Wednesday, September 11, 2019

September 11th

September 9, 2001 was really a beautiful day.  Sunny and warm. I had a solo show opening at the Gallery of South Orange, a municipal space that always got coverage in the local media.  Actually it was one of 3 simultaneous solo shows, but we each had a room to ourselves.  The biggest name among us was Miriam Beerman, who I had as a painting professor at Montclair State a decade earlier.  She had a lot of fans among the students, but I found the class to be a waste of time.  The only figure painting class in the department, but we weren't allowed to paint the models we were paying for.  Went back to a regular painting class the following semester, then left painting for woodcut the  semester after that. The third artist was Janet Taylor Pickett, who I knew nothing about, except that I had seen her name here and there.  There was a big crowd, probably there to see the other two artists. The line up was chosen by Lennie Pierro, Gallery founder and director, in what was his last show, as he was suffering with a terminal disease.  He did stop by the opening, the last show he saw there.  The gallery was later renamed after him.

The only fly in the ointment (to borrow a line from Ecclesiastes, which would become a print series of mine several years later) was that two days later there was an unscheduled demolition of the twin towers of the World Trade Center.  Lost no friends or family there.  Back then I was live in help in a group home used to provide short vacations to residents of a human services agency in North Jersey, and Tuesday was usually the day when new groups arrived. The day started out normal enough, then I went out to take care of some errands before the day's group arrived.  Then all hell broke loose.

Listening to the car radio I learned that both of the twin towers had been hit with jet airplanes.  One could be an accident (the Empire State Building has survived a few over the years), but both the same morning meant something was up, but we didn't know what yet.  Still, it occurred to me that it would not be a bad idea to have some cash on hand for the coming days, so I got a few hundred from my bank.  A radio playing there told me that one of the towers had collapsed, while the other was still burning.  Eventually got home, had some lunch, put on the tv.  Before I had gone out, the stations all had the usual cable reruns, but now all stations had switched over to news coverage from whatever station in their network had a news division.  Entertainment programming would be absent for at least a week.  The second tower collapsed.   News showed scenes all day of the devastation- dust, debris, emergency workers, and people leaping to their deaths from the upper floors of the towers.  Like many people I took a ride up to the regional blood bank, to see if they needed any of the O negative I carry in my veins, but you couldn't get near the place- hundreds of potential donors and no need.  People who had gotten out early were largely uninjured, and those who hadn't were dead.  Got word that the group scheduled for the house that day would not be coming.  Nothing to do but watch some very horrifying television.

So of course I decided to make some art. It's what I do.  I prefer to make art about concrete things that  I know, perhaps that Ecclesiastes influence.  What I came up with was a panel by panel breakdown of my day on September 11, 2001.  I lost no family or friends, didn't see it in person, so all my experience was through media coverage, like most people experienced it.  A simplified clock in the corner each panel shows the breakdown of events by the half hour, from 8 in the morning to 8 in the evening.  Started sketching ideas on paper that night, probably got it all done within a few weeks.  A mix of scenes shown repeatedly on the news coverage, and things I experienced, such as meals, cleaning, and seeing two bunnies on the lawn who had no idea what the rest of the world had just seen.  It's called The Events of September 11, 2001 in Wall, NJ.  The print is seen below.

I had no idea if the gallery had been open for much of September. South Orange is closer to NYC than I am, and so much in the region had been shut down.  A song I heard on radio that fall mentioned "cell phones ringing in the pockets of the dead", a common phenomenon that day, as many people (about 3000 in the final count) never made it home from the towers, yet people kept trying to call them.  A local variation of this was people counting the cars at the NJ train stations, but at least some of those people eventually reclaimed them, once the trains were running again.  However, I did verify that a scheduled artist talk was going to be held.  So it became my goal to get the piece done in time for that.

Don't remember exactly what day that was, but I think it was in mid October, before the show's official end on October 21st.  Mostly talked about my work on the walls, a mix of saints and supermarkets, and at the end I had an unframed proof of my 9/11 piece for anyone who wanted to see it.  Never did find out if the gallery had shut down any days, or if anyone was coming to see any art.  I did get invited back to be part of the 10th anniversary exhibition at the gallery in 2004.


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