Martin Luther King, 2005 Oil on linen 56 × 38.5 inches
Martin Luther King, 2005
Oil on linen 56 × 38.5 inches

MLK was a painting I did some years later after Hamlet 1999, but another stormy time in our world. We had moved to Chelsea, and I had a larger place to work and better light to work in, and we were generally happy, enjoying the success of my newly assimilated career, and our life in general, but Andrew’s best friend Alicia had just abruptly died, due to just-realized complications due to AIDS, and Hurricane Katrina had just happened down South. We were going through a lot of personal trauma as to Alicia, and were frankly appalled at the US government’s reaction to the tragedy befalling New Orleans and the southern region that many of my family come from. I felt if Dr. Martin Luther King were alive to experience what had happened, he would never stop crying, and painted this for the Miami art fair soon after the tragedy occurred. I do think art can make the world a better place, and after creating many narratives through the years "employing" famous actors and icons to play different characters, I realized that any portrait was truly about bringing out the inner personality of that person, and if I painted real people that had real relevance to impacting the culture of our world, I could make an iconic painting that would stand for both that person and allegorically what they represent to our culture, where the viewer could relate to the figure or scene also due to the modernist notions of how paint can transcribe warmth and feeling in the experience of looking at it, in addition to the content of what it could "mean." I hope that this painting of MLK goes beyond Katrina or other timely matters—I have painted a number of portraits of this great man (two of which were recently in the Whitney Biennial), and we have lived with this picture of him (one of my favorite portraits I have ever painted) on our walls for years to give us hope. Dr. King helped to change the world and give people agency through his passion and teaching and beliefs, and serves as a great model (I also appreciate that many homes throughout the world live with this image in photographs and posters) for all people including artists.