The late great Arthur Weinstein would have celebrated his birthday today. He passed a little over a year ago. Those who were there can say that although the cancer took his life it never touched his dignity. It failed to dampen his courage or his spirit and it left so many of us appreciating our time and place on this merry-go-round. Greg Brier and I became fast friends as Arthur faded and remain so to this day. His life continues to inspire me and so many others. A wikipedia page about Art might tell you that he owned some of the best joints ever, Hurrah, The World, the Jefferson, The Continental. Hurrah was so formidable that Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager offered Art a partnership in Studio 54 so they wouldn’t have to compete.
Trigger’s joint on Saint Marks and the Bowery is called Continental with no “the” in front of it out of respect for Arthur Weinstein. That wikipedia page would say that early in life Art was a great photographer who morphed into a great silkscreen artist. Maybe it would say he was the crown prince of the Chelsea hotel when “everybody” lived there. Wikipedia would talk of scandal and dirty cops and Russian mobsters. It would call him a devoted husband and father. When the booze and other distractions prevented him from having the focus to actually own a joint anymore he began doing lights for everyone. To the club world he was a king. He was a wise guy who could read between the lines better than anyone I’ve ever met. When people complained about their troubles or bragged about success, Art would give them his trademark “shuddup, you’re making me sick” and that was that. I guess all the bullshit he saw and heard and took upon himself came back at him. Those who knew him well will start any discussion with love. He gave more love out than any man I ever knew. So even though his heart may have given out it still beats for the many of us who got to know him. Google him and learn some more. Happy birthday Arthur Weinstein.
The club scene is a trap for many. For every successful owner or operator there are a thousand failures, a thousand caught up without a viable exit strategy. Bartenders and waiters making beaucoup bucks often have a hard time working in careers outside the biz where salaries don’t afford them the same lifestyle as night work. When I ran places I always hired just actors or singers or musicians or artists. I felt it was my part in the scheme of New York culture. These people needed support so that our local culture was vibrant, without the clubs and restaurants and hotels supporting these peeps could Broadway even exist? Could there be an art scene? John Perry hovered around my joints worked in others and is a familiar fellow to clubdom. With his new show at Gallery 199 he proves to all that he isn’t just a pretty face. I grabbed a few seconds of his time while being awed by his art.
The work looks great. How did nightlife influence your art? Well the connection between my work and New York nightlife, has been two-fold. One of the first jobs I had, after had got my MFA from Parsons, was working as a manager at a club called Sybarite, which was on Wooster Street and owned by Grace Jones. While I worked there, I always had a sketchbook with me, and would draw incessantly, the people dancing, talking in groups, making out, generally doing what people do at clubs. It forced me to work quickly and develop my eye to the point where I could capture the essence of a form, with a minimum of means. Also living uptown and working downtown, meant that I spent a lot of time on the subway late at night, when people would be sleeping. I started to draw those people as well. Though I don’t work in clubs anymore, drawing people on trains has stayed with me over the years.
How did nightlife influence and support your work? Well, less directly, but probably more profoundly, is the fact that being in clubs led me to a lifestyle that, as it can do for some people, was down a dangerous path. I ended up spending quite a few years living in a way that allowed me to break with many preconceptions I had about life, and therefore art. As a result, my work became, and remains to this day, raw, and in my opinion, without pretense. Spending time in clubs, and nightlife in general, allows one to develop a sense for what is genuine and what is not.
Your work, no matter if it’s the cityscapes, the subway drawings, I believe you call them the Series Subterranea, your nude figure paintings, and your portraits, all have a kind of quintessential New York feel. For me, what makes New York what it is, much less than the physical space, is the people. Having said that, if you spend a lot of time in clubs, and I don’t mean just a certain type of club, but if you go to many different spots, in all boroughs, you get a chance to see people truly being themselves. I feel that sort of thing cannot but help get into a person’s work, perhaps through osmosis, no matter what kind of art they do.
John Perry’s exhibition “An Allegory of The Last Ten Years of My Life in New York” runs till December 29th at Gallery 199, at 199 Lafayette Street on the corner of Lafayette and Broome. Contact Gallery199@gmail.com.