9/11, STATEN ISLAND & NYFD COMMEMORATIVE
September 11th was quixotically fortunate for me. My brother survived the strike on the WTC. His wife and I watched the towers burn and collapse over and over on the television news that morning. We could barely breathe, cry, or dare to hope as we envisioned Jared's last moments, anonymously repeated in slow motion for all to see.
Our relief and gratitude upon finally hearing from him was subdued by the surrounding anguish. Jared's reportage of the defining minutes of evacuation and rescue provided an overwhelming image that would endure.
"As we made our way down the smoke filled stairwells, I could smell burning jet fuel. The firefighters kept everyone calm, guiding and assuring us that we would be fine. I tried to remember the face of each one as he passed us going up; they had to know they might never come down, even if you couldn't see it in their eyes... I felt that someone should look at their faces because it might be the last time anyone did."
Alternately constrained and rent by grief, disbelief, fear, rage and soaring empathy for the victims and their loved ones, none of us knew where to go. One tangible location for many was the hilltop on Victory Boulevard with Staten Island's unique view of the skyline. People gathered there for days after the 11th, to look, understand, and verify. I've long felt an unreasonable propriety for that vista, having labored it on canvas fifteen years ago.
The power of a painting, now only an abstract truth, the reality of the present and my brother's resonating words spurred me to this project.
"Staten Island September" is acknowledgment of our communal trauma, its aftermath and collective long view.
Hometown examination has long been a focus of my work, almost always starkly personal. This piece is different. It's an attempt to put our experience as Staten Islanders... our collective pain, our emotional processes regarding 9/11 into a singular image. It was crucial to include the lyrical, powerful monument already in place, Masayuki Sono's Postcards memorial. Staten Island, NYC's least populated borough, lost over 270 people on September 11th, nearly 80 of them first responders, so many from my immediate neighborhood.
I struggled with the idea of embarking on a project specifically geared to one excruciating, seminal event. Concerns about appearing opportunistic, mawkish loomed... but a number of people, notably, the poet Marguerite Rivas said such an endeavor would be welcomed, and as the creator of "Victory Boulevard at Dawn" painted many years before 9/11, long popular for over a decade, I was a natural choice. It's been humbling that so many are affirmed by this particular image, connecting to the degree that they have. While Ground Zero was newly smoldering, daily calls and emails came from people asking me for reproductions. I was stunned; it took a while to comprehend the reasoning.
The response to my painting, "Victory Boulevard at Dawn" has been persistent... arcing from celebration and now... to mournful soliloquy. This new painting, "Staten Island, September", continues as Ms. Rivas says, "telling of the tale of our tribe".