I consider my works to be visual narratives that illustrate the magical, ecstatic, transcendent and traumatic experiences of childhood. These images are primarily autobiographical, but also are derived from my ongoing interest in the social history of childhood as portrayed in literature, and in art.
I grew up in the city of Detroit, around the time it began falling from grace as a prosperous and progressive metropolis. The neighborhood of my early childhood was an emerging eyesore; it was a premonition of what most of the city has now become. I played on streets which still hosted one or two grand turn of the century mansions, charming bungalows, cheap clapboard houses, and a seedy old hotel that had seen better days. Today there are a few rows of intact homes holding on for dear life upon a prairie of demolished neighborhoods, beloved only of photographers and ghosts.
Our parents had little knowledge of the child society in which we lived. We played in an unsupervised realm of banal, fascinating, and terrifying personal landscapes. The school I attended had taken a backward journey to a time when educational practice was not in tandem with the modern world. We children witnessed and withstood meanness in that place which few people today would find familiar or acceptable. In our play together we mirrored our caretakers' nastiness with small tribal wars reenacted on the playground. But on our own or alone, the other worlds of fairy tales and contemporary culture provided the narrative for our games.
We daydreamed about the thrill of being captured by Indians, of escaping through forests, dodging mountain lions and rattlesnakes. We imagined being orphans running from the law and jumping onto moving trains, and we imagined our saintly ability to survive the deprivations of our fantastic predicaments. We had grandmothers and siblings to rescue from the wolves we knew were not just in fairy tales; waited in our ill-fitted and dull attire for a fairy Godmother to bring that magnificent dress, worrying that our feet would soon get too big to be chosen by the prince. The abandoned infant in the alley among the hollyhocks was Moses in the bulrushes. We played there hoping to find our own free baby. And we tiptoed quietly among the ghosts of other children we imagined to be wandering the old school boiler room where we hid during air raid and tornado drills.
At the same time, unlike my schoolmates, I also was privileged to live in another world, one that was filled with music, literature, and frequent visits to a grand art museum. The Detroit Art Institute was a treasure, filled with other kinds of stories. I memorized the collection of martyred saints, exquisite medieval infants, classical portraits and nudes. I spent many hours in the company of Diego Rivera's vast mural of the automobile industry, seeing in it the same saints and oppressors of my own world.
I have been traveling back to these places in my work, and in the process trying to understand something that is universally magical and fearsome at the same moment. My paintings are about the child that I was and the children I knew in my time as a child, both in and out of pictures.