PATTI ASTOR INTERVIEW
The following written material is an exclusive interview for the web site @149st and excerpted from the upcoming book "FUN Gallery...The True Story". Any other use is unauthorized. © 2002 Patti Astor
How did the Fun Gallery start?
I always say that the beginning of the FUN was when I met FAB 5 FREDDY in 1981. I was starring in my punk rock spectacular Underground U.S.A. in it's sixth month as the midnite flick at St. Marks Cinema. FRED had gotten on the tip of the downtown scene with Blondie and "Rapture", dragged his homies (including Futura) to see the movie and after that we met. The Queen of Downtown had met the King of Uptown, FAB said I was "Down By Law" and the art world would never be the same!
The actual gallery was a total accident. I had a landmark BBQ when FUTURA did a mural on the wall of my $65./month tenement pad on 3rd St. across from the Men's Shelter and the entire art world showed up! My place became the ultimate party and next my friend Bill Stelling said he had a small space (8' x 25') to do a gallery, did I know any artists? The original spot was on 10th between Second & Third. Other than Bill's belief in the artists and me we never had a backer.
How did the idea of exhibiting subway art arise?
I saw the gallery as an opportunity to show the work of all the artists I knew who were doing very exciting things. If most of them happened to be graff, fine but I didn't differentiate. Everyone got a one man show.
What intrigued you most about subway and street art?
When I hooked up with subway art I had been acting in beyond low budget films for about 5 years. Besides the fabulous energy and talent on display in graff, I recognized what we had in common was, if you don't have much - use what you have, the city is our canvas. To me there wasn't that much difference between my $500 black and white Super 8 jungle romance "Snakewoman", shot entirely on location in Central Park and DONDI hauling 50 cans of paint to the yards to do a top to bottom.
Who were the first artists you exhibited?
Our first show was my incredibly talented artist and musician ex-husband Steven Kramer! We put up about 20 drawings at $50. and sold everything! Next was Kenny Scharf who came up with the FUN Gallery name. We sold one "Elroy" drawing for $50. That was Kenny's first one man show. Next up we had the man himself Fred, and he brought us into the big time. With Fab's show the limos and collectors started making the scene. The rest of that year we showed Kiely Jenkins, FUTURA (first big sale! $600 to Barbara Gladstone!), Jane Dickson (Charley A's wife), DONDI White and Arch Connelly RIP, finished the year with LEE.
The subway art community tends to be wary of outsiders. How did you gain the artist's trust?
Well, when ZEPH, FU-2, DONDI and REVOLT realized that with me you could get into any club in town, I was a shoo-in! Seriously, I think the artists realized I had a genuine respect for the work and like a good toy, I kept my mouth shut and my ears and eyes open. Plus I was always up for a good adventure.
You have showcased the works of some extremely influential artists. Do any shows stand out in particular?
The idea of the FUN Gallery was to take the art back from the business people and make it just be about the art again. I made it a rule that the artists had to give me a minimum of 200% and everyone came through. Every show was extremely special. I would like to list the artists I was privileged to exhibit, (aside from those already mentioned): ZEPHYR, REVOLT, LADY PINK, RAMMELLZEE, A-ONE, CRASH, DAZE, IZ THE WIZ, YES ONE, TRACY 168, QUIK, MIKE PARKER, DURO, DOZE, ERO, CEY ONE, DELTA, CAINE ONE, SHARP, STASH, SEEN, DONTAY, RISER, SPAR, HAZE, NOC, Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant if I have left you out let me know! The Jean Michel Basquiat show was very special because it was the only formal show where he got to be really free, and consequently was his best show ever. The Keith Haring show was amazing, with LA2 he painted the entire gallery including my outfit and even the snow outside! My partner Bill said of the opening, "The place was rocking so much I thought we were all going to take off!" And of course my sentimental favorite, "Graffiti, Thanks a Lot!" which I opened to all comers and displayed over 500 pieces of artwork.
What were the most rewarding and challenging aspects of your work at the Fun Gallery?
My favorite artists were the squadrons of young graffiti kids who haunted the gallery night and day. The NYC school system had given up on these kids and they knew it. However their piece books were filled with drawings and writings they labored over unceasingly, plans for murals or maybe a tag by one of their idols, ZEPHYR, DONDI, Keith or FAB 5. When one of the guys came in they would be swarmed by their fans. It was so touching to listen to their questions and plans, to admire their thirst for knowledge, and encourage in them the feeling they were worth something. I began to take in small drawings and canvases and when I sold something it was such a thrill to give them a check. On the flip side all of a sudden a lot of money started to get thrown around by art scene people who smelled a fast buck. An artist's life is not an easy one and I felt a major responsibility in advising people to follow that path. Then of course there were always the guys sticking knives in my face, garbage cans through the windows, neighborhood mafia coming around for payoffs, heroin addicts passed out in the doorway and PCP freakouts, but I'm a veteran of the anti-war scene and after you've had your ass kicked by TPF a few times that other sh*t is nothing. The good more than made up for the bad.
By the mid 1980s, art patrons' enthusiasm for street influenced art declined sharply. How did that affect the Fun Gallery and its artists? ( Do you have any theories about the catalyst for the decline?)
M-O-N-E-Y! All of the magpies jumped on the bandwagon. We were back at "Graffiti Art" shows that I had fought so hard to defuse, they had no respect or knowledge. Tony Shafrazi stole away one of my finest artists, FUTURA, and got him to do a show with double-burger canvases, he forced him to do so many paintings they were actually hung one above the other. Thanks to Tony's greedy motives FU-2's career as a fine artist was ruined for a while. I am happy but not surprised to say he is doing quite well now.
When and why did the Fun Gallery close?
1985, the art establishment moved in and galleries were coming in putting in $400,000 to renovate the buildings down the street. I couldn't compete with that nor did I want to.
What would be the Fun Gallery's legacy?
I was very insistent from the start that each artist should be considered as an individual. I hope that my partner Bill Stelling and I contributed to the worldwide exposure of graffiti art. At the Guernsey's graffiti auction SHARP inscribed these words in my catalogue: Thank you for giving me my first exhibition. You changed my life. Love Aaron I can't ask for more than that.
How were you cast in Wild Style?
I found out FRED and Charlie were planning to do the movie but they didn't want to give me the part of the reporter, "it should be someone more mousy" even though FRED already called me Lois Lane. I took the subway up to the 2nd Annual Sugarhill Rap Convention dressed in a white satin pants outfit, ran into FAB and Charlie, dodged a few bullets and got the part.
Many of your Wild Style co-stars did not have prior film experience. Did you find yourself giving them any guidance?
That bunch of hams and hot dogs? What it translated into is, film involves a lot of waiting and Charlie knew he could do my stuff last because I had the discipline. So I did it.
Do you have any interesting memories about the filming of Wild Style?
Well there was the time I almost got my head blown off or the promo tour to Japan when DJ Charlie Chase got chased down the hall of the hotel in his underwear by yakuza gangsters but you'll have to wait for the book for the juicy details!
What types of projects are you working on presently?
Since moving to Cali I've done a lot of screenplays which stoked up my writing skills. My fans will want to check out my Hollywood film "Assault of The Killer Bimbos" which I wrote, produced and star in as Poodles, the bad girl who gets to beat up all the bimbos. I made the deal with Rhino to finally get "Wild Style" released legitimately, and had fun doing the 15th year Wild Style Reunion. Next up will be the publication of my book "FUN Gallery...The True Story".
Does it surprise you that aerosol art has become a world wide phenomenon?
No. When something comes from the heart it will prevail. I could see that wherever we went if the art was presented correctly there was a great fascination. Back in the day "they" never thought rap would stick around. I met Crazy Legs and Rock Steady Crew at LEE Quinones' birthday party when they were all 14 years old and still carrying around their own roll of linoleum. They are now famous world wide and just celebrated their 24 year anniversary. I am gratified but not surprised how all of the artists "kept on keeping on" after the momentary spotlight had passed. It will come again.
Any closing words?
I would like to thank the hip hop community for welcoming me in and adding an amazing dimension to my artistic life I never expected. When my book is published I plan to do some new shows that will be better than ever. I can't wait for my reading tour to meet all the great talent I know is out there. The FUN's not over yet! Peace and Love, Patti Astor
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