In 2002, the NYC District Council of Carpenters commissioned Bonnie Siracusa to do a painting for their lobby commemorating 108 union members who lost their lives on 9/11. By the one-year anniversary of the destruction of the Twin Towers, her painting was complete.
It’s full of emotionally evocative images: a flag with the names of dead carpenters, a bouquet of red roses and two men hugging and crying, among others. The top half of the painting portrays an eagle whose left wing is an American flag being set ablaze by airplanes and whose right wing is adorned by doves, a rainbow and a cross.
“The sun could maybe be rising there,” Siracusa said, pointing to the sun emanating orange light. “Like this is the aftermath and people are getting through it.”
It wasn’t the Great Neck resident’s first time portraying the Twin Towers. In her 1992 post office mural “Brooklyn Bridge Fireworks,” they tower above the Manhattan skyline. “What
seems very contemporary for 1992, it’s like, all of a sudden, it’s changed,” Siracusa said. “I could only go up to a certain point.”
In addition to “9/11 Memorial” and “Brooklyn Bridge Fireworks,” Siracusa’s New York Nostalgia collection includes several paintings portraying Coney Island, Jones Beach, and other landmarks in the New York and Long Island areas. She refers to these murals with the phrase “romantic nostalgia.”
“We all have selective memories,” she explained. “I’m capturing a place in time, and it’s immortalized. It’s ideal, it’s romantic because I make the site look its best. That may have been the best it’s ever looked.”
In fact, in many cases, the historical sites Siracusa portrays never actually looked like they do in her murals. This is because she puts different features together in a painting even if they did not actually coexist at any point in history, creating a montage effect in which time passes from left to right. In one case, for example, she portrays steamships, the Mermaid Parade and Astroland all in one mural depicting Coney Island.
“What I love about doing murals is that I’m not just in a studio by myself,” Siracusa said, reflecting upon the experience of painting in a public area where local residents witness the progress that is made each day. “I have living history walking around me constantly. Sometimes people give me insights, they tell me things and I’m like ‘Gee, I didn’t know that. I think I’ll include that in the mural.’”
Siracusa’s next step in expanding her art for the people has been to adapt her murals to
everyday household items like mugs, towels, bags, cell phone cases, pillows, lampshades and clothing.
“I’m trying to create murals in different ways,” she said. “If people don’t have a wall, I’m like, ‘hey, put it on the couch with the pillows.’”
As she laid out some mural-inspired clothing, she sported a tank top that matches her recent mural, “View of Coney Island Beach,” which graces the back wall of a nursing home cafe in Brooklyn. For this photographic piece, Siracusa painted the Palladian windows of a landmark Coney Island building, adding in stained glass and green curtains. Outside the large windows is the Coney Island beach and boardwalk.
“They can feel it,” said Siracusa of the nursing home patients. “They can look out. I’m bringing the outdoors in. The weather’s bad, it’s too windy, they can just look out at the beach.”
She added, “The flowers in the murals never have to be watered.”