Artist captures animal-human hybrids riding New York subway

Posted on January 15, 2020

All images courtesy Matthew Grabelsky, used with permission.

Los Angeles-based artist Matthew Grabelsky brings animals to the New York City subway in an entertaining fashion with his hyperrealistic paintings featuring humans with animal heads, including cats, hippos, and rabbits.

Grabelsky’s new collection of oil paintings are inspired by the years he spent riding the subways in New York as a kid and by his early fascination with Greek mythology, according to Colossal.

Technically inspired by 19th Century academic and naturalist painters, Grabelsky creates these unlikely, surreal scenes with a staggering degree of realistic detail.


METRO Magazine Executive Editor Janna Starcic spoke to Grabelsky about his work and his process.

What inspired you to develop the series of paintings based on the subway?
I painted my first subway painting in 2010. I was living in Paris and I took a trip back to NYC for a family wedding. I was brainstorming new ideas for paintings and I took a bunch of photos on that trip for reference. I was riding the subway one day and I snapped a photo of a couple sitting across from me. When I went back to Paris, I looked at that photo and the idea to put an animal head on the man popped into my head.

Do you have a favorite painting from this series?
There is a piece of me in all of them but if I had to pick just one I would say it would be “Bryant Park”. This painting features a father and son with wolf heads. The son is sitting on his dad’s lap and he is either speaking or howling to his father. Behind them, there is an advertisement for the Bryant Park film festival sponsored by HBO. When I was a kid, my dad worked at HBO and I would always go over to his office on days off to visit him and watch movies. This painting feels very personal to me because it represents me and my dad when I was a kid.

What was your process for creating the work?
I have friends and family come over to my studio and I take photos of them posing. I also have lots of photos that I’ve taken on the New York subway. I use a combination of these model and subway photos as references when I’m painting.

Did you use public transportation regularly in New York City?
I grew up in New York and I was always on public transportation when I lived there. I always had a book with me when I was on the train or bus, so those locations were places of wonder for me because I spent my time there lost in stories.

Since your move to Los Angeles, have you had to buy a car or are you planning on using public transportation?
In Los Angeles I do have a car. It would be nearly impossible to get around here without one. As a result I have some ideas for people with animal heads driving around Los Angeles which I want to paint at some point.

Is the series of paintings featured in the actual subway system?
These painting have not been featured in the actual subway. However, there was one time when I had a show in New York and I brought one of the big pieces onto the subway to get it to the gallery. Watching peoples reactions was a funny experience.

This painting (shown above) feels very personal to me because it represents me and my dad when I was a kid, said Grabelsky.

The artist at work. 

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