Welcome to BSA Images of the Week! This week we have some great stuff from Norway for you.
The southern tip of Norway, graced by picturesque towns like Flekkefjord, Obrestad, Bryne, Sandnes, and Stavanger, is imbued with a rich tapestry of history, culture, and breathtaking natural beauty. Nestled along the summer coastline, these towns stand as a testament to Norway’s maritime history and heritage.
As you are driving and winding through the green rolling countryside and into quaint old idyllic towns countenancing picturesque harbors, waterfronts, wooden buildings, cobblestone streets, boat parades, seafood-focused cuisine, towering cliffs, and steep mountainsides plunging dramatically into the deep, serene waters below that, produce and interplay of light and shadow and a mesmerizing tapestry of colors, you think “Where did all of these sheep come from?” At first, during our two days of driving the south Norwegian countryside, we thought we had stumbled into a unique town with those puffy white animals dotting the green hills, constantly chewing, but they would soon disappear. Little did we know.
In the US, there are 16 sheep per person in the country. In Norway, it is 463.
And they are all freaking adorable—also rams. Rams are very adorable but might knock you on your rumpa if you get too close.
Also, there was a very modest amount of street art among all the natural beauty and stunning architecture. Still, with our expert guides, we found surprising occurrences of stencils and murals and the occasional tag while traipsing through places like Flekkefjord, Sandness, and Obrestad (in a lighthouse!).
Our sincere thanks to Tor and Marie for showing us the sights and the beautiful fjords. Hey, did you hear about the musical fjord? It’s quite a harmonious inlet!
Here’s our weekly interview with the street, this week featuring: Isaac Cordal, 1UP Crew, David De La Mano, Said Dokins, Ethos, JPS, Pøbel, Hama Woods, Smug, Jofre Oliveras, Helene Norkildsen, Nimi, RH-74 Renate, Pablo S. Herrero, Juan Fiveliner, Skrue, Anette Moi, Ugly Logo.
We wrote a story about the piece above back in February 2021. Read it HERE.
Happy Holidays! We’re celebrating the end of one year and the beginning of the next by thanking BSA readers, friends, and family for all of your support in 2022. We have selected some of our favorite shots by our Editor of Photography, Jaime Rojo, and we’re sharing a new one every day to celebrate all our good times together, our hope for the future, and our love for the street.
Do you believe that the only way to make an impact with art on the street is to paint multi-story murals of cute kittens, mysterious women, or zestful geometrics?
Try this tiny little red chair suspended under the U-Bahn elevated train tracks.
Floating perilously close to the seam of your imagination, this crimson seat has remained suspended in our minds most of this year – returning us to Jaime Rojo’s photo again periodically. Does it have a special meaning? Is it part of a set of other furniture? Is this simply one of the hundreds floating throughout the city that we didn’t spot?
The lesson we decided to learn is that one cannot underestimate the impact that their artwork may have.
An unusual opportunity to see this documentary this week for its first theatrical running. The thrill is compounded by the chance to see some “legends” on stage as well, says director Alexandra Henry – and she is right. Focusing on the street art and graffiti scene from a female perspective hasn’t been done previously. Still, the conversation about the balance of gender representation has been burning for more than a decade in the street and in festivals and street art symposia across the world. Henry travels across the US and into the Americas to find women to speak with to ask about their experiences in this practice that sometimes only happens in the shadows.
A fresh perspective that allows people to talk, Street Heroines unveils a complex history over time – inviting you to gain a greater appreciation for the players as well as the practices of a typical artist on the street today. When it comes to practicing these skills on the street as a woman in a macho or outright misogynist culture, the title appears as an accurate descriptor. Out from under the male gaze, these women have heroically been showing us the world from a vibrant, personal perspective that has required sacrifice, vision, and at times, some guts. Join Henry this week along with documentary photographer Martha Cooper and artists Lady Pink, Swoon, and Aiko right here in Brooklyn.
We had an opportunity to ask director Alexandra Henry about her film, her project, and the women she met along the way.
Brooklyn Street Art:Women artists have been typically under represented in receiving recognition for their work. This has been through and graffiti in Streetart as well. Do you see a change now?
Alexandra Henry: When I started this project 10 years ago it was because I recognized a deficiency in the representation of women in the movement. And I also recognized my own ignorance as I hadn’t realized there were so many female artists participating in graffiti and street art. I had been paying attention and documenting the subculture scene since I was teenager growing up in the Washington, D.C. area and then when I went to college in Los Angeles. But not until my late 20s, living in NYC, did I ever consider there were women out there doing graffiti or making street art.
In making this film, I wasn’t sure how it would begin or end, but I knew it would be important to honor the pioneering women who paved the way for the current generation of artists. Showing how Lady Pink’s and Martha Cooper’s friendship and collaboration put women on the map and inspired others to find their creative voice, not just in the USA but on a global level, is something we felt was an essential throughline in the particular stories we’ve chosen to tell in this film. It’s the ‘see it be it’ factor and we as filmmakers hope it is just the beginning of shining a light on the likes of talented women, who like TooFly says in the film, will get inspired to take their art to the next level. We want to make these women household names beyond the subculture and into the mainstream.
Brooklyn Street Art:From your original idea to fundraising to protecting and traveling and meeting the artists in your film, It has been a long journey. How did the final results differ from what you initially conceived?
Alexandra Henry: As I have a background in photography, initially I wanted to make a photo essay of women in the graffiti and street art movement. At the time, however, I was starting to experiment with video and learning how to edit so I decided to ask for their permission to film them while they were working and for an on-camera interview because I felt that capturing their process was just as important as highlighting the finished piece. I believe it is very impactful to hear directly from the artist, in their own voice. So I set out to make short films of each artist who agreed to be documented.
Eventually, I saw a bigger story coming together as women attributed their interest in the medium to others who came before them. I couldn’t find any of that history documented so I decided to make a feature-length film that would not only nod to the historical participation of women in the game but also look at the subculture through the female lens to show how much ground women have gained. As we know, the future of graffiti and street art is unpredictable, so contrary to my initial approach, where I had planned to tie up the story with a nice little bow, I’ve left it open-ended as I feel this could just be the beginning of telling many, many more stories.
Brooklyn Street Art: What is the best way to support a female artist? Alexandra Henry: The best way to support a female artist is to start with the young ones who show interest in the creative arts! And give them encouragement and resources to further develop their interest, whether through books, trips to see local murals, street art festivals, art museums, studio visits, and gallery shows. Street Art is everywhere; it’s prolific, so even if you don’t live in an urban area like New York City or Mexico City, or São Paulo, you can still find examples of street art in small towns. Point it out to your young artists so they can see their surroundings from a different perspective. And to support our Street Heroines and any female artist trying to break through, most artists have studio practices and sell their work, and you can find them via their social media posts. I’d recommend following them, buying their work, and attending their events if you are able to. If you work for a brand or art institution and are reading this article, hire more female artists, designers, creative directors, curators, filmmakers, etc.!
Brooklyn Street Art: What is one primary difference that you observed between men and women in working style or approach? Alexandra Henry: When it comes down to the working style or approach, I’d say we should differentiate between graffiti and street art. Graffiti, which is an illegal act that usually happens very fast, has a more aggressive approach and is meant to provoke society or fulfill one’s ego. And regardless if you are a man or woman, those are the intentions behind it. Street Art, to be clear, is usually done with permission and the artist can take their time to finish their piece. I’d say the messaging in street art aims to be thought-provoking and ego-stroking as well. But listening to some of the artists in the film, they note, for example, that many images in street art that portray women are made by male artists and are used to sell something or to show their view of society. So when a female artist or artists paint themselves in their own image, they eliminate the male gaze, and therefore the approach is inherently different than that of their male counterparts.
Brooklyn Street Art:Have you been personally inspired by the process and the results of making this film?
Alexandra Henry: Making my first feature-length independent film has been a testing process on so many levels, but very inspiring at the same time. I didn’t anticipate it taking this long, and I also feared the subject matter might feel dated or irrelevant if the film ever did get released. However, living with all of these artists in the edit bay for the past 5 years and listening to their stories of resilience, over and over again, gave me the energy to keep moving forward. Their perseverance truly resonated with our filmmaking team and me. I have to mention it was difficult not to include every artist we shot, but I hope to make a doc series in the near future because there are so many powerful stories we have tee-ed up.
As for the timing of the release, I feel like there is no better moment than now for Street Heroines to reach a wider audience so they can get to know these women, hear their stories, experience their art, and witness the very political act of just being a woman creating in the public space having her own agency. Especially given where we are as a society in the USA right now, where women’s rights are getting the rollback. As far as results are concerned, this past year we had a great film festival run for such an independent documentary, which was very exciting. I always love it when I hear from audience members who say they never thought or considered that women were graffiti or street artists until they watched the film.
I also get many follow-up comments or emails with pictures of street art people notice in their day-to-day life! I think the film helps open people’s perspectives to the power of public art. Additionally, I would say all the women who have reached out over the years from around the world to express their appreciation for the work we are doing in documenting this angle of the street art and graffiti movement and also wanting to be part of it, is very telling of how flourishing the community of female artists is at a global level.
Screening at Nitehawk Williamsburg on Wednesday, September 14th @7:30PM Full Info is Available HERE
Nitehawk Cinema, World Theatrical Premiere with Artist Panel, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, September 14th & 20th, 2022
A recent street stencil work by John Fekner, Don Leicht, and Brian Albert is a reprise, a sad reminder that the legacy of racism in the country has been with us for what seems like forever. During another chapter of Fekner’s creative life on New York streets he sang a visual HYMN to the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in the wake of the murderous brutality of white New York teens in Queens. Now thirty three years later the viciousness of police violence against black citizens on display can make you think nothing has changed fundamentally, even though we know it has.
We asked the artist how this HYMN at the Welling Court Mural Project this summer is a counterpart to the HYMN project more than three decades ago – a collaboration by John Fekner and Brian Albert.
“HYMN was a collaboration by John Fekner and Brian Albert. The project constructed on an embankment overlooking the Grand Central Parkway in Queens was intended as a call for peace, an immediate response to the growing racial tensions over the death of a young black man in New York City. A gang of white youths in the Howard Beach neighborhood of Queens brutally beat three black men whose car had broke down in the neighborhood, chasing one of the three, 23-year-old Michael Griffith from Bedford-Stuyvesant, to his death when he was hit by a car crossing the Shore Parkway on December 20th, 1986.
The piece consisted of a tombstone-shaped concrete electrical power box painted black with the word “HYMN” stenciled in 12-inch high white letters. Flush with the ground, in front of the ‘tombstone’ was a translucent 40” x 50” photographic print portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr., illuminated from a light source in the ground. The electricity necessary for the underground lighting was tapped from a streetlamp, which switched on at sunset.
Hymn was installed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 19th, 1987. Passing motorists could see the work both during the daytime and at night when it transformed into a subtle glowing image of harmony and peace. The illegally sited work remained for a few weeks and was eventually removed from the parkway embankment.”
John Fekner (with Don Leicht and Brian Albert) Hymn 2020 (Rest In Power) (above) is intended to be a solemn reflective message to show empathy and compassion to the local community and beyond, during this time of protest, police reform and positive change.
(Installation by Dante, Roman & Dave Santaniello at Welling Court Mural Project NYC)
How many times have you heard that? The animal kingdom has nothing on our subways, which can present a parade of species at all hours, from the scaley to the furry to the creatures covered with multi-colored feathers.
As anthropomorphic art became a trend in the 2000’s we began to see animals and humans merge in street art. The artist named Vinz Feel Free certainly comes to mind for his sexualized birds. Even early Gaia (circa late 2000s) used pigs, horses, roosters heads on human bodies, and a handful of other artists combined features cleverly on the street as well.
So it is again exciting to find that artist Jake Genen has recently postered his own curious campaign of surrealistic images that look like something from a mad scientist’s laboratory of the late 1800s perhaps. Posed as serious studio photos in period costume, your imagination is set aflame, imagining a world where full-size human-rabbits might sit for a formal shot. Although George Bush spoke of human–animal hybrids in 2006 at his State of the Union speech, we still haven’t seen evidence of such dastardly commingling of species. But keep your eyes open in the subway, bro.
Enjoy these wheat-pasted posters of Mr. Genen’s campaign at this years’ Welling Court community Street Art event in Queens.
Springtime in New York! Crocuses, tulips, fire extinguisher tags! Ahh the joy of life! Happy Purim to the Jewish neighbors. Saal-e-no mobaarak (سال نو مبارک) Happy New Year to the Iranian neighbors. Yes, this is New York, where we disprove the notion that we can’t all get along. Every dang day. We also sing together on the train when its stuck.
So here’s our weekly interview with the street, this time featuring Ardif, BustArt, Clipper, CNO PCU, Drinkala, JPS, Mattewythe, Nanos, Nubian, Pork, Rock, George Standpipe, and The Postman Art.
Street Artist called The Post Man is delivering celebrities to the
city’s streets lately, usually with a cityscape inside of them. The
campaign of high saturation portraits are part of one that is often in
street art practice: parading, adoring, exulting our pop culture icons,
alive or dead. They somehow represent the culture, these reoccurring
personas, these musicians, poets, actors, – they have superseded their
categories and become part of our common dreams.
Marilyn, Elvis, Amy, Jimi, Nile Rodgers, Philip Seymour Hoffman (as Truman Capote): some of these are part of a golden circle of intermittent images that year after year we all circulate, share, wear, frame, hang on a wall, send in the mail. This time The Post Man is bringing them directly to the streets for your entertainment.
Words in papers, words in books
Words on TV, words for crooks
Words of comfort, words of peace
Words to make the fighting cease
Words to tell you what to do
Words are working hard for you
Eat your words but don’t go hungry
Words have always nearly hung me.
As we draw closer to the new year we’ve asked a very special guest every day to take a moment to reflect on 2018 and to tell us about one photograph that best captures the year for them. It’s a box of treats to surprise you with every day – and conjure our hopes and wishes for 2019. This is our way of sharing the sweetness of the season and of saying ‘Thank You’ to you for inspiring us throughout the year.
Today’s special guest:
Joe Russo, Brooklyn-born former graffiti writer now photographer, Joe captures Street Art, celebrities, big name music heroes, and entertainment portraits ..always on a relentless pursuit to capture the raw energy, beauty, and emotion of everything he shoots.
I first met and photographed Portuguese Graffiti / Street Artist Alexandre “VHILS” Farto on July 11, 2018 in New York City. He was in town to release a special limited edition artist label Hennessy bottle. While here, the good folks at L.I.S.A. Project had lined up a wall at 140 Elizabeth Street for him to create / install his latest mural. The subject of the mural is of the late RUN DMC Jam Master Jay’s son TJ Mizell as part of his ‘Scratching The Surface’ project.
To understand VHILS’ process is something to be seen in person. Using a myriad of power tools, chemicals, chisels, hammers and sometimes even pryotechnics / explosives, he carves through and peels back layer upon layer of brick, stucco, plaster, etcetera to reveal his latest subject matter. The artist believes that ‘destruction is a form of construction’.
I am almost inclined to believe that this philosophy is being mirrored and applied currently in the political chaos that we here as Americans are currently enduring and trudging through…after all of the chaos, digging and probing; when the dust settles…what beauty, infrastructure, message, will be revealed.
New York Street Artist EL SOL 25 has again delivered a campaign of quality adult illegal Street Art in the city after touring recently through Montreal and the French Quarter in New Orleans. The life-size collaged figures this time are printed and pasted without trimming to the figure, possibly a more slap-dash approach than the past – and definitely quicker.
A full collection of them also appeared in one location last month in Tribeca as an open-air exhibition of his work on the walls of the Freeman Alley in The LES of Manhattan. A dead end for pedestrians, the short narrow street takes you instantly back to an earlier New York to see these chaotic charlatans, bare breasted bobs, their limbs and eras arranged dyslexically, impossibly, charmingly. On this “magnet wall” for vandals this is one of the few spots still left in Manhattan where the artistically inclined come to experiment and leave a mark – a gallery, if you will.
Maybe you already knew this, but it only occurred to us during this exhibition and surfing through his ever-entertaining Instagram page that El Sol must be a Kiss fan – or he has been pilfering a stack of Hit Parade or Circus magazines from 1974. Of course the maligned/praised glam/heavy rockers wouldn’t mind putting on a bit of rouge or silver lame, so EL SOL is working with kindred spirits when mashing eras and genres and roles and gender roles.
It’s a mangled fashion show for Spring/Summer 2019: Here’s Peter Criss with a Hawaiian Lei around his neck, partially obscuring a Suicidal Tendencies sleeveless T, an undersized fishing cap perched pill-box style on his head, Paul Stanley’s head on an illustrated hockey player torso and bare legged loincloth, and Ace Frehley finishes off the presentation with his piece de resistance of a extended butterfly wings and bold geometric V-neck over a full white fur collared buttery yellow lounging robe over full legged slacks. You don’t get to say “slacks” enough these days. No sign of Gene Simmons, but he is always around the corner, sticking his tongue out, no doubt.
Actually this is all perfect timing as KISS has just announced its “End of the Road Tour” today. Announcing their retirement sounds a little premature considering they are only in their mid-late sixties and the Rolling Stones are still touring regularly while in their nineties, if we’re not mistaken.
Anyway, enjoy this new show in NYC by one of its most imaginative Street Art/graffiti talents.
“It’s a metaphor of what’s happening in the US,” says photographer, filmmaker, Street Artist, and social commentator JR, who has just installed a new mural on the Houston Wall in New York City on a sunny Friday where hundreds of curious New Yorkers stop and examine the new artwork while heavy trucks, honking cars, and periodic police and fire alarms whiz by.
The night before at Pace Gallery in Chelsea the conservatively stylish French art phenom hosted an unveiling of the same image, rather a composited video of 245 separately shot moving images, projected across a huge wall in the space for guests to contemplate. A masterstroke of art and sociology, “The Gun Chronicles: A Story of America” presents opinions and perspectives from Americans across the range – hunters, victims, law officers, medical professionals, religious leaders, politicians, activists, surviving family members.
As we gaze at the quietly glowing and slowly moving images, we comment to the artist that it has a strangely calming and hypnotic quality, considering the range of deep feelings and emotions that the topic of gun violence engenders throughout the country, including many of these subjects. He tells us that he didn’t necessarily know the individual stories of everyone he was filming at the time of the sessions, but “I was aware of the emotions that were happening in many of the subjects. They were quite strong.”
By providing this very thorough collection of voices to be heard inside of one project, the artist enables viewers to truly countenance the complexity of a wrenching topic that much of the talking-head media flatly reduce to its simplest polarity. He walks on the sidewalk and rides in the lift carefully scanning the faces of the subjects and talks with the handful of them who have travelled here with him to watch the installation. In a way, JR is doing the job that many have been unsuccessful at; contemplating the vast grey area and finding common ground.
BSA:When you went into the project did you have one idea of the issue, but after completing it something perhaps changed in your mind about it? Was there something voiced by others that helped you understand how volatile the issue is? JR: I think that when I got into this project I knew very little about the issue except what I heard in the media and it was really hard for me to understand, being French. To see how little kids could have access to such firearms and to see that such drama can happen across the country. So I really went naively trying to understand from every angle, every perspective, trying to learn from the people’s narrative, from the people’s story, and to hear what they have to say.
And it is interesting because you find a lot of common ground between people. There is fear, fear of the other, what people might say about them or about their beliefs and actually what I realized when you listen to a lot of the stories was that a lot of people would agree on a common ground that certain people should not have access to certain firearms and they would almost all agree to a certain regulation. It’s just that that conversation is not really happening. So I hope that this mural can be one part of starting that conversation between people.
A collaborative project with TIME magazine, the three-page fold out cover of the November 5th edition features a carefully diagrammed listing of all the participants on the reverse side. The website created for the project gives more depth into each individual.
By clicking on the person a visitor to the site will learn their name, age, and position professionally or in life – along with a concise recorded statement from the person. The voices are resolute, halting, tender, defiant, wisened, sobbing, proud.
The editor of the magazine Edward Felsenthal, recalls on the website that the cover of the magazine in June of 1968 also featured a contemporary artist for that time, Roy Lichtenstein, who “marked a series of heart-breaking assassinations” with his artwork on the cover with the title “The Gun in America.”
“I shoot competitively all over the country… ,” says Rob Vadasz, 44, “a firearm is as engrained in our culture as almost any other part of the American story and it’s not something that can be turned off,” says a stern looking white man with short hair who is listed on the website as an agent for the U.S. Border Patrol in Tampa, Florida.
Dianna Muller from Tulsa, Oklahoma stands in front of the JR mural on Houston Street:
“As a woman I really feel like the bottom line is, the gun issue is a woman’s issue, it’s the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter if a 250 pound man is trying to kick in my door and eventually does, I have a way to defend myself. I don’t have to be a victim, and I do not have to get raped, and I do not have to get murdered, I do not have to get beat up. I don’t want that on anybody so I really want everybody to know how to protect themselves”.
Lauren Hartnett of Staten Island, New York stands in front of the JR mural on Houston Street:
“As an advocate for the second amendment it gives me a different perspective on a lot of other issues that have been brought up and are a high topic of discussion. One of those being feminism and women empowerment, and in my opinion nothing is more empowering, or nothing screams feminism like a woman being capable and able to take care of herself and protect herself and her family”.
Antong Lucky from Dallas, Texas stands in front of the JR mural on Houston Street:
“Once I got out of prison I began a war to end the cycle of gangs and guns in our community. I wanted people to understand that we got a lot of stuff in common than we do against each other and that we needed to work together. A lot of times in this culture you can never find the common thread, the common cause because we are so busy screaming our point and trying to be right. I wanted to make sure that for me and for my kind in order to be able to find the right solutions you have to be able to listen, you have to be able to talk and you have to be able to find a common ground and agree on a common ground.”
Restored to look like new, this is the third time that La Freeda, Jevette, Towana and Staice have taken their rope jumping game to this wall on Kelly Street and the spirit of their game and the culture are here as well. Based on the actual girls as models casted, the sculptors John Ahearn and Rigoberto Torres recently restored them and placed them on the same wall that they first appeared on in 1982, a moment from New York’s history.
Their art practice in the public space has a fully engaged, activist quality – insisting as it does to herald the everyday heroes in a culture that tends to reserve public space to elevate figures from the military, the church, politics, literature and Pop Culture. Even the name of this piece refers to the community group that hosted the sculpture for many years, Banana Kelly.
With a somewhat radical art practice that claims public sphere for the public for forty years, the duo have made casts of people in the neighborhood for decades, in the process forming long relationships with the sitters and their families, and their extended families.
A curiosity for many on the street at first, a lot of folks first became familiar with the work as it was being performed – whether in workshops like the one Torres first saw Ahearn conducting in the storefront windows of the famous art space Fashion Moda or later at numerous block parties around the neighborhood.
Owing to his family connection to a sculpture factory, Torres had knowledge that Ahearn was missing and their yin/yang temperaments created a professional partnership balance that eventually has landed their work in places as far as Brazil, Taiwan, and Orlando, where Torres moved a number of years ago with his family.
In the intervening years the Ahearn/Torres partnership has garnered attention in significant gallery and museum shows as a sociological hybrid, a captured record of life and culture that favors the unfamous, occasionally the famous. Humble as they are about their accomplishments and refreshingly reticent to be boastful, their combined projects have been collected by heavy hitters in the Street Art, hip-hop and contemporary art world.
Their sculptural portraits of the street have also been featured in exhibitions in the New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Bronx Museum of the Arts , “Greater New York” at MoMA PS1, New York. In an interview with BSA Ahearn gives credit to his creative partner for some recent shows including “his two homages to his Uncle Raul’s Factory in the “Body” Show at the Met Breuer, and his magnificent funky “Ruth Fernandez” figure in Jeffrey Deitch’s “People” Show.
What’s remarkable about this piece is not only that it has survived the constant changing of the New York City skyline but also the fact that photographer Martha Cooper was on hand to capture the bookends of the Double Dutch installation – the first one in 1982 and this new one in 2018. An anthropologist and ethnographer by heart and training, Ms. Cooper also captured many of the surrounding people and activities in the neighborhood during both of the installations and she generously shares them here with BSA readers to give a further appreciation of the time passed and the cultural relevance of the duo’s work.
BSA asked Mr. Ahearn a few questions and he provided some great insights into the production and life behind these Double Dutch girls.
BSA:Do you see girls and women playing Double Dutch much in the neighborhood this summer? John Ahearn: Double Dutch has been a classic rope jumping style for a while, the double rope keeps things moving. It sometimes seems to be always be in fashion.
BSA:Your personal relationships with people in the neighborhood have figured prominently in your subjects. How does time change your perception of the original works? John Ahearn: All the sculptures are some kind of collaboration with the specific people and the neighborhood. Time tests the validity of the intention and the expression. Art can lose meaning and look silly, or it can increase in its purpose and gain poignancy.
BSA:Your work captures so much action! Is that a particular goal for you? John Ahearn: When I first saw Marty’s profound image of the real four girls in front of their sculpture, taken when it was first installed in 1982, I was shocked! I had emphasized the unique quality of each separate girl but Marty captured them as one piece, engaged in a solemn ritual of play, with all heads bowed to the center. I was moved to see her vision and it took me a few decades to look at the actual sculpture with full confidence.
BSA:Why is it important to you to make art accessible to the people on the street? John Ahearn: I need to feel that my perception includes the point of view of others.
BSA:What inspired you to refurbish this installation and how did you find La Freeda, Jevette, Towana, and Staice? John Ahearn: I believe the girls are La Freeda Mincey (whose mother still lives in the building and came out to watch us reinstall the girls) Javette Potts, whose mother created the original girl’s dance group) Tawana Brown, and Staice Seabrine (with whom we are more regularly in touch)
In 1981, we were considering our first neighborhood commission at Fox St. and Intervale Ave. We took a composite 180 degree photo of the area. On all sides were burned out buildings, but one wall popped out in perfect condition with a surrounding block that was completely together. That was “Banana Kelly”, a community group committed to survival and improving the area, with the Potts family at the center of things.
Later there was a block party at Kelly St. that featured an “African Dance” group of girls, including Javette Potts, the granddaughter of Mr. Potts. It was at that time that we had a notion to have the four girls play Double Dutch for the image.
This is actually the second time we have repaired the sculptures. By 1986, the ravages tearing up the Bronx had reached the little park that Banana Kelly had built on the corner. All the bricks were torn up, and some kids were heaving them at the Double Dutch sculptures. Parts of the figures were breaking.
At the same time, Rigoberto’s Uncle Raul’s Statuary Factory had burned down and all our molds related to the three murals had been stored there and were lost. So we removed the Double Dutch sculptures from the wall, and took them to our studio to restore them. We reinstalled them higher than before with a slightly different design.
Meanwhile, the devastated block which Banana Kelly faces (south) was transformed into a huge park. All the buildings had been torn down heading north to Longwood Avenue. The design of the 2nd version of the sculptures (see Marty’s photo) looks very nice to me now, but it had always annoyed me.
The tiny “park” site at Kelly St. eventually was fenced off and abandoned, awaiting future use. Sometimes old sculptures in their neighborhood locations can be very satisfying and true. But it always seemed that the Double Dutch should be returned to their original design.
Recently the lot was sold to the new Catholic Nursing facility next door, to be rebuilt as their parking area. We wanted very much to keep the sculptures on the same wall and this seemed like the right moment.
” ‘Double Dutch’ is a tribute to all the girls in the world, especially the girls on my block. I’ve been watching them for 25 years. They use their mothers’ clotheslines to play the game – it’s an art. It’s a tribute to them – they’re really good at it.” – Frankie Smith to Dick Clark on American Bandstand.
Malcom McLaren “Double Dutch” 1983
All over the world high school girls Take to the ropes and turn them slow
Starts a beat and a loop They skip and jump through the hoop
They might break and they might fall About the gals from New York City