Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Out and About in the East Village

In this weekly feature, East Village-based photographer James Maher provides us with a quick snapshot of someone who lives and/or works in the East Village. Editor's note: Given the frigid temperatures last week, we arranged to do this one indoors.

By James Maher

Name: Paul Kostabi
Occupation: Musician, Artist, Producer
Location: 5th Street Between 2nd and 3rd
Time: 10:45 on Friday, Jan. 25

I was born in California and I moved here in 1984. I was 21, fresh out of high school and a college dropout. Music and art brought me here. I had sort of a music career in Los Angeles with a group called Youth Gone Mad and I came out here to chase the music dream. I landed on Rivington Street and opened a rehearsal studio since there were a lot of bands. It worked well and so I got another apartment on Ludlow street.

When I came here it was to play punk rock music and I was sort of shocked when I went to CBGB the first time. In LA, we had 2,000 kids at a show, sometimes 3,000, with helicopters in the sky and riots and all of this crazy stuff that I wanted to escape. So I came to New York and expected it to be bigger. But it wasn’t. It was very tiny. There were like 40 punks at CBGB, but they were important. It meant something. I felt like it had to be here because this is where the important stuff happened.

When I first got here I was like shit, there were like real nutcases walking around, like guys making sounds and hippies with long hair and grey beards and I was like, ‘Oh god, I don’t ever want to ever be that guy,’ but now I feel like I’m almost there. Oh god, I could get there.

On the Bowery we had the winos. It was their own doing or undoing. You’d just walk down the street and you’d have to step over people that were sleeping and passed out all night, with bottles of Thunderbird and Ripple. It had a very Bukowski type of feel to it. Saturday night was a big party because in New York you weren’t allowed to buy alcohol on Sundays and so they all stocked up. Sunday morning was incredible. The winos were all out and they all had their last take-homes from the night before. That was the Bowery and the Bowery Bums. Who would have thought a $200 million building would pop up next to the White House Hotel?

It was wild at the time. There were a lot of bands and a lot of groups. I was playing with them, starting a recording studio and recording them, and kind of discovering bands. One of the bands I was on was White Zombie in ‘85. In California, in the early 80s in the punk world, everyone was doing everything themselves. When I came to New York, even though New York gets credit for doing that, I didn’t notice that. Bands weren’t putting out their own records yet. But the East Village scene was doing that.

Fortunately, I have a music production career and I play in bands and have an art career. I’m still finding bands and producing them. I found this band called Sacco that I’m trying to sign to one of these uptown labels. I’m still in a band called The Damn Kids and I play all the time and it’s joyous. I joined this band in 1988 or ‘89. It’s the people I’ve been with for almost as long as I’ve been here. They were called Hammerbrain and part of the Tompkins Square Riot festivals. We played last [Thursday] night on the RBar on the Bowery.

My art is like a daily diary and past experiences. A lot of it is spontaneous. Now I’m doing these paintings about Hurricane Sandy that kind of destroyed my small place upstate. I’m doing switch paintings that are done with a bamboo branch. I cut one of those, dip it in paint, and literally whip the paintings. It’s flood energy and I’m painting on things that were destroyed in the flood. It’s a switch in style for me. Instead of the figurative expressionism, it’s abstract, although they’re kind of controlled. It’s a disaster series that I’m trying to turn into a beautiful show. The show’s opening on Feb 1 in Pennsylvania.

We used to always paint on the street all the time but you don’t see it anymore. It was good energy. Weather permitting I still do it all the time. The mural on the street last year was for the launch of the company called Bad Things. I’m making plastic device covers with them and the launch was in Colorado but I did the mural here and shipped it out for the event.

I’m at the point of saying, “Made in the East Village” for the covers. That’s where I got all of the inspiration. 30 years later, I go all over the world and travel and it’s sort of an East Village world. It’s influenced the globe. The world’s kind of more like the East Village than the East Village is now.
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.


Anonymous said...

I was always curious about this dude. I'm glad to know more about him.

Anonymous said...

great photo, great interview! love this feature!

Anonymous said...

Ah, music. It still exists around here?

Laura Goggin Photography said...

Fascinating. These interviews keep getting better and better. Thanks to all who share their stories.

glamma said...

Big Kosatbi fan here. The best parts of this article were hearing about the storm art and the closing statement which is genius and also so true.
Keep em coming James, love it!

Scooby said...

Great portrait - Great interview.

Seems like an amazing guy - be cool to run into him and chat. Gotta love the people you meet when you reach out and connect. Too bad not many do that anymore.

Thanks for yet another great profile!

(and FUCK 7-11!!!)