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O. Louis Guglielmi

Subway Exit

In Subway Exit, a woman and child emerge from a trapezoidal stairwell. At the center of the picture the woman gazes up with an awed but wary expression. With abstract shapes in maize, vermilion, and purple, the painting’s background contrasts sharply with the stripped-down realism of the subway exit. Both are marked by bright colors and acute angles, however, easing the transition between the two spaces. In this way, Guglielmi expresses the hesitance and the exuberance of New Yorkers in the face of a bustling postwar city.

Born in Cairo to Italian parents, Osvaldo Louis Guglielmi immigrated to the United States in 1914. His family settled in Italian Harlem, a neighborhood that piqued his interest in depicting the lives of the urban poor. He attended the National Academy of Design while still in high school and spent the 1930s employed by the government as part of the New Deal. Throughout that decade and the early 1940s, Guglielmi painted in a style that combined precise draftsmanship with mysterious imagery and a liberal social conscience, then shifted to a style that was more optimistic and more indebted to early modernists than his earlier paintings.

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