Door on abandoned firehouse on 132nd Street between Lenox Avenue and Fifth Avenue, Harlem, Manhattan

December 2000

My friend Franklin Sirmans suggested that I do a painting near his home in Harlem, and I picked this abandoned firehouse because it’s such a lovely, grand old building and it looked as though it could use some help.

Once I started painting, children from the neighborhood came by and wanted to paint, too. I let them paint over the graffiti – they mainly painted little crosses and dots. You can see their efforts at the bottom of the photograph. It was very hard to get all the oil paint off them when they were done. I tried to keep them away from the more toxic colors, but without much success.

One older lady stopped by and said, “It’s nice to see a young person use her talent for good.” Another man asked me if I was going to cover the whole building. He was disappointed when I said that I wasn’t. A lot of people were upset at the neglect of the building and were saddened to find out that my presence wasn’t the beginning of a larger attempt at renovation.

I originally painted a ruined aqueduct from my imagination and took a photograph for the show at GAle GAtes et al. After I looked at it for a while, I decided that I really disliked the aqueduct and I went back and changed it to a more conventional landscape. It was still there when I last looked.