Hamilton and Me
It has become a huge source of inspiration and creative artistic energy for me. It has kind of snuck up on me over the years, I mean I took drama in junior high and loved it, went to a few shows here and there, always loved musicals especially. Pirates of Penzance was the first (high school) musical I saw. My mom instilled a big love of song and dance, I grew up with soundtracks and cast recordings, I love lyrics and have a great memory for them.
But Broadway.... Broadway seemed like another planet most all of my life. I KNEW a few people who went to Broadway shows in my young adult life, but for me, living in Idaho at the time, to go see a show in New York City seemed at the best unlikely and at the worst impossible. Way out of reach. The closest I could hope to get was the Macy's Parade every Thanksgiving when select shows would perform a number.
In 2000 my life changed dramatically through personal loss and change. To make a long story short I found myself at my first Broadway show, Annie Get Your Gun, at the Marquis Theatre in the Big Apple in 2001. Now Annie Get Your Gun does not have a sad ending but I cried at the end simply because it was over. Oh the magic! I was head over heels IN LOVE with the theatre.
42nd Street levitated me right out of my seat at the beginning (I had just discovered my love for tap!), Lion King, Mary Poppins, War Horse (omg, copious crying), Les Miserables, Contact, Death of a Salesman (with Phillip Seymour Hoffman), Legally Blonde, Phantom, Wicked, Dear Evan Hansen, Hello Dolly.... I filled myself up with theatre every chance I got. Luckily Tim also loves it (we are both
frustrated entertainers) and Broadway became one of my favorite places in the world.
The energy, the stamina, the emotion those actors and musicians put out just washes over me in the audience and I am renewed in every way. The artistic crew that it takes to put these productions together is astounding. They inspire me to create, to live, to celebrate. They astound me with their ability to do that NIGHT after NIGHT and we the audience feels like it's the only time they have ever poured their heart out with such passion. I can only imagine how exhausting it is. I can't get enough.
Enter.... HAMILTON. Of course.
I will always be sad that I was late to the Hamilton party because (in a tiny voice) I didn't like hip hop much (and it is SO much more than hip hop). I missed much of the original cast because of this and there were so many shows to see on my annual trip to the city that we didn't pick it and I missed that opportunity. :( But then I did see it. Well, I saw a couple videos and then listened to the cast recording as I drove around my town, crying and knew I HAD to see it.
I've always had a fairly close relationship with death and time running out. Multiple personal losses just cemented that reality for me. My Arizona license plate said DUITNOW. Live in the moment. Seize the day. You know the drill. Lin-Manuel Miranda's lyrics cut right to my heart.
"I've imagined death so much it feels more like a memory... "
Just one line of many in this incredible piece of art that spoke to me so powerfully.
We saw the show in September of 2016, starring the incomparable Javier Munoz and others remaining from the original cast. Christopher Jackson was off that night (wah!) but the show is so big, so big and powerful and wonderful that it really doesn't matter.
I could go on for many paragraphs but this is an art page and so back to the subject which is after the show we went to Fraunces Tavern (like you do) and I saw their wonderful painting collection. I was inspired to do a painting of Lin-Manuel in a classic Old Master style. That then evolved into a painting of Lin and Alexander Hamilton, two similar people, doing what they do, together across the table from one another, reaching across the centuries, joined by their similarities. Wow, I loved the idea! The hard reality was, I didn't paint people much, I only had a vague idea of how I wanted to depict this, my abilities were DEFINITELY not up to the vision in my head, I sure couldn't ask them to pose for me, all the valid reasons this was a stupid idea.
But hey, Lin has often said what a crazy idea writing Hamilton was and this was just a painting. No one even had to see it if it totally sucked. Except Tim of course, he lived through a LOT of gnashing of teeth and stages of this painting over the next year. Artist spouses get special consideration in heaven. He got so used to seeing Lin's face in different clothes, different positions, he modeled for me at a candlit table writing left handed.... above and beyond. He weighed his answers very carefully when, after yet another change, I would ask "What do you think?" Haha. Poor guy.
During the next year the painting took on a life of it's own. I'd put it aside while I painted other things, come back to it, change it, add more meaningful things, gather more and better references. Over the year I improved so (thankfully) the last Lin is better then the first Lin (and all the Lins in between). Hamilton didn't change a whole lot though I did find invaluable reference in the Hamilton Grange in Harlem where a bust of him resides. Three dimensional reference of someone long deceased was a huge boon!
During all this time I had no idea how I would get it to Lin-Manuel. He'd left the show and gone to London to film Mary Poppins. He finished that and came back to NYC and the painting was still on the easel (or on the floor, or in the corner, or turned around so I couldn't see it...)
His clothing changed from his period costume to the black "Artist" shirt he has worn to finally The Sweater he was known to wear everywhere. I added Tobillo, his little dog (finally, something familiar to paint!) that he would take on walks a lot while he was creating, an antique coffee cup once owned by Hamilton and now owned by Lin, a blue Greek coffee cup he might drink out of, a hint of the wonderful set by David Korins (who I have now 'met' on Twitter), the Chernow book, an hourglass for obvious reasons. The composition changed often, planning has never been my strong suit and I learned a lot by trial and error through this painting's journey.
The excitement about it left after about four months of work but the desire to finish it never really wavered. It became a challenge. I WILL finish it and it WILL be credible, it WILL convey the original idea and I WILL get it to Lin somehow.
So in November of this year it happened. I "finished" it (I will never be satisfied, haha) and it got to Lin-Manuel. He loved it (especially Tobi, ftw!) and the photos of the family seeing it I will treasure forever.
I am not sure of it's future, if it can be used to raise money for a good cause I have always left that open or it may hang in a Miranda house. But the satisfaction of creating this and delivering it is tremendous. It is the toughest piece I have ever worked on, I've never had to do so much WORK for a painting before (I think I'm a lazy painter!). I immediately painted a little calf face for a needed reward of fun and easy painting.
I'm glad it's out of the studio because honestly I was tired of seeing it and working on it, second guessing and changing things. It is what it is now.
I've seen Hamilton three times in the space of creating this piece with plans for more. It is a powerful piece of art and I don't believe I will ever get over being moved and astounded by it and whatever cast is performing.
Thank you, Lin-Manuel, for not only your genius but for your work ethic that brought your idea to life and to the rest of us. Thank you, Luis Crespo, for your huge assistance in this project.
"Ask anybody why we livin' fast
and we laugh
reach for a flask
we have to make this moment last, that's plenty." My Shot
Make some art.