I spotted these beautiful, slightly surreal posters at Oakland’s MacArthur BART platform last week amid the ads for Wingstop, Ben & Jerry’s, and the new Spider-Man movie:
The Call of the Wild (Jack London).
The Maltese Falcon (Dashiell Hammett). John’s Grill, in the background, was a setting in the book; it’s been in business since 1908.
The artist is Owen Smith, who is nationally known for his New Yorker cover illustrations in pulp-fiction style. Smith, who lives in Alameda, said in an interview with BART’s Melissa Jordan that he remembered taking BART from his childhood home in Fremont to “adventures exploring the big city of San Francisco.”
The posters are part of BART’s “Literary Journeys” series, which places art in unused advertising spaces along the train platforms. All three of the authors in Smith’s paintings have (or had) Bay Area connections. The third poster, displayed at other stations, depicts scenes from Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club.
Image from BART.gov.
From the BART.gov story:
Together the posters are evocative, mysterious, eye-catching. Smith liked the idea that they conveyed a key benefit of public transportation – that a person can use time in transit to travel throughout space and time through the world of literature.
“You can spend your time reading on BART, whether it’s a book or on your Kindle or iPad,” Smith says.
You’ll note, however, that the readers in the illustrations are immersed in traditional books, which unlike their electronic counterparts have book jackets. If it weren’t for those jackets we wouldn’t see the titles of the books.
As a transit user, I’m happy to see my taxes and fare money being used to support artists and inspire readers. Looking at Smith’s posters, I couldn’t help thinking of all the beautiful and enduring WPA projects here in the Bay Area—from the elementary school down the street to the Coit Tower muralsand Maritime Museum in San Francisco—and wishing our current leaders had the courage and will to launch a new WPA. Maybe the BART posters are the first step in that direction.
P.S. Attention out-of-towners: It’s “BART,” not “the BART.”