Jonathan Herbert is a painter who worked on and off as a taxi cab driver between 1970 and 1984. During this period, Herbert created a large body of work which he entitled Views from a Yellow Cab. Views from a Yellow Cab was initially comprised of watercolors painted by Herbert in notebooks while driving his 12-hour night shifts. One night Herbert picked up the well-known art critic Cookie Mueller, who was fascinated by his simultaneous painting and driving. She subsequently featured Herbert in her famous Art and About column in Details Magazine, December 1982 issue.
Herbert became a cult figure of sorts. Photographs of Herbert at work in his cab and sketching at the garage can be found in The Night Line, and in TAXI – the Social History of the New York City Cab Driver. There is a sizeable entry on Herbert in the Cookie Mueller Encyclopedia.
Herbert was a member of the Downtown Art Scene. He frequented the Mudd Club, Max’s Kansas City and other artists’ bars where he traded his paintings for food, drink or a place to sleep. During this period the artist befriended SAMO, later know as Jean-Michel Basquiat, with whom he, as SPACE BABY, routinely went out tagging the city. He became acquainted with Robert Longo and George Condo, who both played with his girfriend of the time, PseudoCarol of The Rentals; he was a well-known figure in the Downtown and East Village scenes. Herbert routinely exhibited in Frank Marino’s Soho gallery and the Nico Smith Gallery in the East Village.
Encouraged by the reception his work was receiving Herbert’s work exploded into ever more layered gouaches and oils. During this period he painted many large scale oil paintings in his studio. His inspiration continued to be the City as seen from that hard bench seat of his Checker taxi. This was the New York City of Studio 54 and CBGB’s, of Times Square before the Disnification, and Alphabet City when it was still raw, gritty and veritably life-threatening. Avenues Adventurous; Brave; Crazy; and Dead.
This was a New York City that was slatternly and devoid of mercy; the cabbie’s life violence mixed with exhilaration. This long gone New York was Herbert’s muse and he painted her and her inhabitants in all their glory and darkness.
Herbert gave up driving and drinking in 1986 and went into free-fall, disappearing from The Art Scene and The Scene. Ten years later and the addiction of oil paint overtook him again, and he began painting full time. Since 2003 Herbert has worked in studios in the Fulton Ferry area of Brooklyn. He recently found the notebooks he produced during his Views from a Yellow Cab period. Pages from them can be found on this blog. He has been inspired by this rediscovery to begin start an illustrated memoir, Night Driver, and a new series of oils entitled Hacked Memories.
Jonathan Herbert is a classically trained artist. He was born in 1952 in Manhattan. He attended NYU in the early 1970’s and moved to Boston in 1972 to study at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts where he focused on etching, drawing and painting. While studying in Boston, Herbert met his mentor Jan Cox, a member of the COBRA school. When Cox returned home to Antwerp, he helped Herbert to garner a coveted Independent Study Award. Herbert studied with Cox in Europe in 1975 and 1976.
Herbert’s paintings explore the eternal themes of sex, death, and redemption. He has an abiding love affair with paint and creates representational paintings of women, gritty urban landscapes and the numinous worlds of lightness and darkness, in a Neo-COBRA tradition. Like the alchemists, this artist works in a pre-scientific, pre-technological, approximate and mysterious world. Jonathan Herbert’s studio is located at 68 Jay Street in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn, NY. His work is available for viewing by appointment.