Mitchell Schorr, a New York artist, watched much of the Sept. 11 catastrophe at the World Trade Center from his parents’ midtown Manhattan apartment window.
“I was in the car, coming to pick my father up. I heard a plane fly overhead, and then over the radio Howard Stern said a plane hit the tower. We thought, oh, yeah, that’s Howard Stern. But then we drove a few blocks and could see all the smoke, unobstructed, and went back up to the apartment. By that time, the second plane had hit.”
When did he decide to put this to canvas?
“I started with my mother’s camera. I took photographs of the towers burning because I’d started this series, cutting images from newspapers of scenes of violence from around the world, be it political, monetary or religious. Friends told me it was a bit obsessive, and I’d say no, it’s just the news. But it always seemed weird it was all over the world and not here. It’s almost like I was keeping a book of what sooner or later would come to us.
“I produced about 20 paintings from these images, from bombs in Moscow to troops marching in Palestine. Whenever violence seemed used as a tool.”
His work as a whole includes much more pastoral imagery.
“My other series are in contrast to that, beautiful scenes of Cuba, New York City landscapes, scenes from New Mexico, rock ‘n’ roll musicians. I was just painting life, and the violence seemed a part of life.
“When this happened, I took the weekend to get away, and when I drove home from Long Island Sunday night, there were so many flags, on the overpasses, on just about every car I saw, it seemed. My whole life growing up, at my age [he’s 29], the flag never meant much. It was a symbol. I’d put my hand over my heart like everybody else at ballgames.
“But this is the first time in my heart I felt this different feeling,” he said. “I’ve traveled the world, and I realize why people don’t always like Americans. We’re loud, and we don’t understand why everyone doesn’t speak English. I guess I didn’t take into account how great we have it here, and what this country means.”
“I’ve probably done 20 paintings of flags and the tragedy so far, including some of the firefighters. I’ve also painted a couple of the building exploding, because that’s locked in my vision. I actually didn’t see the first building go down. I’d looked away. I didn’t believe what my father was screaming. But I turned back and saw the second explosion, and that’s locked into my eyes. The painting has been cathartic.
“When someone heard about them through a friend and wanted to take pictures, my first thought was, `I don’t know.’ I don’t want people to think I’m trying to exploit this or get some kind of credit. I know it’s important for an artist to get his work out there.
“But this is my own personal stuff. I don’t even know if I’ll ever show it.”