Each year on New Year’s Eve, New York City’s Times Square is transformed into the scene of perhaps the best-known party in the world. But right below where all the action happens—the confetti and noisemakers, midnight kisses, and famous Waterford Crystal ball drop—the revelers celebrate all year round, thanks to artist Jane Dickson. In 2007, the New York-based painter was commissioned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to create a series of colorful installations to line the corridor that connects the 42nd Street Subway Station to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. The result is approximately 70 life-size men, women, and children, decked out in their holiday best and rendered in mosaic in collaboration with Italy’s Miotto Mosaic Art Studios. Here, Dickson shares the story behind one of the most ambitious and iconic public art commissions in recent history.
How did you earn the commission to create “The Revelers” installation for the MTA?
I had an ongoing relationship with them and had already worked on some posters for the same subway station. I had lived in the area for a long time and had even worked as an animator on the computer billboard in Times Square. So, when the project came up to design images that could be made into mosaics for that particular passageway, which gets about 100,000 people through it every day, I submitted a proposal, which went to a jury, and I eventually won. They originally agreed to 10 figures, but they liked them so much that we ended up creating nearly 70 of them.
I thought a lot about what Times Square is known for, and really, it’s the theatre and New Year’s Eve. For more than 100 years, people around the world have been tuning in to watch New Yorkers and visitors from near and far celebrate the start of a new year here. It attracts all types, and it seemed like a natural fit. Plus, I felt like having these figures that were dressed up and having a great time would have a positive effect on the commuters who go through here every morning and night. I wanted to give them something fun that would make them smile and improve their daily routines.
What was the installation process like? How long did it take?
It took about two years. After the drawings were done, I had to figure out where they were going on the subway walls. All of those tunnels were dug a long time ago, and they’re not consistent in terms of height—it can fluctuate by more than a foot in certain spaces. Then, I even got to go to Italy to the factory where they were manufacturing the actual mosaics to look at the first 10 as they were translating them from paper to tile.
Share the best part of having your work preserved as part of NYC history.
I love to see people posing in front of them and getting their pictures taken; I’d like to figure out a way to collect them all. I’ve even gotten Christmas cards from people using “The Revelers” as a backdrop. There aren’t that many unique things in New York anymore; it’s becoming generic like a lot of other big cities, but there’s still a lot that’s special here. I like to think this is one of those things. Just last week, I ran into a curator from the Brooklyn Museum who said, “You know, I love your figures. I go by them all the time, and they make me really happy.” I couldn’t ask for anything better.
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Images via NYC Loves NYC.