By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — Marcus Robinson set out eight years ago to document the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site without words.
The artist and filmmaker wanted to create a body of work that would transcend language and cultural barriers, to show the world what was happening on the 16-acre site that witnessed the worst terrorist attack on American soil.
"It's about the passing of time and the whole idea of transformation," said Robinson, 51, who moved to TriBeCa to be closer to Ground Zero. "It’s a very magical process."
Today, Robinson’s project, called "Rebuilding the World Trade Center," consists of 40 paintings, 70 drawings and several short films — and it’s just beginning.
Eventually, Robinson envisions creating a feature-length movie that cobbles together video footage with images of his artwork, one blending into the other to show the intersection of the physical world with the imagined one.
"Both the film and the paintings are about how an idea starts in the unformed unconscious," Robinson said, "and then it becomes a drawing, and then the drawing gradually becomes matter in the material world."
Robinson works on his largest paintings from a stunningly spare raw space on the 48th floor of Larry Silverstein’s 7 World Trade Center, with views that stretch across New York Harbor and up to Midtown.
Most of the time, though, Robinson draws and paints from life at the World Trade Center site itself, capturing the workers in action. He also has time-lapse cameras posted around the site and shoots live-action footage.
Robinson does not attempt photographic accuracy in his artwork, but rather captures the shapes, colors and feelings of a scene, allowing people’s subconscious to fill in the details. Even the time-lapse footage has an artistic bent, with a rhythmic flow of light and shadow echoed in a musical soundtrack.
Some of the paintings contain imaginary elements, like ethereal rays symbolizing hope, which suffuse the rising steel.
So far, Robinson has created two extremely large paintings — they measure 8 feet by 16 feet — and he hopes to eventually make 50 to 70 of them, perhaps for a mammoth exhibit at London’s Tate Modern.
The size of the paintings, which are mostly done on large wooden boards, is commensurate with the scale of the site itself, Robinson said.
"It’s like New York — its scale transcends the human scale," Robinson said of the World Trade Center. "It’s extraordinary. It’s very moving and very inspiring."
A native of Northern Ireland, Robinson has worked as an architectural photographer in Paris and a documentary filmmaker in London. He started capturing Ground Zero in 2006, when the first foundation was laid for One World Trade Center.
Robinson wants to wait to exhibit his work and release his film until the site is complete, a milestone that is years away. He is funding the project himself, with some support from developer Silverstein Properties, and said he is in for the duration, no matter how long that is.
"The moment the idea came into my heart, I knew it was something I would follow through," Robinson said. "There’s something more powerful than just me doing it. There’s something that has kept me here."