Archives for category: very good art

Deanna Kirk

Fall of ’92, I flew from San Francisco to Newark. After a most dehydrating flight, a silvery beast of a bus shuttled me to Grand Central Station. Then, I busted my taxi cab hymen en route to my first college dorm called Marlton House. I dragged my schlep into the world’s slowest elevator and waited a year for it to arrive at the seventh floor. I found my room and pushed open an orange door heavier than a busload of bowling balls.

A twin bed, a desk, and a chest of drawers, none of them flush with any of its four feculentastic walls. My new home was so compact that in this unfortunately furnished riddle of horror, there was nowhere for the luggage of a lost little girl, except atop a dank mattress.

Marlton House is at 5 West 8th Street. It was built in 1900 and was basically cheap single room lodging for struggling artists, poets and transients. Poached by the New School in ’87, it was the hip haps for Beatnik types. Wikipedia told me that Lenny Bruce stayed there during his infamous sixth month trial for obscenity. To which he argued:

“…that to is a preposition, and come is a verb, that the sexual context of come is so common that it bears no weight,,, and that if someone hearing it becomes upset, he or she probably can’t come.”

Lenny was lucky to have lived during an age when the word come wasn’t alternatively used as cum in reference to ejaculation or orgasm. Even in my horniest hour, I despise the order of those three letters. Don’t ever type or text that mess to me.

(But I do love Lenny Bruce.)

My new home was one block from the entrance to Washington Square Park and a spit’s distance to MacDougal Street. The lobby was petite. A stairwell, an elevator and a tiny front desk with small numbered mail cubbies were all jammed into 500 square feet or so.

I can only assume the school didn’t do much to rid the building of its residual inhabitants. I estimate there were two “original” residents average per floor. Doesn’t seem daunting? Consider this. We shared toilet seats and showers with these creatures.

Don’t forget we are talking about New York City here. As glamorous as you want it to be is about how god damn dirty it is.

Since I signed up for housing late, I was placed on a waiting list and received the only available and least desirable room. This was the smallest (literally), and biggest (figuratively), craphole in the crapheap.

Shrouded in scaffolding, it was moody and menacing. It felt damp and dejected, weepy and wilted. It was kind of brownish and maroon all over. The elevator smacked gothic insane asylum. My room was number 709. It was easy to remember because it took approximately seven hundred and nine seconds for the elevator to get me there and right about the same number of sobs to get me to sleep.

709 smelled like my brother’s sweat socks as if he had wiped his ass with them after pooping in the grass during a long distance run on the hottest day of the year. After several nights in this place I’ve just described, and having made no friends to speak of I decided to slip the fuck out. I descended the cold marble stairs while sparring with my inner crybaby.

I know it must seem like I was very spoiled, because I was. And as it turns out, this would turn out to be one of the better living situations of my life in New York City… considering all possible variables. But… you know… I was young and lame. So please, allow me a few more paragraphs of drivel before you administer any real lasting judgment.

There was a public phone on every floor of the dorm. I would soon learn there would always be some fucker on each of them. Anyone I witnessed talking on any of those phones, I immediately and vehemently despised. I generally hate anyone in my way, but this was an extraordinary variety of contempt, particularly if I returned 30 to 45 minutes later to see the same individual enjoying the same conversation.

I saw a purple Post-it next to the sixth floor phone that read: “Peter, we are in the Village at Cafe Rafaella. – Martin.”

As I walked, I pondered the purple missive. I had heard of this Greenwich Village. I wanted to see it. Manhattan is narrow. How far off could I find myself? I wanted to accidentally stumble upon them.

I fantasized that Martin was a tall dark number with big hands and that his friend Peter was a European version of the gorgeous garbage-hauling boyfriend that I left back in Walnut Creek. And as I walked, I imagined the three of us chewing on espressos. I would behave as my very astute mother had advised me, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” (That meant I would smoke unfiltered cigarettes and put out almost immediately.)

I would be Catherine in a modern day Jules et Jim. And my terrible dorm room wouldn’t matter because we’d be in chic cafes all year. Then one night, right before summer break we would have a fantastic threesome in which I was the star. We’d share a hookah pipe afterward, giggle ourselves to sleep in a naked triangle flanked with a hodgepodge of pillows and not even one of us would be ashamed of our perilous pubic hair.

I walked way beyond my comfort zone. I kept thinking along St. Mark’s Place that I should turn back, but there was no phone or TV in 709. It was dark, late, hot and humid. I kept on until I reached Avenue A which I didn’t recognize until I realized the shadowy park that frightened me, would be one Tompkins Square.

All around me people in drab clothing droned and smoked… each and every one of them with a mess of things hanging from them. Beads, chains, scarves, dreads, drool. It was like the Halloween apocalypse. My need to squirt caught up with my hunger so I ended up at some dump where I read a Village Voice over a pile of salty Vegetable Don and warm beer.

(I have a very gastronomically complicated relationship with beer.)

For a change of scenery, I decided to walk back on E. 7th St. I was having a behemoth carbohydrate hangover. Sluggish and gassy, I passed a black unmarked door with the coolest music happening behind it. I walked on a bit, but couldn’t let go of that music, so I turned back. As I opened the door, a grenade of cigarette smoke slapped me across the face.

The music was marvelous and the room was small. A jazz quartet struggled to conform to a corner. There was a Steinway, a stand up bass, a saxophonist and a bearded bad ass on a snare drum. The music was so loud that no one could speak and so divine that no one would. Everyone sucked on cigarettes. There was a bar to my left and some tables to my right and not a single empty seat. I stood against the bar until I saw one. The ceiling was low and stained brown and yellow, the walls lined with dark purple curtains. This was the most important place in the world.

I only had ten dollars so I sat down and drank a glass of offensive red wine. I presume an hour, maybe two, had passed. I began crushing on the bassist. He had longish hair that was real, real dirty. His eyes were closed mostly. When he finally opened them they landed on my brand new pink Vans.

I had to go, because my Vans were so stupid.

I farted my way back across town… to my extraordinary new home in Greenwich Village.

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This was a stupid fucking story about a special moment in New York’s jazz history.

(I can’t believe you actually read it.)

For five gorgeous years, seven nights a week, there was Deanna’s. It was just exactly, specifically what every proprietor of every stupid speakeasy or “indie” venue is currently trying to pull. But Deanna didn’t try… It was just good.

So good.

Deanna Kirk is a legendary vocalist and pianist from Long Island. She was discovered at the Bolshoi Ballet in the late 1980’s by some British entrepreneur types who helped her realize her very own club in New York’s East Village.

Her first recorded album was live and entitled Live at Deanna’s. (I can’t believe I don’t own it. After I publish this post I will be sniffing around the internet for it.) She is not just a performer, but also a writer. Her studio albums, entitled Marianna Trench and Where Are You Now, received messes of positive press and acclaim.

Tragically, the venue of my dreams burned to bits and Deanna was left to salvage her memoirs.

Gregoire Alessandrini was a student in Greenwich Village in the ’90’s. I was too, but this guy actually did something with his time. He has posted these and so many more on his blog. I spent all day staring at these gems. He was everywhere. We must have passed each other because I have a picture of the same person from Wigstock ’93. There are so many memories here.

Someone handed Richard Sandler a Leica in ’77 and blessed us with this flawlessness. He believes everything can be seen on the streets. He believes filming is easier than still photography.

Sandler believes cellular phones have robbed the photographer of their subjects, “There is nothing more boring, nothing more nondescript and vacant than a person on a cell phone walking down the street. They seem to be out of the game. People are walking around in bubbles.”

Technology suffocates the mess. The mistakes are in the mess and the beauty is in the mistakes.

These are stills I found online of Multiple Maniacs, Mondo Trasho and Cry Baby mostly. Part Two will be photographs taken by me of my monitor as I am revisiting Polyesther and Female Trouble.

My to do lists are generally pretty bipolar.

1884: Thomas Eakins, an American photographer shot a long exposure of a man jumping. During exposure with the same plate Eakins opens access of light into the lens by stroboscopic shutter eight times during the span of his subject’s jump. Today this technique is referred to as multi-exposure.

 

1914: Lillian Moller Gilbreth, an American Psychologist and Industrial Engineer, along with her spouse, Frank Gilbreth (who was bored with his job as a brick layer and was desperate to find ways to make that shit less tedious and faster), collectively became interested in motion study and human factors. They  put small lights in the sleeves of factory and clerical workers and used the open shutter of a camera to track and record their motions.

 

1940: Barbara Morgan, co-founder of the photography magazine Aperture believed that everything was made of “dancing atoms” and by no coincidence was best known for her photographic depictions of dancers. She said she “began to feel the pervasive, vibratory character of light energy as a partner of the physical and spiritual energy of the dance, and as the prime mover of the photographic process… Suddenly, I decided to pay my respects to light, and create a rhythmical light designs.” She did these with an open shuttered camera in her darkened studio.

 

1935:  Man Ray, used them in his series “Space Writing.”

 

Around 1949, a LIFE magazine photographer named Gjon Mili, befriended Pablo Picasso in the French Riviera, and shared with him his photographs of ice skaters and musicians with lights affixed to their hands and feet. Mili was the pioneer in the use of stroboscopic instruments for the sake of artistic interest.

 

Inspired by Mili’s progress, Picasso began making images in the air with a camera and a flashlight in a dark room. These are my favorite of Picasso’s works. They transcend time and give me hope that time is something that can indeed be slowed down and observed from a more indulgent part of me. Almost tasted. The literal lines created by the flashlight are enough to satiate my aesthetic mind. But what’s more is the background, the space, and Picasso himself visible in the room give me so much more to take away. I am more intrigued seeing the artist at work, than actually viewing his priceless paintings.

Denimu_Art_sbeforeitwent Denimu_Art_LondonES    Denimu_Art_newsagent_NY3

British born Ian Barry goes by the moniker “Denimu” and collages gorgeous studies of light purely in the medium of denim. He collects discarded jeans and cuts them up into little pieces to create sublime collages. Here is a photo of his studio that appears to be very organized and inspired:

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…and more photos of his works that boast very delicate detail:

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Shannon Vavrinchik is brilliant and even when she wants to serve up some whimsy, the finished piece always lands on a dark note. Whether she is conscious of this or not is known to me, but I love and covet everything she has ever shown me since I’ve known her.

Once I worked in a cube opposite an insufferable music buff. He went on about every kind of music. Even Christian shit. It was 2004 and I didn’t drive or listen to the radio so I relied on other people’s recommendations. He often barfed out a barrage of band names, but before I got bored of listening, he had already schooled me on the magic of Magnetic Fields, touting their album 69 Love Songs… which is actually, a collection of 69 love songs.

I had to have these 69 Love Songs. I bought them at Virgin on Union Square. I put them on my desk. I liked the way they looked on my desk, so those love songs lived there for a long while.

I went to a bar on East 14th Street called Nowhere. I went to a lot of bars. But this one I remember because only like one fiftieth of the bars I go to are gay ones, since I am only one fiftieth gay. I met my friend Monika there. She brought her main gay Michael, who is a little bit of a bitch. Monika and Michael knew everyone there because Michael had lived upstairs since the Summer of Sam.

I used the unisex toilet with the defective doorknob as soon as we arrived. Mid squirt, the bartender walked in on me. It wouldn’t have been so humiliating if it weren’t for the threadbare Playtex Powershaper hiked up around my waist. Back at the bar we chuckled and chortled about our very intimate encounter. He went back to work. Michael and Monika gossiped while I sucked on a Stinger. Then a shortish guy came up to me holding a shiny white binder chock full of tabs. The bartender introduced me to his friend Stephin. Stephin asked me how tall I was. I told him 5’6″. (If it were a straight bar I would have lied and said 5’7″ because, you know, all straight guys are completely shallow.)

He opened his shiny white binder. There were pages upon pages of name tags, MY NAME IS in red, and then mail merged with a spreadsheet of the names of celebrities and historical figures. The pages of these name tags were three hole punched and filed under tabs marked with the numbers of different human heights organized in ascending order, inch by inch. People peered over his shoulder to see what the binder was all about. Stephin chose “Napoleon” for me. Indifferently, he peeled it off and handed it to me hanging off of his pointer finger. “Here,” he said, and then turned away as if he were an unpaid intern at an event passing out actual nonfictional name tags.

Stephin’s next subjects were not as accommodating. Michael screamed, “OH MY GOD, what is this stupid mess??” He gestured wildly, “Stephin, you spend way too much time on the internet.”

Stephin’s reply was monotone, however his eye roll could be felt as far away as Central Park, “I do not spend too much time on the internet.”

My breasts were beasts and my Napoleon name tag boomed as I overheard Michael say to Monika, “He’s got some pretentious fucking band called Magnetic Fields.” Soon everyone except Michael had a name tag and Monday morning I finally broke open the cellophane and listened to a steady stream of love songs for the next several months. The music is brilliant to say the least. It is tender and painful… melodic and hypnotic… layered and lovesome.

Stephin suffers from a permanent condition called hyperacusis, which is basically over-sensitivity to loud frequency ranges. He talks and sings on the quiet side and when he performs live he wears earplugs to hear himself. He also plays the guitar, keyboard and ukelele. He wrote an off Broadway musical called “Coraline” which is based on a novel by Neil Gaiman. He also wrote the music for a the soundtrack of Pieces of April, a silent film, the score for some show on Nickelodeon, a jingle for a Volvo commercial, and various other musical theater productions.

He is a beautiful poet, and an all around artistic genius who is often misunderstood.

In ’92 I went around with a cooler than cool mother fucker from New Jersey. Doughy and dastardly, he was the opposite of athletic and the sole owner of my affection. I was fully infatuated and completely out of my usual nerd universe. I even went around with him tagging, pants sagging. This kid chewed up my heart and spit it right back out like a bad bit of beef jerky. One sleepless night, not long after he put me on the curb, I would write him one of those letters you never actually send trying to sound unbreakable, but just coming across pathetic.

At some point I got to an age where I reflected on the whole graffiti thing and just regarded him a lamo that needed a decent fucking hobby, like reading. Present day, I am middle aged, and am profoundly jealous of anyone testicular enough to go underground at night, jump fences, vandalize anything, and simply be savvy with a can of spray paint (…also of anyone who still has cartilage in their knees).

New Jersey taught me basic graffiti rules and principles. Had I never fell for him, I would have never noticed the REVS COST phenomenon going on around me. In the beginning, during the late eighties and early nineties, their game was endless wheat pasted letter sized post ups on the backside of walk/don’t walk signs reading ‘REVS’ stacked atop ‘COST’. Any director doing anything set in 90’s New York should consider this as mandatory background. They also mixed shit up with little phrases and words with their monikers. Amongst them:

SPECIMEN REV – (I am just a specimen of a larger whole)

COST WAS HERE

MACHINE REVS – (I am a hard worker. Like a machine)

COST IS DEAD

TURKISH REVS – (This one has no meaning whatsoever)

COST FUCKED MADONNA

LOUSY KID REVS

COST (212) 592-4133

This last one is went beyond creative. It was a dare. Someone called the number and it was an old lady in her 90s, who goes by the tag ‘Graff’s Grandmother’. Graff as in Graffiti. Obviously, this was probably an actress doing a fictional character. She claimed to be COST and REVS’ unofficial grandma and explained how they were good boys and that she is proud how they were holding up the standards of graffiti. She also claimed to have spent time in the joint, “runnin’ shit” and had a heart to heart with Mike Tyson about his spiritual morals which led to his conversion to Islam. Here is a great Graff’s Grandmother quote;

“I built these boys and I built them to last. As you can hear I am no joker and neither are they. They are merely henchmen to me and purely servants to New York City. They are art outsiders looking in on life and watching and learning from other people’s stupidity. They are the sugar in your coffee, the sauce in your spaghetti, the salt in your stew. They are everything you’ve ever wanted but haven’t realized yet, so take it from me, kiddies, the Grandma of Graff says COST and REVS are on the move.”

The duo also installed massive works on the walls of outdoor parking lots in Lower Manhattan and Chelsea. COST and REVS’ work could also be seen on many city roof tops. They rendered their names in large scale block letters with paint rollers. The simplicity of the letters was a departure from the very stylized trends that were happening at that time. This would actually become its own trend and later referred to as roller letters. In addition to the wheat pastes and the rollers, they did a mural on Lafayette Street called “Mount Crushmore”, which featured Keith Herring, Andy Warhol and the two of them on top of Mount Rushmore. Another mural, on Elizabeth Street featured Rodney King called “King of Pigs”. They also painted the interior of a McDonald’s in Paris which I was able to find a photo of.

I did more of my research on REVS, but from the images I found, it seems that COST was a bit more ambitious commercially, if you can even say that about a NY graffiti artist… what I mean by that is that he kept his work mainly above ground, in the light of day, for the passerby to see and the camera to capture.

REVS, on the other hand, spent a few years in the tunnels, which makes him a total anomaly to me. He is passionate about his philosophy. He believes that, “once money exchanges for art, the art becomes fraudulent.” He goes on to say, “We think art should be dangerous. Everybody’s into safe art, doing safe things in their studio. We’re bringing danger back into it. It’s got to be on the edge, where it’s not allowed.”

REVS hasn’t been outed in terms of his identity, except for that he is an iron worker from a blue collar neighborhood in Queens. The “irony” here, is that he went into the subway tunnels and outed himself there… Against the walls of the tunnels, where no one could see. He stole a subway employee uniform and wore that, and took with him, a can of white paint, a ladder, a roller and made a rough 4×9 foot canvas for himself. Then, he took black spray paint and began writing his life story. he did this between subway stations, as if they were pages in a book. Over and over, there are two hundred and thirty five of them. He is a poet. and even though he eventually did get caught, it was a miracle that he was able to evade the Vandal Squad long as he did. Lately he has been creating metal sculptures that you can see around the city. It is unclear if these are authorized or not. Personally, I hope they aren’t, as I’d like to think REVS stays true to his convictions.

In all the years I lived in Lower Manhattan, I never actually saw anyone tagging, except for that boy who broke my heart. I was out almost every night, and the streets I’ve lived on were covered in graffiti, so this is pretty mind blowing. They are stealth. And the graffiti is beautiful to me. Its a sign of the times and an constantly changing concrete tapestry of a very special place on earth. Without it, the Lower East Side would just be another neighborhood in Manhattan.

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