History And Context
When John Kane moved to Pittsburgh in 1929, he settled into an area of the city commonly known as “The Strip”; henceforth, his neighborhood and the city’s industrial landscape became a primary focus of Kane’s paintings. Across the Strip depicts daily activity in the rundown district, complete with produce yards, factories, and mills. Though many sites have been identified, the exact location (or locations) from which Kane painted Across the Strip is difficult to determine because the buildings, including Kane's former dwelling, were razed in the 1970s. In constructing this work, Kane may have initially sketched multiple views on site, combining and adjusting them—like the stacked perspectives of a pop-up diorama—to create a single composite work in his studio.
This careful process of assembly and the painting’s restricted color scheme give strength and unity to Kane’s depiction of his beloved city. The painting derives its vitality from the evidence of human labor that is catalogued with energetic concentration: each brick and shingle gives testimony to Kane's firsthand knowledge of the trades at which he earned his livelihood for sixty-six years. He included broken windows, nesting birds, crumbling brick, women putting out laundry, and the calligraphy of commercial signs, which he could not possibly have read from his distant vantage point. This democratically additive vision, the hallmark of Kane’s style, places him squarely within the American folk tradition. Across the Strip, the first work by Kane to enter a museum, was purchased by Duncan Phillips directly from its successful public premiere. It was remarked about the painting that Kane was a poet and that Across the Strip “in some way…touches the heart.”