Reflections: Responding to a Moment
Editor's Note: On view at the Robert H. Gibson River Garden, 157 Main Street in Brattleboro, through the end of August is the 11 x 7-1/2-foot oil painting depicting the moment of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001. The painting was completed in Spring 2003. The artist speaks:
In the summer of 2001, I was still quite engaged in clarifying, through my painting technique, a no-fat-on-the-bones style which would unify all the elements invented in my work over the previous 20 years, while eliminating all the outside influences such as landscape space, descriptive imagery, excess color, and all signs of artists' work that I had emulated in the past. My work had synthesized a set of graphic symbols as a means of expression. The symbols were designed using elements of African "Gabon" reliquary abstraction, pre-Columbian design rules, and elements of various alphabets and of the figure, face, and landscape. The 60 symbols in my head are my way of expressing states of mind and memories.
In the late '90s, I was trying different ways of working with many symbols simultaneously. It seemed impossible as I turned out one attempt after the other. Many were interesting but too busy, too overworked. I needed to simplify.
In the fall of 2000, I made a painting and was unable to finish it. The next day I made a 3- by 4-foot painting and I found it. That is, the way to paint. My way to paint.
The work was reduced to two colors overall, the composition built on the "Golden Mean," an ancient mathematical grid, and the symbols had merged into a kind of netlike shape, floating through the rectangle of the canvas. The design seemed to have the effect of an oracle, in that people looking found their own pictures.
Then came the event.
Coming home from stone-wall building that afternoon, I had some strange phone messages. I felt like I had better listen to the news. I picked up a small unfinished painting to work on and I switched on the radio.
The news pouring out knocked the wind out of me and moved me to dip the brush in black and paint out most of the painting before me. An evil, horned and bearded demon mask appeared in the paint.
I had never painted like this. For the first three days, it was three paintings a day; it slacked off over the week. The works were conceived rapidly without concern for the results. On one hand, I felt like Benvenuto Cellini on the ramparts of Rome under siege, and on the other like a passenger on the roller coaster to Hell. I camped by the radio and drove to a TV a couple of times.
Over the following year, I worked some of these images into larger compositions, letting the calligraphic line element take over expressively. The new style adapted well to larger scale. I also worked with Cool Grove Book and Art Publishers to create a series of 20 prints from some of the original studies.
The large painting (11 feet by 7-1/2 feet) was started in early 2003. It had grown from the first impressions of that September week to a full depiction of the event.
A collection of media images was collaged into a visual aid for reference during painting. I introduced actual buildings from "Ground Zero" but changed their positioning and heights as I pleased.
I had internalized the day and the event for a year and a half. I drew the huge canvas over three times. Paint went on slowly, in glazes. The painting took three months to complete.
I have decided to exhibit it locally, during the summer, so that Brattleboro townspeople may ponder it and perhaps muse and reflect on their own inner thoughts on that day, September 11, 2001.
Editor's Note: A related exhibit of digital prints by Scot Borofsky, reworked from 5 of the original 20 small studies made in the fall of 2001, was installed at Amy's Bakery Arts Cafe, 113 Main St., during July.
Copyright 2003, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont