Botanical Dreams in The Concrete Jungle
Ebony Bolt captures the teeming, messy nature of modern urban life and wrestles it into an elegantly sinuous organic form. Deeply influenced by the scrolling decorative prints of the 19th-century British designer William Morris (1834–1896), Bolt, who is also a textile designer, mixes ornamental elaboration with detailed observation of her everyday surroundings, the Victorian and the contemporary.
With a profoundly sympathetic view of human nature, Bolt finds beauty in people from all walks of life. She is an inveterate sketcher of the New York City subway-riding public and says, “I am taking a trip around the world each time I step into a train car.” Bolt stealthily fills countless sketch pads of weary commuters, often portrayed with heads hung from a long day’s work or staring off blankly into the distance.
To many, New York is both a city of dreams and a grinding concrete jungle; Bolt’s composition successfully combines the two sentiments. She renders the movement of the city as a metaphor of plant life—a colorful, entangling vine that threatens to consume her fellow urban dwellers, portrayed in linear black and white. Her drawings recall the gritty images of working class life from the early 20th century, such as the Ashcan School art of John Sloan or the later Urban Scene art of Reginald Marsh. Although depicted with tenderness, Bolt’s monochromatic people are overwhelmed, scattered amidst her vivid flowers, and appear to have had the color bled out of them—the energy and color of the individual marshaled to support the dreams and aspirations of the city.