Three years ago, when I went to Bushwick for the first time to visit my friends Thomas and Mo who had just rented a painting studio there, I was astonished by the beauty of the big warehouses, the abandoned factories, and trucks parked in the empty streets. If you spotted any bearded hipsters with skinny legs and elaborate tattoos, it was just for one or two at Los Hermanos, the taco place, not the constant flow as it is today. There were some abstract graffiti here and there, with wild plants and grass growing out of the sidewalk cracks, and everything seemed interesting and genuine.
Best of all were all the small repair garages and tire shops. Among the second-rate car service Town Cars were always some wrecked, rusted cars with hoods missing parked in front, waiting to be pimped out, and along the hollow sidewalks floated the distinct smell of spray paint.
In the last six months many of these low rent workshops closed down to make room for more profitable artist studios, and as if in fear that it wouldn’t attract enough post-graduate painters and musicians, the old landlords (who for decades had felt punished by God to rent their cathedrals of bricks as storages for nothing), suddenly possessed by the frenzy of the market, offered their walls to the street painters.
Where you had beautiful bare brick walls, you now most likely to see a giant squid with bulging eyes falling from the roof.
Even the corner poultry store requested a pimped out façade from a street artist.
I passed by one Sunday afternoon, at the peak of a heat wave, and saw two bemused poultry employees in their black rubber aprons contemplating the artist sweating under the mask supposed to protect him from inhaling the contents of his spray cans, which strong smell was largely overwhelmed by the one emanating from the living stock.
Most disappointing was to discover that my favorite building, a former ladder factory with an odd metal chimney that looks like a Max Ernst sculpture, was already half covered with murals.
A tiny girl was busy working on a monster creature a hundred times her size. Her cans were neatlyly aligned by the wall, and a security perimeter had been delineated with orange cones. She was in fact so charming and earnest, and happy to have all this surface to work on, although she had to share it with two others artists, that you could no longer complain about the disappearance of the industrial architecture. And it’s not like the Bechers haven’t already documented it well, in case you had some.
It had been very hard, she explained, winter is not a good season for street art, especially in NY. Her hands would freeze on the cans in the windy desolated spots available for murals.
And how was Singapore, I asked?
Singapore was not good for murals either: the scene was boring there.
On the other side of the street, a repair garage had been recently closed, cleaned up and entirely covered with bright murals.
When I asked if I could take her picture, she hesitated. She finally pulled out big shades.
– Of course, as a street artist, you don’t want to be recognized?
– Well, yes…