Sometimes I wonder how I ended up selling art in Central Park as a 64 year old man…
Where I grew up in Brooklyn there was no art, there was only stickball. I was pretty good at stickball but I wasn’t happy and I didn't think there was anything else. The changing point in my life came during my sophomore year of high school. I was in home room and all the kids were screaming. Brother Benilde Montgomery walked in and yelled, “Shut up!” Everyone sat down but I thought it was funny that he told us to shut up, so I kept laughing. I couldn’t help it.
Brother Montgomery glared at me, “Who are you!”
I told him my name and as punishment he ordered me to write 500 words on Bertolt Brecht (a 20th century German poet, playwright, and theatre director).
The next day Brother Montgomery asked me for the essay, but I hadn’t written it.
“Now you owe me a 1,000 words!”
The day after he asked me again, but I still hadn’t written it.
“Now you owe me 1,500 words!”
Eventually the word count got up to 2,500 and I realized I actually had to write the piece, so I researched Bertolt Brecht and found him to be completely fascinating. Learning about him opened up the world of art and theatre and completely changed the course of my life. I realized I didn't have to play stickball anymore.
It turns out that Brother Montgomery was the head of the high school theatre department. He became a mentor and got me into music and art…and I realized I was good at these things! Brother Montgomery and I eventually became good friends. It’s funny how the smallest speck of dust can change an entire human existence. Brother Montgomery changed the course of my life – ever since high school I've mostly earned a living through music and art.
In the early 70’s I started a rock band called, ‘The Shirts.’ In NYC at the time there weren’t too many original bands, it was mostly cover bands. Our band couldn't get any work until CBGB opened in 1972. CBGB was amazing because the owner only wanted original bands. On any given night you could be sitting next to David Bowie or Blondie or The Talking Heads. At the time everybody was a nobody.
After playing at CBGB our band got a five year record contract. We toured through England and had a good run for a few years until we got dropped by our record label. I was on the bottom of the ‘rock star scale’ but I was still a rock star for a while and it was incredible.
Eventually I got married and had kids and got back into art. I drove a cab during the day and took care of my kids at night, so I could only paint in the early mornings when the kids were asleep. The sun used to come in through the kitchen windows and I'd put stuff on the table – cups, apples and oranges – and the sun would make everything shine and come alive. That’s what I’m known for – painting everyday images that have been ‘touched’ by light.
Being an artist means you have to deal with vicissitudes. My wife works for the city and her income is steady but my income has always been much less predictable. Some of my friends tell me I need retirement savings and a pension. What for? They sit on their stoop reading the Daily News and waiting to move their car for alternate-side-of-the-street parking. I don’t want that. I have to work to be happy.
The reality is that it's hard to be happy if you have your eyes opened to the existence of the human condition. But you don't need to be like Donald Trump with your own airplane to be happy. If you can be nice, have fun and make a few dollars you've beaten the game.
For me religion – promising an afterlife if you act a certain way – totally misses the point. Who wants to sit on the right side of Christ? What do you do in heaven anyways? Float around? A lot of people are waiting to go to heaven but they should be focusing on making it good here. You want paradise? Go have an ice cream sundae or a piece of blueberry pie and a glass of cold milk. That's heaven right here on earth.
Goose Chronicles Outtakes:
“What the most surprising thing about selling art on the street?
“The amount of trust people have in me. It was around Christmas time and it was snowing and drizzling and cold. And there was this guy who kept walking back and forth looking at a big painting of 26 cups. He asked me how much it was and I told him $750. He went to the ATM and came back with $750 and gave me his address in Texas and told me to just mail it to him. I could have taken the $750 and never mailed him anything. I guess people know I'm honest. If I'm dishonest I wouldn't be here.”
“Did you mail the art work?” J
“What’s the hardest thing about being out here?”
“The hardest thing is not getting discouraged. I've sat here all day and made $0 but I’ve also made $2,700. One time a woman came and said she liked my art work. She brought her husband back a short while later and purchased everything I had for $2,700!”
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