Painting on the Roof

The Brooklyn Bridge and Bryant Park paintings

In the meantime, I started to paint on the roof of the Marino Studio building. I think that the idea had probably come from what McDonald had suggested to me when I saw him at his apartment previously. When I mentioned to John about painting on the roof of the 37th Street building, he liked the idea. He took my easel up there, and I started painting there.

It was summer then, probably July. John and I continued to stay at Marino Studio and eat the breakfast bun with a fried egg from Mr. Han every morning. After that, I would go up to the roof and start painting. John worked at the studio when I was working on the roof.

At lunchtime, John would go to Mr. Han again and get another bun for lunch. At lunch, Mr. Han served a different bun, which had cheese, lettuce and mayonnaise in it. Then, John would call me from a balcony at Marino Studio and throw the bun, which was wrapped in paper, to the roof where I was painting. John said that there was a Miss Han who had the same kind of sandwich shop in Queens. Shortly after the flying bun landed on the roof, John would bring a chamomile tea from the stairway to the roof. The roof of the building was empty. I always painted at the corner beside the door to the penthouse because it was usually shady and also it was a nice small hidden area, the perfect size for an “art studio”.

Brooklyn Bridge by Chiho Yoshikawa, 2002

What I started working on was from the new sketches I had made in NYC, such as Brooklyn Bridge and Bryant Park. The colour palette of my new paintings became brighter as I painted under natural light. When John told John Hegner and Kato, a Japanese sushi chef at Loft 11, that I was painting on the roof, they came to visit me. Kato looked with curiosity at the Bryant Park painting that I was working on and commented, “It is a little different, isn’t it?” I answered, “Yes, I have to make it different so that it differentiates me from other artists”. I was working on developing my own style.

I actually loved painting on the roof. I felt like I was in a different world from the rest who were down below in the hectic city. It was quiet and peaceful and I hardly saw any people. The only people I saw were one or two people on the roof of other buildings. They were usually doing some maintenance or fixing something. Once I saw many people on the roof of one building where it looked like they were having a party. When I was taking a break from painting, I rested in the small area by the door to the roof. It was muggy and hot there though.

Bryant Park in Afternoon by Chiho Yoshikawa, 2002

The weather was getting hotter. I wanted to try a different spot to paint, so I moved my easel to another part of the roof and painted all day. As the sun moved, I often painted under the sun. I was not sure where he found it, but John brought a branch of a partially withered palm plant one day and put it by my easel to create a shade. John also bought me a cap that was made of straw. I wore it when I painted and when I went out.

When I wasn’t painting, I sometimes just sat quietly on the stairs to the roof near Marino Studio. The door of Marino Studio was always wide open during the day, so Brian, the sculptor in Marino Studio, knew I was sitting there sometimes. And he said to John one day that I should have come into the studio rather than sitting there like a bird. I always tried to be very careful to not disturb Marino and other artists who worked there in the daytime. When I said that to John, he said, “Marino is an artisan. He does that same thing every day. He can do it even with his eyes closed.” So, he was saying to me that me coming to Marino’s studio didn’t affect his work. It seemed like the people who worked there didn’t require a lot of concentration on their work. I was glad that they weren’t annoyed about me being around there, but I tried to be respectful and still didn’t go in when they were working.

By that time, as I painted regularly, the navy-coloured pants that I always wore were full of acrylic paint, especially around my knees. I went everywhere with those pants. I actually quite liked wearing them because that made me feel like I was really an artist, which was what I had wanted to be before arriving in NYC. But one day, John took me to a local clothing store and I found some stylish black corduroy pants. They really fit me well when I tried them on in the store, so John bought them for me. They had a boot cut and there were several metal buttons on the bottom of the sides. I liked that unique design. Also, on another day, he took me there again and I found a nice blue denim jacket. He bought that for me too. I also went to buy new shoes because mine were worn out and uncomfortable. In fact, they had never been comfortable as I had got them cheap at a second-hand store in Cork, Ireland. A staff member in the shoe store found me some brown leather sneakers. I hadn’t worn sneakers since I was in my early twenties so I wasn’t sure if I liked them. I had always thought that sneakers were something that school kids wore. But when I tried them on, they were really comfortable. So, I bought them.