It’s the mid-1970s. A young abstract painter who has moved to New York from Southern California finds a studio near City Hall on Lower Broadway. Teeming during the day, by night his neighborhood is deserted. When he makes his way home from SoHo—even in its then-neglected state a relative hive of night-time activity with gallery openings and busy bars—he sometimes walks down the middle of the street, fearful of getting mugged. To further dissuade attackers he carries as little cash as possible and dresses like a bum. The painter, whose canvases feature stacks of wide, horizontal brushstrokes that drip into each other like melting plastic, has heard of Walter Benjamin’s theories about the modern artist-poet as flâneur, but amid the darkened, depopulated precincts of Lower Manhattan there are no crowds to merge with and no arcades to haunt.