If there’s one thing I’m sure of, the stories each person, each family are remarkably similar. The characters may have different names, may look and sound different, but we have common denominators–victories, failures, endurance, and comic relief.

I spent one night last January talking a long walk by myself through NYC, and I ventured from my hotel on Central Park South (man, did I get a great rate), to West 47th, between 8th and 9th, where I lived between 1990-1993. I’ve painted my recollection of that before (still to be posted here), but seeing that old neighborhood was really powerful.

Here, at 323 West 47th, things look remarkably the same. I lived, with my first husband, behind the door at the end of the first floor hallway. Two things were missing in the picture below from those days 25 years ago (the Dinkins administration days). First, you could not walk past the building without stepping on discarded needles and works.

Second, see how those garbage bags are propped up against a tree? See how that tree has a patch of dirt around it? In the early 90s, neighbors took it upon themselves to take responsibility for planting flowers by the trees that lined the street. This was my tree, much smaller, and I cared for that 2″ x 4″ plot of land, planting pansies and geraniums and watering them through spring and summer and fall. Garbage bags had no resting place by trees.

So: better and worse for this block. No needles… but no sign of the neighbors’ love, either.

323 West 47th Street, NYC, my home between 1990-1993. I lived in the apartment at the end of the hall on the first floor, pictured here.
323 West 47th Street, NYC, my home between 1990-1993. I lived in the apartment at the end of the hall on the first floor, pictured here.

 

In Austin, I live in a traditional “single family residence.” It’s quite tiny by U.S. standards, but I have a real yard, and I don’t hear my neighbors’ music thumping through my floor or ceiling. My privacy, my space, and distance from people are sacred; I don’t think I could ever live in NYC again. Ever.

But this walk down memory lane, and my belief that we all share similar stories behind our doors, inspired this new painting, “Neighbors.”

"Neighbors," mixed media, 22" x 28"
“Neighbors,” mixed media, 22″ x 28″

 

Each of the four gouache color blocks represents, of course, a neighbor. Then the many-colored rectangles within each block represents life past the window–the complexities and similarities of our stories which are so similar but not quite the same (although there’s a very coherent pattern to the color choices in each of those internal rectangles for the really clever among you). Separating the primary blocks are grout and sand and color–man made separations that may give us a sense of not only privacy but uniqueness. In truth, however, none of us are all that unique, are we?

Here’s a detail shot of one of the blocks. I show it to better demonstrate the mix of media. The main color blocks are a gouache wash. The center rectangles are layered with an amazing amount of varnish. The effect is a gloss and sheen intended to suggest the glass of a window through which we peer, voyeurs all.

 

Riesers by blood, and one by choice.
Detail of “Neighbors”

 

Our pasts matter. They make us who we are. They solidify (or at least inform) our values, beliefs, and priorities. West 47th Street, along with my other NYC addresses (West 99th on Riverside Drive… East 37th in Murray Hill… Jackson Heights, Queens… Prospect Park, Brooklyn… Riverdale, Bronx…), were full of neighbors and stories that I’ll never forget. And while I suspect those stories–all our stories–have a ridiculously universal quality, there’s something about live in NYC that heightens and colors life.