My image of ‘Q Train’ went viral, it was that ‘lightning in a bottle.’ Originally the image of the girl in ‘Q Train’ was in a different environment not in a train. It was a pastel of two girls sitting in a bar with a man in a white suit. It was an image that never satisfied me, the only figure I liked in the picture was the girl with her head in her hand, so I erased everything in the picture but her. The sheet of paper was pinned on my wall for three months with the figure of the girl floating in the air. Then one day I walked into the studio and thought if she were sitting in a subway car it could work, by the end of the day I had finished ‘Q Train.’
A few months later my dealer in New York phoned and said: “The curator for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (“M.T.A.”) is coming to the gallery to buy pictures and do you have any subway or bus paintings that we can show them?” I had two pastels, ‘Q Train’ and another, I sent him both. The M.T.A. bought the other picture and rejected ‘Q Train’ which was returned to me.
I sent it to my dealer in Palm Beach who showed it in exhibitions and displayed it in the gallery window but it never sold. A year later a woman walked into the gallery and said to my dealer: “I was here last year to bury my mother, you had a painting of a girl on the subway in your window, it has haunted me, do you still have it?” She bought the picture and that should be the end of the story.
But a few years later social media started and I posted some pictures on my Tumblr page and ‘Q Train’ awoke; it was connecting with an audience, people were writing about it and they identified with the girl on the train. I received emails from girls telling me it was them in ‘Q Train.’ They asked: “When did you see me on the subway?” They were striking the ‘Q Train’ pose in subway cars and posting the photos on social media. There were postings showing variations of ‘Q Train’ painted or drawn by other people. It even became a tattoo on peoples’ arms. Then it was being misattributed to Edward Hopper and discussions began online over its authorship. I took it as a great compliment but wondered about the confusion, as the girl in the image was contemporary and this type of subway car was designed 40 years after Hopper’s death.
With all this attention I started getting requests for posters, and as ‘Q Train’ was created at a time when artists only took 35 mm slides of their work I did not have an image good enough to make a poster. So I did a painting of the ‘Q Train’ pastel to solve the problem.
A few years later and twenty-five years after I made the original pastel of ‘Q Train,’ I was with a new dealer; we were in the studio picking pictures for my New York exhibition and he wanted to include ‘Q Train’ as he saw its power. ‘Q Train’ had started its life with rejection: my first dealer rejected it, a major collection rejected it and my other dealer had problems selling it. If ‘Q Train’ had not spoken to a passer-by through a shop window it might still be in my gallery’s painting racks. But its popularity and success came from a new medium, social media where it was found by a younger audience.