When artist Tanager George looks at a city, he sees a plethora of planning possibilities. His intricately detailed works — entitled Cities Illustrated and recently featuring Midtown and the West Side of Manhattan — show the Big Apple’s serpentine subway and railroad systems ebbing and flowing beneath the blocks and buildings of New York.
“I started focusing on making art about cities within the last year,” said Tanager, who studied architecture at Cuesta College before pivoting to art. “I have this deep love for cities and buildings, and I chose to focus on cities because I’m a big believer in an urban lifestyle and how beneficial it is for the planet — our quality of life can be greatly improved if we live very close to services that we use every day and don’t need to use a vehicle to get around. There’s a scientific correlation between those things and a better quality of life,” he added.
Tanager was drawn to New York City after several years of visiting the Big Apple while living in Worcester, Massachusetts. “I would take the Greyhound to Port Authority as much as I could,” he said. He loved visiting the public transit remnants of the High Line: “That is an amazing experience — you’re totally separated from the traffic. It’s just an urban trail.”
He also enjoyed checking out the subway, and pondering its history. “It was built by a couple of different companies trying to compete against each other and eventually, was taken over by the MTA. Riding the train, you can see that history still and everything that goes with it,” said Tanager.
New York’s transit maze reminded him of another urban transit system he’s illustrated — Tokyo. “If you look at the Tokyo map I did – at the bottom there’s a key that shows all the different operators, and a lot of them compete with each other just like New York – it’s a very fascinating system as well.”
The most organized transit system he’s seen? “I lived in South Korea for two years, and I’d like to shout out the Seoul subway system. It’s just one operator, is planned very efficiently, and in my opinion, is the best system in the world,” said Tanager. The US, infamously known for being unwilling to embrace widespread public transit lags behind other countries where “people are much more comfortable living in more densely packed cities and not having a car,” he added.
“A lot of the focus of my art is to portray what the US would be like with more trains,” said Tanager. “Some of my earliest pieces were illustrations of the high speed rail that was being planned in Texas. It never took off, so that was just another failure of transit in America. A lot of people can’t imagine taking a train on a daily basis. I live in Los Angeles now and people can’t fathom how to get on the train instead of taking your car to work.”
His artwork also explores the correlation between sky-high new residential developments (like Hudson Yards and Billionaires’ Row) and the city’s most well-trodden subway stations. “I wanted to portray where the subway lines were going and the density around each station,” he said. “I was always fascinated with where people are building new structures and the proximity to stations.”
Tanager, who is now studying computer science at Pasadena City College, hopes to work toward making his maps interactive — mixing tech with art. “I want to make a map of Midtown as an HTML page — where you can click on individual buildings for construction data, history and even if there are units for sale or rent,” he said. “And you get the 3D view of what your potential neighborhood would look like.”
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He also plans to explore new transit projects across the city, including the interborough express – the newly proposed train between Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and Jackson Heights, Queens which will connect to 17 subway lines as well as the Long Island Rail Road.
To get a closer look, he has one more plan mapped out — a move to New York. “It is just one of the last places in the United States where there’s no stigma against not owning a car and it’s totally normal to walk to work, and walk wherever you want to go,” he said.