When I first contemplated making art for legendary Sunny’s Bar in Red Hook, I knew that I didn‘t want to hang framed art- trapped behind glass and woefully remote from the Brueghelian scenes that unfold there weekly. Sunny’s is a place where musicians, revelers, participators and observers come together to share the common thread of music, drink and company. I imagined a backdrop to all this joie de vivre, one that was colorful and had different stories to tell for everyone. A visual treat that could change every time you really looked closely. Something to both echo and celebrate the foibles and follies of mankind. Art that could integrate with the convivial chaos and be another character in the room. Art that people would get to know over time. A tall order, but with some time to think and the freedom that a roll of canvas can offer, I set out last year to make such a thing.
I had some general ideas and inspiration from satirist Sebastian Brandt’s 1494 book “Ship of Fools,” but mainly relied on my own wandering imagination and started drawing to see what would come out. When the mural was finally finished- a year delayed by nature’s own foibles- catastrophic “Superstorm Sandy”- and hung up on the walls, it was the silence of my own thoughts that surprised me the most. It’s oftentimes startling to see what you have worked on deliriously (that is the only way I work). It’s impossible to really see it until you step away. The mural transformed the room into a kaleidoscope of color and craziness. I wondered if it was too strong, too startling. It has some dark imagery but to me it was fun, and in good spirit. I wanted to make viewers smile, laugh even, as they looked at things such as Santa driving a team of crying children who pull a sleigh of coal, a baby falling from a stork’s clutch, or two devils pushing and pulling time simultaneously. “It looks fantastic!” I heard Sunny himself say, stepping into the back room holding a banjo and a cigarette. He wore a giant smile and kept telling me over and over how wonderful the art was, which assuaged any doubts over whether the art would fit in there.
Last Saturday night I stopped into Sunny’s and was delighted to see that the back room was filled with musicians- I counted nearly 20- and packed so tightly with people you could barely squeeze in. The mural was glowing in the background and I felt like I’d achieved my vision. Several of the musicians and bar patrons told me how much they were drawn to the art and kept re-interpreting it every time they were there, which was exactly what I’d hoped for. They all smiled when they talked about the mural’s dark depictions and laughed as they pointed out their favorite parts. All in all, it was a fantastic experience and I’m so grateful I was able to transform Sunny’s into the surreal vision I’d dreamed up. This week is the last week the mural “Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland” will be on view. On Saturday, November 30, I will be there in the evening around 10 pm onwards to enjoy one last night with the art in situ, and I hope you’ll join me for one last look.