A SYRACUSE REBEL IN NEW YORK [15 pages]: In the late summer of 1959 I moved to the Lower East Side, renting a $56-a-month railroad type apartment on 10th Street and Avenue C. This was once a Jewish neighborhood, which had become Puerto Rican, except for the bakery where I regutarly bought a large round loaf of rye bread for 50 cents. My apartment was one flight up, a few blocks from where Allen Ginsberg lived; the bathtub was in the kitchen. I met a few artists and joined the co-op gallery called “The Brata” located on 3rd Avenue and 10th Street, one of the remaining co-ops from the previous 10th Street era. At the gallery, I had a one man show and participated in group shows.
I had developed my own method of making scutpture by using sand to cast hydrocal, so I needed a space on the ground floor. I found a single storefront at 217 East 2nd Street near Avenue C for $ 60 a month. My companion Elsa and I loaded all of our belongings in a rented push cart and making several trips at night, we moved. The neighborhood tooked tough. I had several skulls and bones from cows and hung them on the front store window together with one of my early sculptures, which was coated with black tar. I lit the whole thing with candies. It was a Strange voodoo-like sight in the night. In today's terminology, it would probably be considered the earliest installation by an artist in that area. The neighbors and the Puerto Rican children on the fotlowing days gathered around the window thinking I was a "brujo." One day, when my door was opened they saw a big black box that I used for sand casting. One of the children remarked, “That's where the magician cuts the lady in half.” The gypsy living in the storefront at the end of the block came over, knocked on my door wanting to know why I, who was not a gypsy, was Iiving in a storefront. I invited her in, told her I was an artist, and showed her some of my work.
Soon, my storefront was invaded by the Puerto Rican children and teenagers from the neighborhood with whom I had become friendly. Elsa nicknamed one of the children “Peanut,” who, inspired by my artwork, began to draw some of my sculptures— my wooden trap doors which I had found and had intentionally burned and carved with a chisel—as well as creating his own work which I exhibited in the storefront. Past Delancey Street, in the Jewish neighborhood, they were tearing down block after block. It looked like a bombed out area from World War II. I vividly remember a dismembered wall remaining standing from an old synagogue with a big mural of the Lion of Judah. In the rubble is where I found the inspiration for what became a rapid succession of my new development in sculpture. With the help of some Puerto Rican teenagers, we fenced in the empty lot outside of the storefront facing Housten Street, creating an outdoor studio for my sculpture. read more in the book
ABOUT THE BOOK: The definitive anthology of New York’s underground cinema, in its creators’ own words. New York’s Lower East Side has been a fountain of creativity and art since the early 1950s, a free-wheeling bazaar of ideas and artists that has challenged and shaped mainstream culture. Captured tells the story of film and video in the Lower East Side and the East Village in the artists’ own words. Over one hundred contributors discuss the early years with Allen Ginsburg, Andy Warhol, Jack Smith, Taylor Mead, and Jonas Mekas, as well as the wild 70s and 80s with Jim Jarmusch, Steve Buscemi, Louis Guzman, Nick Zedd, and many others. Movements such as No Wave and the Cinema of Transgression are covered, as is the story of Pull My Daisy, considered among the true progenitors of “indie film.” Captured is part formal history and part inspirational text, to remind people on the outside looking in how often their contributions form the invisible pillars of American art and popular life. To quote the great pop art filmmaker Jack Smith, “Art school? Art school? I didn’t have the luxury of going to art school. I had to come to New York and go straight to work making art.”