The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Painter creates ‘cathartic’ collection of post-9/11 work
Artist Don Sexton was working in his office at his home in Tribeca, 12 blocks from the twin towers, on Sept. 11, 2001, while his wife,
Laura Cohen, was walking their young sons to school.
Sexton’s work always has been focused on his beloved New York City, and he has usually enjoys working outdoors to create his colorful, mixed- media works. That day’s terrorist attacks left Sexton’s family anxiously waiting to hear from one another, and left the artist with a need to capture the face of the city following the devastation.
The resulting body of work includes 30 paintings, now on display at the East 67th Street Library through Oct. 15, and a second show at the NorthEastMillerton Library through September.
“The paintings I did were cathartic,” Sexton said. “When you’re painting something, it compels you to look closely, and I had to do that, to show what was happening. I didn’t want to go through my life never looking at ground zero. It was also a way to get some closure.”
“On 9/11, I was in my basement office, and I didn’t find out what happened with my wife, Laura, and our boys, who were 4 and 5 years old at the time, until hours later,” he said. “One was attending P.S. 234, and he was already at the school, which was in the shadow of the Trade Center. Our younger boy was still in preschool, and Laura was taking him there. They were walking on the street when they saw the second plane hit the towers.”
Sexton was unaware of what was unfolding just blocks away.
“My wife made her way north and called me from an office of a friend, where there was service,” he said. “She got in touch with me in the late morning.”
The family found their way to a friend’s apartment and spent a few days there before leaving New York City for the safety of their second home in Goshen. “That’s basically how we got out,” Sexton said. “Miraculously, we were able to rent a car, we drove up to Goshen and spent the next week or so up there.”
Though he didn’t know anyone personally who died on 9/11, Sexton said, his wife did. The attack on the Trade Center, for New Yorkers, was a personal experience, he said.
“For the rest of the world, it was very political; but for us, in New York City, it was very personal,’” he said. “These are neighbors, people who knew each other, whose kids went to the same school or played soccer or basketball together. Everyone knew everyone, and there were lots of families down here.
“After 9/11, the soccer fields we used were filled with National Guard troops,” he said. “P.S. 234 became a barracks.
“Then, people started sending school supplies because of what happened to the buildings, from around the U.S. and Japan, Brazil. ... We had so much stuff that we started giving it to other people and identifying others that needed things. The generosity was just so much. We had cards and notes and posters with hearts on them. There were so many people who wanted to be thoughtful and wanted to help us. We never expected that.”
He also felt differently about his work.
“All I could think about was the neighborhood,” he said. “We all looked at each other differently. We were less strangers; there was a closeness there. I wanted to paint that.”
Sexton painted outdoors on the streets of his neighborhood for the next three months.
“Once things got back to normal and we moved back into our apartment, everything was coated with ash, and when I’d go out and do my painting on Canal Street, it was all over the place,” he said. “I would see people come down into the streets to look at everything, and I wanted to capture that. I wanted to see it, record it. I just kept painting outdoors.”
For information about Sexton’s upcoming shows, visit sextonart.com.