Vertigo, 2002 Oil on Linen 32 × 42 inches
Vertigo, 2002
Oil on Linen 32 × 42 inches

We witnessed the 9-11 tragedy and the fall of the two towers—outside our Soho apartment I stood on Thompson and Prince street after hearing the plane fly overhead and seeing it on the news and saw the hole with the people in it clearly in the building, and then went on my way to work at NYU, where I was to teach my freshmen drawing class "composition via the gag cartoon." Everyone was in a tremendous state of shock, and I certainly didn’t feel like teaching gag cartoons, so mentioned that "art wasn’t therapy, but I don’t what else to do but to go to Washington Square Park and draw this in order to try to understand it." We got there, and as soon as the students began to open their books and sketch, the first tower fell. The adults in the park began to cry and scream—my kids were great got up to hug and console them—I told the students that "class was cancelled" and to go home and call their parents to let them know they were alright. I’ve written about more of this with the other 9-11 works I have created, but I continued to think of all the people who died in the towers that day, and all the people jumping and falling to their deaths, and was traumatized by nightmares. At the time, my father was in town and saved the newspapers and said I should paint the photos of them—which I did do years later after continuing to have the nightmares—but during this time I could only deal with it by painting through allegory. Vertigo, the classic Hitchcock movie has these intense scenes of everyman Jimmy Stuart hanging on for his life on the precipice of a building with a blissed-out background, and reminded me of what it must have been like for those people who were the victims of this horrible tragedy. I painted this thinking of them, of their anguish, wanting to have empathy and compassion for them, their feelings, and all they lost on the brink of their fall. This was a tough painting to do, but helped me through this torment that I was experiencing, where hopefully I could suture into the avatar of Stewart portraying his psychological event, and purge myself of my feelings by channeling through him and this scene. Of course the great thing about the actual movie is that Stewart survives, and it his heroic being that helps him survive, and his courageous ability to face his fears and win in the end. Ultimately all those people were heroes who were in the towers, not just the amazing police and firemen who raced at the expense of their own lives to save them, but also the people in the buildings, who jumped to their death rather than getting burned alive or worse. It’s the courage of humanity, our ability to survive at all costs, to do our most to be our best while at the same time hopefully helping others and the world that gives me hope, something that I wish this painting might embue—not just tragedy, but the courage and strength of a hero.