In 1985, the artists of the Coney Island Hysterical Society created and operated a Spookhouse behind Nathan’s, exhibited artwork at Sideshows by the Seashore and had a group show at LaMama. Society co-founders Richard Eagan and Philomena Marano continue to collaborate on Coney-themed art. A recent visit to the Gowanus studio shared by Eagan and Marano inspired this two-part post…
I began my career as a visual artist with a series of dreams about Coney island. Ten in one year (1978) – Steeplechase, The Thunderbolt, many locales, and I realized I had hand skills to evoke those places. Eventually I understood that’s what artists did. It snuck up on me. Generally speaking, I launched into a series of realist-based portraits of many of the places I had known in Coney Island. I needed to bring these places to life. Although my work has developed and changed through the years, I still return to the architectural portraiture of my early work.
Oddly, though, one of my very first pieces was an installation for “Tricks and Treats at the World in Wax Musee” curated by Dick Zigun back in… 1980? I filled a display case with a piece evoking the demolition of the Steeplechase Pavilion of Fun, titled “I Must Have Been Dreaming”- the curving space of the Panama Slide was filled with jagged, broken shards of wood.
During the Spookhouse Project of 1984-85, I began a series of paintings with bulls-eye imagery, and I imagined a few of them might want to have those shards bursting through the picture plane into real space, as if a wall had exploded out. Though they were not executed then, I returned to the idea in a series of small 12″ square canvasses in the 1990’s. They were an immediate hit, and I sold quite a few of those.
The short hop to combining the Coney work with the exploding architecture was a no-brainer once I accepted that the Coney Island of my childhood was imploding, burning, and would never return. I didn’t foresee the Thor paradigm, of course, but I needed to create pieces expressing my anguish over the ruins of my beloved playground. Hence the work with exploding shards, broken glass, and faded, ghostly signage. “Oceanic Baths” (not an actual Coney place name) was the first in this series, and the piece that helped me combine constructed sculptural work with abstract expressionist-style paintwork and pop culture imagery.
I expect I will be working the various styles in different combinations for some time to come as the future of the place of my inspiration and dreams unfolds.
Related Posts on ATZ…
October 26, 2010: Studio Visit: Philomena Marano of the Coney Island Hysterical Society
October 1, 2010: Oct 2: Coney Island Hysterical Art on Gowanus Artists Studio Tour
October 31, 2009: Traveler: Carnival Rides as Public Art at Toronto’s Nuit Blanche