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Paul Cadmus

Preliminary sketch for Subway Symphony
1973
pencil, casein, crayon, and chalk
21 9/16 x 40 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation

A longtime subway rider himself, Cadmus transformed the everyday experience of commuting into a living Inferno, with figures of every shape, size, class, and ethnic group crammed together in their underground journey. For this microcosm of the larger New York melting pot, Cadmus explained how he chose his models: "Ugliness. Ugliness rules there. I will leave out the mediocre, the inbetweens. To distill an altar of essence I must select only the perfect petals, the most hellish" Yet this vision of social hideousness recalls the artistic tradition of finding redeeming value in ugliness. Cadmus exaggerated his subjects with wit and empathy, and captured the individuality of each figure.