I created a much smaller painting from this image last year in 2016– it was one of the favorite views and paintings of my dear friend Dan who recently passed away, who lived in El Paso and took me, at my request, to see that view. I had thought about doing a different version of the scene, from a photo I took on our cross country moving trip, but this image was so striking that I did a much larger version of it, different from that painting but in the same spirit, and in honor and for the spirit of Dan, to whom the show is dedicated…
When I first visited Dan in El Paso, we drove past this scene. It so struck me that I remembered it, and a couple years later in my next visit, I asked and planned for Dan to take me to the best spot to photograph the scene, which turned out to be in a parking lot next to the university there where I took the image… A patrol officer came about to ask what we were doing, as it is near the border volatile hotspot–also someone had made some beautiful stone tributes in the lot to border, like mini Easter Island rock formations. It was a loaded environment and day.
My last trip to this world was when Dan was helping me move by volunteering to drive a moving van of my belongings across country, and we ended up in El Paso, where I left him with his family and drove to CA– the last time I saw him before his accident. We happened to drive by the border after dinner, and I took another photo as we were driving, as I always wanted to make a larger painting of the same scene. But it was dark, and the resulting photo, although mysterious, just didn’t convey the light that illuminates all the different peoples in that part of the town of Ciudad Juarez–which was most important to me–to bring out the agency and people of our neighbors… I asked a number of people including Andrew about what would be the best photo to use to paint from–and I really had always wanted to bring up the image much bigger since I first painted the first picture. That painting was the most difficult (and challenging fun) to paint for a show in Berlin of the My American Dream body of work –there is so much detail, and also the subject matter was the most interesting, pre Trump, as I wanted to celebrate the people and the region, while also noting its potential peril.
For this painting, as with many in this current exhibition, it was about these things, but also different as in the age of Trump– truly this region is more conflicted, and as we know, the immigrant situation is much more dire. While creating the smaller painting I also painted in the moment that we first moved back to Andrew’s grandfathers cabin in the unincorporated neighborhood of Meadowbrook, near Lake Elsinore, which resembles, quite frankly, the unplanned growth of Ciudad Juarez, it was also about our joy moving back to this region, which is hopefully reflected in the colors and the mark making of the small painting.
This time around, I was thinking of the turgid politics of our moment and of my poor friend Dan, mourning his loss, and the potential losses our country is suffering through while painting–truly, these paintings helped me survive these last months! The result is a much more mournful image, while hopefully capturing some of the spirit of the region, it is also tinged with regret and also fraying and dissipating, as opposed to a more jaunty air of the smaller work. In the end of the painting, which like the small version took some time, I got caught up in the moment, and finished by running my finger up the light pole thinking of Dan hopefully ascending to a better place, and ran past the pole, creating a ghost-like visage of his personhood–truly I was thinking afterwards of the angels in the film Wings of Desire, positioned over Berlin as a good energy presence, and Dan here hopefully continues as an angel like visage in the scene.
I’ve created different paintings of the same image before–when Joe Bradley curated me into a show at Gavin Brown he wanted to have a Peanuts painting that I had created as an homage to Andrew’s dear friend who passed from HIV who had given us the coloring book it was based on (she loved Snoopy, too), so like this, some time later, I created a new work, thinking this time more about Charles Schulz and my relationship to his characters (and also Alicia) and it turned out different. Wade Guyton is a friend, and when the Kermit the Frog painting in the Biennial appeared in the NY Times and in the Whitney Biennial exhibition, he commissioned me to create a new one for his partner Tom, who loves Kermit and the painting, and this work turned out much differently, too. I exhibited all versions in the Marlborough incarnation of the My American Dream narrative, and the Peanuts paintings at MOCA Cleveland (we couldn’t afford to get the first Kermit painting from Boston), as I feel they show the growth of the narrative from beginning to end and how those characters, like myself, hopefully grow in time and come into their own. Here, as the paintings are already so inherently different in scale, there is a different mood and feeling—the small version I think is more like a beautiful song and the current image is more operatic– in the future, if I have the hopeful opportunity to exhibit the whole narrative again, I would also include both, as they, beyond the personal, depict for me the hopeful nature of the border before Trump (truly, people would cross back and forth from Juárez to El Paso–the title that Dan insisted on is El Paso del Norte–the old name for that town but also currently the bridge) and in painting this current work, now the politics have thwarted this, and have endangered the economies and the friendly relationships between the countries (and personally, it is the closest painting of Dan’s world).
I was thinking about Cézanne with his Mount Sainte-Victoire paintings art historically, as I love him and his methodology, and his paintings, especially of this scene which resembles, in the mountains in the backgrounds. Although the motifs of Cézanne’s paintings may repeat, hopefully each one is fundamentally different given his mood and the time of day and year and age he was painting it. We have all gone through so much since the current administration has taken office–and for me personally it has been intense (but gratefully getting settled, finally) this new work is reflective of this–I’m proud of it, but would rather be back in the world of the small painting, when life seemed simpler and more exuberant!