9/11 Reflected Through Color – The Art of Ken Kaminski

One of my favorite childhood fables was the story of Henny Penny.  What always stuck with me was the repeated use of the phrase, “The sky is falling.”  It was the first time I was ever confronted with a tale that dealt with hysteria.  How could I had known that one day I would feel driven to scream those exact words, but when I saw the twin towers ablaze and the mayhem that was unfolding in real time as we helplessly watch on TV,  I felt like that manic chicken wrought with panic and fear.  September 11, 2001 is a mental scar I’ll always carry with me.

20140825_184212As intense as the memories are of that day, I can scarcely remember any color with the exception being the perfect blue sky that offered the delusion that nothing that terrible could befall us.  What I remember most are the feelings that coursed through me at rates so fast I could barely record them, terror firmly placing a grip around my neck, anxiety tapping Morse code up and down my arms, disorientation mushrooming in my brain and grief taking possession of my heart.  I returned home from my job, where we had to evacuate because of a bomb threat, turned on my TV and laid down on my bed to hear the sounds of faint whistles from dying firemen.  I felt absolutely defeated.

The tragedy of 9/11 left this country reeling and sent us all on our own journeys as we tried to reconcile what happened.   Ken Kaminski’s journey took him to the canvas creating a series of work that spans well over a decade. Using the template of abstract expressionists like Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Emerson Woefler, Kaminski has attempted to record the events and emotions of that day as well as the recovery period that continues to shape us. His efforts also allow those who are too young to remember 9/11 the ability to witness the emotion of that day.

20140825_183455FAMERS I am here to report that his endeavors are wildly successful.  I had the pleasure of viewing a few of Kaminski’s 9/11 paintings at the Edward Williams Gallery, located at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Hackensack campus. The exhibit includes eight selected works that brilliantly convey the events of that day brightly expressed in various hues. The exhibit begins with Blue Sky Day – triptych.  This three panel painting brings you face to face with speed of these flying bombs and the majestic sky that it corrupted. With each panel the viewer sees the countdown of the planes getting closer and closer until it hits making its bloody and destructive impact.

20140825_183549911 The Moment It Happened is an eerie mix of color.  The space surrounding The World Center no longer is colored in blue like the atmosphere painted in Blue Sky Day, instead the blue is muddled with streaks of different colors showing the chaos that followed the impact of the first plane, represented in an explosion of oranges and reds bursting from the side of the tower.  Streams of black cover one of the towers like a foreshadowing of despair to come.

20140825_183614Blindsided shows the line of fire going straight into one of the towers then blasting out of the other side.  Crippled from the blow, the tower bends and the pain is obvious.   All that is missing is the scream, but if you remember the sound of the planes hitting the towers, then this painting will ensure that the awful roar of the plane echoes in your ears.  Blindsided is an acute observation of a drive-by.

20140825_183653Twins! is a stoic, almost haunting, vision of The World Trade Center towers before 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001.  They were proud and victorious, a symbol of might and power.  They represented everything that was great about The Big Apple.  In Kaminski’s painting they appeared alive and vibrant again instead of frozen as they are in photographs.  The yellow background also contributes to the energy of the piece.  It makes you long for the nostalgia of what used to be.  If this painting were a song, it would be called The Way We Were.

20140825_183844Wounded Towers is a kaleidoscope of disorder.  The colors vividly capture the confusion permeating the area as people scrambled for safety and the bent, smoldering towers desperately tried to remain the symbols of glory that they once were, a last valiant effort before they ultimately disintegrated into dust.

20140825_183922Collapse is engulfed in a blending of hues that bring chills to the spine.  The voices of those who were lost don’t just whisper, they shriek.  It shows the true potential of visual art.  There are no words necessary, this painting is one of the most telling portraits of pain and suffering that I’ve ever saw.  If someone wanted to understand the mood of the country when the tragedy of 9/11 occurred, all they would have to do is view this painting.

20140825_184108Considering this year will mark the 13th anniversary of 9/11, I believe Kaminski’s exhibit couldn’t visit the New York metropolitan area at a better time.  It allows another way for us to remember and venerate a day that will forever be a part of our history.  Kaminski’s work carries with it a raw, emotional ambiance.  It pulls you in.   No matter how hard the visuals may be to look at, Kaminski’s work burst past your pupils and forces you to deal with whatever memories or residual feelings you may have buried.   For as much as Kaminski’s work is steeped in tragedy, it is also immersed in the resilience of the city of New York and its people.  Yes, the sky did fall, but we didn’t get mired in the pain.   We stood atop the ashes; we rebuilt and honored those we lost.   The 9/11 paintings are not only powerful and healing; they are a testament that when an artist creates from his or her soul the work that is generated is timeless.

 

To learn more about Ken Kaminski and view more of his work check out, http://www.kenkaminski.com/.  Kaminski’s 9/11 Paintings will be on display at the Edward Williams Gallery, located at 150 Kotte Place, Hackensack NJ, until 9/26/14.  Gallery hours are 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays.

Photos and Video: F.A.M.E NYC Editor

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F.A.M.E NYC Remembers 9/11 10 Years Later

Rarely in modern history has the enormity of an event made the entire world pause, witness history unfold and realize that the paradigms of society have shifted.  No one with the ability to recall memories will ever forget where they were on September 11, 2001.  Like most Americans, I read about the attack on Pearl Harbor and thought an incident like that would never happen in this country again.  Sure, I had grown up in the dawning of the age of terrorism – viewed bombings and other attacks happen on the nightly news as if I was watching a scene from a movie.   “Those were other countries,” I thought, “They would never try anything like that here.”   I willingly shrouded myself with a tapestry of naiveté and overconfidence. 

On the morning of September 11, 2001 I, like most Americans, were on my way to work.  While driving to my job, I listened to the Star and Buckwild Show on Hot 97, as I did every morning.  As I pulled up to my building, I heard Star say that a plane flew into one of the World Trade Center towers.  Immediately, I thought it was an obscene joke, but when I arrived at the floor of my office, others had heard the news too.  Most of us assumed it was a single engine plane that somehow went off-course.  We went to the window, looked at the picture perfect blue sky and Manhattan skyline and wondered how anyone could not see the Twin Towers.  Then we heard about the second tower being hit, then the Pentagon, then the downed airplane in Shanksville, PA, we even heard rumors that the Sears Tower in Chicago had been hit.  As we looked around, searching for a sense of normalcy in each other’s faces, one single thought resonated through our minds – this is real.  America was under siege, and worst of all, the attackers were using our commercial airplanes to complete their mission of horror.

I and other members of the company raced to the media room; helplessly and frantically we watched as the Twin Towers smoldered and reports came through that people were jumping from the towers.  Then gaps and screams crowded the room as the South Tower disintegrated before our eyes.  The screams became louder as the North Tower fell.  We watched the gargantuan plume of smoke that once was the mighty World Trade Center towers engulf the area with an eerie shade of gray as people ran to escape it.  We hugged and cried trying to find solace.  We pressed our faces against the window watching the cloud of death rise into the blue atmosphere.  Suddenly terror came to our building – a bomb threat was called in.  After all we had witnessed, there was no way we were going to have an orderly evacuation.  We ran as if our lives depended on it.  No one was taking any chances, the sky had literally fallen like an old children’s fable, and danger was thick and palpable.    We poured out into the parking lot, shaken and frighten like abandoned children. How could this happen so quickly?  Who would do this to us? Why would anyone target civilians?  Questions that lingered in the backs of our minds that soon would be answered, but at that moment, all any of us wanted was to go home and be with our loved ones. 

Upon arriving home, I crawled on my bed and watched as the first responders signals beeped (the echoes of those beeps still haunt me).  I knew each beep was a life begging to be saved and my heart broke as the beeps began to fade.  My boyfriend, my parents and I watched as 7 World Trade Center fell.  The next day, we returned to work like zombies.  My company, a telecommunications company, needed volunteers to help hand out cell phones.  I volunteered; I had to do something.  The days, weeks and months following that tragic day was a haze.  Everyday there were funerals on the news.  A co-worker, whose husband worked at Cantor Fitzgerald, had died.  The streets were littered with flyers of missing people.  Walking in New York City at that time felt like we were muddling through a post-apocalyptic ghost land.

Within the first year after 9/11, emotions feverishly ran the gamut. The pendulum between anger and sadness swung back and forth as we learned more about the hijackers and their ties to Al-Qaeda.  The anger even was focused toward our government as people murmured about conspiracy theories.  Now, 10 years has passed.  Sometimes the memories are foggy; sometimes they are as vibrant as they were on the day it happened.  Bracelets and signs stating, “We will never forget,” are everywhere.  The 9/11 memorial has officially been opened, but even before that, I believe each of us carried a tribute in our hearts.  Life has carried on, but we will never be the same.  We will never forget what the World Trade Center was before that day.  We will never forget the lives of the people that died.  We will never forget the fire fighters, police, EMS and other first responders that tried to save lives and gave their life in the process.  We will never forget the freedom fighters of Shanksville, PA.   We will never forget our soldiers that gave the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We will never forget the families that must carry on without their loved ones.

Ten years since 9/11, soon it will be 20, 30 and beyond.  I have read about September 11, 2001 in my niece’s and nephew’s history books as if it was Pearl Harbor.  I have always had a love for New York City, and the events of 9/11 only increased that love.  When I conceived the idea for F.A.M.E NYC, I know in the back of my mind that part of the reason I did so was because of 9/11.  Ten years later, New York City still stands strong and as long as I can, I will always report about the city I love and revolve in.

 

 

 

 

Slide show courtesy F.A.M.E NYC Editor

 

Don’t Ask, I’m Gonna Tell Anyway

When most people think about war, their imaginations tend to lead them to the traditional sense – old and middle-aged men and women in Brooks Brother’s suits sitting in the House chamber making proclamations of war, the president reciting a skillfully prepared address to the American people describing why we must plunge into a conflict, young men and women in fatigues flying off to foreign lands, carrying the fears, pride and sometimes anger of a nation square across their shoulders all while preparing to face death daily.  But what if the war is not being waged in humid jungles or blistering deserts, what if the battleground lies within? 

A soldier’s job is not to ask why, theirs but to do and die.  But what if you cannot relegate yourself to be a weapon of destruction killing on the government’s command?  What if the word “why “echoes in your head until the sound replaces a soldier’s instinct to act without question?

Opposing fractions gripping and ripping at one’s soul can be just as deleterious and exhausting as watching for landmines or dodging bullets.  Former Lance Corporal Jeff Key was already at war when he was flying off to Iraq to strike as our sword of vengeance for the attacks of 9/11 and liberate our country and indeed the world from terror-mongers like Saddam Hussein.  The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy instituted under President Clinton forced a soldier to betray his existence.  The propaganda President Bush used to invade Iraq forced a soldier to betray his oath. What to do?  Keep a descriptive journal and transform it into a robust, introspective one-man stage production.

There is no doubt that the American public was inundated with images, video streams and commentary from the Iraq War.  It was like a soap opera “As the War Turns” or a Sony Playstation videogame, only this version had real casualties.  Using photos he took and the illumination of his rhythmical verse, Key’s narrative transports the audience into the Iraq War in a more intimate way than CNN and other network’s daily updates ever did.  The Eyes of Babylon is a spellbinding 90-minute monologue that is real soldier’s story instead of a manufactured segment of media.  Told with humor and conviction, Key relates a story with his Alabama/Forrest Gump accent that displays pure emotion.  He takes the audience on a journey that begins with 9/11 and ends with him coming out as a gay man on CNN.  Along this journey Key communicates the feeling of connecting with the universe’s most insignificant creatures, the eroticism of a subtle shared moment with a gay Iraqi man, the joy for simple pleasures such as the soundtrack from Rent that allowed him to mentally venture off from the state he was currently in, the realities of how soldiers shower and move their bowels in combat situations, the brutality of soldiers with a hard on to get their gun off and his growing abhorrence for the war he was sent to.

The words of this warrior poet are as powerful as a M16 with a full clip and no less haunting than a wolf howling at the full moon.  I was beyond transfixed; I hung on to every word that flowed from his lips like a recruit swinging on an immense set of monkey bars.  Key was my sergeant and it was up to me to follow his guidance and make the links until I had finished the task, feeling better for going through the exercise with him. Key is truthful and is the personification of the Marine term “Semper Fi”.  Always faithful, Key demonstrates what it means to be a true patriot all while changing conventional paradigms of the expression.  This production is a significant piece of theatre – it is Off-Broadway’s To Hell and Back. Exchanging a rifle and assault vehicle for a pen and stage Key is more formidable.  Using his weapon to the fullest, The Eyes of Babylon challenges the status quo, flips them the bird and gives them a salute at the same time.  Key is mercenary for those who have known little mercy, for those who are used by this government and forgotten about like cracked egg shells after the omelets has been cooked and you best believe he will go down with his boots on.

The Eyes of Babylon is not just a gay man’s account of his stint in the military during wartime.  It is a story every military person can relate to.  A person joins the military for different reasons.  When he spoke I felt the presence of my friend that gave the ultimate sacrifice in a gun battle in Iraq, a man that joined the military to provide a better life for his two sons, a man whose beautiful face I will never see again.  On a personal note, this production was closure for me.  I want thank Key for sharing his story.  I was so angry upon hearing of my friend’s death, knowing that he lost his life without any of his friends or family around as he made his transition plagued my heart.  But after viewing The Eyes of Babylon I realized that he was surrounded with love from his fellow brethren and if he passed serving with anyone like Key, he was never alone.  I salute you Jeff Key for a job well done.

Photos courtesy of The Mehadi Foundation

WTC View Rocks the Eastside

There is no New Yorker, indeed no American that has not been affected by the tragic events of September 11, 2001.  The images of that day have been indelibly seared into our minds and the emotions branded into our hearts.  But the days and weeks following that catastrophic day can sometimes be as blurry as a Monet and other times it is as vivid as a Matisse.  This year marks the 10th anniversary of that infamous day.  Playwright Brian Sloan explores the surreal time after the 9/11 attacks in WTC View.

WTC View examines the psychological effects on a group of New Yorkers after the World Trade Center attacks.  It centers on a photographer named Eric and his quest to find a roommate to assist in paying the rent in his two bedroom SoHo apartment.  Eric, portrayed by Nick Lewis, was in his apartment when the attacks began, which has a bird’s eye view of the Twin Towers; he witnessed the cataclysmic episode unfold outside a bedroom window.  He meets an array of interested applicants, each with their own perspective on 9/11.  Jeremy, played by Bob Braswell, is the British St. Regis employee who loses his job because of the lack of tourists and returns home to England.  Kevin, played by Michael Carlsen, was unable to go back to his Battery Park apartment after the attacks and was stuck in New Jersey with a one night stand for three days.  Jeff, depicted by Torsten Hillhouse, is a democratic campaign worker who was born in NYC and decided to return because he felt New York City needed him.  Alex, played by Patrick Edward O’Brien, worked at the World Trade Center and was present during the time of the attacks.  His story is one of the carnage left in the wake such a vicious act of terrorism as well as one of hope.  Max, played by Martin Edward Cohen, is a young NYU student that mixes his feelings of guilt and activism into one huge twenty-something M80 that is just ready to burst.  All these young men, along with Eric’s friend Josie, played by Leah Curney, and Eric’s ex-boyfriend (who is only heard via Eric’s answering machine) assist Eric in coming to terms with the loss he felt as a result of 9/11 as well as the hysteria that subsequently followed in the days and weeks that followed.

With September marking the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, this review is the first time I have written anything about what happened on that Tuesday morning in September 2001.  Somehow I could not locate the words that I felt adequately expressed my pain.   Almost ten years later, and it was not until I witnessed WTC View that I realized why I never did.  All humans react differently during times of distress and earth-shattering events.  I was like Eric.  I wanted desperately to pretend that watching those towers fall did not affect me.  I wanted to believe that the weeks of watching funerals on television or passing by dozens of missing person bulletins had no impact on my psyche, but the glaring truth for me and the protagonist of the play is that it did.  Eric finally came to grips with his pain after several breakdowns.  I buried it as deep as I could and as a result it paralyzed my fingers and mind.  I thought I had covered the wounds inflicted on us as a society that day with the finest emotional band-aids, but as I watched each actor recount how 9/11 changed their life as they knew it and observed Eric slowly succumb to his grief and fear, I could feel the bandage being ripped from my heart.  What I found was that I had not healed at all, but thanks to the crafty storytelling of Brian Sloan, I recognized that I was ready to go back to the pain and try to heal.

Watching WTC View is similar to having the deepest deep tissue massage you will ever have.  The right hand grabs your heart, the left clutches your soul, sometimes you will wince in pain, but you will leave feeling more healed than when you came in.  WTC View is a must see for all New Yorkers, it is a riveting piece of theater, powerfully acted by an impressive cast.  Currently playing at 59E59 Theaters until June 5 as part of the America’s Off-Broadway series, WTC View is a production that embodies the true spirit of New York and its unrelenting resiliency.   

Photos:  Carol Rosegg