9/11 Mystery Artist Speaks

Peter Buchman beside his commemorative Sept. 11, 2001, piece on Route 114
Peter Buchman beside his commemorative Sept. 11, 2001, piece on Route 114, a memorial that he did anonymously Catherine Tandy

    After 10 years of reflective silence, Peter Buchman has come forward to claim responsibility for the commemorative Sept. 11 artwork along Route 114 in East Hampton. Two silhouettes — one a fireman’s helmet and the other a policeman’s hat — surround the words “God Bless,” making a totem that acts as a subtle yet poignant reminder of the tragedy of that day.
    Mr. Buchman, who has been coming to the South Fork for more than 26 years, dividing his time between New York City and his house on Swamp Road in East Hampton, said that as an artist, he was more than just shaken up by the violence and destruction of Sept. 11, he was frozen — unable to work and unable to move on.
    “I didn’t know how to help myself or others,” he said last week. “It was foreign, larger than life, and very traumatic. As an individual, as an artist, as a man, I thought, ‘How do I get going again?’ I just couldn’t go on being the same. I needed to get it out. Drawing on a piece of paper at home wasn’t enough. I wanted the art to be public, but not about me.”
    And then it dawned on him: An anonymous red, white, and blue sign hung on a simple corner seemed like an ideal means of both catharsis and aesthetics, a piece of art that also ventured into folk territory — by the people, for the people.
    Why Route 114? It’s well traveled, guaranteeing visibility and thought provocation.
    Was he worried about being seen as he put it up? Not really. “In New York City, you could pull your pants down and no one even looks at you,” he said, laughing. “Here, they think, ‘Oh, it’s another yard sale for this weekend.’ ”
    The three-piece sign is decidedly straightforward: fashioned from a 15-minute hand sketch, cut from plywood with a jigsaw, and covered in house paint.
    Mr. Buchman, who worked in advertising for 15 years after college, had closely studied the history and impact of signs. “There is a huge amount of art that isolates,” he said. “There is a validity and power in a statement that is readily understandable. I also felt like there wasn’t much room for public opinion; no one was touching it.”
    He said that while he told only two people in 10 years that he was behind the artwork, he was moved to confession partly because of the anniversary and partly because of a strange occurrence.
    “After nine years, it was so faded you could barely see what was there,” he said. “I was thinking of taking it all down. But one day I drove by in late April or May and I couldn’t believe it. Someone had repainted it. It was designed to be temporary, commemorative, but one person had enough desire to make it last for another 10 years.”
    Mr. Buchman said that kind of gratification in making art is rare. It’s very different from selling a piece to a stranger and having it hang out of sight in someone’s house, or in a gallery with only a few discerning eyes passing over it.
    He also said he doesn’t believe that the art is political, although he himself is.
    “I hate fearmongering. We attacked a country that wasn’t involved,” he said. “And people don’t have the time to read the news. I guess they’re busy working too hard. But art is an arbiter of nuance. You can investigate without being confrontational. Sometimes I wish I had done more. It’s not my last statement on 9/11, but it needed to be made then, in my corner of the world.”