This series of paintings are of the bedroom that I shared with my younger sister, Rebecca, in the house we grew up in until 1999, when the house burned down. That year I was 16 and Rebecca was 11. Since there were no surviving photos of this room these paintings are based on the 16 by 20 inch series of paintings that I made of the bedroom in the year following the fire while my memory was still lucid. Most of the current series of painting’s compositions, colors, content, and details come from those original paintings. Before the house had burned down I had made a number of pastel drawings of the bedroom and so details such as cracks in the ceiling plaster, the trees visible through the window, and the Picasso reproductions torn form a calendar are specific memories. As my one and only primary source these paintings and my 16 year old self became my collaborator. In some instances I was skeptical of what seemed like naïve choices such as adding a cat prominently to every composition. As the work progressed I began to understand the decisions that I made and why they were important.
The roof was dilapidated and rain repeatedly soaked the room. What at first glance looks like a blanket is actually a plastic tarp on the bed, which I would sleep under during heavy storms. One day I awoke to find not rain but blood dripping, catching on the warped curves of the paneling above the fireplace. Maggots fell too, some landing in the fire. I placed an empty butter tub on the floor to catch them. A stray cat and her kittens had been living in the roof above the fireplace and had died. This traumatic incident is shown in “Cat in the Roof.”
Another specific event is depicted in “Plane Crash Surviviors.” In this scene, tacked up on the wall is one of my first paintings inspired by a dream that I had of survivors of a plane crash helping each other to reassemble severed body parts. I remember drawing myself standing in front of my bedroom mirror to make studies for the figures and using National Geographics as a reference for the landscape. Picasso’s Blue Period painting “La Vie” was my color reference.
When the fire started I was at school and had with me a library book on Picasso and another on Titian. These books, which I was allowed to keep, ended up being the only remaining items I still own from before the fire. I made copies from their reproductions and they became well-worn paint smudged manuals for learning to paint. In these current paintings I propped them up on my easel to paint them from life.
Where the Fire Started July 12th to August 18th 2017 at Sargent’s Daughters
The book paintings are 16 by 20 inches and the interiors are varying sizes, around 46 by 64 inches. All paintings are oil on canvas.
Hyperallergic by John Yau
Hyperallergic by Seph Rodney
Avadavit by Rebecca Bengal
Romanov Grave with Nancy Davidson