Ground Zero: Decorating the Eye

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    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
2002
Clothing, enamel, spray paint, and Splash Zone compound on canvas on wood
76.5 x 108 x 4 inches

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Just over a month after the 9/11 attacks, Dial was staying at a hotel not far from Ground Zero and had an opportunity to investigate the still-smoldering cavity himself.

Just over a month after the 9/11 attacks, Dial was staying at a hotel not far from Ground Zero and had an opportunity to investigate the still-smoldering cavity himself. It was a time of mourning and paranoia in New York, particularly downtown, which had the look, feel, and air quality of a war zone. The fires still burned. The ashes everywhere were the ashes of a wholesale crematorium. The city was in the throes of a panic after industrial-grade anthrax spores were found to have contaminated a post office. The Bush administration had launched the invasion and bombing of Afghanistan to unseat the Taliban. Heavily armed soldiers patrolled New York City subways. Yet the small-town atmosphere of community and caring persisted. In Union Square and around Ground Zero there were placards with the faces of the missing and homemade altars of candles and fake flowers, reminiscent of the yard shows in the rural black South.

Dial went home to Alabama, and for the next year plumbed the impressions from that visit. As usual, he worked on several paintings and sculptures at the same time outdoors in the yard and indoors in the converted garage he uses for a studio, moving from one to the other as ideas grew. He’d started a pair of paintings before September 11, and now he altered the amalgam of clothing, industrial sealing compound, and enamel paint on canvas so that they became opposing visions of hope and despair. Each of the paintings featured a red medallion, a vagina-like image suggesting life and possibility. He called the painting in which red and yellow predominated, with frivolous marks in mauve, Ground Zero: Decorating the Eye. It is like the fever dream of someone too close to a furnace, populating the inferno with flowers instead of sparks, diluting hysteria with dressed-up women, sex, and hope. Ground Zero: Nighttime All over the World is a darker vision. Drawn from the after-dark image that Dial saw of the same scene, it features fires that are a running river of molten embers and a sky dark blue above the chaos. —Amei Wallach