Asphalt Expressionism: Mobile Phone Photography of NYC Pavements

School of Art Museum and Galleries, Aberystwyth University, 13 Feb. – 28 Apr. 2023

To be part of the interactive gallery display, share your snapshots of pavements anywhere.

Email your pictures (jpeg files, ideally 1 MB or above) to

Please state the date and identify the location. Add your name (optional).

The images you send will be added to a slideshow in our gallery and published on the School of Art Museum and Galleries blog.

In 1958, the US American painter Allan Kaprow abandoned traditional media.  Instead, he called for a ‘new concrete art.’  Jackson Pollock, he argued, ‘left us at the point where we must become preoccupied with and even dazzled by the space and objects of our everyday life.’  Three years later, sculptor and installation artist Claes Oldenburg declared: ‘I am for the art of scratchings in the asphalt,’ of ‘ice cream cones dropped on concrete.’  

Where is that ‘art,’ if not on the pavements on which we tread?

The photographs in this exhibition were snapped in New York City between 21 September and 26 October 2022.  No specialist equipment was used to produce them.  A smartphone camera enabled me readily to capture what caught my attention.  

The large prints are arranged diaristically, in the order in which I encountered what they show.  They chart my walks and whereabouts in a city I once called home, with gaps denoting a bout of COVID.  

I re-encountered the city after a three-year pandemic-imposed absence.  My recognition was tempered with estrangement.

Approaching the project from an art historical and curatorial perspective, I became intrigued by the idea of seeing something – anything – as art.  I am less concerned with the imperative of making art.  I am not declaring those snapshots of stumbled-upon sites art by virtue of their display in a gallery.

21 Oct. 2022: E. 98th St. between Lexington and Park

As conceptualist rebels like Kaprow insisted, art is not matter for appreciation in museums; nor, for that matter, is our experience of it restricted to institutions set aside for its showcasing.  That experience may not even happen there.  What can happen in our galleries – what I have felt happening there, and what I would like to make happen here as well – is the opening of conversations about the intersections, interrelation and ultimate integration of life and art.

I first set foot on the sidewalks of New York City in April 1985.  I was nineteen, a tourist from West Germany.  What struck me were the signs and tokens of everyday life on the streets, the close-ups not seen on picture postcards.

Since then, I have been returning to New York City for decades.  There is no other place I have spent more time negotiating on foot, going places and wandering aimlessly.  

Asphalt Expressionism looks back at that experience.  It also looks forward to continued conversations about – and a syncretisation of – forms of creativity as expressed in the arts, articulated in our histories of them, and performed in curatorial practice.  It considers alternative ways of looking at visual culture and of looking into our definitions, classifications, and our appreciation of it as art.

When I was a teenager, everyone who knew me assumed I would become an artist.  I was always creating something, from pencil drawings to sound collages, from costume jewellery to comic strips.

By the time I graduated from high school, the job market was crowded.  There had been a surplus of babies when I was born.  The work I found made me miserable.  I left.

Moving to New York, I decided to study English.  Fine art materials were not in my budget.  Figures of speech became my medium.  I learned about Romanticism and the Gothic without ever being shown a painting.  I explored translation theories to imagine ways of bridging.  

Being somebody in the eyes of others often involves specialisation.  We set ourselves apart, fragmenting our lives in the process.  Asphalt Expressionism is motivated by a desire to decompartmentalise, to erase distinctions I saw fading on the pavements: the abstract and the concrete, the extraordinary and the supposedly commonplace, the personal mark and the public trace.

Harry Heuser, Senior Lecturer in Art History, School of Art, Aberystwyth University

15 Oct. 2022: E 57th between Madison and Fifth
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