38th and 10th, 2010 Oil on linen 40 × 72 inches
38th and 10th, 2010
Oil on linen 40 × 72 inches

In this painting I was inspired directly from the T.J. Clark book The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and his Followers who discussed how Manet and impressionists he inspired sought not to depict the Paris of the new gentrified city that we still enjoy as tourists, but the real Paris, that of the sidelines, the deserted streets, of the people who had been shunned away, the true city underneath the sheen of the newly devised city—embracing the working class and people that were denied agency and the places they inhabited. I love New York City for all that it has to offer, but like the Paris of Manet’s time, it has quickly become even more gentrified than when I first moved here in the late ’80’s, where it is difficult for the poor and small businesses to maintain residence here. Although I embrace change and many of the new "improvements," still also embrace the grit an memory of the Gotham I knew and loved growing up, romanticizing the bohemian zeal of the old New York, and the ageless quality behind the current gilding. We moved to Chelsea when it was on the brink of significant change—on the corner of 25th and 10th, just down the street from where this image was taken. There was a post-it note on the Pizza Store saying "apartment available—call Louis" with his number—I called him, whose real name was Mohammed, and he was one of the Egyptian brothers that owned the Pizza Store and the building—a real New York story! Bottino’s was already down the street, but on the north side of the block there was a Cuban restaurant, a check cashing store, and numbers guys standing outside preying on the people living in the HUD housing just up the block. The check cashing place and Cuban restaurant are long gone, the numbers guys have moved around the corner, but Nicole Kidman lives down the block, and Kate Hudson’s daughter goes to the exclusive Avenues private school that used to be a warehouse on the block across from us, and the Highline and all the fancy residence apartment complexes have made many of the smaller galleries move back to the LES, Harlem, and elsewhere. As I type this, the area around the corner of this painting is currently changing, with huge skyscrapers and big box stores opening in buildings being built right now, a new subway is opening, and we’re hoping we’ll be able to stay in our little humble abode! Looking from this corner, however, it still looks somewhat the same five years later—as Port Authority, not likely to move anywhere is in the foreground, and many of the same buildings, albeit with newer ones in the background still stand. But this is also still a slightly, for the moment, sleazy area—abandoned somewhat at night, just blocks away from Times Square but very much its destitute old world self—while not a place one might want to hang out, it still feels to me what it must have felt like in the 70’s or before, when the city was broke and punk rock and great art was happening because perhaps of this. While painting, I listened to the entire (albeit abridged!) Dante’s Divine Comedy as I felt it perfect for the subject matter. Port Authority and still that section of 42nd street and area couldn’t get much closer to one of the nine circles of hell—a real Inferno, and in the thirties, this section of west Manhattan feels a bit like Purgatory, and of course, on the highest level of skyscrapers and sky—and the beams of light they are projecting, seem like a bountiful, enviable Paradise. Painting from digital photos, printed on my good Epson printer, I’m able to get a lot of detail from the pixels, but with digital imagery, it seems different than analogue when capturing the all-overness of it, and also how it is able to capture light with a lens flare like quality. It had been a rainy night, and drops had fallen on my lens, making some of the droplets you see her, and the light filtered through the dewy-night made the lights feel even in the photo like those stars and lanterns in a Van Gogh painting, with emanata spiriting away in all directions from a light source. When painting from contemporary technology such as this I hope it contemporizes my work—these affects wouldn’t have appeared in other photo-based works of the past, a Vuillard, for instance. But working from photos post-Richter, I want to, instead of painting the surface of the photo, penetrate the surface, and move inside of it, creating windows onto other worlds within the plastic space of the oil paint, thinking my thoughts and having hopefully my unconscious also projected into the image. Hence, I like to paint all the affects of photography as if they are "real," micromanaging as much as I can with a tiny brush, really looking deep inside the nuances of the image to pull out as much information as I can, painting faithful to the image, and trusting it, to make optical space that might otherwise be unknown to us, using the affects as talisman to reach my inner mind. Looking at the lens flares, whilst at the same time listening to Dante, they seemed almost like halos, the bright lights like angels, and sometimes in the negative spaces, a kind of dream like world that could resemble a heaven or hell depending on your mood—there is stuff in there and although I know they are perhaps just merely technical distortions of the lens mixed with water, its fun to try to paint the head of pin of light to "see" all the angels dancing on the periphery of it, or the buildings "opening up" to reveal other unconscious dream like worlds. I hope that this allegorically represents New York as its own "city of lights" of illuminate and other dynamic, creative people that inhabit it, but loving the Symbolists and Impressionists, and of course Manet, who painted his real life surroundings with such a critical eye and voice, but also letting his emotions and MEMORY lead the way, is a wonderful model for making works that are content rich but also hopefully compelling formal enough to conjure real feelings in the viewer.