Why I named this painting:
Postcard from Harlem
I spent my summers as a kid on the steamy streets of New York City. Dive-bombing the unsuspecting below with seltzer water from our 6th-floor apartment. Eating what was then considered exotic Chinese food, daring my dad to try the sea cucumber. Grabbing slices of pizza from Sal and Carmine (still offering the best pizza in NYC) and eating them off a paper plate while I stood on the Broadway curb. After that, I’d head over to Columbus Avenue to knock off a couple chocolate Italian ices, before heading back to some side street of West End Avenue to join the neighborhood kids (mostly Puerto Rican) who were trying to cool off by jumping in and out of water blasting out from a fire hydrant.
There were also the more elegant times. Dad would take me to F.A.O. Schwarz to pick out a new toy; to the Plaza Hotel to eat lunch; to The Pierre to drink tea and watch the debutantes parade in; to Café Carlyle to check out Bobby Short checking himself out in the mirror while he sang Cole Porter and Jerome Kern songs; to the National History Museum to gawk at the dinosaurs and the Met to fall in love with the art.
Those were my New York days so many years ago.
Year after year, I’ve visited NYC. And this year I moved to Manhattan. And, the thing is, I’ve always been able to tap into the elegance of the city. But I’ve never been able to get back the sound of the Spanish music pumping out on the UWS stoops, the moms calling the kids back inside almost too late at night – until I walked deeper into Harlem.
And now I know why. While I had grown up, the colorful part of Harlem had gone north.
I was lucky to have parents who were artistic and liberal and about as free of racism (or so I thought) as parents could be, e.g., as ignorant as I can still be, I am at least aware that I need to be woke. [Here’s a good site to visit if you want to be more woke.] But as lucky as I thought I was, it took me an ungodly amount of time to realize that Harlem had moved north because of gentrification.
I mean, I knew. I’m educated enough to understand gentrification. But I’m still not woke enough to have allowed the real damage it has done to affect my brain pan.
All I knew was that I missed the lively music coming from a time and neighborhood that hadn’t yet been affected by it.
I’m not really sure where I’m going with this. I am very sure that it makes me nervous to write about it. What if I phrase something wrong? What if I’ve penned something hurtful without realizing it? What if this entire post is packed with ignorance?
Well, it could be. But at least then I have opened up the dialogue and we can talk about it.
Black Lives Matter opened up the big dialogue we’ve all needed to have. It’s changed me. I’d already been struggling with the concept of white privilege when my teenage daughter clued me into it almost a decade ago. I’m one of those Baby Boomers who had marched in the 60’s and 70’s and thought I’d done my part. Thought I was free of racism, etc. Thought I was aware. But I realize that there’s still a lot of growing that needs to be done on my part.
So back to my early days in NYC and this painting. In 2020, the lines in the sand have been drawn. You’re either an idiot or you’re trying to be woke. I painted this while waking up. The painting has railroad tracks that divide the mansions from the buildings that don’t house privileged people. Yet everything has been painted in softer colors, because I like to think that one day Black Lives Matter will have woken us all up and the anger will have softened. And the arrow? It’s a call for us to come together and rise up.
This is a Contemporary Abstract Expressionism with Mark Making made on canvas with acrylic paints, oil pastels and charcoal on canvas – it is a painting that tells a story.
[Art collectors, art curators, interior designers looking for white colorway, blue colorway, cyan colorway, pastel colorway and people looking for hotel art or art for films might enjoy this post.]