Updated: Mar 19, 2021
Freedom came with a price. The following four years in New York City, while attending art school, were exhilarating, frightening, painful, joyous, and every other emotion I ever felt. New York is an extensively emotionally charged place for me. Almost as emotionally intense as the house where I grew up in Colombia.
You know how certain smells or perfumes can transport you to a memory or an emotion? The sounds of New York City’s traffic, the particular smell of the steam coming out from underneath the streets, the intense aroma of the subway smell mixed with the fragrance of stale urine, take me back to the New York of my twenties where I discovered love, broken heartedness, spiritual exploration, magic, my sexuality, most of my weaknesses, and of course, the realization that for me, making art was a necessity.
It is interesting. Every time I go back to visit, no matter what part of the city I am in, my soul and my heart take me to St. Marks Street. I always find myself standing on that corner, looking at my beloved Cooper Union with a burning knot in my throat. My eyes, as wide as possible so that I can take in as much as I can. I walk the streets looking down at my shoes hoping for magic to transport me back to those times when I used to carelessly stroll down this amazing city, thinking I would never leave her womb. It is very hard not to get choked up writing these words. Even as I sit here, 214 miles away from NYC, her magnetism pulls me. And yes, this city is a she.
Once I graduated, I stayed a fifth year. I had to move to Brooklyn where rent was more affordable. By this time, I was living with a roommate, paycheck to paycheck, and trying to survive a broken heart. I was completely destroyed. My first real relationship was over. After four years of thinking he was the love of my life and my best friend, my lack of knowledge on how to be in a relationship, drove him away. Cooper Union and Chris had become synonyms and both of them had ended. I felt stranded, lost and alone. It was 1993, and I was twenty-two years old.
How was I lacking the tools for a “normal” relationship? I never saw one growing up. All the adults around me strived through conflict. That was the only way I knew how to communicate, the only way I was taught. Also, I had seen my mother suffer so much in her relationship with Carlos, “the Calvary”, that I was always in attack mode. Unfortunately, Chris was at the receiving end. It took me many years and multiple marriages to almost heal that part of me, and about twenty years to get over Chris.
At some point during the year after graduating and while living in Brooklyn, I applied for a solo show at the Colombian Consulate in Miami. I was given the opportunity to show and I had a year to prepare. By this point I had to make a choice between buying art supplies or subway tokens to get to work. It was an office job in the city. How else was I supposed to make a living with an BFA?
During this same time my mother reopened her dance studio in Miami. She needed someone that she could trust to help her get the enrollment started. Moving to Miami and back home seemed like the logical, reasonable thing to do. I still wonder how my life would have been different if I had stayed. The departure was bitter sweet.