I did my first studies for Kiss in a backwoods cafe in North Carolina, during a lonely and miserable time in my life. A very young woman brought me coffee and coconut cream pie, and asked if I was studying art in school. She said she used to be in school, but that she had to quit when she got pregnant. I told her that I thought it is wonderful that she has a daughter. She seemed to genuinely appreciate that, and told me that my feelings are not shared by the conservative townsmen. I told her that it’s wonderful, and that she shouldn’t let anyone tell her otherwise. Of course, I can’t do a thing for someone like her, but I choose to believe that, nothing we do for love is ever a mistake. In the following weeks, I thought of her often as I painted my ode to love. Perhaps as a reaction to such incidents, when I started painting Kiss, it was really just about the lovers, undeterred by the rain or any of the world’s concerns. I was polarizing the lovers against the rest of the world, and I realize I was being a bit callow. In order to highlight the values that the lovers stood for, I was inadvertently devaluing everyone else in the picture. But as I worked on the painting, I started to see things more roundly. I came to realize that the businessman was not just a faceless suit, but a real person with real feelings. As I tried to render things with care and affection, I started to feel a deeper sympathy for everyone and everything, and as a result, I think it’s a much warmer piece than it started out as. I wanted this piece to have an intensely romantic core framed by a world that was sad and sweet at the same time. At first, I had the lovers framed by a pink umbrella—it worked as an idea, but it looked too distracting. When I painted the umbrella blue, everything was unified. I’ve always found the “Merge” traffic sign to be very sensuous. Above the neon “dolci” sign of the pastry shop, I wanted something quietly heartbreaking. I came up with “Tears of the Mermaid.” I like the idea that no one would ever see her tears.
I guess the image of lovers kissing in the rain is a real Hollywood cliché…I think we feel great pressure to avoid clichés and ridiculously romantic subjects, because we fear that our peers will regard us as weak or naïve if we admit to harboring such fancies. We either avoid clichés altogether, or we diffuse them with a self-conscious irony. But I go all out and shamelessly reveal my fantasies, regardless of how silly they may be. People have commented on my openness and courage. But it isn’t courage—it’s just that, to me, my fantasies are of greater importance than the need to hide them. I have a need to depict my fantasies, to give life to them, and in so doing, if my stupidity or weakness or whatever vulnerability is revealed, I suppose it’s a bit embarrassing, but I can live with that. And I have learned that people really respond to my honesty. I guess it is pretty ridiculous to fancy oneself as a protagonist in an absurdly romantic scene, but I don’t see anything wrong with any person wishing to be in such a scene, and anyone who can recognize that honest desire in oneself will probably respond to my art. Art that is meaningful to me is about real things we honestly feel, not things we should feel.