OFFBEATS: lower east side portraits

Biographies | ISBN:  978-1-887276-98-6 | US $19.95 | Trade Paper perfect bound | pages:  144 | Trim Size: 6” X 9”

Release: Summer 2022 | Front cover art by John Evans | Book design: Laura Lindgren


Through much of the 19th and 20th centuries, Manhattan below 14th Street was a great cultural brain that dreamed up a fantastic wealth of art and entertainment for the rest of the world. Greenwich Village was one hemisphere, the Lower East Side the other. Across all media and genres, from the loftiest avant-garde to low amusements for the masses, this dream machine changed world culture over and over again.


Featured L.E.S. portraits in OFFBEATS


On the Lower East Side, immigrants from around the world mingled with one another, and with artists, writers, musicians and other culture producers. The neighborhood also attracted rebels, eccentrics, visionaries, and refugees from the straight and normal life.

Offbeats is a gallery of some great characters from the Lower East Side, a representative handful of visionaries, artists, misfits and criminals. They include Mickey the Pope, who invented an illegal and ingenious pot delivery service; street gang leader-turned-artist Cochise; pioneers of  the movie industry, who went from running nickelodeons on the Lower East Side to building Hollywood empires; Father Pat Maloney, an Irish priest jailed for his role in a Brinks heist to help fund the IRA; Baba Raul Canizares, a Santeria priest; Boris Lurie, a concentration camp survivor who cofounded the NO!art movement; mystic and poet Lionel Ziprin; Yiddish theater star Molly Picon; as well as drag artists, street artists, and other creators.


About the authors:

Clayton Patterson and his wife Elsa Rensaa came to New York City from Canada in 1979. In 1983 they bought a small storefront building on the Lower East Side, and began to document the history, social life, and politics of the neighborhood. Walking the streets of the neighborhood opened an amazing body of photography. Over the years they developed probably the largest inner-city archive in America, hundreds of thousands of photos, plus videos and street ephemera. In 1988 they made a video that became known as the Tompkins Square Park Police Riot tape. It was the first time a handheld, commercially available video camera was used to hold police accountable. Clayton has also edited and published a number of books on Lower East Side history, culture and politics, including Captured: A Film & Video History of the Lower East Side; Resistance: A Radical Social and Political History of the Lower East Side; and the three-volume Jews: A People’s History of the Lower East Side.

In 1986 Clayton and Elsa turned their storefront into the Clayton Gallery & Outlaw Art Museum, which has shown a galaxy of artists overlooked by the standard art world hype. Since 2013 he has organized the annual Acker Awards to pay tribute to such artists and the community members who support them. The filmmakers Dan Levin and Ben Solomon made a documentary feature about Clayton and Elsa, Captured, released in 2008. They’ve also been portrayed in graphic novel style in the book Clayton: Godfather of Lower East Side Documentary, edited by Julian Voloj, with work by eighteen artists, published in 2020.

John Strausbaugh has been writing about New York City history and culture for more than thirty years. From 1988 through 2002 he edited and wrote for the weekly newspaper New York Press. In 2007/8 he wrote and hosted the “Weekend Explorer” series of neighborhood articles and videos for the New York Times. He has also written for the Washington Post, the Wilson Quarterly, Evergreen Review, the National Review, The Chiseler, and other publications. He has written a number of highly regarded books, including Black Like You, a history of blackface; Rock ‘Til You Drop; and three books of New York City history: The Village, City of Sedition, and Victory City. He lived at Suffolk and Delancey Streets for a few years in the early 1990s, and has also lived in the Village, Hell’s Kitchen, the Flatiron district, and now Brooklyn Heights.

Exerpts:

Molly Picon

Molly Picon stopped growing when she was a kid and topped out at around four foot eight — four-eleven standing on her tiptoes, she liked to say. The biggest thing about her was her impish Betty Boop eyes. But she packed a lot of energy and spirit into that miniature package.

Lionel Ziprin

Lionel Ziprin was an essential Lower East Side figure, a sage who seemed to walk between worlds, in whom the Orthodox and the avant-garde met, and penniless hipsters consorted with high society. He was never “famous,” yet it’s remarkable who knew him and came into his orbit.

Baba Raul Canizares

Where else but the Lower East Side would you find a practicing Cuban santero living under the same roof as a Melekite Irish Catholic priest? That’s where Clayton met Baba Raul Canizares, when he lived and worked as a counselor at Bonitas House.

Mickey the Pope

Mickey the Pope was the first person to create a major marijuana delivery business in New York City. He turned pot dealing into an industry. He was one of a kind, but he was also typical of a sort of personality who were drawn to the Lower East Side in those days. A dreamer, obsessed with a vision.

Father Pat

If Fr. Pat and his Guardian stray out of range of the equipment hanging from his book shelves, alarms go off somewhere and his bail bondsman breaks out in a sweat. Because Fr. Pat is under house arrest at 606 E. 9th St., facing federal criminal charges in connection with one of the biggest and oddest Brinks robberies in history.

Cochise

In prison Cochise turned his life around. He earned his GED, did a four-year apprenticeship and got his journeyperson’s papers as an offset lithographic press operator. He was released on lifetime parole and returned to the neighborhood after 18 years with a mission to council youth who are at risk for getting into the gang lifestyle.

Al and Angel Orensanz

In a period when so many places for culture were vanishing all over the Lower East Side, the Orensanzes offered a counter-example that not only preserved a legacy but began a new one.

Boris Lurie and NO!ART

In the summer of 1993, Clayton Gallery hosted an art exhibition called “NO!art.” It was a small show of maybe a dozen pieces, but there was no missing the tone — ugly and negativist. The painting was intentionally “bad.” Messy collages of images ripped from tabloids and old porn were slapped in the viewer’s face as angry reminders of everything vulgar and filthy in the world just outside.

Angel Ortiz (LA II)

As a collaborator with Keith Haring, LA II has struck as deep into the American artscape as Haring did. LA II was instrumental in pushing Haring from being just a graphic artist to a full-on fine artist. They did years of work together. Yet his contribution to Haring’s art has often gone undervalued or entirely uncredited by museums and art historians.

John Evans

From 1964 through 2000 Evans collected flotsam and jetsam that caught his eye on the streets around his East Village apartment. Every day for thirty-seven years, except for a day he felt too sick (February 11, 1996, to be precise), Evans sat in his apartment with a sketchbook, turned to the next blank page, and arranged some of this discarded ephemera into a collage

Linda Twigg

Linda Twigg was a downtown legend, a complex character with many sides. She was pretty and petite, a blue-eyed blonde, a devout Catholic of the old school, a benefactor and friend to the creative community, a host of great parties where interesting people met. But she was also, as the photographer Louis Cartwright put it, a “gangsterette.”

R. O. Tyler

R. O. Tyler was big, bearded, heavily tattooed decades before it was hip, a jolly drinker and pot smoker who could talk your ears off. He was widely read and erudite, conversant in unusual and esoteric paths of human endeavor.

Jim Power

In 2020, despite the pandemic, 73-year-old Jim Power was still out on the streets of the East Village, still working on his mosaics that decorate neighborhood light poles and stop lights, curbs, shops, bars and restaurants. He’d been doing it since in 1985.

Ned Harrigan

Some of the most intimate and certainly funniest depictions of the Lower East Side in the 19th century were written by a man who grew up there, and went on to be one of the most popular showmen and songwriters of the late 1800s. Along the way, Ned Harrigan helped lay the foundations of the Broadway musical, and even the tv sitcom.

The Cradle of Hollywood

The Lower East Side has a long history in film, back to the very birth of the movies. It’s no exaggeration to say that without the Lower East Side there would not have been a Hollywood.

Pyramid Club

This low-rent dive bar became a collective of what the Lower East Side represents. The central core was gay, the security was the local skinheads, and the entertainment was a reflection of all the different kinds of explorations that drew creators to the LES.