Brooklyn Boro

This Brooklyn artist wants to interrupt your commute

(With art, not subway delays.)

June 17, 2019 Meaghan McGoldrick
A piece from Brooklyn artist Jonathan Allen's series, Interruptions, as seen in the Eastern Parkway subway station. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Allen
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A Brooklyn artist unsettled by the 2016 election wants to shake up your everyday routine — starting with your subway station.

Since the summer of 2017, Crown Heights creator Jonathan Allen has been transforming everyday subway ads into politically charged works of art as part of an ongoing series he calls “Interruptions.”

“I was demoralized by the election, and grew really conflicted about continuing to make paintings after the inauguration and following that path through the art industry,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle. “It felt terribly hermetic and insular.”

Feeling trapped by the “limitations of the gallery system,” Allen started to think outside the box — and inside the city’s subway stations.

“I started paying more attention to NYC public spaces and advertisements, and reading up on the history of graffiti,” the artist said. “At a certain point it clicked that I should use the layering techniques I had developed in my collage and painting work and focus on political and social commentary in the subway system.”

Nearly two years later, no poster is safe from Allen’s handiwork. He’s plastered the heads of political bigwigs like Vice President Mike Pence, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and, primarily, President Donald Trump atop ads that run the gamut. And there’s no shortage of canvasses on which to work.

“The ad campaigns in subway stations change cyclically, so there’s a steady stream of material to work with and alter,” he said.

The president’s face has been spotted in ads for the TV show Pretty Little Liars and the movie Predator, while a picture of Christine Blasey Ford could at one time be seen in the Bergen Street subway station superimposed over an advertisement for a show called All American.

When finished, pieces are posted to Allen’s Instagram, where the Wisconsin native and Georgia transplant logs the location, medium and dimensions of each.

He said he hopes his work will “interrupt” New Yorkers from all walks of life.

“Subway stations are transient places, and accessible to anyone. That accessibility and openness is important to me, in terms of the Interruptions reaching a diverse, varied audience,” Allen said. “I also think interrupting the commuter experience, the trance we all fall into on our daily journeys, is an integral part of the project, hence the title.

“Subway stations permit and enhance that type of interruption.”

Seen inside the 7th Avenue subway station. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Allen

Citing an early interest in city subways, Allen — a 21-year resident of Brooklyn who moved to New York City in 1993 to study painting — credits the five boroughs, in part, for inspiring his art.

“I visited Manhattan in 1984 as a kid and rode a subway car covered in graffiti,” he told Eagle. “It left a vivid impression on me, being surrounded by drawing, energy, lawlessness like that. I loved it.”

Allen has created more than 150 “Interruptions” to date, and plans to continue as long as Trump is in office.

Response to the series has varied, Allen said.

“The response on Instagram is interesting, because more often than not people are photographing and sharing the Interruption and not necessarily knowing that it’s a part of a larger series or who did it,” he explained. “The response in person when I install them is varied.”

While the artist doesn’t interact much with MTA workers, the occasional straphanger will lend their support.

Seen inside the Bergen Street subway station. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Allen

“Occasionally people will thank me, which feels good,” Allen said, adding that, at the end of the day, he hopes his work will inspire other “interruptions.”

“I hope that the unorthodox dimension of it translates somehow for viewers into a critical questioning or radical reflection on some of the issues addressed, and perhaps inspires them toward their own interruptions within this bizarre political and social moment we’re facing,” he said.

“Maybe it’s a conversation, a phone call, an email even. These are abnormal, profoundly reactionary times in America — they demand action.”

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