Painter Anthony Boone: Scrapers and Spoons, Railroad Graveyards and New York Fashion

Anthony Boone paints artefacts he finds on the railroad tracks. He grinds them to extract their essence and transforms them. He recently sanded his grandmother’s bedroom floor and transformed the sandpaper remains into a series of delicate paintings he gave to each of her children. He sold 150 small pieces in his series 150 via simple Facebook posts and Instagram photos. As he finished each work, he sold it immediately, to raise enough money for a t-shirt series featuring his paintings. But usually he works on canvas, which he lays on the floor and paints using “scrapers and spoons.”
Boone is a railroad worker. He’s been conducting industrial trains in New Jersey for 22 years. Not too long ago, a friend started bringing him to art shows. Boone liked what he saw, but instead of trying to purchase the expensive works, he decided to try to make his own.
“I bought the canvas and I couldn’t get it out the car fast enough,” Boone recalls. “I just put it down on the floor and started.” Since he grew up painting houses as part of his father’s contractor business, it makes sense that Boone would approach the work in a less traditional way. Later he found out that his work evokes Jackson Pollock.
“I lived next door to an art professor called Max Adams,” Boone says. “I painted still lifes, abstracts, landscapes, everything, and took them over for him to critique. He told me to be myself and take risks. To paint naturally. ‘There are no rules,’ he said, and that opened the door.”
The only painting he’d done before was when he worked for his father, and that had been on the interior of houses, part of his family apprenticeship as he grew up in East Orange, New Jersey.
“My dad was a contractor and I started working with him on weekends when I was eight, me and my brothers,” Boone says. “Then every summer, all through school. We’d demolish interiors, clean them out, sheet rock, plaster, then paint. One thing I did learn was how to paint a straight line!”
That background in construction has influenced the way he approaches his painting.
“I don’t use brushes,” Boone says. “I use all kinds of materials. Wood paint, dirt, whatever seems right. I’ll layer them on and then I’ll move the canvas and go away and let everything mix. When I come back I’ll add more or let it be if I feel some emotion from what I see. What’s there is a combination of me and the paint itself. You can feel the movement in it.”
Since he began painting, Boone has created a number of different series. Atmospheric, which is paint on canvas, remains ongoing, with sixty works so far. The series 13 was inspired by his daughter noticing the concentric circles that dry at the bottom of old paint cans. Boone peeled out the circles to make new work.
Some of his art carries deep personal resonance, like the Sandpaper series.
“My grandmother was moving into a new room and I wanted it to look good for her so I sanded the floor,” Boone says. “I used that sandpaper to make five pieces, each representing one of her children. I’d show them in exhibitions but I’d never sell them; there’s a sentimental attachment for me.”
He also makes art out of his day job as a railroad conductor, in a series called In My Travels.
CcZXzvzmvZzv“Those are pieces of metal I find in my job,” Boone explains. “I spend my time walking track and switches or hanging on the side of trains. Some areas of track aren’t used any more, we call them graveyard branches. I’ll find spikes, pieces of metal there. I bring them home, clean them up and give them life.”
Perhaps the work that’s had the broadest impact, however, is the 150 series. Boone made a limited edition of 150 paintings, each of them eight inches by 10 inches and selling for $40. The aim was to raise enough money to pay for a series of tee shirts he wanted to make. All 150 sold out immediately and sparked something he hadn’t anticipated; Boone became an inspiration to others.
“One woman bought one of the paintings,” Boone remembers. “She didn’t have much money but she wanted to invest in what I was doing. After she received it she wrote me back to say that her son, who was three, to start making art. It was reaching people who don’t go to galleries, who feel they don’t belong around art.”
At the same, Boone’s art is showing up in more New York galleries and pop up exhibits. He collaborates with fashion designers who feature his painting on their creations. Plans are underway for a second appearance during New York’s Fashion Week.
Boone isn’t leaving the life he knows. He has no plans to abandon the railroad job. If anything, he might draw it closer into his art, creating a mobile gallery in a boxcar, going from state to state and featuring local artists. Like everything else, he’ll make it happen.
“If you have the motivation, the drive, and the people supporting you,” Boone says, “you can do whatever you want to do.”