My American Dream (Marlborough)
Michelangelo Crucifix, 2002 Oil on linen 24 × 16 inches
Michelangelo Crucifix, 2002
Oil on linen 24 × 16 inches

We lived for a long time in a tiny apartment on Prince between Sullivan and Thompson—the two of us, my German Shepherd Julian and our little poodle Rosa. I would take the dogs around the block, and would always stop at the church between those two blocks on Houston, and say a little prayer looking at their great Madonna statue. I’m not religious—my dad is Jewish and my mom is Southern Baptist, so I’m a religious mutt, but I am a spiritual person, and a little prayer can always help! In any event, this painting is to bring good energy to the wall, she was Gertrude in my Hamlet 1999 series, and here she really is the Virgin Mary. The wall has so much pathos that as much good energy and prayer I could give it starts out the narrative optimistically before we see them at the end. I painted this work, one of the first from my own photos that I created, in a moment where I really needed the joy it could provide—religious or not, icons this powerful are edifying to project to and with, and I hope her spirit can overlook all those on the wall and the show with the powerful love she symbolizes.

The second in this series is of the Study of Christ for the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, another of my heroes (although he didn’t have the same warmth of Michelangelo, he probably was the better painter, and of course, its always edifying to know two of the greatest artists in the history of the world were gay!). This was inspired and painted from an old, crinkled reproduction in a used book of Da Vinci I got from the Strand Book Store, and just the paper itself had a patinaed, relic quality that made the already sublime image more impactful. At this time I was painting literally in a closet—a tiny room in our tiny apartment with our clothes hanging in the same room with a single light bulb, and an artist lamp and my desk lamp (and next to my shepherd Julian’s dog bed!) hence the palate of these works, sometimes a little green, sometimes, in the case of this work, a little gold, bedazzled by the original, trying to learn from the Master, and gleaming every bit of spiritual jouissance from the image. Every painting I create is a prayer, these especially so.

Near this same time, I did this Jesus painting of Michelangelo’s crucifix, which is the one at the Santa Maria del Santo Spirito di Firenze, Florence. I love Michelangelo for his embracement of both the sacred and the profane, and in this early sculpture of his (one of the earliest on record—he was only 17 when he created it!) he truly captured an uncanny spirit. I have yet to see it in person, but the photos of it send me—there is something sensual about his body, but not erotic, simultaneously it also seems alive, or to be specific, both dead, as it is Jesus on the cross, but also alive with a spirit. I love to learn from the masters, following their lead, with Michelangelo, whom I have painted many appropriations from (including the Green Jesus painting on the last Last Judgment wall, which is a close up of this very same Christ, and the other crucifix on that wall is the other Crucifix statue attributed to Michelangelo from the same time), and his chisel marks give me guidance as to create form in paint. When painting from his painting (again, the Last Judgment Wall is a quote of the Last Judgment—in fact, this whole show and that wall is to invoke the Sistine Chapel!) I learn what it is to be a true artist, painting from devotion to my subject matter. This is a work I absolutely needed to paint when I did (I feel I’m projected unconsciously in the negative space surrounding him). I also learn, by following the Masters, to be creating works that transcend their subject matter: beyond any decorative motifs, I paint through my life and live through my paint.