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ARTIST WITNESSES 9-11 TRAGEDY—AND PAINTS IT
By Joanna Wilson

        It was a normal Tuesday morning in New York, the streets swollen with people heading to work. Suddenly, these same people eyewitnessed a devastating act of terrorism that changed their lives and the country forever. One of those eyewitnesses is artist Todd Stone, whose Lower Manhattan fifth-floor studio/home faced the twin towers, six blocks from Ground Zero. “I was shell-shocked and numb after the first impact, but I had to capture the devastation I saw the one way I could.”

        And he did. Stone’s watercolor exhibition, “Witness,” is on view now through November 5, at Doylestown’s James A Michener Art Museum. The commemorative exhibition he calls “an elegy to the lives lost and altered that day” features a selection from some 15 PIECES that relive in horrific color and detail that encounter with Hell.
        “I was setting up for the day when the first jet slammed into the North Tower. I grabbed my camera and started shooting even as the pigeons fled in panic from this death cloud of smoke.”

        His images reflect in startling clarity the raging flames and roiling smoke of the explosions that demolished the two 110-story towers seven years in the making.
“When that plane penetrated the skin of the North Tower, I felt as though time and my perspective shifted. Pre 9-11, I painted moments of joy from the world around me--a slant of light on a building triggered a response inside me. 9-11 changed that.”

        Stone became interested in drawing at Connecticut’s Wesleyan University. Deciding to become an artist, he attended the University of New Mexico Art School where he learned printmaking. “It took me to graduation day to realize that wasn’t for me.” He first looked at art in his college Religion class where students studied paintings “loaded with iconography that tell a hundred stories at once with magnificent colors.”

        Returning to New York, he received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship grant, guaranteeing him a year to work. “I wanted to draw and paint the world around me. My early abstract work combined geometry and emotional flow.”

        He also received an Abbey Fund Fellowship from the National Academy of
Design and grants from the Kittredge Fund and the Puffin Foundation. His abstracts showed in galleries and museums around the country and in Europe for some 30 years. He even lived and painted in Umbria, Italy, in the mid-eighties.

        Stone was born in New York City and has maintained his studio/home in Lower Manhattan since 1974. The city is his love, his home, his neighborhood, and 9-11 was “a gut-punch” he still feels.

Over time, his work focused more on his immediate environment. “I found it outside my studio window. I opened myself up to the moment, seeing it, photographing
it, painting it.” Stone documented the New York skyline for years from his window.

When the hijacked jetliners smashed into the towers, he spent the day in dazed confusion drawing and photographing from his rooftop “I was on a neighboring roof when the South Tower collapsed. I ran for my life from the cloud of silt and debris.” He and his wife, Lori, and their two children evacuated after 7 World Trade Center fell. When they returned the next day, their home had become a staging area for Ground Zero. “We needed masks to breathe. Firemen, disaster workers, and crushed vehicles filled the streets. We lived behind barricades through the fire that burned for months.”

Strangely enough, the collapse of the South Tower presented Stone with a gift,
albeit a tragic gift. “I lived and worked in the shadow of the Towers. When they fell,
my studio filled with beautiful light. But knowing where it came from, I wanted
to return it.”

The Witness paintings have been exhibited at the Florence Biennale, the New
York Historical Society, Columbia University. They showed at the International Art
Fair in Florence, Italy, in an old castle where firemen trained. One fireman told Stone his brother died on 9-11. “ This work is so unlike anything I’ve done. It is in the public arena and therefore serves a function.”

        Stone now focuses on two groups of work. One continues the view outside his studio window—the rebuilding of his neighborhood, and the reconstruction of Ground
Zero. “The downtown area has had a phenomenal rebirth. Many people left, but new families move in to residential housing that were once offices. The new 7 World
Trade Center is complete but, for me, he says, “the echoes and ghosts of people screaming and leaping 90 stories to a sure death still live there. The new tower pales in
comparison.”

His other body of work concerns Bucks County where he has lived in Kintnersville since 1988. There, he began to paint landscapes. An avid gardener, he began and is current president of the Gallows Run Watershed Association. He also publishes the newsletter Upper Bucks Futures. His landscapes have been exhibited at numerous locations.

        Some of his local painting reflects the aftermath of the county’s recent floods. “Our pristine eco-system and streams have been devastated by development and freak weather systems. Restoring these streams is a need that must be met.”

        Though he has sold much of his work, he would like to see the “Witness” paintings “in a memorial museum.” Though his current work is “heavy stuff,” he feels driven. “It chose me. I didn’t choose it. It’s what is happening now. TV and radio news, from start to finish, is about terror, floods, disasters. Terror isn’t people, it’s a very effective strategy. And it’s horrifying. We thought we were invulnerable. Now we know that wasn’t real. But as an artist, I want to center my work on what is real. Painting is who I am, what I do. I can’t imagine being in this world without translating it into painting.”

        Witness, with luminous and unflinching color, relives a horror that changed our
everyday lives. We know that horror is with us still and will be into the future. But in the words of Colin Powell, then Secretary of State, “…We were assaulted. But our spirit
wasn’t assaulted. You don’t attack America like this and get away with it.”
Todd Stone, through his art, is doing his best to make sure of that.        

        To see a gallery of his work, visit Todd Stone at
www.toddstone.com.
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Created with Stone Design's Create® at 2008-10-30 12:59:58 -0600