Coney Island Artist
Draw Where You Are
“Always carry a sketchbook with you”.
“Waiting for inspiration to strike is OK. Just make sure there’s a brush in your hand and you’re standing I front of a canvas when inspiration strikes”. — Robert Henri
“Looking for a subject? Open your front door, take 10 paces and start to draw”. — Renoir
“Great paintings, like the the bastards who become great kings, have humble origins. Draw the wine bottle, the newspaper, the cigarette pack, the stuff on your kitchen table”. — Picasso
This is all good advice.
My own motto is “Draw Where You Are”. Wherever I am, a sketchbook is never far away. Or a sketching app on the iPad to draw with. Going to art school on the subway in New York, I always had my sketchbook with me.
On the crosstown bus, it was always handy too. Working at my night job in the liquor store, it was very useful to record my feelings the night I was robbed at gunpoint.
But it wasn’t until I moved to London that I began drawing the old neighborhood I grew up in, Coney Island. It was an amazing place to be a kid. Who wouldn’t want to grow up near the sea, with an amusement park a short bike ride from home?
It was an amazing place, and the rides in those days were spectacular — the parachute jump was still operating, and Steeplechase, the funny place, was still open. It was named for a ride which took you all the way around the building on a wooden horse. And when you got off, you would find yourself on a stage with clowns attacking you for the amusement of a live audience. There were freak shows and spook houses, enough to completely distract and disorient a young child like me. Even just entering the park you had to walk through a perilous spinning wooden barrel.
One day, I got lost in the chaos of Coney Island and couldn’t find my parents. It made such an impression on me that many years later I found myself drawing the place.
In the intervening years things have changed at Coney Island, but I wanted to remember it as it was, in particular I remembered a very special place called Steeplechase — the funny place, which has been gone for ages. The prints and sculptures here on are my attempt to capture the feeling of being there. I was too young to carry a sketch book so these belated images from memory will have to do.
Coney Island eventually grew derelict and abandoned for many years. It was under threat of being demolished and redeveloped as apartments. Even the boardwalk was going to be demolished to make way for a shopping mall. Somehow, this never happened. It is now being reborn, some original rides remain, and it is great to see the old magic of the place returning. Of course, the Parachute Jump will never be operational again — insanely dangerous.
When I first came to England, we used to travel down to Dreamland in Margate, to ride the Scenic Railway. The slightly run down character of Dreamland reminded me of Coney Island, and I felt right at home. Then it too, like Coney, fell into disrepair. And like at Coney Island, developers, like vampires smelling blood, stood ready to demolish the remains and build in the land.
Miraculously the will was found to rebuild it, and return it to its former glory. Needless to say I am very excited about the reopening of Dreamland in Margate. Something about these amusement parks can never be totally destroyed. The magic has just been hibernating, ready to return as soon as people are ready for it again. These places are precious. They are our invitation to dream.
Drawings and sculptures are from the Coney Island series of work. There are still a few copies left of the hand printed Coney Island artist book, and some of the prints and sculptures are also available. The artist can be contacted via the website.
September 22, 2015
Originally published at randyklein.co.uk.