“As a child I often had the exuberant dreams and daydreams of flying over rooftops. Painting from that perspective offers a free flight for the child that still lives inside this 75-year-old man,” said Joe Madden.
Madden, a Hudson Valley artist, grew up in Sleepy Hollow (then North Tarrytown) on Continental Street. After a long career in art, Madden decided to take on a new project — painting the Hudson Valley from the perspective of his childhood self.
“I grew up drenched in the same magic of the area – the hills, the streams, the Hudson. As a child, I had the impression that all the WPA [Works Progress Administration] stonework that decorated roadsides, parks and estates of Westchester had been there since the beginning of time,” Madden recently wrote in an email.
His appreciation for the Hudson Valley landscape developed in harmony with a natural attraction towards art.
“The earliest art project I can recall was drawing on the blank fly-pages at the front of all the books in my parents’ bookcase. I was baffled by the trouble that got me in because I genuinely believed blank pages were meant for kids to fill with drawings,” Madden said.
And he would soon discover, that would be the case.
“My first paint & brush experiences were in second grade at the Beekman Avenue Elementary School where the visiting art teacher, Mrs. Hopfsteader, took a special interest in me and invited me to join a small group of 3rd and 4th graders who painted for an hour or so daily, after school,” he said.
This accelerated track became a pattern. Madden was recognized as “gifted” throughout his childhood, and this praise combined with his talent is what spurred his interest in an art career.
After graduating high school, Madden enrolled in Buffalo State College to pursue a degree in art education and teaching. After the Vietnam War occurred and he got married, he went into commercial art for a better salary.
After years of design work, Madden began illustrating books, covers, and advertising and editorial works, all of which developed his painting and realistic rendering skills. In 1989, Madden began experimenting with black and white prints of his pencil sketches to sell on the outdoor art show circuit. In the early 1990s, he switched to oil and acrylic painting full-time, taking on commercial work part-time.
“I did a lot of figure painting, semi-abstract figures and subjects bordering on the Surreal…. I [also] started painting hyper-realism, for which there was more demand than for more meaningful art,” Madden said.
With a long, continuously evolving career, about 15 years ago his work came to an unforeseen pause.
“Due to personal loss and other difficulties, there was a decade of very little painting. It wasn’t until I reached my late 60s that I decided to paint again, and happily. I finally committed to painting what I had often dreamed of and had never done, scenes from my early childhood in the 1950s,” Madden said.
This process involved three steps: recalling the images that held childhood him in awe; preserving them unbothered in his mind throughout his life; and working to transfer them to canvas as authentically as possible.
Creating these works brings on a sense of nostalgia, but most notably, reconnects Madden to a childhood appreciation for the world around him.
Madden articulates what he hopes his paintings will inspire in others, and what they inspired in him over the last five years.
“There is a kind of bliss known to children that most adults strain to recall. I want to remind people that if you’re out of practice with the vision you once had as a child, let your heart guide your eyes now and then. More generally, I recommend this verse I wrote a few years ago that underpins all my paintings,” he said.
Seek beauty and take of it as breath
To gather worthy moments
In such abundance
As one who lives a thousand years.