Baby and I on 46th Street in ’99, 2012 Oil on linen 22 × 30 inches
Baby and I on 46th Street in ’99, 2012
Oil on linen 22 × 30 inches

This painting is from a photo that my partner (now husband) Andrew took of me when we lived for a short time on 46th street between 5th and 6th avenues, holding our Yorkshire Terrier Baby. I’m wearing a turtleneck shirt that I got as a result for posing for the artist Jack Pierson for a Matsuda Interview magazine campaign, and behind me is a Brown University cap (where I went to college), underneath this a Pinocchio "calendar"/hanging piece (that my friend Michael Kovnat brought back to me from Italy, significant as my breakthrough show was called "Pinocchio the Big Fag"), and importantly, behind me are paintings I was doing at the time, from our roof and window in this haunted apartment (hence the open door to the closet, like the infamous Ralph Gibson surreal photo on the Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures inner sleeve!). As I have written elsewhere, this was a strange time in our life, a difficult period that looking back is still hard to deal with, but seems more romantic now as we were young. I painted it on the occasion of the dog Baby’s passing, as she was a sweet dog that we bequeathed to Andrew’s grandmother, who cherished her, and Baby ruled the household that Andrew’s mom and sister lived in with the grandmother for most of her life! When Andrew’s grandmother was failing, and in the hospital, there is a great story that she woke up one night crying out for "baby!" "Baby"! The nurses all thought she was confused for her own real life baby daughters of her past, as she was suffering from Alzheimer’s. Little did they know she was actually crying out for her little dog she loved so much and who kept her grounded and conscious during the last years of her life.

At the time of the photo, we had moved from our tiny apartment on Christopher Street to a huge 1300 square foot apartment that cost only 1300 hundred dollars a month—but actually ended up costing much more than this. The first days we were moving in, after much reconstruction of this place that had been abandoned and was in a sad state, something fell on our poodle puppy and killed her. If this wasn’t tragic enough, when we came back from the vet, literally with blood on our clothes, evil, dead-eyed men beckoned us into the apartment below us, asking what kind of sickly, red-velveteen wallpaper we preferred, as they were mobsters who were opening up a bordello. Andrew, after I told them I was an artist and teacher, mentioned to them after they asked us what we did that he worked at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice, which was true (he was teaching English, as part of his graduate school). When we asked them what they did, they grunted, "ah, travel!?!" indicating that they weren’t too happy with us living there, either. It was horrible, as haggard looking women when slump up the stairs each night, and demonic disco music played as god knows what was happening downstairs. On the roof, where I would retreat to do these "en pleine air" paintings, there was a tombstone that said "Raphael" on it! Andrew fell into a deep depression, and I was having a disillusioned time with the artworld. I had my NYC solo debut at Jay Gorney with a show that was notorious for exhibiting roughly hewn paintings (after I had broken out with super tight post-modern renderings) of figurative and abstract works hung side by side, wanting to show how my unconscious was leaking out of the figurative works based on what the subject matter conjured within me, and the abstract works culminated into figurative elements, like in a dream. Painters and other artists really "got" the show, which I would like to think was ahead of its time, but some of the collectors and artworld didn’t quite yet—and although I was doing basically well—showing also in blue chip venues such as Mary Boone and Luhring Augustine, in the hubris of my youth I didn’t appreciate all I had, and romantically felt that I hadn’t wanted to speak to such a rarified audience, but to the "people"!? In these paintings, which still look good to me all these years later, I had begun to synaesthize what I was about, as they were representational works that broke into abstraction, more expressionistic that what I do today and less micromanaged, but in the same manner that Baby’s hair is breaking into its own abstraction I would like to think these paintings also did at the time and if you look at them again now. I do think you can have both—and some of the greatest painters allowed their subconscious drive their brush as much as their consciousness, and in micromanaged moments of most of the old masters through the modernists, as they were able to exceed the representational aspects of what they were painting and had their unconscious be able to bring life and ineffable subliminal aspects into the piece, hopefully you can have your cake and eat it too with oil painting. If oil painting was first created to make things look more "real" in the plastic properties of the paint, couldn’t this do the same for dreams and uncanny illuminations from your imagination? Painting this work and repainting the old works behind me, I still see figures and forms that unconsciously were projected into the paintings in the background, and as much as I would like to think this serves a legend, or key to the map of my biography, also within my artistic career it serves to show in the present state of my work (or at least from 2012) I’m still painting the world around me, and with a 0/3 teeny tiny brush, allowing my unconscious to spill forth renderings from both my critical mind and my imagination. This was a deep time for us, and I hope a deep painting is the result of it, filled with the now romantic hubris of this era (we soon "retired," pulling all my work out of the art world and moving to the middle of the desert in California—before I moved back a year later—but more about this in other paintings), but also the bittersweet sentiment of having lost a dog gaining another, Baby who really was our baby for us and Andrew’s family, and for her recent loss in 2012 after being a great dog for so many for a healthy lifetime.