Martin Wong, Big Heat, 1988. Synthetic polymer on canvas, 60 1/8 × 48 in. (152.7 × 121.9 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee 99.89
Courtesy of The Estate of Martin Wong and P.P.O.W Gallery, New York, NY
NARRATOR: This 1988 painting by artist Martin Wong is called Big Heat. Andrew Castrucci was a friend of the artist. During the 1980s, he and Wong were both residents of the lower east side.
ANDREWCASTRUCCI: I knew him as a character of the neighborhood. He used to walk around with this, the firemen’s uniform, actually. So he was kind of very theatrical.
Martin lived, I believe on Attorney Street in a tenement there, and he did have an obsession and love for, for bricks.
The tenements were beautiful to Martin, no matter how empty it was or, or so forth. It was like a Roman ruin or a Greek ruin or an Egyptian ruin, we were trying to hold on to the whole tradition of what the lower east side was about. The diversity of it. It’s very gentrified now and so forth.
Artists are constantly redefining what beauty is, so I think this is just another perspective of redefining beauty, the kissing firemen. It’s certainly celebrates gay life, but it’s also, I think, more abstract than that. It’s just about human contacts. I mean it’s part of the nature of the city is this beautiful chaos, somehow. And I really see this in this painting even though it’s very calm and still
He’s not a political artist or, I mean he transcends that socio-political thing or illustration. He transcends into an art form somehow. He does deal with that decadence or that loneliness in the urban environment and then there is also that beauty. He is, to me, a romantic painter.