Sky Light: Artists Paint WTC Rebuilding from on High

Todd Stone paints from the 48th floor. Right: Liberty Tower, 2011.
Todd Stone paints from the 48th floor. Right: Liberty Tower, 2011.

The empty 48th floor of 7 World Trade Center has a bird's-eye view of the Trade Center site. Building owner Silverstein Properties has opened the space to three artists who, for years, have been interpreting the rebuilding below.






Todd Stone’s Witness || Downtown Rising is on exhibit on the 48th floor of 7 WTC. The paintings chronicle the evolution of the Downtown skyline over the past decade. The exhibition catalogue is available at the National 9/11 Memorial Visitor Center and on the artist’s website,


So much of what I have tried to do is work through the pain of what I saw that day. I was on the roof of my studio on Thomas Street and I said after the first tower fell, we need to go down and help. My wife, Lori, said, “Your job is to witness this, because you’re an artist.” And I did. I worked all day. I was on the roof drawing, I was painting, photographing. I have been working ever since.


Now my “Downtown Rising” paintings reflect the rebuilding. They’re lighter, airier, different from what they used to be. It reflects the personal restrengthening that I’ve experienced from my residency up here. I am trying to keep myself out of the work as best I can and just figure that the emotion that I’m feeling is going to come through in my color choice, in what captures my eye.


What’s interesting about this site is the becoming, the looking back, the looking forward and the present. The Deutsche Bank is still a hole in the ground. When it becomes a skyscraper canyon again and Greenwich Street is reconstructed, it’s not going to have the resonance of the catacombs that you have here. Now you look down there and to me, this Memorial plaza with the trees in it, has next to no visual interest. But over there, where you see the building rising, the ribs, that’s of most interest to me—what’s not there yet. Or the “bathtub,” the deep basement of the World Trade Center, where you can still see the holes. The voids—that’s what I've been painting. And as this fills, even as this comes to ground level it doesn’t resonate in the same way.


The fact that my artist path brought me here was not something I chose.


I was all about the beautiful, happy moments in my work—that’s what drew me to being an artist and I developed enough of an audience that I was able to be an artist over the years. The “Witness” work completely knocked me out of the box. I didn’t have that upward feeling. It was dead. My painting of Downtown was steeped in sadness and became an elegy for those I saw killed.


But things are changing for me. Part of what I attribute this to is being able to tie into the reconstruction spirit. The alienation is broken. And when I walk down West Broadway now coming to work here I feel good. I never thought I'd walk down south and feel that way. I feel a part of the fabric of what’s going on down here—just a little cell of it or a nerve ending, of this greater effort, but a part of it nevertheless.






Diana Horowitz and her work World Trade Center Reflecting Pools #2.
Diana Horowitz and her work World Trade Center Reflecting Pools #2.

Diana Horowitz has had solo exhibitions in New York, San Francisco and Chicago, and her work is in numerous museum collections. She teaches painting at Brooklyn College and is represented by Hirschl & Adler Modern at 730 Fifth Ave. Her next show will be in October 2012.


I’ve always loved buildings. I’ve noticed big construction sites in a peripheral way, but I’ve learned so much about the way buildings are made by watching this project. For about the past year I’ve been staring at the site pretty much five days a week, 9:30 to 3:30, and have found it fascinating. Growing up in the West Village I could see the Twin Towers from my bedroom window and always felt some connection to them.


I was in the LMCC’s studio program on the 85th and 91st floors of the North Tower for a year. But I also painted from the 107th floor observation deck at the South Tower for 15 years off and on, beginning in 1986. I had a little spot and there was no one else painting up there. Going up in the elevator with my French easel it was just me and the tourists.


For people who paint landscape or cityscape from life, you’re always chasing the light and you’re trying desperately to nail it down. This is 20 times more challenging because as you’re working not only is the light changing, but so is every single thing down there, it’s all moving and changing. It’s fun and also totally frustrating. You can go crazy.


You have all these choices to make because it’s like, “Oops, there goes that building as it disappears behind some new construction,” and you wonder, “Should I leave it or take it out?” Also, I often get seduced by whatever new shape or color is appearing. At one point they kept changing the color of the memorial fountains and I kept faithfully changing it in my paintings.


This work I’m doing is going to be the document of a period of time, rather than a moment in time. Mine are not totally realistic documents. I tend to simplify and to look at compositional things and color, shape and atmosphere. It’s a painting and not a photograph.


When I began working here, I mostly worked on small canvases. But slowly I started doing bigger and bigger paintings—there was so much that I wanted to get in. I started being interested in the way the space was changing. When Tower 4 started going up, the Deutsche Bank building was being demolished, so there was kind of a reverse movement and balancing.


Three years ago I thought, “I have a ton of paintings from up here, I’m done.” Then two years ago I got drawn back into it. This reconstruction project is incredible and beautiful and although I’ve painted it a million times, I’m still seeing new things. Maybe the tenth anniversary can act as a bookend for me; I’m feeling like it’s time for me to move on.


Jacqueline Gourevitch at work. Pictured is Tower #1 and Ellis Island, 2011.
Jacqueline Gourevitch at work. Pictured is Tower #1 and Ellis Island, 2011.

Jacqueline Gourevitch has had more than 30 solo exhibitions. Her works are in collections of the Museum of the City of New York, the Menil Collection and the Wadsworth Atheneum, among others. She had a residency at the WTC in 2000 and in 2004 she received an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.


For nearly 40 years, cloud painting has been central to my work. I like to draw when I fly. When I visit my cousin in Portland I always fly as indirectly as possible; I might go via Dallas and Salt Lake City. Sometimes I’ll draw cloud formations, or between cloud layers, or looking down between the clouds I’ll draw the grid of fields, cities and all those man-made structures.


After I started painting up here in 2007, I was invited to work on the site. I walked through it last year with a group of engineers. Fascinating. When you’re down there at eye level, you see everything very close up, all those enormous cranes and, of course, the remarkable construction workers.


But I would feel in their way. Besides, I want to see the whole thing, all 16 acres and the harbor beyond. When you back up you see more. I’m interested in the big picture, how this complex site reconstruction is taking shape in the context of the city.


In my computer I have about 500 photographs of the gradual clearing and reconstruction of the site. Although I rarely look at them again, and never paint from photographs, just framing the image and clicking the shutter help me remember. It’s a form of note- taking. Once on a trip, when I was still using film, I took some photos of somebody I’d never see again when I noticed that my camera wasn’t loaded. The minute I realized that, I just thought, “You’ll never forget what you just shot.”


My paintings have become a form of visual evidence of the stages of reconstruction. But it’s very complex down there, always massively changing, and as I paint I often don’t understand why something is shaped this way or that. I’m aware of leaving a great deal out. I follow my interests and have to be selective. Also, when I paint there has to be an “emotional” element, an urgency, an engagement with what I see and am thinking about, and what it offers me as a painter. I care very deeply about all that I see here. This is my neighborhood. I spent my first week in this country on Ellis Island, which I see in the harbor. I painted in the original 1 WTC, rode those elevators, walked alongside these rivers and across a number of these bridges. In 2003 I painted for a year from a tiny office space on a high floor on lower Broadway from which I could see both the harbor and the reconstruction of the Path train station being worked on day and night.


Every once in a while I will also paint clouds here. Much of the time there is nothing happening up there, just blue sky. I find that to be quite a dull, often harsh, almost blinding light. What I’m after is the constant movement, the ever- changing renewal so characteristic of clouds. Having observed and worked with that for years has been good preparation for working with this constantly changing site. One day last year when I was painting the site, I looked up and saw an amazing sky and suddenly thought, “Oh, you can’t ignore that!” It’s like butterfly-catching. You see something wonderful and you think, “Today, I’ll get it!” And I did.