I always enjoy receiving correspondence from Anton van Dalen, the artist who has lived on Avenue A between 10th Street and 11th Street for decades. Here's the latest dispatch:
Sending you photos of our home at 166 Avenue A, of its over the years evolving facade appearance. The photos cover a span of now almost 50 years of my observing and documenting our neighborhood.
Came to this address in 1971. Before we lived at 123 Rivington St. near the corner of Essex Street.
Initially I just watched and listened to the street life, its sidewalk theater with joyous salsa music. It was not the New World that I had imagined as child growing up in Holland — no streets here paved with gold. Rather streets paved by the colors of many cultures.
On first arrival our new home looked abandoned, hardened by history, burned out house next door. And by contrast, a storefront church on the other side, often crowded with multigenerational Puerto Rican families.
Today our Puerto Rican community is marginal, as neighborhood's demographics radically changed. As my below succession of photos illustrate, the creeping ongoing gentrification of our neighborhood.
I consider myself a documentarian of the East Village, yet I am a participant and spectator to its evolution. Began documenting my street surroundings in 1975, urged on by wanting to note and remember these lives. Came to realize I had to embrace wholeheartedly, with pencil in hand, my streets with its raw emotions.
Also the everywhere discarded bloody heroin needles on sidewalks stunned and urged on my thinking. The drug dealers, the junkies, the police, the firefighters, were then the unquestioned royalty of our neighborhood.
Then came hopeful efforts by gardeners in garbage-strewn abandoned lots, squatters, community organizers. They were able to redirect our devastated neighborhood toward again being a community for many.
So my documenting became more and more informed by the stories of my neighbors' acts of activism. And a commitment on my part to be true to those lives, of their raw heartfelt emotions, birthed on the street.
Their truth telling kept my work honest, brought authenticity to my documentation, so critically important. That my work needed to join the raw birth, speak for, this sad beauty born on our streets, and not to forget.
One of Anton's drawings, titled "Street Woman on Car" (1977) and posted at the top, has been acquired by the Whitney. That drawing is included in a show there now titled "Around Day's End: Downtown New York, 1970-1986." This exhibit closes on Nov. 1.
Anton is pictured below with the exhibit's curators, Laura Phipps (left) and Christie Mitchell (photo by Grace Keir).
And details on the drawing: "Street Woman on Car" (1977). Graphite pencil on paper, sheet: 22 3/4 × 29in. (57.8 × 73.7 cm). Purchased with funds from the Drawing Committee 2016/7. © Anton van Dalen
Previously on EV Grieve: