Jonathan Borofsky

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Shinto Priest, paint and ink on the wall
Mens shelter, New York City, 1977

"As part of my CAPS grant, I was asked to do a public artwork in the city. I chose the mens shelter on the Bowery, which was just around the corner from my Bond Street studio. At that time, I was very obsessed with Buddhist religions, and I chose the image of this Shinto priest (a healer) with the idea that it would bring some healing to the men sleeping in this rather somber situation. I painted the image on a somewhat difficult fluorescent green background, which was not necessarily attractive on these already stained yellow walls. When I was finished with the painting, the man sleeping under it asked me why I had painted this image and not something more beautiful. I had no good answer to his question. As I've already stated, I personally was involved with these Asian spiritual ideas at that time, and the rather unattractive green color (at least in that setting) was my direct reaction to the sights and smells of being in that space at the time. When I walked out of there, I felt like I had failed this man and everyone there, because I had really allowed too many of my own selfish concerns to direct what I ended up painting, and not what was necessarily needed in that space for the others. Since this was one of my first public works, it taught me a good lesson about 'shaping' my imagery to accommodate the psychological and emotional needs of the viewer when creating public art."