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That Horrible Beautiful Day

Oil on Canvas - 28"x24"

Finished November 17, 2011



Years ago I received a gift card either for my birthday or for Christmas to Preston Arts Center so I decided to get the biggest canvas I could. I bought a glorious  50"x50" canvas in 2001.


I decided that I would paint something to honor my daughter who was born that year. My wife's stepfather had a tradition of making a cross between a cradle and bassinet by hand which itself was a work of art. This design had a flat base and a wedge to keep it from rocking back and forth from the side and it did not contain a single nail or screw. We originally received this gift when our son was born a few years earlier. I decided that I was going to do a painting that was looking down into the bassinet and have it full of her stuffed animals and other baby stuff. I was making good headway with the cradle/basinet when I started to get bored with the entire project. So I leaned against the wall and forgot about it until the following year.


One weekend afternoon, I was sitting at my easel, trying to decide what to paint while listening to the radio. I believe that I was listening to WFPL and they were announcing that Louisville Visual Arts (LVA) was needing artists to submit artwork for an upcoming show focusing on the first anniversary of 9/11. I knew that I could never do a painting in that short of time but it got me thinking about the painting of the basinet. I reached over to pick up the canvas and started rotating the canvas. Once I saw that the cradle/basinet looked as if it were falling I knew I had my painting.

Before I go any further, I have to confess my necessary sin. I felt that it was in my best interest to take this action and in art sometimes you have to go with your initial impulse. Not yet, but eventually I decided to cut out a portion of my canvas and re-stretched it on a smaller frame due to the fact that I knew I would never finish the painting if I kept it as is. I say this now because when I describe the painting process, it would be confusing to you the reader.

When 9/11 happened, it was as if we as Americans lost a sense of innocence by being attacked in such a way, on our own land, while we watched it unfold on tv or on computer in real time. I thought what better way to convey that than by showing a giant cradle falling. We were at first confused, then scared which turned to sadness and lastly, anger. Children cannot process information very well and I couldn't help feel that we as a nation couldn't truly process all that went on that day until some time later. The eye represents the world watching this take place and the world felt a strong connection to the unfolding events. 

The saddest aspect of watching this happening was when the buildings collapsed. The most horrifying aspect of watching this happen was the cloud that engulfed everyone including whoever was unfortunately holding video cameras at the time. As observers we were swallowed by the ash, dust and debris. By cropping my painting in the manner that I did, we become fixated on the oncoming cloud.


I struggled with how to convey the sadness of such a loss of life and my only answer was to paint a single angel, head down, shoulders slumped, naked and shivering. The angel pinches her side in stress and disbelief. The angel had to be a part of the cloud just as we were.


In scenes from 9/11 there were singed papers floating down on the wind so I did that but with some of the actual next day headlines (I think "OUTRAGE" was only newspaper I show that wasn't an actual headline). To give an idea of the size of original canvas, my original design had both the entirety of the cradle/basinet and house. I have the garage door open to convey the feeling of security that we had.

And lastly, for months after 9/11 anytime planes seemed different anytime I'd see them in the air. They were scary, cold and menacing. Those feelings passed but it did take time.

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