Giving Thanks With Michael Alan
"You looked like you were going to die
"You looked like you were going to die." That was before the spinal surgery and before the hurricane. Before the back to back performances following those events. It was before the theft and the interview. NowMichael Alan
, Jerry Rid and I were sitting on the floor ofNOoSPHERE Art Space
trying to piece together the past two months. Alan, a Bushwick born visual artist stretched out and stated that there would be no need to go over his life story again. So we didn't. There is a new life to begin in which the best work is yet to come.
Alan - now living on Staten Island with his parents while recovering from a spinal surgery earlier in the year - was fortunate as far as Staten Island residents go. Describing the scenario to me he said, “Half of my Island is gone. I went outside and saw the damage to our place, half of the roof torn off and a tree down in my yard. But that’s nothing, people are still being found there.”
His gallery, Gasser Grunert in Chelsea was not so fortunate. It could be estimated that he alone lost $45,000 worth of art. His evaluation of the loss is more immediate. “My gallery held on to some of his best pieces for obvious reasons. A line work entitled Flesh and Bone created from twenty lines on red paper was ripped in half.”
More difficult to process was the destruction of a dedication piece for three friends who passed away. “I wasn’t able to draw a picture about them for a long time. Until last year. I put them all in one scene and that thing is wrecked. I was trying to get it off of consignment to get it to one of the families.”
“When I do a dedication of someone who passed away and then that gets destroyed. That’s rough. But Scott Ewald told me that ‘You haven’t even done your best work yet.’ That was good to hear.” On a hopeful note, “The collages that were destroyed may find their way into new collages.”
The last time that he and I spoke was for an interview before the hurricane. We talked about his growing up in New York, what he misses, what he’s looking forward to, artistic ambitions, and an oddly prescient hypothetical. When discussing his birth, which took place in Bushwick during the '77 black out, he asked me “What would you say if we woke up tomorrow and I told you that 70 buildings had burned down overnight? The city was at war.”
I asked him what he thought about the oddness and fierce reality of that statement in the wake of that storm.
“The new extreme tragedy of New York City? I’m feeling it very hard emotionally as an artist, a sensitive guy in general. It’s pretty dramatic. I’m trying to use the shows I had lined up and turn them into pieces about the situation here. I get a lot of wisdom from Gary Boake, he lost his eye, half is arm and leg in an automobile accident. He’s the second man down in the show so we went back and forth until we came up with NYC Healing.”
He staged a Living Installation performance on November 9th, which doubled as a fundraiser and canned food drive for Staten Island. It was originally billed as a healing show to celebrate his relative recovery from the surgery and evolved into NYC Healing. In ABC No Rio, where the water damage is apparent from years of leaks, he and a bevy of performers put on an eight hour performance fresh off of the flooding, loss, and surgery.
“It’s hard to raise money with the shows I do, but we did raise something. It was hard to even put that show on, we kept losing power during the show. It was days after the hurricane, we could barely get the equipment over the bridge. Physically, I can’t do as much as I want to in volunteering. But there are different needs, what I can do is art. In a sense it’s art therapy. Everyone who came to that show got something out of it.”
We met during Thanksgiving week before his second Living Installation that month - entitled Thanks-Living. He said to me in October, “The only thing in my heart is love anymore. I want to go forward with that and let it come out of everything I do from now on.”
And now, “I’m trying to do positive art actions. It is very dramatic since our last meeting. I’m trying to stay strong, I’m a person too.”
“Instead of going dark I’m trying to work with the community and with different people. I just found out that an old friend passed away. It wasn’t from the storm, but it’s still life. He was one of the original performers in Draw-A-Thon who would let me paint on him and make him into sculptures. I have to add Dave 1, R.I.P."
Upon coming into North Brooklyn to attend a Halloween party put on by his friend Kenny Scharf, Alan felt mixed emotions about seeing the relatively untouched areas in which he was born and used to live. He was coming from Staten Island, where people were still out and out - he was in his words, stinky and cold - almost cancelling on the party where he was projecting in a back room.
“I think it’s amazing and sad that this storm humanized Staten Island. You watch the news and people are astonished to recognize that the person on television from Staten Island is a person. I’m tired of the prejudice against it. There’s good and bad everywhere. People are people.”
He wanted to flip the interview on me, “We were talking about how the first interview was like a local boy makes good story. My question for you is how are you doing?” he asked. We were redoing the interview because so much had happened in the intervening weeks and because my laptop had been taken, with the only copy of the first interview’s audio, transcription and initial story’s first 1,000 words.
“What makes you stay?” he asked when I told him that I’d seriously considered leaving the city just a month and a half ago.
“I didn’t want to give up.” I said.
“Put that in the story. That’s what it’s all about. Don’t give up. It’s relevant, that’s what people need to hear.”
Three days later the laptop and interview was returned. Three days after that Thanks- Living was performed. Jerry Rid and Michael Kronenberg were the hosts of Thanks-Living, it was a dedication to Dave 1, the late performer.
At one point during the performance Jerry Rid joined the stage and was covered in “Odin Lives Forever” stickers until his head looked like a blooming flower. The music died down and Michael Alan yelled out “Dave! Daaave! Davvveee!” it was quiet, then “Alright, fuck you!” The cycle of life continues and we are reminded daily to give thanks. Everything can disappear in a flash.
“New York is kind of like lost New York.” Alan says as we finish, “I’m trying to keep it New York, the energy that I remember.”