My Open Call project consists of two paintings of a street memorial at an intersection in Brooklyn that are dedicated to my friend Devra Freelander, who passed away on that corner. This guerilla memorial grew as her loved ones assembled it, creating a living sculpture wrapped around a lamppost. One of the paintings depicts the memorial the day after Devra passed away; the other painting shows the memorial one year later.
I met Devra when we were both artists-in-residence in the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s (LMCC) Workspace Program from 2016 to 2017. At the time, the nine-month residency was held in the old Chase Manhattan Bank headquarters near Wall Street, and we gravitated toward each other as the two youngest artists participating. When I first proposed this project to The Shed, I didn’t anticipate how much I would think about Devra and how present she would become to me through the process of making the paintings. It has been much more difficult than I expected.
The paintings are intended to be read from left to right, chronologically for a Western viewer, in order to tell the story of this memorial over time. The first one depicts the memorial on the day after she passed: there are flowers wrapped around the lamppost, balloons and candles. Pedestrians are milling around, checking things out and leaving candles and bouquets. The memorial has a ghostly presence. This wasn’t planned, it is just how the painting came out. The second painting captures the scene one year later. No one is there, and the form of the memorial has shifted. It’s now looped up and over the lamppost because the scaffolding that had been on that corner has been taken down. The colors of the flowers remind me of the colors of Devra’s sculptures.
As I began to put the memorial into this painted form, I was thinking about its temporal, ephemeral nature versus the kind of permanence that painting offers. On the one hand, the memorial is now smaller than it was, but on the other hand, it still exists. For me, there’s beauty in that persistence. When I returned to the corner a year after my first visit, I didn’t know if any of it would still be there. It is amazing to me that the original memorial is still there, evolving.
Whatever the future holds for this memorial, whether it continues to evolve, devolve, or is replaced by something new, I’m glad that some part of it can exist forever in these paintings.