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A Moving Painting Turns Times Square into a Psychedelic Canvas

For the latest of ‘Midnight Moment,' Cuban artist Emilio Perez animates one of his paintings inspired by America’s first trans-continental highways.

Before Times Square became New York City’s seedy underbelly, and many more years before its Disneyfication, it was one of two termini of the Lincoln Highway, America’s first transcontinental highway. Officially recorded as 3,389 miles long in 1913, the highway was eventually superseded by Interstate 80 in 1956. This former trans-continental journey lies at the heart of Times Square Arts' latest Midnight Moment public art installation. Inspired by the Lincoln Highway, Cuban artist Emilio Perez’s video animation, Dream Season, creates his own virtual journey—a “video as a road trip of the imagination” for Times Square.  

In Dream Season, Perez magnifies and sets in motion the vivid and colorful abstractions found in his paintings. Perez’s reductive technique finds him making paintings over atmospheric backgrounds that he uses as “road map[s] for his drawings.” Using an x-acto knife, he cuts through the top layer of paint to reveal other backgrounds, allowing him to create in a loose, expressive, and intuitive way.  

To animate Dream Season on such a massive level across several electronic billboards, Perez deconstructed the painting, isolating its backgrounds, lines and brushstrokes. From there he began making digital collages with the components that he then animated.

“Most of the ads you see in Times Square move very quickly often horizontally so I chose to create an animation that moved vertically at a slower speed,” Perez explains. “It allows you to get the viewers attention and also give the effect of being on a elevator ride that transports you out of the chaos if only for a few minutes.”

To capture the imagination of Time Square’s visitors, and keep them engaged throughout the video’s duration, Perez decided he wanted Dream Season to be, as he says, “a slow motion ride through my language of painting.”

“The biggest challenge was learning a new medium,” he says. “I have always been a very hands on person so with the help of a friend I was able to learn some basics in After Effects and go from there. This approach actually helped me do things in an intuitive manner much like my typical practice in the studio.”

Perez’s paintings are inspired by the abstract expressionist tradition, he explains, of “purity and honesty of making marks and gestures in the moment.” He wants the works to have a sense of both movement and spontaneity that engage the viewer on different levels with the expressiveness of painting and the immediacy of drawing.

These ambitions carry through in the animated Dream Season. The original work’s painterly sense of motion and abstraction crosses a media boundary into animated art on the grand scale that Times Square’s electronic billboards permit with the corporate visual shock. It feels straight out of Blade Runner.

“I hope I can surprise [viewers]. If I manage to change their experience from the typical one of mass marketing and advertising then I feel I have done my job,” says Perez. “Hopefully this installation will grow my audience but most importantly it has taught me to consider a much broader audience when developing my work and of course has opened the door to an entirely new medium for me to work in.”

A special edition 40" x 30" print inspired by Perez’s Midnight Moment video will be released by Pace Prints, with a limited run of 50. And on November 10th at NYU’s Kimmel Center from 6:30pm to 8:00pm, Perez will join Sherry Dobbin, Director of Times Square Arts, in conversation about how he deconstructed and reimagined his process of painting to create the animated Dream Season. After the talk, Perez and art lovers will head to Times Square for a viewing of the public installation.

Dream Season is on view every night from 11:57 to midnight until November 30th at Times Square.   

Click here to see more of Emilio Perez’s work.

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