PAINTING IN GENTRICIDAL NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY
DECEMBER 29, 2019
Throughout the duration of my art practice, many people have encouraged me to provide a more detailed explanation to my paintings on a more permanent basis. I have therefore decided to write a blog that discusses the absurd backstories behind each rendering I have made in the recent past. With that being said, I shall begin this first chapter of my blog discussing the paintings I made during my recent trip to New Jersey and New York from November 25 to December 3, 2019.
For the past 18 months, many of my paintings have been rendered on the pages of magazines, brochures, and various types of reusable material. In that sense, my renderings from this trip were no different than those made at home. The subjects of the paintings themselves, however, contrasted from my regular work as they were painted based on real life people I encountered during my travels (with some exceptions).
After my smooth inbound flights to Newark on the 25th, My elder brother picked me up and I stayed with him and his wife in his Jersey City condo for a week. Since both of them had work the next day, I was able to spend my first full day visiting the Manhattan museums I wished to see the most during my trip. The Frick Collection, the first stop of my pilgrimage, had quite a trove of works by masters from the medieval to modern periods. While the quality of paper they use for their brochures wasn’t on par enough for the mediums I use, this was nevertheless a great place for me to observe and learn from the practices of the likes of Holbein and Rembrandt with my own eyes.
Afterwards I proceeded to the Met, where I found the paper quality of brochures to be strong enough for the mediums I use. As a consequence, I stuffed two handfuls of these freebies in my satchel like a pickpocket trying to escape with stolen change to avoid starvation. I am thankful, however, that the museum staff did not chide me for “wasting” said quantities of paper and thus couldn’t care less. In lieu of paying homage to paintings from the past five centuries on the second floor, I decided to explore the antiquity and medieval collections below. An hour later, my phone needed charging and I proceeded to the nearest Starbucks. It was there that I completed the first painting of my trip.
Titled “Only in New York”, this painting reflects the initial euphoria a traveler can get when visiting a destination which they are not familiar with. Such ecstasy can include rejuvenation along with an impulsive desire to move there. Like any locale in the world, however, New York and vicinity also has issues that can, at times, can make the city that never sleeps split in two by a Dickensian curtain. I henceforth made haste to the Guggenheim museum.
Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, this mid-20th Century temple to modern art gave a euphoric vibe that went well with the pieces that were displayed within its walls. Amid this, I found their brochures quite suitable for watercolor and gouache painting. Therefore, I grabbed a few handfuls of the documents and made my way across the Hudson to Jersey City.
The next day, I obtained my first taste of East Coast gentricide. My sister-in-law was able to work remotely and I joined her for coffee in downtown Jersey City. Despite its convenient location across the Hudson from Lower Manhattan, the cost of living has skyrocketed to levels deemed unaffordable to the vast majority of the population. The many luxury condo towers being built, along with the whitewashing that comes with gentrification, seem to have caused nearly the same urban blight as urban decay in the rust belt. Except in this case, however, it’s the lack of affordability for most people (as opposed to mass layoffs and automation) that have seemed to reduce foot traffic to ghost town levels. This brings me to introduce my next two renderings.
In the gentricidal coffee shop (which naturally had a bearded hipster at the counter), I noticed two subjects that I deemed worthy to paint unknowingly. The first, an African-American woman wearing a headscarf, seemed to reflect Jersey’s City’s past before gentrification. While I could not read the subject’s mind or generalize about the story behind her life, her facial expression had a vibe of resentment towards the staggering lack of opportunity and income inequality that has only gotten worse since 2008. With that being said, those privileged few with access to the national purse strings of our nation should be mindful that creating the illusion that everything is fine without addressing such issues could backfire with fatal repercussions. History is littered with multiple examples of such scenarios.
Within the coffee shop, I noticed what appeared to be a corporate functionary working remotely while accompanied by a shadow of resentful burnout looming behind her as she typed away. This type of employment, to many people, is considered a golden ideal depending on the employer and the pay. However, such positions can also lead to employers circumnavigating standard employee practices such as the 8-hour workday and living-wage-pay. It is thus no surprise that many remote workers tend to work longer to the point where their job becomes their life. While I am thankful to be able to pursue a career path that I love and acknowledge that I am primarily able to do so because of the privilege I was born into, it is a sad site to see people being used while clouds of gloom stalk these workaholics everywhere. Therefore, this woman’s facial expression gave me proof that burnout from trying to play a rigged economic game also happens to those with “big boy/girl” jobs.
Later that night, I made Moroccan Chicken for my brother, my sister-in-law, and her two bridesmaids Natalie and Emily. The night concluded after I painted a live portrait of Natalie.
After an eventful and successful thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, I made use of the free time I had on Black Friday to visit MOMA’s PS1 Gallery in Brooklyn. It was there in which I witnessed a stunning exhibit on first and Second Gulf Wars. Within this compound in the heart of Gentricidal Brooklyn, however, I found the exhibit gut-wrenching and nerve-wracking. It was quite powerful. I also was impressed by how many of the featured artists were able to sense the calamities that would affect Iraq decades before the carnage brought on by the American Empire. Subsequently, I found that I could relate to these artists being able to predict such violence ahead of their time when very few people could. I also found the quality of the gallery’s brochures satisfactory to my mediums and confiscated quite a few of them. Once I had seen everything within, I decided to explore Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood-the birthplace of Gentrification in America.
As soon as I entered the sterilized core of what appeared to resemble the vast majority of Oakland, CA, since 2014, I felt a sensation of dread and irritation in my storm brain. It may be true that I felt ecstatic to explore posh midtown Manhattan three days earlier. This white bread part of Brooklyn, however, seemed stale and deader to my liking amid many a loincloth-bearded hipster flooding the blocks like brainwashed worker ants. Therefore, I concluded that I would probably be in a state of perpetual irritability should I ever (have the money) to reside in the birthplace of American gentricide. It was also on this day in which I made a few paintings.
The first was more of an abstract visual venting session than a figurative piece. Thus, the raw emotions I felt while at PS1 and in Williamsburg in regards to the aftermath of the Gulf Wars and Gentrification bled on the paper in a blunt, but colorful way. The second, which I did in a café at PS1, is of an unknown visitor and the ghastly expressions on her face while soaking in the imperialist crimes committed by the most hypocritical nation to exist in human history.
Upon my arrival at my brother’s apartment, I began experimenting with the brochures I snatched from the gallery in Brooklyn. By Saturday morning I had finished painting the fictional damsel below. Wrapped in a towel (or a strapless dress perhaps), this figure references the stark difference of how people dress in the East Coast in contrast to the West. Back home, wearing a t-shirt and sweats is a widespread practice in everyday life. In New York, however, dressing with class is a lot more common and encouraged. One could thus assume that, amid the hubbub of 21st century life, that the attire of New Yorkers in the winter seems more related to the bygone days where wearing a suit and fedora while flying was commonplace.
It was on Saturday morning in which my relations and I made a road trip to the Jersey Shore. After a nice seafood lunch in Long Branch, we walked along an empty boardwalk that was drenched in the cold, balmy rays of the winter sun. I also experimented with drawing in the sand while dipping my hands into the Atlantic Ocean, among other things. During this trip, my sister-in-law told me the definition of a stereotypical “Jersey Girl”, who is someone “that primarily spends most of the time they take a vacation at the shore as opposed to venturing elsewhere”. While it is true that most people cannot afford to travel too far (if at all) during whatever time off they have, I do find it absurd that there are some with the ways and means to do so that would prefer to buy a Ram Pickup retrofitted to resemble a monstrosity meant for Demolition Derby. Then again that is capitalism in a nutshell. With that being said, the following two paintings reflect the stories I heard about such ‘home bodies” from my brother’s wife.
The following day was clouded with an icy rain fall that made outdoor activities limited. Nevertheless, my sister-in-law and I visited the Hoboken history museum. It was there that we learned more about one of the major ports of entry into the United States and the birthplace of Frank Sinatra. Afterwards, we returned to the apartment in which I painted one of my fictional characters for the first time since flying back east.
For those who aren’t familiar, Lord Fortpecker is a fictional cloned warehouse assistant manager that was created by D-Liverance, Inc. (a fictional version of the home of “free” two-day shipping) to manage their 21st century sweatshops (more about Lord Fortpecker here: https://www.instagram.com/p/B0zh8bqlJFg/). Programmed to be obsessed with the video game Fortnite, the obese, red haired abomination is stating that anyone who is not under the servitude of a corporate (slave) master, even if he/she is being payed so little that they’re working for free, should be sent to a death camp in a red state. Therefore, the only type of “life” available in his opinion is being owned by someone else on pain of death.
Monday was my last full day before going home. Despite it being the first snow day of the season, I decided to make the most of it and went to see the Whitney Museum.
While it was not my intention to pay homage to this eclectic temple to contemporary American art, I was able to witness unique and powerful exhibits that were not there when I last visited in the summer of 2018. I also ended up having a painting session and sharing my watercolor palate with another artist in the museum’s café. After parting ways with this new acquaintance, I finished the Unknown face below.
Upon completing my visit to the Whitney, I went up to the nearby High Line to touch snow for the first time in almost four years. While many a native may have thought the giant smile on my face may have been delusional, I could care less as I proceed to scoop a handful of the fresh pack with my bare hands. I then decided to visit the 9/11 Memorial as I had time to kill. While I was able to reflect on my memories of that fatal day in which the 21st century truly began, I found the memorial to be over-commercialized with more an abundance of American flag motorcycles than info about the day and aftermath. In my opinion, I would have preferred more displays that discussed the events that led to the attack and the humanitarian efforts for stranded passengers having their U.S. bound flights grounded by the people of Gander and Vancouver, Canada than over glorified artwork that seems hellbent on making a profit from such a blood red national tragedy. Afterwards, I went home and prepared for my flight the next day.
As the sun rose on Tuesday morning, I had enough free time to take a swim at the nearest indoor pool. On the Lyft ride I took to get there, however, I had an eye-opening conversation with the driver, who was a firefighter just off of work. While the man claimed to be content with driving for Lyft in addition to his day job, my gut sensed that there is something off about society when a firefighter, (especially if his or her position is unionized), still has to drive for an app that pays below minimum wage to make ends meet. I meditated on his predicament further as I took another Lyft ride to Newark airport a few hours later. Before I knew it, however, I boarded a flight to Phoenix that would end up having a more chaotic twist.
After departing an hour late, the flight was generally positive. I found the extra legroom on my exit row seat worth the extra money I coughed up to claim it and successfully painted a fellow passenger sitting across from me without her noticing. The dramatic twist, of course, occurred once the majority of the flight was completed. Two hours before landing, a family of four was involved in an earsplitting altercation with a woman. While I was not able to witness what type of force was employed by the belligerents, every passenger’s heads turned at once as the flight attendants bolted down the aisle like bats out of hell. To the dismay of the cabin crew, the majority kept trying to intervene and film the leftovers of the commotion well after it was pacified. The fasten-seat-belt sign was prematurely turned on as a consequence for the remaining duration of the flight. Upon the arrival of our plane, we were held onboard for 10 minutes extra as an army of police officers escorted the combatants off the aircraft. A lone flight attendant admonished a passenger to stop filming several times while he proclaimed his first amendment rights in a rebuttal. Despite assuming that I would miss my already-boarding connection no matter what, I still made an effort to sprint to its gate four concourses away. My workout was rewarded as I boarded before the doors closed. Within 3 hours, I was finally home.
Overall, I was satisfied with my trip back east and the concurrent paintings I executed. Not only was I able to paint real-life subjects that I normally don’t paint at home, I was also able to spend quality time with my brother and sister-in-law. A more realistic part of America, which is not readily available in the Bay Area, gave me a unique insight into our dark and polarizing times that I will hold onto in perpetuity.
Until next time,