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Fire Bridge, a diamond shaped black painting dominated by a circle, with its title painted in red letters below the circle. The circle contains a red, yellow, blue, and black, stylized image of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Fire Bridge, 1964–65. Photo: Ed Pollard. Courtesy of the Chrysler Museum of Art, Virginia; Artwork: © Star of Hope Foundation, Vinalhaven, Maine

FIRE BRIDGE, like many of my paintings comes from more than one source; it is of multiple inspiration. For one it comes from the reality of my having seen the Brooklyn Bridge from my studio windows almost every day for the last eight years: it is over its eastern tower that the sun rises from the perspective of Coenties Slip. Secondly it passes through both a literary and a plastic influence; it is a complementary painting to a larger and more elaborate ''To The Bridge" that started as an indirect homage to Joseph Stella, the one painter most conspicuously identified with the subject, and ended as a definite salute to Hart Crane, whose life and death proved transfigured by it. Thirdly and finally it stems from an actual event in my life.

Back in the Fifties one late night as I was walking along the piers of South Street a great explosion took place before my eyes. Just under the Brooklyn Bridge a tanker and a freighter collided, they burst into flame, and the tanker's escaping fuel set the East River afire from the Manhattan side to Brooklyn's shore. Locked together in their impact, the two burning ships drifted up the river on the reverse ocean current. The Brooklyn Bridge was aglow from the fire, but it was the neighboring Manhattan Bridge that was ignited from below. The wooden ties of the subway tracks that pass across it were kindled and shorted the electrical system sending a Niagara of sparks cascading downward. By dawn the fire was out.


Published in Varian, Elayne H. Art in Process: The Visual Development of a Painting. New York: Finch College Museum of Art, 1965