During the last week of July, I found myself outside, in front of UConn’s (University of Connecticut) glass facade in Stamford, CT. I was intrigued by the reflected imagery as well as what the transparent shell revealed inside.
Across the street and behind me stood a Target department store. At the threshold of the store’s driveway was a Stop sign with its backside facing the street. Prominently placed in the building’s pilaster was the familiar Target logo, the red branded bulls-eye, which acted as both a symbolic and visual focal point. On the sidewalk, closest to the UConn edifice, was a modest sized tree whose trunk, branches and umbrella of leaves were completely evident in the reflection. And finally my own figure, planted on the scored concrete sidewalk with a familiar posture and expression of focused concentration. Through the sheer transparent exterior you could see a structural column which supported an elevated staircase, a grand piano and a few other subtle interior architectural details.
This project proved to be one of the most physically demanding. The height of the buildings in relation to the width of the street, along with the heavy traffic patterns, created a wind tunnel. The left side of the stretchers are smeared with paint from holding on to the canvas to prevent it from being carried off in a gust. Standing on the concrete for hours, in over 90 degree heat, fighting the wind tested both my physical and mental stamina.
Fortunately, I had a lot of visitors which helped to distract me from the challenges of the work. Several professional photographers and an online news agency stopped and asked if they could film while I worked. The most poignant moment came when a petite Guatemalan women approached holding a shopping bag. After a few pleasantries she revealed the contents of the bag: her handicraft. She showed me several embroidery pieces she was working on. The vibrantly colored thread work made me recall the indigenous textiles I’d seen while traveling south of the U.S. border. The two of us come from completely different backgrounds, have different colored skin, do not share the same native language. Nonetheless she came to connect, artist to artist, evidence that we are from the same tribe.
We continued to talk and then a middle-aged man dressed in a pin-striped blue suit came up and introduced himself. He explained that he was an accountant, worked a block away and had noticed me working. There stood the three of us: a domestic worker, a businessman and an artist. For a moment I felt like I was hosting an event. I found the unexpected gathering of individuals moving. This sort of encounter causes me to regard these projects as far more than the specific painting. They give me an unusual opportunity to observe the roll of artist in society, beyond the physical work that is created.
When I began this painting, I was vaguely aware that some of the imagery was symbolic: the Stop sign, the reversed Exit sign, the iconic Target bull’s-eye, the piano, my own reflected likeness, etc. I now realize that this piece represents a sort of professional crossroads. The well known branded logo becomes symbolic of marketing design which has been the cornerstone of my professional training. For more than 20 years I have made a livelihood out of ‘image making’ for large corporations, cultural institutions and small businesses. In a current advertising arena, where the greater emphasis is placed on data gathering and connectivity, I find myself seeking to do more than to create fleeting images for computer screens.