Basement Apartment by Barbara Sparhawk

Oil on Canvas

Likely there’s some point in a life that includes renting a basement apartment, below street level, in a city. There’s an immediate intimacy with the footwear and pace of strangers, but that’s the outside we closed the door on.

Inside, cramped with selected out and preserved little bits of what we love, hanging from hooks or pinned on walls and doors are decorative clothes, a great pair of espadrilles, an unforgettable chair from a theatre production, brilliant hat boxes, a torn out comic strip that’s always funny, a stanza copied out from Housman’s Shropshire Lad, a recipe…and hot coffee and brioche. The thrill of making do may fast wear off, but it’s there, and there are adventures afoot to relish.

Truly, I think I’ve started painting in protest to the flaunting of obscene overdone affluence which is so drowning, so unpleasant, so removed from real feeling that I just want to puke. I’m painting scenes of more uncommon, interesting living. Some of which I live and some of which I imagine and some I recall. What people actually DO with 5,000 sq feet except furnish it badly and get lost I can’t imagine.

It’s not that I disapprove excess and style and largess and money. But I must say, I kind of adore intimate. There’s a lot to be said for simple pleasures.

Professional Expressionist, portrait painter, writer, children’s book illustrator, entrepreneur, and adventuress.

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  • Nikolay Semyonov
    Nikolay Semyonovalmost 3 years ago

    affluence varies.simple pleasures may arise from the nostalgic objects reminding of nice experiences we’ve had.. it’s funny to view how most of us get hooked on brand-new things and entertainment… kitsch is the king. however, with age we tend to stick to what reminds us of the past. excellent artwork, Barbara!

  • Dear Nikolay. You surprise me. I don’t see you sticking to memories of the past, you keep launching into new things, you have a too dismal view of added years! As I wrote this was the kind of place that early on represented great freedom and change and growth, something still with both of us.

    – Barbara Sparhawk

  • Louise Cooke
    Louise Cookealmost 3 years ago

    Beautiful beautiful beautiful!! Thank you Barbara for this insight into basement living – it’s something we don’t have in my city. For me, basements just stir up memories of spooky American films where the basement seems to house serial-killers or becomes the killing ground for some disgruntled psychopath! Your artwork oozes warmth, colour, character and life…a wonderful departure from my usual thoughts. I’d happily live there:)))

  • Hello Louise!! Delighted to hear from you and all these good words about the painting. The basement apartments of New York are cheap, unwanted by most, usually have a long narrow window facing the sidewalk. They’re prone to be wet and leaky in at least one corner if not all, very insulated from outside sound but not the inside staircase and tenant above. They represent great freedom, a place of one’s own where books can be written and paintings painted. Where any dream of decorating on small scale is brand new and incredibly exciting. Sometimes Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde move in and experiment with torturous designs. But you’re right, serial killers tend to live in New Jersey with their mothers and move into the basement. Dark freedom to do no good; the housing of childhood nightmares. I’m THRILLED that you like this so much and I gave basements a new light of appreciation, precisely what I intended.

    – Barbara Sparhawk

  • Nikolay Semyonov
    Nikolay Semyonovalmost 3 years ago

    Barbara, you’re so right saying that I do not stick to the past. Nor I stick to the future. Irwin Shaw wrote something like “Never get back to where you were happy.” I would add: Never rush the time. It tends to shorten life. Nor I can deny being a product of what I’ve lived through.

  • Now that sounds more Nikolay.

    – Barbara Sparhawk

  • madvlad
    madvladalmost 3 years ago

    i once, 10 years ago, had a young girl friend who lived in a basement, and it looked like this, very nice art

  • Many thanks.

    – Barbara Sparhawk

  • billyboy
    billyboyalmost 3 years ago

    When I lived with my parents in Brussels I had a massive room. It was at the top of the house and one wall was brick with lots of flat stones jutting out, and on each one I had something of great value. The WWI gas mask that I bought at the Brussels flea market after I’d gone down there to buy a mother’s day present and made the mistake of going into a bar for a beer before actually shopping… some of the stuff my dad brought back from his WWII service in Germany (yeah, there was some Nazi stuff and yes, it fascinated me at the time)… even a glob of hardened melted polyethylene that I nearly broke my toe on when I kicked it out of the way walking through an industrial trade fair thinking it would be light… and so much amazing stuff that anyone else would have put down as junk. I actually think I’d be able to fill 5000 sq. feet with preserved bits of stuff I love. So long as I live another 50 years to finish collecting it :-)

    BUT, having said that, I now live in a small room as you know… and the cool thing about that is that the preserved bits are close enough to touch. And smell. No matter which way I face, or even if I lounge back in my chair I can still see it all without having to remove my RB glasses.
    So Barbara, your picture makes me feel at home. It’s warm and fuzzy and the way I’d have it in my own basement flat. ‘Cept that being from Jersey I’d also have a couple of meat cleavers and probably drag out the Nazei stuff again.

    And what amazes me is that every time I see one of your paintings, it seems like there’s something I’d absolutely die to have. This time it’s the chair. With the blue/white striped cushion and moon head rest. The style of the frame is like something from the Belgian Ardennes, and it even looks comfy!!
    The coat you can keep… but I’d die to see you in it :-))
    Thanks for once again making me so happy you’re in this particular playground.

  • Amazing to hear all these splendid mysteries of your past, and that room with the ledges, what a thrill for a kid! Billy the Kid most of all. I’ll take a picture of me in the coat that inspired That Coat one day, don’t die. And the chair was half folly half real, and me too it’s my favorite part of the painting! Except maybe for the espadrilles. The hat. The cup. The hatboxes,. The window. What can I say. I had fun doing it. I have the usual hate/love feelings about all the places I’ve lived, and damn if they don’t mostly get rosier with time. Most of all, especially earlier but even now, my own place…what freedom. That’s mostly the painting, very personal and not arranged proper decor.

    – Barbara Sparhawk

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