Untitled Triptych

There's probably nothing more deadly to creative growth than the overarching need to be "good". How does one know what "good" is if not by accepting the dogma of those around and above you? Can you trust your inner sense of what's right and wrong? How can one strive to be "good" without internalizing an à prior assumption that one is somehow "bad"? And, if one even momentarily, becomes convinced that "goodness" has been achieved, what incentive do you have to grow beyond that state?...everywhere else is a wilderness of risky "badness." I associate the inception of these internal prior restraints with a painful and transformative incident that took place when I was five years old

I had like every child been warned not to play with matches, but I was convinced that I had figured out a legitimate way to satisfy my curiosity about how matches worked - by the way a bead of water seemed to lead the flame from one end of the match to the other. After securing a free and "safe" period of time I conducted my experiments in the broiler pan of our stove. What could be a safer place for fire than a stove? What I didn't account for was that smoke leaves a tell-tale odor and dozens of burned matches in the garbage are not easy to explain.

Later that day, with an expression that I remember as being calm and resolved, my mother told me that she would punish me in a way that I would not forget. She told me to go to my room and take off my clothes. She then tied my hands and feet and beat me with a belt as I lay gagged on a couch under a window in our Brooklyn apartment. Psycholanalysts say that there is a defining moment in every child's life when we are forced out of a state of "primary narcisism", an unemcumbered union of mother and self where our sense of who we are includes all things. For me this may have been a dramatic refrain of that event and it has ever since been the focus of my emotional and spiritual growth. From that moment on, I knew that failing to be "good" had devastating consequences. My mother loved me very much but knowing that has been a struggle from that moment on.

It's probably true that these issues have always informed my work, but two key elements made it suddenly necessary to deal with this event directly. The first was the discovery that my great-great grandmother had abused my grandmother in a strikingly similar way to what my mother had done to me. The second was reading the text of a journal my mother kept during the last two months of her life. Suddenly the issue constellated into a pattern that I knew I could work with that had a history, a clearly defined core, and some sense of an outcome that gave shape to the work.