I met Russell Rainbolt at some point during 1988. He was in a class I was teaching at SVA, and was an established sign-painter, working for a billboard company in New Haven, CT. At some point during our conversations about painting he told me that he had arranged for me to have access to one of the company’s billboards on I-95, and that if I would give him an 8×10 drawing, he would take care of the rest. Intrigues, I put together a composite image of the art historian Bernard Berenson admiring a sculpture, flanked by rearing horses. A couple of weeks later he invited me up to see the finished project.
This was the first time I tried out the idea. I thought it would be funny to paint a very schematic plaid pattern on the wall, a pattern based on a design I found on a plastic shopping bag, for my first show in a London gallery. But The Guardian reviewer didn’t see the humor and came at me with one of the oldest character smears the English bring to the Scots, that we are grim and ‘dour,’ unable to see the joy in life. Anthony was one of the most supportive gallerists I ever worked with, and I returned several times to paint on his walls.
Memory Lingers Here
As I was completing the New York project the Irish curator, Declan McGonagle, invited me to participate in the First Tyne International. This was to be an examination of artists’ responses to urban renewal, set in Gateshead, the impoverished twin of Newcastle in the north of England. A site, I zeroed in on the walls of an abandoned soap factory, and drew up plans for another large scale temporary mural based on images of a statue of St George that had been somehow abandoned and overwhelmed by a municipal parking structure. Armed with my drawings, Russell Rainbolt went ahead to paint the panels on site, and I joined him in March 1990 to supervise the installation. It was while this was happening that I got a call from someone at CalArts to say that I was shortlisted for the position of dean of the Art School, and could I come in for an interview with the search committee.
Memory Lingers Here
Walking Line an Egyptian
Portraits of New York
The following year, knowing I could rely on Russell Rainbolt’s expertise, I submitted a proposal to New York City’s General Services Administration to install a temporary mural on the scaffolding surrounding the Municipal Building during a major renovation. My proposal was simple – to create a portrait of the city through its public statuary — and I was awarded the commission. I suspect that the committee that selected the work thought the project unpolitical, but my research had shown me that public statuary was only political, a system of recognizing and rewarding the powerful, and the interests of the powerful. At that time, the only non-allegorical woman represented on the streets of New York was Golda Meir. The only African-Americans were supplicants at the feet of white abolitionists, or, in the case of the infamous equestrian statue of Teddy Roosevelt, half-naked retainers supporting the great man. In composing the mural, which wrapped around the entire building, I sought to bring attention to this by alternating close-up faces of those less seen with a seeming endless parade of the politicians striking rhetorical poses as if making public speeches. The work was in situ for approximately three years.