Monday, January 1, 2018

Walking East Williamsburg

Morgan Avenue: Where Street Art 

Energizes an Industrial Brooklyn Nabe

The New York City alternative art scene took a major hit when a five-story factory built in 1892 and occupied by the Neptune Meter Company, maker of water meters, was completely demolished in 2014. The building, in Long Island City, across Jackson Avenue from MOMA PS1, gained its celebrity status, as a centerpiece of graffiti art – an aerosol spray can art mecca long after water meter production ceased. 

In the 1990’s the building owner, a Long Island developer began leasing space to artists as studio space. By 2002, a graffiti artist Jonathan Cohen penned the factory with the name 5 Pointz in relation to New York City’s five boroughs. The description was not in reference for the creative work happening in the spaces occupied by two hundred artists inside the factory but for the inspiring and imaginative graffiti art that completely engulfed every inch of the buildings exteriors.

5 Pointz  Long Island City, Queens
Works by graffiti artists from all over the United States and the world emblazoned the building with amazing designs and incredible colors creating a sprawling graffiti-like-mural.
The exterior work began with a project called Graffiti Terminators founded by Pat Dilillo who established the Phun Phactory in 1993 at the site. Dillilo intended to remove the negative impression - crime and vandalism - long associated with graffiti art. He wanted to legitimize it and push this art form mainstream. Artists had to submit samples of their work for Dillilo to review and gain his approval before “tagging” the building.

Two forty-story apartments towers will replace 5 Pointz. Development is well underway.
The site will contain over 1,100 apartments, including 220 affordable units and 20 art studios. Construction is well underway.

With the demise of 5 Pointz I thought the city lost something special - a gritty, very urban but an innovative and visual art form. Of course when walking the High Line I see some good works. They are often affiliated with working art events organized by the High Line and others are associated with one or two Chelsea galleries adjacent to the elevated park.
There are also murals in city playgrounds and schoolyards throughout the city.

I knew pockets of interesting street art existed in the city but I lacked the time to search. In late March 2017 I saw first-hand that alternative graffiti/street art scene, or however you want to describe it, is alive and well and flourishing in at least one city neighborhood, and probably others elsewhere.

The oasis I found and “What a lucky find” encompasses roughly a twenty-plus-block span on and around Morgan Avenue in East Williamsburg, a huge industrial area of Brooklyn. I found many fun and eccentric works on many buildings on the side streets and nearby avenues of East Williamsburg. It felt as if I was walking in an outdoor museum. I returned in September and took many photos.

I only found this area with its wide array of street art because I chose not to return home via the closest subway station. Instead I opted for one further away. This was my best move of 2017.

Here is a small sample of what I saw during my three-hour tour. I have listed them by categories. 
I hope you enjoy these works as much as I have.


Social Activism:

My Home Sweet Home With Fence:

My Artisanal Studio Workshop:

My Community Center:

The Mooch (inscribed far right) and Devil with Vile 


Self Portrait...New Brooklyn Hipster:

Urbanscape...Extending Love:

My Big nyc straycat:

Editor's Note:
All photos, except 5 Pointz photo, taken by Rudi Papiri
Article initially published December 31, 2017.

Area of Detail:
My Street Art Trail started at Olive Street, a few blocks west of Morgan.
I then walked east along Metropolitan Avenue to Morgan Avenue. At ISCP
an international visual arts residency program and curator events center, housed 
in an old factory at the corner of Metropolitan and Morgan, I turned right. 

I officially began my trek here and I continued moving south along

Morgan Avenue to Thames Street, near Flushing Avenue. 
Check out the side streets along Morgan. For example, Bogart, which sits one
block west of Morgan and runs parallel to it, is also full of art.

5 Pointz story link:

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Three 100-Year-Old Landmarked Churches…New York, San Francisco 

Brumidi Murals at St. Stephen's, Harlem's St. Patrick's Cathedral, St. Brigid and "The Grace of Everyday Saints"

St.Stephen's Church East 29th Street 

I stood before the locked wrought iron gates of St. Stephen’s Church in Manhattan’s Kips Bay neighborhood and cursed to myself, so I thought, yet loud enough for an elderly woman to stop and frown. I apologized. But the expletives still filled my thoughts.

St. Stephen’s is less than two miles from my Hell’s Kitchen apartment yet it took me four years to get here. I passed it many times but always late at night after it closed. Finally on July 30 of 2015, a hot sunny morning, while checking my grocery list as I entered the local supermarket, I stopped, reversed my steps, exited the store, tossed the list into a trash can and power walked to St. Stephen’s. “This is my last chance, I thought. I’ll arrive twenty minutes before noonday mass with enough time to take a few pictures.”

This is not a story about one-time Catholic grade school-choir boy’s pilgrimage to the church of his favorite saint. I had wanted to visit Our Lady of Scapular and St. Stephen’s, it’s official name after a merger with another church years ago, not for mass, but for its beautiful murals by noted nineteen century artist Constantino Brumidi before the New York Archdiocese’s closed the church for good on August 1.

Over the last several years the Archdiocese underwent a major restructuring.  Dwindling school enrollment and church attendance, shortage of clergy, the high cost of maintaining many underused buildings, and possibly the expensive payouts for the church sex abuse scandals made this necessary. 

Late fall of 2014, the NY Archdiocese which includes Manhattan, Bronx, Staten Island and parishes as far north as Orange County in upstate New York, announced the restructuring of 112 of its 368 parishes. This included merging many parishes and closing about 31 others, including St. Stephen’s.
Built in the Romanesque Revival style and designed by James Renwick Jr., the renowned architect of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and The Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C., St. Stephen’s was founded in 1854. It has 45 works by Brumidi, including his 46 by 26-foot The Crucifixion above the main altar. 

Brumidi, born in Rome of a Greek father and an Italian mother became a naturalized US citizen in the 1850’s. His most famous works The Apotheosis of George Washington adorns the US Capitol dome; his Liberty and Union painting is near entrance hall of the White House.
Among his first two-commissioned U.S. works are Martyrdom of St. Stephen and The Assumption of Mary, also at St. Stephen’s.

The Crucifixion of Christ above the main altar of St. Stephen's

I first developed an interest in Brumidi when I wrote about NYC’s Holy Innocent’s Church in this blog. His Crucifixion of Christ towers behind the altar of this West 37th Street church.
I always had a fascination for old buildings but I owe my enthusiasm for churches to San Francisco Chronicle reporter Julian Guthrie’s and her 2011 book, TheGrace of Everyday Saints.

Guthrie wrote an excellent insightful account about a small band of devoted parishioners, among them a nationally known death row lawyer, an activist priest, a Burmese convert to Catholicism and a gay Catholic who took their fight to save their local church, St. Brigid, all the way to the Vatican after the San Francisco Archdiocese’s abruptly closed their relatively vibrant parish in 1994. This lead to a decades long struggle to save their religious sanctuary and to landmark this building located in the heart of San Francisco.

St. Brigid's Church, Broadway and Van Ness Streets, San Francisco
The original wood framed church erected in 1863 by Irish immigrants and replaced in 1904 by the present Romanesque building built of curbstones from San Francisco’s streets is noted for its architecture and its many gems: an Italian-made Ruffati pipe organ, stained glass windows from Dublin, the St. Brigid and twelve life sized statues of the Apostles. A survivor of two earthquakes St. Brigid’s had played an integral role in religious and cultural life of the city’s Irish community and for those groups that: Italians and in later years newcomers from Hong Kong, Burma, Mexico, and the Philippines.  They lost their house of worship but St. Brigid’s, a city landmark, still stands and San Francisco’s Academy of Art University uses it today for classrooms and gallery space.

My story does not end at the gates of St. Stephen’s. On August 1 I took the subway uptown to Madison Avenue and East 129th Street, to a church known as Harlem’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Also designed by James Renwick Jr. and his nephew William Renwick, All Saints Church is a cathedral-sized ornate Gothic building with a very tall bell tower, and Franz Mayer stained glass windows, and a Roosevelt Organ.

Harlem's All Saint's Church at Madison Avenue and 129th Street.
The parish, founded by Irish immigrants in 1883, the upper church was not completed until 1893. A city landmark since 2007, the one-time beautiful hard carved mahogany pews seats over 1500. When Harlem’s demographics changed in the early part of the last century the church became predominantly African American. In later years it also served Nigerian Catholics.

On that beautiful blue-sky morning I arrived in plenty of time for All Saint’s late morning Sunday mass. I sauntered past the open iron gates, up the steps to the large front doors and smiled in anticipation of exploring this magnificent edifice. As I cupped the door handle and pulled, the door did not budge. 

Locked out again!!!!

Editor's Notes:
St. Stephen's Church has two main entrances and two major facades.  In the 1860's the church was expanded through to East 29th Street. It had one of the largest congregations of any Catholic Church in the city at the time. The 29th Street facade is not as distinguished although it contains a huge rose window.

The Grace of Everyday Saints - How a Band of Believers Lost Their Church and Found Their Faith
By Julian Guthrie, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011

St. Stephen's Church and All Saint's Church: Rudi Papiri
Brumidi's Painting: St. Stephen's Church Bulletin
St. Brigid Churh: Courtesy of Alvis Hendley, 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Walking NYC...

A StrayCat Finds Holiday Magic on City Streets

Lord&Taylor Fifth Avenue
I chuckled as I passed Bergdorf Goodman’s at 58th and Fifth Avenue the day after Christmas 2015.
I did more than just chuckled. I stopped, stared and shook my head amazed when I spotted two very attractive, very fashionably dressed middle-aged women exiting the store. They moved effortlessly arm-in-arm, step-for-step, an impossible feat on an avenue bustling shoulder-to-shoulder with people gaping at the store’s spectacular holiday windows.

Two women, from Milan, I learned later, visiting the city for Christmas, and dressed stylishly blended perfectly with the glamour of Fifth Avenue’s (or Cortina d’Ampezzo, St. Mortiz, or Aspen’s) haute couture boutiques. One woman wore a white Moncler coat, her suntanned face tucked inside its fur-lined hood. Her friend had on a black Bogner Ski Jacket with fur-lined collar and cuffs. A slouchy dark knit slouchy hat with a fur pom covered her head. Large silver framed Gucci sunglasses masked her eyes. Both wore gloves, mid-calf length shearling boots with rolled over shearling tops and large scarves loosely draped around their neck. Yes! They looked stunning as if they just left a photo shoot of Town and Country or Quest, magazines for the affluent.

You may wonder why I smirked and raised my brows when I saw these two women? For one the three twenty-something dudes walking in front of them offered a contrast of styles. One had a hoodie and short pants, another had on only a tee shirt, shorts and Santa hat, and the third guy wore a long sleeve NY Ranger shirt and torn jeans.

Second, the temperature hit 66 degrees, a city record for the date. On Christmas the temperatures soared to 72 degrees, also a new record, with a low a 63, numbers more in tune to a Los Angeles Christmas than a New York City one.

Shirtless volleyball players competed in Central Park, surfers tackled better than average waves at Rockaway Beach, and runners in tank tops and shorts worked up a sweat jogging in Hudson River Park. In several neighboring suburban beach towns the temperature went as high as 76, several degrees warmer than July 4 of this year.

Okay maybe this year pushcart vendors sold fewer roasted nuts and pretzels, and Starbucks may have had disappointing sales hawking their gingerbread lattes or eggnog frappuccinos but the spirit of the season glowed as strong as ever.

Rain, sleet, snow, frigid weather, or unseasonally high temperatures can  never have a negative impact on the city’s long-standing reputation as one of the world’s great stages for celebrating Christmas and the New Year.

What the Straycat saw as he darted from 60th Street to Herald Square.


Interactive Photo Displays. Straycat Image in Top Shot

Barneys New York

"Chilling' Out Arctic Chase" 

Bergdorf Goodman

Welcoming in 2016 at the Costume Ball

Harry Winston

"Talk to me, Harry Winston" Marilyn Monroe sang in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree  

The 83rd Annual Rock Center Tree: 78' Feet Tall Norway Spruce from Upstate NY with 45,000 LED Lights, 9-foot Swarovski star w/25,000 crystals

Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show

The Largest Display of Festive Holiday Windows; plus a Light/Music Show Every Ten Minutes

Saks Fifth Avenue Window

From Rome to Fifth Avenue "The Ice Cold Coliseum" 

Lord & Taylor

Seeing the Wonders of the Holidays on the Face of a Child


 Miracle of 34th Street Began Here in 1947 Starring Natalie Wood, Maureen O'Hara
and Edmund Gwen

Photo Credits: Rudi Papiri

Saturday, July 26, 2014

NYC Style Through the Looking Glass

The Windows of Jay Kos, Kate Spade, Tom Ford, TAGG, Yoya.....And What I Found

*Remembering Elaine Stritch and The Ladies Who Lunch

                **I'm not strange, weird, off, nor crazy,
                    my reality is just different from yours.

New York City is a window shopper’s paradise and Fifth Avenue from 49th to 60th Street is its main stage. During the Christmas holidays its store windows sparkle with colorful and festive displays, some traditional, some contemporary and some avant-garde but all capture the wonder and beauty of the season in a unique New York Style. 

Crowds swell in front of the huge windows of Saks, Bergdorf Goodman, Lord & Taylor further south on Fifth at 39th Street, and Macy’s gargantuan Herald Square store at 34th.  Street.
On this stretch of Fifth you will also find the U.S. flagship stores of Tiffany, Cartier, Armani, Gucci, Versace, Henri Bendel, Faconnable, FAO Schwarz, and Van Cleef and Arpel.
I am not a window shopper. I am city walker who walks at a brisk pace. I appreciate the magic of an artistically designed window no matter what time of year. Often I have stopped in midstride drawn by the hypnotic lure of these movie-like sets

My favorite street for window viewing is Madison Avenue from 86th
to 63rd Street. Sorry but Barney’s located at 61st street does not make the cut. Madison Avenue loses it intimacy and small town feel as one get closer to get to bustling 57th Street, plus the buildings are much taller.

Most major cities have a street for the luxury or fashion conscious shopper. I have walked several including Milan’s Via Montenapoleone, rue Saint-HonorĂ©
in Paris, the other two fashion capitals of the world. I have also walked Worth Avenue in Palm Beach and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

I first encountered Madison Avenue many years ago when I walked home after a high school baseball game in Central Park’s North Meadow. I discovered an avenue with scores of brightly lit windows, filled with expensive well-tailored and bespoke clothes, shoes, linens, furniture, antiques and paintings created by celebrated designers. That night I felt as if I had I had crossed an imaginary line leaving New York City at one corner and winding up in some far-away place, many stores posted the locations of their stores worldwide.  Madison became my “yellow brick road.” It did not lead me to OZ but to Paris, London, Milan, Saint-Tropez, Portofino, Geneva, Tokyo, San Paolo, and Barcelona.

There are several fashion streets and neighborhoods in the city. Recently, over the course of several days, I searched for fun, stylish windows.  Instead of taking my standard mental photo I snapped over 200 pictures with my iPhone. I share my fourteen favorite windows. Theys are listed by neighborhood. I have excluded touristy Fifth Avenue.

Madison Avenue

Loro Piana  748 Madison Ave. near 65th St

"Your So Vain"  Walking Madison Avenue

Mallet Antiques  929 Madison Ave. 75th St.
Commode by Jean Royere, France 1950
Pair of Art Noveau Wall Light, Belgium 1900
Pair pf Rosso Levanto Columns 1780
"Welcome to My House a Very Fine House"

Ralph Lauren  Madison Ave. at 72nd St.
"Madison Avenue I Am Ready for My Closeup"
Missoni  1009 Madison Ave. 78th St.
Opening Night at the Opera
Tom Ford  845 Madison Ave. bet. 70-71St
"Steppin' Out of the Elevator"

MeatPacking/West Village

431 West 14th St
Summer in the Hamptons
YOYA  646 Hudson St.
Cool Kids of the West Village
Tiziano Zorzan  69 Eighth Ave. near 14th St.
Sunday in the Park with Zorzan


Patricia Field  306 Bowery 
Get Your Freak On
Bed Head Pajamas  252 Elizabeth Ave.
Mother and Child Pajama Party
Jay Kos  292 Mott St.
What I  Saw Through the Looking Glass


Agatha Ruiz de la Prada  466 Greenwich St.
Under the Big Top...Send in the Clowns

Hell's Kitchen

***TAGG  720 Ninth Avenue 49th St
Strut Your Junk...Buns in the Oven
*Store window photo at the beginning of the article.
Kate Spade  789 Madison Ave 66-67th St.

**Quote: Lewis Caroll, Alice Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
***Most "Fun" Website - Signals  the "new" Hell's Kitchen. Click on TAGG!
All Photos by Rudi Papiri

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Bansky and His 31 Days in New York:

Artist Stirs Memories of Taki 183, Caine 1

Dondi and the City's Graffiti Heyday 

Graffiti emerged on the New York scene like a tsunami rushing in from the sea in the early 1970’s. Taggers with pseudonyms like Taki 183, Dondi, Cliff 159, Stayhigh 149, and Blade staged an aggressive in-your-face assault on a captive and unsuspecting audience, the million plus people who rode the subways on a daily basis.

This first wave of artists or vandals, depending on your view of art, defiance and defacement, used the subways as their personal 24/7 galleries and forum. With their energy, fervor and quite often talents graffiti entered the mainstream quickly. Their monikers became synonymous with the subway lines they tagged.

Their worked appeared everywhere: on doors, windows, seats, and ceilings throughout the system.
If you took the #4 train to Yankee Stadium you thought you rode the Mitch 77 train. If you went to Shea Stadium, where the NY Mets played, you rode The Caine Freedom Train compliments of Caine 1 and not the #7. Competition grew fierce and the graffiti exploded. Graffiti crews worked long hours in unguarded train yards creating their next eye-catching displays.

Tags evolved from simple lettering to huge block letters, large decorative illustrations and zany designs with cartoon characters like Snoopy or Dick Tracy emblazoned in vivid colors. Comparable mind-boggling works graced the exterior of cars from end-to-end, and not just a handful of cars but almost all cars.

The grime, filthy, smelly, and unsafe conditions of a deteriorating system compounded with smudged incomprehensible drawings, illegible scribbles, tags and designs copied on top of each other made it difficult to appreciate the works created some talented artists.

Bansky Unveils His Stuff

Graffiti as street art or vandalism resurfaced last October when Bansky, a British artist, painter, activist, and documentary filmmaker announced on his website a month long artist residency in New York City. Bansky received an Oscar nomination in 2010 for his film Exit Thru the Gift Shop and that same year made Time Magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people.

Bansky, a recluse, is well known for “bombing walls in San Francisco, Detroit, Paris, and Barcelona.
His true identity is unknown although the London Daily Mail speculates he is Robin Gunningham, who began with the tag Robin Banx. He developed his pencil sketch style in his native Bristol, England.

In 2003 he staged his breakthrough exhibit “Turf Wars” in an East London Warehouse. In 2005 his celebrity grew when he traveled to Palestine and stenciled nine images on the West Bank Wall including his iconic Masked Armed Thrower. He has had major shows in Los Angeles and Sydney.
At the Miami Street Art Auction in February his “Kissing Coppers’s sold for $575,000.

His New York exhibit called “Better Out Than In” had one Bansky work popping up at undisclosed locations all 31 days in October. Bansky hit all five boroughs. His first installation in Chinatown, “The Street Is in Play,” showed one boy standing on the back of a second boy touching a sign which read “Graffiti is a Crime,” It ended with a set of balloons spelling BANSKY! And tied to a Queens warehouse on Halloween.

In between Bansky had a real person shining the shoes of a large fiberglass Ronald McDonald statue outside a Mickey D’s in the South Bronx; in Manhattan’s meatpacking district he unveiled “The Sirens of the Lambs” a slaughterhouse delivery truck crammed with stuff animals, heads butting out from slots, while touring the meatpacking district as a recording of animals crying played; and the Two Geisha Girls with parasols in Williamsburg, where bystanders tussled with a hooded vandal as he tagged the work.

Bansky artistic exploits, product placement (most off the beaten path) and PR showmanship tweaked my interest. And I like his work. In a city where graffiti survives for years more than half of his had not. Property owners destroyed or removed some. Taggers vandalized others.

Five days after his exhibit ended, I left my house at 10 am in search of Bansky. I headed to Larry Flint’s Hustler Club, at West 51st & 11th Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen’s, near my apartment, to see my favorite “Waiting in Vain.” Painted on October 24, it showed a forlorn lover dressed in a suit and a loosened tie slouched against a wall holding wilted flowers. No luck! The club, knew its value, removed it.

Next I walked to West 25th and 11th Avenue to see his second one, a text piece which read, “This is My New York Accent…Normally I Write Like This.” Strike two!
I went to 24th near 10th Avenue for his 18th installment, an outdoor exhibition, and two hanging pieces, under the High Line in Chelsea, done in collaboration with Brazilian street artists Os Geneos. Strike three!
Moving to 24th Street and 6th I found his third posting, marred with graffiti. Called “You Complete Me” it showed a dog urinating against a fire hydrant. 

I walked to four other Banksy locations with no luck: the East Village (Priest in a Concrete Confessional), Lower East Side (the Two Boys; Night Vision Horses) and Nolita (Grim Reaper Rides a Bumper Car).
I flirted with the idea of crossing the Williamsburg Bridge to continue my search in Brooklyn but called it quits. At 4pm I returned home. At least I found one.

Photo Credits: 
a. DONDI - by Andy. In memory
    of Donald Joseph White "Dondi" (April 7, 1961 - Oct.2, 1998)
b. "The Street Is in Play" (Two Boys)  - Flickr - by Tara Horner
c. "Waiting in Vain" Flickr - JC Decaux 
d. "You Complete Me" - Dog at Hydrant - Rudi Papiri
NYC Subway graffiti reference: Spar One Editor/Resource Director for Graffiti @149st