Artists love to exploit fire escapes. Their rhythmic linearity exercises the pencil and the shadows they cast grant opportunity for various kinds of shading techniques. They’ve been captured in dark, brooding graphite and charcoal. Ironwork spiders its way across building facades in cityscapes rendered in rich oils and pastels. Steel stairs march, ascending and descending with military precision, in photographic studies. I’ve also seen masterful watercolor studies where one might expect free-flowing splotches of color typical for that medium, but instead the paint flows, gracing the piece with an unexpected lightness.
The fire escape receives little attention until needed. We acknowledge its existence, but subconsciously, our brains edit it out when thinking about a building’s looks. They are afterthoughts, infrastructure, not noticed until they malfunction or allow burglars access to the building. Unobtrusive ones occupy negative space, and do not adorn the building proudly; gregarious ones stride across buildings they protect scoffing at the architecture.
Let us not overlook the fire escape as a stage. Who can forget the young love of Tony and Maria singing “Tonight” on the fire escape in West Side Story? And in real life in more recent times, the Highline Park Renegade Café was performed from the 4th floor fire escape of a West 20th Street loft.1 If you google “fire escape art images” you’ll find plenty to entertain you and get your creative juices going.
The noble fire escape. Let us never use it… for escaping fires.
1. ‘West Side Story’ Amid the Laundry, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/25/garden/25seen.html?_r=0, accessed February 6, 2015.↩