Mercer Street side of 49 Howard Street, SoHo, Manhattan
For some reason, this building in SoHo has avoided gentrification. It’s completely covered with graffiti and full of garment workers. It’s a bit like going back in time. The rest of SoHo is very fancy. It used to be a dying industrial area; then the artists moved in. With them came the galleries and then the shops. Now it’s pretty much just a big, upscale shopping mall. The New York Loft Law, which protects people who moved into commercial buildings before 1981, started because of SoHo.
When I started painting, some of the garment workers came by to ask me what I was doing. They warned me that their boss really hated graffiti, and described him so that I could hide if I saw him. They also said they’d try to warn me if he was coming out.
A teenager stopped by to look at the painting. His family was from Russia, and he lived with his mother in Staten Island. He told me that he was a graffiti artist, too. He asked me if I’d ever been arrested. I had to confess that I hadn’t. He had, and he was very proud of it. He asked me how old I was when I started painting, and I said that I’d started painting in oils when I was eighteen. He told me that he was eighteen and had just made his first painting on a canvas. He asked me if I liked Picasso and said, “He was the man. He lived the life.” I had to agree.
When I went back the next day to photograph the painting, it was already covered with new graffiti, which was a shame, as it was quite a nice copy of Caspar David Friedrich’s painting of an oak tree. Only slivers of the painting were visible. Now even that graffiti has been covered by other graffiti, and my painting is completely gone.