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10/2012

What I've Tried To Do

 

This writing was for a presentation given at Brooklyn College.

One of my strongest memories from adolescence was a trip to The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine – which is located on 112th street in Manhattan. It was probably around 1994, which would mean I was fourteen years old at the time. There is probably no doubt that my mother insisted I go on this trip as a member of our Episcopal church group from Montclair, NJ. And there is probably no doubt that I was rather unenthusiastic about her insistence of me going. For undoubtedly there was some Knick, Mets, or Giant game to be watched – or some playground competition that I was missing out on. Little did I realize that these personal notions would soon seem trivial - and rather selfish.

For as we gathered on the street in front of the giant cathedral – I noticed a man standing about half way up the steps to the entrance. He was blind, seemed homeless, was holding some sort of sign, and had some kind of jar to collect spare change. I was kind of looking at him, and not thinking much of anything. But as we walked up the steps – the priest from my church walked over to the man and very gently clasped her hands on his. She stood very close and spoke to him very softly – and prayed with him. At that moment I knew that I was never capable of that kind of personal grace. That as a human being I could never do what she just did. It would be some years later that I would realize the best I could do was manifest that grace in some small manner in the people I paint.

I have always had a moral concern I suppose – which would often morph into a political one. However, it has now become apparent that I should have a ‘social’ concern above all else. What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to live a human life? What do we owe each other? What do we value in society? What does it mean to have a society or country? What do we really see when we look at one another? These are some of the questions I try to probe with my work. These questions are no doubt important – but in a time of decreasing social capital they are essential.

The term ‘social capital’ can be used to gage the quality of human relationships – along with the way we relate to the places we live and to the ‘things’ we make. As our society moves forward we mostly measure progress in a material sense – but not a human one. This was a notion I first felt intuitively – but now dwell on consciously. Trying to depict this in a visual form can be difficult of course. For it can be easy to make work which stimulates the senses – yet hard to make work which addresses the mind. It’s hard to make work that doesn’t simply give the viewer something - it asks something of them. It’s hard to make work that penetrates the viewer – and doesn’t simply fall under the usual menu of their ‘visual diet’. It is indeed hard to do this – but nonetheless it’s what I try to do.