John W. Codling is not your average artist. When Wall Street began its tumble in spring of 2008 with the collapse of Bear Stearns, some financial honchos coped through yoga or a psychiatrist. Codling, who works in equities at Tellet Prebon, turned to Christopher Walken. Overworked and stressed out, Codling bought three canvases and started painting portraits of Walken every Sunday (see full gallery). The pieces range from “Walken This Way,” a painting of Run DMC with Walken’s face as Run’s head to “I Follow Nobody,” a painting of Walken with a collage of words incorporated in it. The series culminated into “Sundays with Chris,” which is on display at the DVF Gallery until November 1. All proceeds from the sales will go to Team Continuum, a charity that assists cancer patients. I sat down with Codling at The Standard the evening before the opening.
Why Walken? I don’t think that I picked him. It just kind of happened. He’s somebody that I’ve always been — I don’t know if fascinated is the right word, or related to in some respects, he’s great. Walken is a great actor. He’s an unbelievable character. When this whole thing was birthed, the catalyst was Wall Street falling apart. It was just so laboring mentally — that one day at work was sort of the equivalent to a normal week and then multiply that by five days, so by the time the week was over, everybody certainly that I know in the Wall Street area basically just sprinted to a bar, got drunk and then somehow resurfaced on Saturday. It was just one of those things that I thought I could do to take my mind off — like a hobby, to get out of my own head, so I bought three canvases and they sort of sat around blank and it was like one Sunday I just I was on the phone with one of my friends and somehow Walken came up, I impersonate him, I do him a lot, and we just had a conversation about Walken, and then I got off, and boom. In my job I used to always do Wall Street commentary on the phone as Walken. “The Dow was crazy today” in a Walken tone, and it just kind of came up and it wasn’t a conscious decision, it just sort of happened, and that was kind of fun, and it sort of just didn’t stop.
Any formal art training? Carla Rizzuto, my art teacher from 6th to 8th grade. She’s amazing.
And now an exhibit at the DVF Gallery? I talked about doing a show for a while cause I just had so many of them and I went to a couple different galleries and I actually had plans to do it there, but they were going to take away half the money and I’m giving all the money away to charity. So, a friend of mine who knew somebody at DVF said you should come in and pitch them, they have this new space, they just opened up, and the space is there for things exactly like this, and that’s why Diane (von Furstenberg) put it there.
Who have you sold the paintings to so far? Friends, acquaintances of people, there’s a lot of f*cking Walken freaks out there. There’s a lot of Walken fanatics. That’s kind of why I did the show too — because people for whatever reason — and I don’t think it’s because of the art, it’s more because of him — just responded to what I was doing. When I first started doing it, I had a dinner with real artists there, and they were like, so what have you been up to, and I was like, painting. They were like, (makes a sarcastic noise) “Really?” Then I showed them some, and they were like, “You could sell this.”
Have you met Christopher Walken? No. My mom has. My mom spent some time with him. She works at JFK and his flight was delayed and that’s one of the things that she does there, she takes care of, you know. She’s Scottish, his mom is Scottish, they had a nice little chat. It was great she said, (imitates her Scottish accent) “You’ll never guess who I met last night,” and I said who, and she goes, “that Christopher Walken” and I said what do you mean, “I met him, like you checked him in for a flight?” I go, “Why didn’t you f*cking call me?” She was like, “What the f*ck was I supposed to say, oh my son is going to come out from Tribeca?” I was like “Yeah, I would have hopped in a cab.”
Any clue what Christopher Walken thinks about this? I sent them to his people, I wrote a really nice letter, and I sort of thanked him for being the inspiration that got me through that hairy time. So, I sent a letter that said we would love to have you. And that’s why I think the whole thing works too, is like, I have a different career, I wasn’t like some guy in a basement doing paintings of Christopher Walken, you know the blood dripping out of my finger looking all whatever, you know stuff like that. It was all just a fun, playful thing, that’s what it was meant to be from the get go anyway. And that’s what Diane said when she walked in to the downstairs today, she was like, “this is so fun.”
What’s your favorite Christopher Walken movie? I think King of New York. Christopher Walken could read a brownie recipe and it’s entertaining.
Would you ever give it up to pursue art full-time? I would give up Wall Street to pursue something creative, definitely.
Are you finished painting Walken? You know, I don’t know — probably. People keep going, “who are you going to paint next?,” “What are you going to do next?” And I don’t know that I’ll do anybody, if I did, it would be a fun character. You know, people don’t want to spend millions of dollars for a portrait of Henry VIII or whatever to hang in their place. I’m just as fine with a painting of Bill Murray.
Would you paint a portrait of Diane von Furstenberg? I did.
For a thank you present? Yeah, I don’t know if it’s good enough to give to her, but it’s there.
Just one? Just one, it’s called Nails.