Concrete pylon in Highbridge Park at 181st Street and Amsterdam Avenue, Washington Heights, Manhattan

June 1999

This is how it started. Mayday Productions, which was a group of curators and artists, asked me to do a piece for “Parking,” a one-day art event in Highbridge Park next to the East River, which was being organized by Laurie De Chiara. The park had just been renovated by the New York Restoration Project, and the event was supposed to persuade the community that it was safe to use the park again. It had been a pretty scary place. While clearing away all the stripped, stolen cars, the volunteers had even found a human torso in a bag. The volunteers were very romantic about the park, though. They kept on pointing out how beautiful it was.

I’m a painter, and this was the first time anyone had asked me to do anything outdoors, so I thought I’d better paint something. I bought a lot of horribly expensive gold paint and painted all the vandalized lampposts in the park gold. My friends helped.

Because I finished early with the lampposts, I thought I would paint some graffiti to add to all the existing graffiti. I spent two days painting a little oval landscape over a graffiti tag on one of the highway overpass pillars. I had never painted a landscape before, so I stole the background from Nicolas Poussin’s Landscape with Diogenes. I thought a classical landscape would be a nice reflection of the park’s aspirations. It also seemed like a good tag for a white European painter like me.

The park was quite busy. On the first day, a man masturbated in the bushes opposite me for what seemed like an improbably long time. Then a boy came by and asked what I was doing. I showed him and he said, “Man, that’s a good job — how’d you get a job like that?” He then asked me how much I was paid, and when I said that I was doing it for free, he said, “Man, you’ve got to get a better job.” The second day, a teenage couple came by and looked at the painting and said that it was “muy romantico” and then went into the bushes together. Fortunately, the man from the day before wasn’t there anymore. A lot of art people came to the show. There weren’t many people from the neighborhood except for the park regulars, who looked a bit surprised.

I don’t know who “ARD” is, but he or she later tagged the painting with a very small “ARD” in magic marker. I went back to take a photograph of the mini-tag, but my boyfriend Thom and I got mugged by a teenage boy. He claimed to have a gun, but we couldn’t see it. Despite the invisible gun, we gave him $15, which made him go away. He didn’t take my camera, but I decided not to stick around to take a photograph. I don’t know if this painting is still around or not, since I’ve not gone back.