The Art of a Coney Island State of Mind

As part of my work in NYC as a landscape architect I had to spend considerable time in Coney Island, working on a project that never came to fruition. Knowing some of the history of the place and experiencing it as part of my work has never left me (neither has Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem For A Dream” but I digress…). Today I got up early and rode the Q train to the Coney Island-Stillwell Station and walked via the beach back to the Brighton Beach Station.

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Coney Island Boardwalk, 2016

Some lovely sights met my eyes – a woman of perhaps 60, speaking Russian, clad in her swimsuit, who unflinchingly walked into the water (it’s COLD) and began her swimming workout; the men unabashed in their brightly coloured speedos; my real and imagined memories of the carny atmosphere. Was there really a midget village? Diving horses? A freak show?

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300 Midgets* by Dan Nuttall

As part of preparing for more formal (paid) design work I often sketch to “loosen up” my mind (sigh, unpaid work). Once achieved, my “Coney Island state of mind”¬†loosed a torrent of work from freakish to childish, inane to historically accurate. Below: Coney island 1, 2, 3 and 4. And no, I can’t explain them.

Though much debated, the version of “how Coney Island got its name” that I always cling to, is the one that suggests that it is derived from the Dutch words “Konijn Eiland” meaning “Rabbit island”, after the rabbits that populated the area.

My Coney Island state of mind led to some quite light-hearted sketches, below, which depict “Alba” (a rabbit modified to glow in the dark, intended to reference a contemporary “freak”) as a new immigrant (not yet landed on the shore) and with reference to both the Dutch via the waterside statue “The Little Mermaid” found in Copenhagen, Denmark and my own country, Canada, which has a “version” called “Girl in a Wetsuit” by Elek Imredy. That same week I also sketched some diving horses.

Below: (L) Alba, Coney Island, 1 and (R) Alba, Coney Island 2.

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Diving Horse by Dan Nuttall

Such “simple” things, these sketches, ¬†laden with memory and meaning, the real and unreal, the kind and the cruel.

*Though the term “midgets” is inappropriate in our current society it was an uncontested term during the time of Coney Island’s heyday – more info HERE.

 

 

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