Let me set the scene. A minivan loaded with ladders paint and camera gear and me, alone, driving down I-95 from Boynton Beach to Miami, blasting Helen Reddy and Carly Simon and Carole King because they were on the radio and everything was fine, windows open, fresh air pounding me on the side of the face… totally psyched out of my mind. Stopping once to get gas and, thinking ahead, buying 3 gallon jugs of water and a Subway hero. Back in the car, unwrapping the sandwich with one hand, just enough to bite at it, letting the lettuce, tomato and jalapeños fall on my lap and laughing out loud because I’m envisioning the appalled look thrown at me by S. who was not there. I find the station changer on the back of the steering wheel and flip through latin dance beat after latin dance beat. I crank it. I have no idea what they’re singing about. My smile has not faded since I left my mom and dad’s house.
It was about 2pm by the time I got to the big green ugly wall. There was nobody around. Nobody parked near the site. I parked across the street and took out my ladders and used them as roadblocks so no-one would block the wall. I unloaded the buckets of paint and cans and set up two tripods with GoPro cameras meant for recording the 3-day process in time lapse. (At the end of the day, I realized that I programmed the GoPro’s wrong - they did not capture time lapse at all. I had a few people in New York take me through the programming of the cameras before I headed down. And, I watched some videos on YouTube. STILL, I did something wrong… on BOTH cameras. I thought I would try again the next day, but there was too much painting to do. The cameras remained packed in the van for the next three days.)
I was greeted by Bryan Lahr and I told him that I made a mistake. I had just spent the past hour and a half painting a grid on the wall. One inch on my printout would equal one foot on the wall. I found my center point and measured out the grid using a tape measure for the horizontal. But the vertical lines were difficult, since I was trying to use a tape measure from 18 feet high on a rickety extension ladder. I used my 5 foot paint roller pole and squirted a dot of spray paint every 12 inches. It was easier to make corresponding dots on the wall up to the 5 foot mark, then up the ladder, and another 5 feet, all the way up to the 20 ft mark. I stood back and realized that, although I planned the grid weeks prior in NYC, the grid was not going to be needed. There was no way I was going to be able to replicate my intricate sketch on that wall. I knew that I could recreate my drawing scaled up onto the wall by using the printout as a rough guide only. I also tested this theory by drawing the Big Bang Boom concept on fresh paper with no reference and found that I could, in fact, do it. And knowing that I had enough supplies to paint over mistakes meant that I could keep it organic and build the idea from a rough sketch to the completed vision.
Earlier in the morning, on my Home Depot supply run, I was sure to pick up twine and Gorilla Tape. Why? I knew that if the grid didn't work I’d still want to stay honest with my proportions. I didn’t want the circular explosions to be wobbly, off center, oval. I wanted a nice symmetry. So I rolled out about ten feet of twine and taped one end to my center point. I used a Sharpie to mark off measurements on the string. With one end of the twine secured to my mid-point on the wall, I held a can of light grey spray paint near the marked-off string and I sprayed 6 perfect concentric circles. Then, I realized that THAT was a waste of time, too. I just needed to mark off my largest circle so I can paint the interior white and the exterior blue. Bryan helped me fill in the two large areas.
He brought up his concerns that my center-point was too high. And if I only had the extension ladder to rely upon he would have been absolutely right. I would never be able to paint up high with various cans of spray paint and bucket paint and detail brushes from that scary thing. I’m not afraid of heights, but it was more suited to being a prop in a Cirque Du Soleil show than a painting tool. I lowered my center point by a few feet but still tried to keep it high enough for the effect I wanted. In hindsight, I wish I left that center dot a bit higher, but I wasn't 100% sure I was getting the scissor lift yet. After the main white circle was filled in, I used the twine trick again to sketch out my concentric 6 circles. I roughed-in the cloud/explosion curves over the lightly sprayed guides. Standing back, it looked like I got nothing done. I posted a photo of it on Facebook and someone commented that it was beautiful. Sarcasm. Nice. “It WILL be beautiful,” I thought to myself. Just not today.
My mom made it clear that she wanted me to join her and my dad, my brother Larry, sister-in-law Shari and UA Uncle Al at a fancy seafood place near them. I was wiped out and covered in paint. I told her that I would pick up dinner for myself and go to her house, shower and relax. But, about half way up 95 North, Led Zeppelin somehow made the sun lower with each of John Bonham’s snare cracks during Kashmir. I was feeling alive and couldn’t imagine eating another Subway hero after showering and sitting on my dad's leather reclining couch in front of a tv almost as wide as the wall I just painted.
I turned east instead of west at the exit and found my family finishing shellfish boils and lobster pots. I was smelly and grimy and sun-beaten. My eyes were glazed, the look of someone who has been through another dimension. I was bombarded by questions from my curious family. Some, having me go back to the beginning: how did you get the wall in the first place? I answered as best I could to blank stares and half smiles. It was hard for me to tell them that I had hardly begun. I let them finish their dessert while I walked to the host stand to make some late calls and emails about the scissor lift. When I returned to the table they asked why I was on the phone. I replied, “work stuff.” It wasn’t about my office work back in NYC. It was about mural work. I heard myself take this seriously, out loud, by calling it "work." That felt good.
“Oh, let the sun beat down upon my face and stars fill my dream. I’m a traveler of both time and space to be where I have been. To sit with elders of the gentle race, this world has seldom seen. They talk of days for which they sit and wait. All will be revealed.” – from Kashmir