When 9-11 happened, I was living in Soho on Prince Street with my partner (now husband), and we heard the plane fly overhead and minutes later, saw it on the news and went outside to see, slack-jawed, the two buildings, with the holes in them and we could just make out the people inside. I went to NYU to teach my Drawings Fundamentals class in a state of shock, and my students were there waiting, also hapless and not knowing what to do. Normally, at the beginning of the semester I teach “Composition via the Gag Cartoon”, but was in no mood to do this on that day, and told the students that hopefully “we artists help to understand things by drawing them”, so we went to Washington Square Park with our sketchbooks to draw the towers, but just as we began, the towers began to fall. The adults watching in the park began to scream and cry in pain and terror, but my students were amazing, comforting those around them. I told them that class was obviously dismissed, and that they should go home and call their families to let them know it was all right.
I had nightmares about the events since that time, and although my father who was in town during the crises kept the newspapers for me to render from (which I did eventually, one is in the permanent collection at the Whitney, a triptych of the theme is at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington), at the time all I could do (and felt tasteful enough to render) was to speak through allegory, hence this work, a painting from the film still of the 1976 King Kong remake, produced by Dino De Laurentis. I have always felt that Kong represented the agency of humanity—who we are as natural human being animals within the world, and of course, through the power of iconic allegory, King Kong can mean so many different things in different eras through different points of view. But at this moment it really felt that we lost so much during this time, not only all the people who were tragically and monstrously killed in the events, but also who we were as people and a country since that moment, the sentiments of which inform the emotions of this work.
But also I grew up with Dynamite Magazine, a publication that young students subscribed to with the Scholastic Books Club as kids through school, and one of the first magazines that I got that I loved was with King Kong, celebrating the remake, with Laverne and Shirley in his arms. The article had a great effect on me, and this image is from the pages of that magazine—the colors distorted in the printing era/paper of that time. I also went to the premier of the movie when it opened in Tamarac Square (and was the official opening of this suburban Denver mall), and will never forget the excitement and thrill of seeing the film for the first time as a kid.
When I create works, I allow the image to infuse within me thoughts and emotions that I hope come out in the finished work. With this painting, the conflicting feelings of nostalgia along with regret hopefully manifest themselves, which could also be, allegorically speaking, the nostalgia for a more innocent time and for the people lost of an era, and the regret of a more contemporary circumstance of who we are as people and a nation being transformed into a less innocent time of the 21century.
[INLINE IMAGE kingkong_clip_image002.png]
Ben Shahn, The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti, 1931, Whitney Collection.
Ben Shahn has long been an inspiration, as he not only painted figurative narrative works from photos, but that he was able to infuse such life and emotion in a painterly fashion that they transcend notions of “illustration” and work, like an American German expressionist, to create political allegories that draw you in and have you become involved in their subject matter. I also love that Shahn is a great American Jewish artist, and that you often see his works proudly displayed in this context, and he was exhibited in a time that anti-semitism still lurked in artworld circles. This is a famous work often exhibited at the Whitney, that was part of a series of images he created about an infamous trial of two Italian immigrants and committed anarchists that were persecuted by their radicalism and their ethnicity more than the ambiguous evidence, to death for the murder of a shoe factory guard, creating one of the most controversial trials of the twentieth century.
I like that Shahn created history paintings that were liberal and smart, and that he had deep empathy for his subject matter that permeates the paintings and makes them trancend the specifics of the event he was depicting, making them hopefully eternal (like Goya and Manet before him) for conveying issues we still face today in painterly ways.