Published on 11 August 2023 at 20:22

Medium: Watercolor on Arches paper

Date: 1999.


I reside in a loft in Tribeca, Manhattan, New York. This loft was built in 1894. I moved here in 1967. For many years, I could see the people who lived above me and those who lived below me. The ceiling and the floor had holes between the boards. It was like playing peekaboo! I have now put tape over the major views of the neighbors, both for them and for me.

Lofts like mine were commercial spaces. Nothing was finished to make them into living spaces with plumbing, electrical outlets, and finished floors and ceilings. I do have ten large windows and a 10-foot-high ceiling. Believe it or not, in 1967 these lofts were like the rebels of the living scene – totally illegal!

 Laws changed gradually to allow artists like yours truly to occupy and jazz up these spaces which had become too small for commercial uses. Got my very first lease in 2005 – what a milestone.

 Back in the swinging sixties, friends living in lofts could be evicted by the Fire Department like a surprise party with a six-hour notice to vacate.  When the FD made their semi-annual visit to me, they saw I had no bed, kitchen, or bathroom; but they always commented approvingly on my new paintings.

One morning in 1999, while I was unleashing my creative genius on a canvas, I saw two large wasps fly in the window, they would hang around for a bit, and then fly out. These were two stunning enormous wasps.

The next morning, déjà vu - I saw these same creatures fly in the window and disappear again.

On the third morning, I tried to follow them with my eyes. They disappeared into a separation between the narrow ceiling boards. These boards were not on the same level as each other, so dirt and nails, old screws, and even coins from the former commercial tenants would occasionally filter through. Many times, liquids come through from any part of the ceiling. There is no part of the ceiling where some liquid has not fallen. To this day, if the neighbor above spills coffee, water, or a drink on their floor, it lands on my floor. If there is enough liquid, it goes through my floor onto my downstairs neighbor's floor. I have had wine, beer, whiskey, or bourbon land on my face in the night while I am sleeping. I usually sleep in various places. There is no safe space to figure out where to avoid an alcoholic nightcap. Talk about anxiety!

But what I noticed with these wasps was that they were not only frightening-looking but were incredibly determined and serious in their work.

On the fourth morning, I was waiting under the ceiling where it seemed to be their destination. Sure enough, each day they stayed longer than the previous day. Today was the longest, maybe 45 minutes. My guess! They were building a nest in the darkness above me. I grew up on a farm, and I do know about wasp nests!

I have never needed screens on my windows as my loft is on Canal Street, the super busy street connecting New Jersey with Long Island. Few insects could survive the car fumes to live here! Gladness for no mosquitoes but while it's a mosquito-free party zone, there's still that tiny buzz of worry – I mean, car exhaust for breakfast can't be a good thing, right? That morning I bought and installed screens for all ten large windows.

The next morning my wasp visitors showed up outside the new screen. They tried to get in. They inspected every corner of the whole screen. These wasps were furious. They went to the next screen and to the next until they inspected all ten screens. They could not get into my loft and return to the home they were building. Eventually, they left for that day. Each morning the wasps returned, very determined, very mad and upset. After seven days they did not return. A year later I did see again in the morning very similar wasps determined to get in, but again the screen stopped them. Again, they seemed very anxious.

This piece was the result of this experience. While I was working on this portrait, I noticed on the paper a faint view of two wasps trying to get into the eyes. This is the only portrait I have ever created showing the anxiety of the sitter aware of two wasps in his eyebrows trying to get down into his eyes. A frightening vision indeed. And because I am all about those dichotomies and find opposites attract me, I split half of the face light and one-half dark. I do think black and white tiled floors are attractive. Here was the chance to put black and white in the sweater too. Satisfaction! But in deference to real life, I did not make the wasps two different species. Don’t want to make it too much!

Frankly, I do find this portrait scary too. Even now when I look at it, I get a little shiver.



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