Posts tagged with nyc
At Gowanus Canal, Turning Toxic Waste Into Art
New York’s Gowanus Canal is notoriously toxic — full of dangerous chemicals, industrial waste, and yes, poop. It reeks in the summer and lives in the popular imagination as the perfect dumping ground for dead bodies. No plant or animal life can survive in it for long. This tends to inspire two kinds of images: gritty photos of the filth and pollution, and scenic landscapes that try not to dwell too long on the former.
The Creators of NYC: Artist and Actor Julio Cotto
Josh Wool spent a decade as an executive chef, opening restaurants across the south. But all that changed in 2010, when the carpal tunnel in his hands meant he could no longer work. To keep from going stir crazy, he picked up a camera and found his next calling. Two years, thousands of portraits, and a move to New York later, Wool is documenting the people who inspire him on a daily basis. Welcome to the final chapter of Creators of NYC.
After a long stay in the south honing his craft, Bronx-born artist and actor Julio Cotto recently returned to New York to make a go of it in the art world. Cotto is self-taught; he has illustrated comic books and greeting cards, painted carousel horses, played an Iraqi sniper in Army Wives, and worked as a graphic artist in Greenville, SC. He’s now working on a series of illustrations inspired by encyclopedia pages.I’ve known his work for a decade, but I didn’t meet Cotto until recently, when we spent a day walking around Williamsburg.
You’ve been in NYC for a year now. How has the transition been?Moving here from clean, friendly, laid-back Charleston would have been much more of a culture shock had I not spent the first several years of my life in the South Bronx. Insane things happened to me this first year back in New York. Roommates, rats, pit bulls, cops and robbers, oh, my! I’ve got stories.
Heavy Leather: Strapping Rockstars Since 2008
Brooklyn native and heavy rocker Rachael Becker was just doing her thing — rising in the ranks at a fashion label, making the rounds at metal fests, fixing up her aqua blue motorcycle — until one day when her pals, jamming together in her living room, asked if she’d outfit them with leather guitar straps. Then everything changed. Rachael indeed strapped those friends; after all, she was well-versed in the leather arts from a previous apprenticeship. She made a few extra to throw on Ebay because well, why not?
The orders began flooding in. Rachael quit her job, invested in some heavy-duty equipment, crossed the East River to sift through rawhides in the fashion district, and lo, Heavy Leather NYC was born.
Based in Brooklyn (where else?), Rachael equips music-making masters — Cat Stevens, Johnny Winter, ZZ Top, and Slash, to name but a few — with leather straps that help their rock flow. “Sometimes I still can’t believe it,” she chuckled, cutting into a piece of hide with her Exacto. "I didn’t know it, but it’s what I’ve always wanted to do."
Wall Dogs: The Midair Muralists Who Paint New York
It’s 8am in Soho, the thermometer reads just above freezing, and the sky is bleak. Taxis splash down the streets; New Yorkers stride with their heads down, leaping over puddles, carelessly bumping into each other. Everyone wants to get out of the cold, out of the rain, into the warmth.
Ten stories above — on a long, skinny platform hanging from the facade of a building at Canal and Mercer in downtown Manhattan — it’s a different story. Climbers’ ropes secured around their torsos, Jason Coatney and Armando Balmaceda stand in a melange of open paint cans and brushes. These two muralists of Colossal Media, the largest hand-painted advertising company in America, are heavily layered in sweatshirts and raincoats. But in this industry, c’est la vie. Paintbrushes in their fingerless-gloved hands, earbuds in their ears — “I like to start out with Miles Davis in the morning,” Coatney smiles, his breath visible in the frigid air — they begin yet another workday in the sky.
It’s the third morning at this location, and the duo are on track, despite the rain, to complete a 30x18-foot mural — commissioned by Etsy to advertise a holiday pop-up shop — by the next evening’s deadline. Coatney carefully bends down, dipping the tip of his brush into a ruddy orange. “It’s a really weird mix of things that makes an artist like a wall dog,” he says.
Some say the origins of the term is derogatory. “Wall dogs” were the unofficial names of the men who were, almost literally, chained to outdoor facades to hand paint the enormous signs still decorating the faded exteriors of today’s landmarked buildings. But these days, the name is a sign of professional pride.
Before vinyl posters printed and hung by a couple guys and a crane became the norm, this was the way big-city advertising was done. Common practice in the decades before the Great Depression, painting these signs took days, perhaps weeks, of hard labor and skills that took years to hone.
Despite a couple updates (they now use motorized pulley systems to raise the building rigs, instead of pulling them up themselves), Colossal is carrying on the tradition, just as their predecessors did more than a century before. Paul Lindahl and Adrian Moeller cofounded the company nine years ago (a third cofounder tragically passed away in a subway accident) by pooling together their savings, a few thousand dollars, and leasing a large wall on 14th Street and 6th Avenue. “Hanging banners is faster; there are less variables. Everyone just told us to take a hike,” recalls Lindahl. Finally, months later, someone bit –- Rockstar Games, of Grand Theft Auto fame -– and they were so taken with the medium that they commissioned Colossal to paint 30 walls.
Moeller chuckles proudly as he talks about the past. “For the first few jobs, we couldn’t even afford a pounce machine,” the little contraption that burns holes into the life-size sketch they make for each job. They’ll spread this out and rub it with charcoal dust to get a faint outline when they’re on the rig, to help get the proportions right. “So Paul used a thumbtack. You can imagine, that’s a lot of holes to make for a 20x30 foot wall.”
No more thumbtacks. Today, Colossal is a $10 million company, with over 150 walls around the country and 30 wall dogs to fill them. “It takes years and years of practice,” emphasizes Coatney, still on the Etsy rig, who’s been doing this for 15 years. The rain has abated, and he’s added the finishing touches to the “always handpaint” lettering of the Colossal insignia. He pauses, his brush hovering in midair. “There are a lot of talented people waiting to get up here, you know? A lot of talented people.”
A Day with New York City’s Pothole Repair Crew
Each morning, at a small depot tucked away under the Williamsburg Bridge, the New York City workers who call themselves the “pothole gang” pore over a giant spreadsheet known as “The Daily Pothole.” On it are thousands of potholes all over the city: giant gorges caused by rain and sleet, small interconnected divots that can flatten tires, and pretty much every other roadway wound you can imagine. The sun is barely up, and yet for these men — members of a street maintenance team tasked by the Department of Transportation with roadway repair — the race has already begun.
Over the next eight hours, they will hit the streets, filling giant yellow trucks with smoldering hot asphalt, navigating endless traffic, and smoothing as many potholes as they can before the sun goes down (only to do it all again the next day). Does it get tiring? Sure. But in a city that’s always moving, roadway repair is crucial. On a good day, the team might fill 4,000 potholes. In an average week, they could resurface 100,000 square yards of road. After Hurricane Sandy, their crews removed 2,500 tons of debris. And every day, on a Tumblr called The Daily Pothole — named after that early morning spreadsheet — New Yorkers can take a peek inside the workings of a city system few have likely thought about. We spent a day with six men who help make up New York City’s pothole repair team.
The Creators of NYC: Geometric Artist Aakash Nihalani
Josh Wool spent a decade as an executive chef, opening restaurants across the south. But all that changed in 2010, when the carpal tunnel in his hands meant he could no longer work. To keep from going stir crazy, he picked up a camera and found his next calling. Two years, thousands of portraits, and a move to New York later, Wool is documenting the people who inspire him on a daily basis. Welcome to Creators of NYC.
Aakash Nihalani is at the forefront of the next generation of modern artists working in New York. His work in spray paint and tape can be found not only on the walls of private collectors but in and around the streets of New York. I met up with Aakash in his Williamsburg studio, where he was preparing for a solo show.
How do you describe your art?
It’s hard … I usually direct people to look up an image on their phone. But I think at the barest, the work is about perspective, playing with our idea of three-dimensional space within a two-dimensional plane using tape as my primary medium, often in urban environments.