River Phoenix, 2004 Oil on Linen 20 × 16 inches
River Phoenix, 2004
Oil on Linen 20 × 16 inches

This early picture of River Phoenix has always been a favorite of mine, and in thinking of one my major inspirations for the cosmology—Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, I thought he would be a perfect "angel" to have installed high up on a wall that involves so much tragedy, that hopefully he could be a good energy talisman to ease some of the pain and tension of the wall.

River Phoenix was a great actor and human being, a starry-eyed optimist who really wanted to make good in the world, but was brought down by drugs and perhaps some disillusionment, which was so sad for a person so young and talented. I had followed his career since the early days, seeing Stand By Me when I was not too much older than the kids in that film, and felt like he was sort of a fellow traveler as I really related to his sincerity, warmth, and integrity in every role he played. When My Own Private Idaho came out, it really blew my mind, as another icon of my scope was Keanu Reeves, and the two of them together in this Shakespearean, homoerotic, beautiful post-modern film by Gus Van Sant was such a invigorating film in more ways than one, that after seeing it I rushed back to my graduate studio and created my first works in those first weeks at UC Irvine. He continued to be a star in my "star system," becoming Pinocchio at times in Pinocchio the Big Fag and here he was Horatio, Hamlet ("played" by Keanu), in Hamlet 1999. In this work he seems to be an angel in heaven, illuminated by a gossamer, golden light, together again with Keanu and looking at us over this scene, a non-denominational angel of our time, whose legacy lives on in the amazing films he created in his all-too-short brilliant career.