paris. Having lived here for so long brings a familiarity advantage in that, I was able to find my favorite views here comfortably over time. In Paris however, I had limited time and had to work more quickly. Paris is very charming, and the hard part was finding the ‘best’ views, since everywhere I turned – every view was amazing…

How long have you lived in New York?

I’ve lived in New York for about 14 years now. I grew up in Connecticut.

Joe The Art of Coffee Waverly Place

How did the show at Joe’s come about?

I love the walls at Joe’s on Waverly, and saw an ad there inviting artists to put up their work. It took a year before there was an opening for me. I’m pleased to have my work there now.

Washington Square Park is featured in the series. Thoughts on your feelings on drawing at the park and your experience working there?

I love the Arch in the Washington Square Park. Here is one interesting story among many I can share… I created a commission last year on newspaper for a client who proposed to his fiancée in the Park. The view features the Arch, and crowds of people around it. This gentleman met her when he was at NYU grad school, while he was playing guitar one day in the park. She approached him after listening, and left her number with him on a scrap of paper. This first meeting initiated the beginning of their relationship.

He asked me to include him in the art, playing guitar, which he posed for in the same spot where he met her. Once the art was complete, he gave the piece to her as a gift on their wedding day. The art was commissioned on a particular front page of the newspaper, bearing a date that had significance for them both.

Washington Square Park is wonderful – so many diverse people, artists, musicians bustling around. I like what they did redesigning the park, especially the gardens. I love the flowers there in Springtime.
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Check out Tom Matt’s NY: The Series at Joe: The Art of Coffee, 141 Waverly Place off Sixth Avenue (head west), this week, from now ’til Thursday, March 15th. (The WSP pieces are not showcased at Joe but you can view on his web site.) You can try a cup of their direct trade, organic (but not certified) coffee while you’re there!

Website of Tom Matt
Joe: The Art of Coffee

Chess Plaza Opened Today!

Remaining Fences Down!

Among the first Chess Players at newly open Chess Plaza

Path looking South

Well, it took 29 months, but, at last, the Chess Plaza and SW Quadrant – Phase II-B of construction at the Park – has opened today!

It feels smaller and a bit less cozy than before. Well, it IS smaller. The Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and I had a bit of a back-and-forth back in February of 2009 about a # of issues related to WSP, including the Chess Plaza being reduced, and he stated the following:

While the overall size of the plaza is being reduced somewhat, the most critical area of the chess plaza is the chess tables, not the center which is generally empty. The renovation will include the same number of tables, but they will be new, better designed and more welcoming to more chess players – and they will be accessible to people with disabilities. There will be plenty of space for onlookers to stand and watch the games. As with the rest of the park, the renovation of the chess area will likely result in greater use, not less.

The difference is that before it didn’t feel so much like a space you just ‘passed through’ which is the feeling now. Things happened in the center which the Parks Commissioner felt was “generally empty” — a space which is now occupied by a flower bed. Perhaps that space that the Parks Commissioner thought was basically useless served a purpose after all?

(Note: Will add in a photo to illustrate!)

At least Phase II is now officially complete! (Of course, parts of the original Phase II moved into Phase III.)

Previously at WSP Blog:

* Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II

* After 29 Months, Will the Final ‘Piece’ of Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II Construction – Chess Plaza – Open Tomorrow? March 1, 2012

Music at the Arch



This band was like the Pied Pipers of music (except, of course, no one died! I had no recollection that this was the basis of the fairy tale until looking this reference up). With a multitude of instruments, this group gathered and performed under the Arch last week and attracted quite the crowd! (And no tickets for performing…)

Almost All Fences Come Down and Yet … Chess Plaza/SW Quadrant Not Open

Fence Remains at Entrance SW Corner

Looking South .. Fence Free

Work on Fixing Blacktop Halted?

Chess Plaza Ready for Action ...

Friday (March 2nd), as I anticipated, many of the fences came down on the SouthWest Quadrant (part of WSP Redesign: Phase II-B); work was being done at the park with the opening seeming imminent … but now, everything appears to have halted – again.

Update: Word is this section may open tomorrow!

After 29 Months, Will the Final ‘Piece’ of Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II Construction – Chess Plaza – Open Tomorrow?

WSP SW entrance -- will these fences really be coming down at last?

Completion date on sign: "Summer 2011" (Formerly Fall 2010)

The Lonely Chess Plaza




Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase IIB — the Chess Plaza and Southwestern Quadrant — under construction for 29 months (that’s 2 years and 5 months) is more than 17 months behind schedule (that’s one year and five months) from the original scheduled completion date and 9 months behind Phase IIA’s opening (June 2011) at which point it seemed likely it would be finished shortly thereafter.

It is now scheduled to be opened to the public at any moment – perhaps even tomorrow, Friday, March 2nd. At this point, we’ll believe it when we see it!

Depending on whom you ask, it was either the Parks Department’s stalling the project, a lack of any oversight by any governing body, or a problem between the contractor and the Parks Department which led to the monumental delay. Or some combination of all three.

This is what I wrote on June 2nd 2011 when Phase IIA – the eastern side of the Park – opened:

Phase II was scheduled for completion by Fall 2010; then we heard the end of the year (tho’ doubted it), then “Spring 2011,” then “by Memorial Day,” but park goers looked happy to be finally able to stream through the eastern end of the park.

Of course, this isn’t all of Phase II, since, for one, part of it (The Mounds and the Large Dog Run) was moved into Phase III. And Chess Plaza, technically still in Phase II, now Phase II-B, won’t be finished til the end of the month. At least, at last, it’s something!

WSP Blog chronicled the problems back in September 2010 outlining how the city’s parks department caused numerous delays in getting the job done, how the project was over-budget, and the fact that no governmental agencies were providing oversight.

Washington Square Park’s entire redesign – Phases I, II, and III – was budgeted and approved for $16 Million at the onset. Phase I alone — which moved the fountain to align with the Arch, reduced the public space around the fountain, and re-landscaped the NorthWest Quadrant, opened in May of 2009 — cost $13 Million.

Phase II was budgeted at $9 Million but will likely be $8 Million and that’s without the Large Dog Run and Mounds (included in the original figure).

Phase III (rest rooms and administrative building – the new “pergola”) had been budgeted at $9 Million (note – that’s before the cost of the Mounds and Dog Run are added in). Got all that?

Since the Parks Department’s projects continue to be seriously over-budget with no apparent oversight by any governing body, the project by the end will have more than doubled from its approved budget and is now projected for $30-$35 Million in cost.

A review of the finances:

Phase I cost: $13 Million (budgeted at $6 Million)
Phase II cost: $9.1 Million (budgeted at $9 Million but that figure was including the Dog Run and Mounds — both of which have been moved into Phase III)
Phase III: bid came in at “approximately 5.4 Million” according to the Parks Department
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Total projected thus far: $27.5 Million but there is no way Phase III will come in at $5.4 Million so we are at least $30 Million for a project which was approved at $16 Million at the onset.

It should be noted that Phase III contains the piece that the surrounding community and park users wanted completed first – the much neglected and deteriorating rest rooms. The Parks Department refused to accommodate this request; the city agency practically went out of its way to make sure this was completed last in the 3 phases of the project.

Work is presently scheduled to begin on Phase III — which now includes the Large Dog Run, the Mounds, Administrative Building, Rest Rooms and possibly perimeter sidewalks (much in need of repair!) — in April of this year.

At least, at last, the Chess Plaza will finally be opening! Will it be tomorrow? We’ll see…