Historic fireboat gets marbled ‘dazzle’ design before it sets sail around the NY Harbor this summer

June 29, 2018

Photo by Nicholas Knight

Marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, local artist Tauba Auerbach has transformed a historic fireboat into a modern “dazzle” ship. First invented by British painter Norman Wilkinson during WWI, dazzle camouflage patterns were painted onto ships to distort their forms and confuse enemy submarines. The Public Art Fund and 14-18 NOW, a U.K.-based art program, commisioned the painting of the John J. Harvey fireboat, which first launched in 1931 and helped the FDNY extinguish fires until it retired in the 1990s.

“With Flow Separation, I didn’t want to ignore the John J. Harvey’s identity, so I took the boat’s usual paint job and scrambled it. Dragged a comb through it,” Auerbach said. “The palette also exaggerates the fact that ‘dazzle’  was more about confusing and outsmarting, than about hiding.”

Auerbach created the design for the boat by marbling paper, floating inks on a fluid bath and combing the surface to create the visible wake patterns. The boat flies a flag that diagrams “flow separation,” which is when fluid in a wake moves backward, creating an eddy. Auerbach wanted to incorporate the behavior of water into the design while keeping the red and white theme of the original fireboat.

The boat will be on display from July 1 to May 12, 2019, docking at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6 and Hudson River Park’s Pier 25. On the weekend, visitors will be able to board the boat and enjoy free, 45-60 minute trips around the New York Harbor. Reservations are first come, first served. Find out more and reserve a spot here.

During the winter and spring, the boat will move to Pier 66a in Chelsea and act as a floating sculpture.


Photos by Nicholas Knight, courtesy of Public Art Fund

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