"Subway," Davis Meltzer (1951)
Commercial images that celebrate industry and technology often use speed as a metaphor for human advancement and progress. In this print, American artist Davis Meltzer (1921-2017) recreates order and chaos inside a subway station during rush hour at a time when clerical jobs began to define the lifestyle of city dwellers. Men and women dressed professionally and fashionably, wearing hats, sleek coats, and carrying suitcases, walk towards a train car, while others ascend a stairway in the background. Meltzer’s skillful representation of modern architecture can be appreciated here, where the dark underground opens up to a luminous exterior, transmitting a sense of disorientation. The dark and hazy atmosphere takes the viewer into the depths of the subway, imprinting mystery and thrill to a scene that recalls the aesthetics of noir, a film genre popularized throughout the 1940s. This print retains all the elements of a drawing, appearing unfinished while maintaining a steady definition of bold forms. In his later career, Meltzer worked as an illustrator, with a particular interest in sci-fi, futurism, space travel, and spacecraft technology. This print reveals early glimpses of what would later become Meltzer’s characteristic style and subject matter, a noir technological utopianism inspired by the Space Race during the Cold War years.