I painted my first American flag in 1997 after viewing Robert Hughes’ PBS series “American Visions” about the history of American art and its coming of age in the fifties. This left me wanting to see Jasper Johns 1954 flag painting so much that I got up the next day, headed to the library, returned home and wound up painting my own flag. I have painted the American flag numerous times since and will continue to do so.
In 2001 I wanted to create a work of art that would fuse Jasper Johns flag and Andy Warhol’s 32 Campbell Soup Can paintings titled “Choices” with a little Ed Ruscha thrown in for good measure. The soup can paintings were all identical except for the flavors on the cans and that’s what I would do to my Johns inspired flags. All identical, as much as you can make thirty-two separate paintings, except in this case, instead of flavors, each vertical flag painting would have an almost invisible word at the bottom.
The words would be made up of 16 couples or opposites. It would be a glimpse into some of what we’re made of without judgement. There would be love on one painting and hate on another, as well as war and peace, black and white, rich and poor, hope and fear, young and old and so on. However, two things would happen that would put them off for awhile: 1) a horrific display of all that’s wrong with the world and 2) all that’s right with the world and why we keep trying.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, the phone rang-it was my landlord. He called to say that the property and the building my wife and I rented had been sold and we would have to make plans to move. When we finished our conversation, I hung up the phone and turned to see and hear Katie Couric interrupt whatever she was involved in at the time to announce that “a small plane” had struck one of the buildings of the World Trade Center, that’s how I remember the moment.
The rest is history and in comparison and on reflection, moving would be the last thing we worried about for a few of weeks. We started to get back to our own realities and we started to get ready to look for and buy our first home.
I can’t remember when it happened, but during this time, my wife would wonder and we would find out that she was pregnant. Long story shorter, my beautiful boy would be born on June 14, 2002, and someone close to me that day would ask me if I knew what day it was? Of course I knew, I said, it’s the day our son was born — and he said, “Yeah, and it also happens to be Flag Day today…isn’t that awesome?” Yes, it was!
It would take two years to complete “Choices” and every piece of wood would be cut outside and put together in the back of my truck, from the panels for the paintings to the raw wood that I would build the frames from. It was a labor of love and I believe well worth the effort.
I hope someday people who get the opportunity to see them will understand that I tried within reason to make a piece that will inspire. I know some people will find fault with its premise, that we are who we are, good and bad. It is my belief that my country is still the greatest nation on this planet and it’s my intention to be on the side that will continue to defend what our founding fathers fought for and created.
[youtube StJDaYjz4Ok viewers reactions to “Choices”]
Have a great Flag Day and Happy Birthday to my beautiful boy!!!