A few years ago, inspired by Warhol’s movie Empire (where he filmed the Empire State Building for 24 hours) and Monet’s cathedrals, I began taking pictures of the Empire State Building whenever I passed it on my daily excursions around the city. The building gives me hope. In the hubris of the art deco era when it was built, they rose the then tallest building in the world, during the depression, in just about a year, employing the indigenousness Mohawk ironworkers (among many others) as they weren’t afraid of heights and had amazing dexterity. Ultimately, the top was to be a zeppelin-landing pad for passengers, and although the building inspired many, it was relatively unoccupied in its first year. Wonderfully it took the release and success of "King Kong" to popularize the building—humanize it in its way, and make it the mythic building it is today. I love this old world attitude and design of the building, obviously phallic, it was designed to look like a pencil—and for me it is the "pen being mightier than the sward"—that the creative imagination and optimistic energy it took to manifest this fabulous structure. While it is dwarfed by taller structures in the world, after the horrors of 9-11, it was the tallest structure remaining in Manhattan, and for me was an emblem of hope and America’s (and New York City’s) ability to stand strong, as a power and spirit in the world.
After privately accumulating many images on my cell phone and cameras, I thought it could be a cool project to post on Facebook, and Instagram. Every time I passed the vision of the building I would take an image and post, much to the chagrin of my friends. Unlike Warhol and Monet, I enjoyed trying different views, and to keep up the fun of the project (and the truly, personal meaning—hope) for me, I try to make each as unique, and individual as possible, with the thought that the image of Empire could act as a literal weather barometer for friends seeing the posts of the city, but also to try to capture the emotive spirit of my mood as I took the picture—a kind of visual diary, taking an image almost every day.
For this image, I looked through the many (over a year) of images to see which ones got the most "likes." This image was one that really did get many likes; perhaps it was because it was taken on New Years Eve of 2013, it held special meaning. With each one I say a little prayer to send to through the image to myself and my friends, and 2013 turned out to be great year of my dreams, when I asked by curator Stuart Comer to participate in the 2014 Whitney Biennial. As the date approached for the Biennial to open, I began this painting to hold me steady and to keep me focused and optimistic. Heavily pixilated, the cell phone image blown up held many mysteries. Like Monet who discovered different conjuring when he kept returning to the intricacies of his Rouen Cathedral, when I went into the pixels of my contemporary tech image, I found many different nuances in the bulbs of light and color that emerged. Relating to the pop infatuation with the Ben-day Dots Lichtenstein and Warhol embraced when painting comic-like images; the pixel is our modern day dot, making images out of ones and zeroes that manifest in color and form.
It took me almost the entire duration of the Biennial to paint the image—through the openings, excitement, and many visits to the Whitney (and teaching in-between) I would return to this small canvas, finally completing the work several months into the project.
As a youth after graduating from college I read Slaves of New York while traveling through Europe—which planted a seed for me to want to return to New York, become an Artist, and be in the Whitney Biennial. Finally, almost 25 years later it happened! As I tell my students, never give up on your dreams and keep striving to achieve, self-actualization with your art. I love and cherish my life and so glad I began and continued this journey of an artistic life.