I had been wanting to create this work since the advent of the Freedom Tower as an antidote to the 9-11 paintings I created, and also as a symbol for the power of New York City, of America, and an optimistic view of the future. I had met the creator of the spire, and he mentioned to me that, like in a lighthouse, there was space for one person at the very top of the needle. It was always my hope to get up in there, like Turner tied to the masthead of a ship for the sublime rush of the experience being the highest you could get overlooking the City, and to paint the image with the feeling of the memory of the experience. I couldn’t get access, but serendipitously, Bob Mankoff, the cartoon editor of the New Yorker had called me and wanted me to come and meet me in their new offices at One World Trade Center!
When I graduated from Brown University—where I was the "comics kid" on campus, it was my hope then to come to New York City to become a New Yorker Cartoonist—thinking it would be my way to pay also for me writing and painting on the side. Being a Semiotics major, I wasn’t interested in philosophy, but knew I didn’t have it in me to be a philosopher, and I was more inclined to render than to write when it came to playwriting. But cartoons, especially the New Yorker gag (single panel) cartoon was about "bringing up ideas aesthetically and was really the secret of making any great art that matters. As I was working at Robert Miller, and having conversations with the likes of Alex Katz, and stepping over Alice Neel’s and Basquiat’s as I opened up the gallery each day, I went on my path instead of rendering cartoons, with some small savings to go to graduate school to earn my MFA with Fine Art.
To be asked, finally, after 25 years to come to the New Yorker offices and to meet with their esteemed cartoon editor was an incredibly meaningful event as my role as Comics Coordinator at the School of Visual Arts, where I have been "keeping it real" and keeping from "getting hit by lightning" by teaching students for the last 20 years comics as one of their lead teachers. As one of the first comics programs in the United States, it still is the best.
So, before my meeting, feeling great about my past and where I am now, having literally Ground Zero behind and the future facing forward. I also wanted to get the feeling of the city vs. the sky. Thinking about Turner (also the famous Steinberg New Yorker cover of the View of the World from 9th Avenue!), it was about New York vs. the rest of the world, and the ancient paradigm of "Man vs. Nature." Even though there is a lot to celebrate in 2015 New York City America, in the world of nature, time, and the universe, it can mean so little, again, in a sublime POV.
While painting this picture, I listened to the top albums of Rolling Stone magazine, intermingled with the audiobook of Patti Smith’s Just Kids, and importantly, Dante’s Divine Comedy. I want to make pictures that matter, and what better inspiration than some of the greatest music that has been so inspirational to my life. I love Patti Smith’s Just Kids, growing up with that and meaningful relationships with Mapplethorpe and his work. I listened to the audiobook of Dante’s Divine Comedy which made so much sense—coming from the circles of the Inferno that the area surrounding Port Authority could represent, to the starry sky of this city of lights, which Paradise could represent, I was really moved by Dante (also knowing he was Michelangelo’s favorite author, and loving the illustrations by Gustave Doré.
The image did remind me of an island floating in time, and I was painting the sky during the entire Paradise sequence, ending when the narrator finally sees God. I then put the finishing flourishes on the best six albums, a fitting end to the painting that ultimately was about the salvation of our magnificent city and all the souls within it and our world.