When you're telling a story based upon memory, you don't remember every detail…Things fade over time. I give you just enough to put together the rest.
This is how artist Samson Contompasis describes the concept behind his open-ended series “Ghost City Project,” comprised of works inspired by memories of the streets of Albany. His newest mural in the collection, now on display in the Plaza food court, is not a replica of neighborhoods past, but an impression of Albany pieced together from more than a dozen historic photos, which makes the mural at once distinct and unrecognizable.
As familiar as it looks, most people who are seeing this have never seen this before.
Contompasis, a native son of Albany, has been working the city into his art for more than a decade, relying on thousands of photographs he has collected to distill complex memories into recollections. For his Plaza mural, Contompasis rendered his photographs down to make them look like one cohesive, single print. He then projected his rendering onto the walls of the food court and, using a brush only one inch thick for consistency, painted over the light projection in short, disjointed strokes. Viewed from afar, the mural appears cohesive, but in close range, it dissipates into abstract pieces.
I had no idea what this thing was going to look like. It was bold and brave of the state to trust an artist to do this…[It] allowed freedom within the confines of my project.
The artist points to the Empire State Plaza Art Collection as a major influence that inspired his career and continues to inform his art. Contompasis says he is honored not only to celebrate the Plaza and its place in the Albany skyline but to carry forward its tradition of bringing art to public spaces.
It dramatically altered my path in life to be able to commune with those works of art. One of the most powerful things winning the bid to do this mural is that my work lives among Helen Frankenthaler, Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline...Modern art has been my passion, love, and joy forever! My theory all comes from being able to be so close and study this collection.
Contompasis is familiar with both the Albany streets faded from memory and the modern structures we know today: his grandparents once sold fruit out of “Market Square,” now the site of the Times Union Center. This connection inspired the artist to develop his series honoring Albany’s history, and he adds personal tributes and details into “Ghost City Project” that only a Capital Region native could. For instance, in his Plaza mural, the “Kennedy” sign pays homage to the great Albany writer William Kennedy, and the artist named “Jackson’s Marketplace” for his nephew and grandparents’ market. He borrowed several other names and businesses in the mural from personal acquaintances.
Contompasis, a self-taught full-time artist who expresses himself through a variety of mediums, has been active in the Albany art scene for more than two decades. He also works as a bodyguard and enjoys traveling the world. Still, no matter where his art may take him, Contompasis always finds his way back to the city that continues to spark his creativity and brings heart, and home, to his work. While Albany continues to evolve, “Ghost City Project” rekindles a memory of its past and brings it to a physical and emotional space with which we can connect each day.
Albany is my home. It will be my home no matter where I land...There is a power and feel to Albany that doesn't exist anywhere else.
Samson Contomposis, Ghost City Project, 2019
The Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza