Rick Prol and James Romberger on view at Dorian Grey Gallery
11/15: Dorian Grey Gallery just sent out word that the exhibition has been extended until November 24th!
More exciting news, on Saturday, November 16th from 1-5p the gallery will host a reception for the artists Rick Prol and James Romberger, and also there will be a screening of shorts clips from an upcoming documentary on the East Village.
When I was a kid growing up on Third Avenue in Schenectady, New York (the real upstate New York) we would gather to play an adventure game in our backyard. It was called Marshmallow Land.
Kids in the neighborhood would gather, J.J. And Cissy, David, my big sister and sometimes our slightly older brother James. From my families tightly cluttered small back porch we would haul out all of the crap that my parents refused to discard. Chairs, tables, various random objects. From that mountain of garbage-in-limbo we would build a space ship that I could actually climb aboard. The ship was always built on the barbecue patio, for its firm foundation. It was my favorite game to play, aside from scatterball. In that spirit of youthful imagination we would escape the doldrum life in a post-industrial city in decline. I guess I’d been wanting out before I ever actualized a sense of longing.
The death and life of great American cities is subjective, as it turns out. Someone’s happy about the way New York City is becoming, while many of us have this curdling sense of alarm that a city of metropole caliber is fading (read David Byrne’s thoughts on the matter). The way every neighborhood in Manhattan is starting to look like every other neighborhood in Manhattan, is the way that New York City is beginning to look like any other major city in the world. The planning process finally reigned in, made efficient with a singular vision. Build it fast, and you’ll have it sooner. Replicas now are of faux designs, and site specific attractions are a way to commodify tourist dollars. What’s the sense of wandering the streets of a foreign city, when it has a ground hog day look and feel? What is there to feel in an over corporatized environment? Cross streets begin to look the same, affordable apartments on one corner, boutique fooderie on the other, 7/11, and glass condos built or in progress—the look alternates with a bank. All conveniently located on one corner.
It was a privilege to walk in a Lower East Side gallery and experience a vibe that captivates the past, present, and future of New York post-punk, in a visual context. Rick Prol, a celebrated artist, that has been in the ring since the late 1970s/early 80s and onto the present, shares a vast collection of drawings and gouache on paper. You can feel the momentum of his studio time, where one painting leads to another. Distorted, imaginary, wicked, even knife in the neck. Matadors riding on the bus, octopus tanks are fun and creepy like a good Melvins record. There are dirty things, a kind of rundown angst; despair, disappointment, with a tinge of humor.
We can name drop his contemporaries Basquiat/Martin Wong/David Wojnarowicz/Ronnie Cutrone, and his street credit with New York Graffiti artists before it was called “street art,” however, his work resonates a whole different vibe in a textural palette colorful and wonderful, we can smell the Bacon (Frances Bacon).
The opening reception was a delight, it felt like a high school reunion, New York jamming old faces and new eyes on the walls and not on the floor. Without a doubt Prol’s paintings are small, looking forward to seeing his larger works.
That lot now a community garden, this collapsed building, a condo. Whatever your opinion of today these subjects tell a story of what came before. James Romberger’s work at the exhibition is less opinionated, more observational; let the viewer decide the conditions. His pastels capture the intimate nature of urbanity—its backlots and decay, the cityscape at interesting hours of the night sky. His choice of human subjects are dealt with utmost care, in their habitats and everyday life. He draws New York with honest fairness and grace. Considering the New York City he experienced in the 1980s, it’s an accomplishment to maintain a perspective that isn’t completely wrought with disdain. This is a man who loves. I suppose this is because he experienced an immense time of creative growth, they were also his formative years. At the time, the roots of the Lower East Side art scene were fed by Romberger and many contemporaries.
Romanticizing the grime of it all—life built out of the leftover crumbs in a left in limbo neck-of-the urban woods. Both of these artists came out of the ruins of the 1980s Lower East Side. Able to live affordably, with frightful trade-offs… at risk of danger. I would say like many artist these two remained committed to their heightened sense of their surroundings—they also made it their subject. It is with obvious good reason that the artists’ works are included in major private and public collections, they exemplify—as New York City morphs into something different—the antithesis of “disastrous amputation.”
Through November 17th at Dorian Grey Gallery, 437 East 9th Street, NYC. For more info visit www.doriangreygallery.com.
*Cover Photo Credit: Marguerite Van Cook