I am a very slow reader. So it is with some pride I can say that I finished reading Jonathan Letham’s “Fortress of Solitude” recently. The story tells of several boys and their families as they grew up in the Gowanus area of Boerum Hill. My backyard. One of the character was named the same name as my son, so what mother doesn’t love reading that? It turned out to be a pure pleasure read. The story involved aspects of gentrification, public schooling, race relations for children at an early age, drug use or abuse, vandalism and comics book fantasies. All of this instantly shot me back to my youth. Mine was not a neighborhood decaying like the demanding urban “fixer-upper” Gowanus. Mine was a newly tilled sub-development that encouraged America’s metropolitan sprawl. I was keenly aware of race/class structure. I encountered systemic sexism that scarred me more than I understood at the time. All I know is that I had to get outta there if I wanted to survive. Seven days after high school graduation, I left and never looked back. Letham’s characters, much like myself used their imaginations to evolve out of a dead end situation. There was no future in the past.
Letham’s “coming of age story” is universal. NYC is a city where one could sustain a whole career with a fraction of recognition, spotty financial support, or the satisfaction that your work will be exhibited in a meaningful way. Instead NYC artists find happiness with dedicated viewers and uneven moments of pure accolade. I remember being a Texan artist where all we had to do was take out one little ad in the local newspaper and the place was packed with curious minded people willing to pay money to see what we were doing. There was literally nothing else interesting to do. I sold artwork, without even trying. There were large commissions and pre-sale opportunities but I yearned to break away. NYC is my adopted hometown. The youngster in me identified with Letham’s wayward boys as they reacted to their world in irrational ways, ways that prevented positive results. The characters spoke to me because I know how a dangerous childhood can encroach on decisions years later. The one major difference was that none of these boys could become pregnant, unwillingly. This was the fear that so many girls lived with because there was so much violence around them. Imagining girl life –vs- boy life with fictional characters is my idea of an intellectual month well spent. However living people struggle long past the end of the page. So while I manage to make artworks to share, while I sustain a proud partnership for nearly 4 decades, while I enjoy my children as they became men, while I support my friends through their ups and downs, I hope all living youngsters will find a way of expressing themselves through another medium like dance, paint, words, object, music, and media as an alternative to self-destruction. It is possible to embrace a future through friendships that sustain us over a lifetime but you have to get through adolescents first.
When there were regular weekly gallery hours at Micro Museum® I greeted visitors. Two women from Canada who ironically I meet on the F Train platform the day before, came for a visit. During their visit one announced that they have been friends for 45 years. I asked them what allowed them to remain friends all that time, through marriages, children, different cities, different careers, and obviously different fashion since one was decked out in 100 colors and the other wore jeans and t-shirt and they both answered “ART”. Apparently they love it and because of that answer I loved them too. It was that simple. Slow friendships that evolved over many years are worthy investments plus I should add so is art.