A late night in 2000, driving a long, quiet stretch of the Garden State Parkway, I was hit by one of those elusive, visceral memories I babbled on about in my last post. A top forty station was the only thing I could get with any reliability and, since I needed noise to keep me awake, I had no choice but to mourn the death of western civilization at the hands of boy bands, autotuned popettes and suburban rappers. Then, in the depths of my despair, a song came on that slapped me in the face. It was an upbeat tune, pure pop and vaguely reminiscent of Nat King Cole’s “Lazy Days of Summer”, a favorite of mine. The singer had the typically bland, squeaky pop voice and it wasn’t a particularly brilliant song but there was one line that almost made me hit the brakes: “When I kiss your salty lips”. I was instantly transported back to the summer of ’77.
I am 15 years old, working at a summer camp in upstate New York. It’s evening in the empty playground with a girl whose name I can no longer remember. The last sliver of light is silhouetting the trees and providing enough glow to make everything beautiful. She’s my age, probably a waitress. We’ve been talking, moving nervously closer to each other in an excruciating dance of expectation. Fleeting, accidental contact, our heads tilting in a super slow motion collision. I’m going to kiss her! It’s not my first kiss, but it will be my first “French” kiss. Our mouths meet and the first thing I think is “Her lips taste salty, weird.”
I had to make a piece about that, not necessarily a literal rendering but something that afforded me the same reverie as that insipid song. I painted “Her Salty Lips” (2000, 24” x 48”, OC) for the exhibition that I was getting ready for. It was one of the first to sell and I was surprised at the opening how many people understood what it meant from the title.
The image still gnawed at me afterward so I got to work on an icon for myself. It was one of the most strangely sensual pieces I’d ever come up with and resonated with me much the same as Munch’s “The Voice/Summer Night”, possibly the most erotic painting of all time. If I could steal one picture in the world, this would be it.
My second effort “Her Salty Lips” (2001, 6” x 14”, mixed media) allowed me to explore the subject more closely, building, recapturing the turning sky, the grass under our bare feet. It’s one of the few pieces I’ve never allowed myself to part with and to make sure it always stayed around I gave it to my wife who still makes me swoon like that fifteen year old boy.