Stars of the Forest: Elegy for 9/11. 2001. 76 x 108 inches. Acrylic on canvas.

“Stars of the Forest: Elegy for 9/11” 

by Naoto Nakagawa

The morning of September 11, 2001, I was mixing paints for the day’s work as I do every morning. When my Tribeca studio shook for a second, I thought it was an earthquake. A few minutes later, my wife, Caroline, called to tell me that there had been a terrible accident at the World Trade Center. 

In the early 1970s, from my Chambers Street studio, I had watched the World Trade Center go up. I felt in awe of its scale and height and also regret that so many beautiful buildings and old shops — part of New York City’s historic landscape — had to be torn down to make way for the twin towers. 

I have witnessed the tallest buildings in New York going up and then falling down, destroyed along with so many lives.

I had started this painting, “Stars of the Forest,” a week before 9/11 and completed it by the end of the year. At the time, I was unaware that it would be an elegy for that disaster. In fact, the image had been in my mind for almost a year, inspired by some beautiful star-shaped moss I had seen on a forest floor along the Hudson River. The moss shone in the morning dew, the sunlight glinting and giving it vivid colors, like blue nesting in yellow, orange, and flaming red. It was a glorious moment in nature’s drama. I wanted to capture it in paint! 

As I was completing the painting, after working on it for three months, I came to realize what it was about. The inner light that permeates the entire surface represents the victims of 9/11, expressed as shining stars.