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Art Nights in NYC, Circa 1980s


I was born in the late 70s, meaning my childhood was mostly grounded in the Ronald Reagan era of the 1980s. Living in Oklahoma I was a normal kid mostly immune to the politics of the day, spare that one Genesis video that featured Ronald and Nancy Reagan in bed with a chimpanzee ("This is a land of illusion, with not much love to go around" not the exact lyrics), that I saw on MTV one million times. I was a little kid, so my 1980s memories are of neon bike shorts, Cindy Lauper, Cabbage Patch Kids, Prince and professional wrestling (which I LOVED and I'm talking the Von Erichs here not just prime time Snap-into-a-Slim-Jim Macho Man Randy Savage), but as I got older I of course realized that the 1980s were much, much, more than those things for so many people, specifically within the political world, the art world, and the huge world out there in general.

I mostly have no nostalgia for the 80s like I do the 90s, but sometimes I get nostalgic for the 1980s that I didn’t know at the time—the punk music (so good), the politics, the social issues, and especially the art world. This time around I included quotes or excerpts from each book, mostly because they are each so well written, that I wanted to give you a little sneak peak of what you might be in store for if you choose to read one (or all)! Two of these books take place in the dayglo 1980s, and all three take place within the New York City art world, on the streets and in the hearts of those that lived it.


Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss

November is the color of the outside of an eggplant. It smells like the inside of an old woman’s jewelry box. Get outta bed, you’d want to tell November if you saw it. Do something. Winter nudges at the city with its cold shoulder. The edges of windows become shores of chill. Cashmere emerges. Wool, not yet. The month slumbers, as if half asleep. It’s waiting. It knows. November is a month that knows. It knows that hearts everywhere are about to break; happens this time every year. 

New York City 1980. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring. New Year’s Eve. Squats and artists; dreams and heartbreaks; and all of life. Well written. There are several characters in this book to follow and learn to love or grow a fond dislike for. My favorite character is James who can see and taste color, known as, synesthesia (the only reason he is my favorite character by the way). Tasting buttered popcorn when you say a certain name, or seeing your lover as bright red. Losing it all in order to gain something more and then losing it all again to sometimes end up with nothing. This book gives a fictional tale of the 1980s although so much of it is rooted in real life eighties issues and events, things that for some reason I had either never known or had slipped through the cracks of my memories. Things like the disappearance of Etan Patz, which brought the advent of the missing child movement, specifically on milk cartons and missing persons posters that even the graffiti artists wouldn’t cover up. And speaking of grafitti artists, the 1980s were a time when their art went from street revolution to the top of the art world. This book is filled with these tidbits, as well as a fictional story of a tormented artist and his lover (Basquiat nods), an art critic and his involvement in the art of the time, how he was able to influence and change it and be changed.

Widow Basquiat by Jennifer Clement

But the reason I decided to go to New York was beause I had seen Iggy Pop and I thought I had seen God. And because I had sent to Interview magazine for Rene Ricar’s first book of poetry, The Blue Book. I had never sent for anything before but something told me to do this. I had read that book over and over again like a Bible. I realized that a book can reach out and embrace you like an arm and make you walk away from everything you thought you understood.

Sometimes, occasionally (not often), I find myself having nothing to say. It generally happens when something has taken me by surprise or something is just too great for me to put into words. The little, boring details I can blab on about for days, and generally will, but hand me something prolific and I can’t get the proper words to escape from lips. Like my mouth is full of something sticky and lovely, like honey or maple syrup. Art does this to me a lot. This book does this to me.

I’ve always wanted to write about art but nothing ever comes out. Because how could it? My brain cannot put art into words because I see them as two separate beings that so easily and powerfully stand on their own two feet; that using one to describe the other just feels too big. But people do it and thank goodness that they do. I love reading about art, even though the concept is beyond my grasp, and a lot of times what’s written about a piece or an experience can enhance (and sometimes destroy) your own ideas. And sometimes books about a life, the ultimate art, can be filled with so much poetry and beauty that the words imprint themselves on my psyche while leaving me feeling like an, I’m-a-Walking-in-the-Rain teenage runaway. This book is poetic and beautiful and hands down my number one favorite book of 2016. It is about art, but also about life, which to me are one in the same. It is in the same vein of my beloved Patti Smith books—a true story of the times; lovely yet sad, like well loved, worn out velvet. It’s the story of Suzanne Mallouk, the muse and lover of the brilliant artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who shared many things such as, art, drugs, fear, love, and life. If you read nothing else, please read this!

I guess I did have a little something to say.

The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

Every minute is an ocean..Let them in...Let them in...

Illustrated in perfect blues and blacks and ironic grays and whites this graphic novel is life, death and art (breakfast, lunch and dinner). The lack of color matches this story so perfectly, like the whole thing is set on a rainy day but the kind where the sun breaks free for small moments, and everything is slick and clear and shiny before it gets grey again. I can see this as a strange little indie film in my head, some sort of twist between Dogma and Wristcutters. This graphic novel is you, and me and everyone. It's humanity versus our time clocks, our own set limitations versus the one true taker of everything, time and death. But it's also about love; about taking nothing for granted; about creating all that you can - friendship, connectivity, mental anguish and persistence. Honestly, for me it is one of the best graphic novels I have ever read because it is so true to life and as an artist I loved the grapple with creativity (and life in general) that was presented throughout. Set in New York City (but not the 1980s), it is a definite must read for those of you that love less super hero and more real life depth in your graphic novels.

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