The bright blue sky was rapidly filling with huge columns of black and grey smoke.
My eyes were fixated on the enormous gash on the side of the World Trade Center in New York. It looked as if it was bleeding.
My eyes glued to the skyline, I was horrified. My mind couldn’t process the reality I was facing, and the buzz in the CNN newsroom seemed to rise and fall by the second. As I looked out of the window, one of the World Trade Center towers started to fall.
Covering the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attack for CNN as a field producer was a life-changing event for me.
I was in the thick of things, but you didn’t have to be there to feel the enormous impact of what happened that crisp, clear September day.
While I was, at times, reduced to tears, my father, Gerald Siegel, an artist, showed his feelings in a completely different way.
He was so affected, so furious about what happened that he needed to express himself through his art.
Charcoal in hand, he started to draw out his emotions. One canvas turned into another and another, until he had five canvases across, 20 feet long, drawn out.
His paintbrush flew across the tightly stretched surface of the canvases as he painted powerful images onto a once-blank area. Overwhelmed with the need to make a statement, he dropped everything he was doing and painted for a month solid.
His painting is as shocking as the day itself. I asked my dad, what was he thinking. He looked at me, and it seemed darts were flying out of his brown eyes. He said, “I was angry at the futility and at the destruction of innocent people. What immediately comes to mind was Picasso’s Guernica. He, too, was angry at the fascists, just like I was furious with the terrorists.”
My dad’s painting is filled with vivid symbols. In the centre is the American flag being raised, showing the hope of the American people and the coming together of a nation.
The enormous canvas shows hands reaching up frantically out of the rubble of the fallen towers. The time of the attack is illustrated by watches, and wedding rings show the love lost and families ripped apart because of this tragedy.
Unfortunately, I have images of 9/11 etched into my being. But I couldn’t understand how my father expressed everything I felt so vividly.
“The horrific images were all over the place, stories of the fireman, of the victims’ families, and all the courage of the American people,” he said.
“Did you plan the painting out?” I asked.
“I sit in front of the canvas and work,” he replied. “My emotions pour out through the paintbrush. It’s not something I can plan. This was the reality around me, and I put the images together into a solid body of work.”
Sept. 11, 2001, was a tragic day. Up until now, I had never written about what I saw and how I felt, as doing so always left me in tears, and truthfully, I prefer to focus on fun.
My father has also been reluctant to show his painting, not wanting to put his heart on his sleeve for the greater public.
It’s been seven years since that life-changing day, and my dad and I decided we would both share a bit of our experiences together, to honour the day and the people who were lost.
If you want to contact Gerald Siegel, you can reach him through Masada Siegel, at [email protected]