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Guest Opinion

Capturing our generation’s “day that will live in infamy”


I was living in a small cabin in a rural part of Bucks County when what they call “first reports” came in. Like everyone, I have flashes of images and tones as the morning took instant focus.

I clearly remember half-sitting on a stool behind my easel with a cup of coffee, looking at a painting in progress with NPR on the radio. There is no memory of which work that was, but it had to be compelling to keep me inside on what was described by one writer as “an achingly beautiful day.” Then the report.

I walked over to the television and turned it on. Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer were trying to sort out what was happening.

There was aerial footage of the first tower with a hole punched in the top and smoke pouring out. I watched the second plane enter the screen and hit the other building. Smarter people than me knew at that moment that things had changed forever.

I was absorbing, not forecasting. It was all I could do.

I can see parallels to my parents and their parents listening to the radio as first reports came in from Pearl Harbor. They had to imagine their images.

I wouldn’t be able to recall specifics from another day in 2001 without some kind of prompting.

I did this painting more than a decade later, from memory. It’s small, maybe 6 inches square. I was chasing the feeling of an indelible visual moment. Not the detail — the recognition and response. It’s a distilled image, simply constructed, using very few brushstrokes.

I had to do it multiple times to shed the noise. For me, it’s a portrait, a marker, an image and a tone, for another day that lives in infamy.

Robert Beck lives in Solebury.