The bravery and courage of the 343 New York City Firemen and Women who lost their lives in the World Trade Centre’s Twin Towers 911 attacks have been immortalised in a unique new exhibition by Newcastle based artist Alexander Millar.
The Every Day Heroes exhibition at his gallery in Grey Street, Newcastle contains eight original works and six limited edition prints, and it is the first time that they have been exhibited together in the UK.
Best known for his iconic “Gadgie” paintings and sketches, the inspiration for the new exhibition draws on his moving experiences talking to the men and women who ran into the Twin Towers to fight the fires while others fled to safety.
While watching an online interview with Pearl Maynard, the mother of black firefighter Keith Roy Maynard who lost his life in the attacks, Alexander was so moved that he decided to do something to honour the bravery of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
“I did a painting of Keith Roy wearing his American fire fighter tunic with his surname at the bottom and included his Ladder 33 helmet carrying his little son. I draped the American flag over his shoulders, and it was a moving, evocative image. It prompted me to do more firefighter paintings and I was asked by the New York City Fire Department to do a show in New York.”
While in New York, Alexander got a rare opportunity to spend a lot of time with the firefighters who attended the attack. He heard at first hand behind the scenes stories of bravery, horror, and racism particularly towards black firefighters.
“What disturbed me most was the way black firefighters were treated by the public and in some cases their peers. I heard harrowing accounts of photographers on scene when a deceased firefighter was pulled from the debris and when it was discovered he or she was black, they refused to take photographs waiting instead until a “more newsworthy” white fire fighter was recovered.”
As a result of his personal conversations, Alexander decided to focus his work on the roles of black fire men and women. One of his biggest pieces called “New Dawn” shows four black firefighters raising the American flag in the rubble and is based on the World War Two Iwo Jima photograph. Four of the 12 black firefighters who died have their names shown on the tunics in the painting.
Perhaps Alexander’s favourite paintings in the exhibition features black woman fire fighter Tracy Lewis where he has captured the strength, courage, and determination of her character.
One of the highlights of the New York exhibition was when he was visited by the lady who influenced his firefighting work, Pearl Maynard.
“It was like seeing my mum again, we hugged, and we looked at the painting of her son and we both cried. It was a truly magical moment full of emotion for both of us.”
The paintings have been in storage in the USA for three years due to COVID and it’s taken more than four months and a lot of red tape to have them shipped over for the exhibition.
“September 11th is always an important day in my year. We commemorate all fire fighters each year but this year on the 21st anniversary, it is extra special as I now have a deeper insight into their lives, work and sadly deaths.
“I sincerely hope that my exhibition does these fine men and women justice and that it will make everyone think about the work that so many people do, putting themselves in danger for the benefit of others.”
The Every Day Heroes exhibition is now on display at Alexander Millar Fine Art, Grey Street Newcastle until mid October.