As I have mentioned many times before, and in my opinion constantly bears repeating, I’m from Staten Island, NY. It is a magical land that may as well be invisible to those who don’t know what’s good, but simultaneously exists as a borough of NYC. Strange intersection there!
My undying love for urban spaces littered with unique ART, laden with unsettling social commentary, was born on Staten Island, on the walls of the ghetto and in the heARTs of my people. Art was specifically placed in spaces that were deteriorating, ugly, and desolate, promptly transforming them into something with a beautiful duality, something that I could relate to.
I’d love to share some of the most epic graffiti ART that I’ve had the honor to experience and to photograph. All of the following pieces were placed on the walls of the abandoned Children’s Hospital at Seaview, which was opened in 1938, and decommissioned in 1974. (For more historical info on the space, as well as some spectacular photographs of the detritus, visit Abandoned NYC’s Blog. And for more of my own coverage of Abandoned things on Staten Island, visit my post on The Farm Colony!)
The eerie caliber of grotesque talent expressed in these ARTistic pieces has been unmatched by anything I’ve seen before or since. The houses, the appendages, the personification of place, the dehumanization of body, the spirit of sickness, sadness, loneliness, and the undeniable creep-factor contribute to make this work stand out as some of the most stirring shit ever.
And then you consider the walls that these murals are scribed on… You consider all of the children who actually lived in this institution before it closed its doors, who experienced these walls as their captors, and were themselves wards of a sick system that left them alone and forgotten. It is a place that remembers sadness well, and the abandoned deterioration and crumbling infrastructure only contributes to this emotion.
This place challenges the very concept of HOME.
This ART represents catharsis in the truest sense, as it is not put in a highly visible space, but etched in a state of temporal and continual isolated solitude. It was never destined to be viewed by the masses, but instead created with the intention and resolve to be seen only ever by a few law-breaking trespassers and misfits. This is such an honest and fresh perspective on the visibility and purpose of ART, having deleted money and pay from the equation, and inserted emotional response as the form of currency which gauges the success of the ARTist and their work.
It is ART that seeks neither prestige nor great reputation, but instead acts as therapy and healing, in its creation and continued consideration. The symbols, crafted with such impressive vision and care, speak clearly to the child inside of us all, the part that is scared, uncertain, and just wants our mommy. The symbols are statements, exclamations, screams and hollers down the echoing hallways of our minds, that beg us not to forget our hiSTORY, and not to forget these children.
My heART aches and swells to know that these people exist in the world, beautifying and mystifying place and space, yet I will never know who they are. However, the allure of the anonymous ARTist is strong with me, and having been asked many times what photographer and/or ARTist is the greatest inspiration to me, I can never think of a name, because the nameless are the ones that have touched the weakest and dirtiest pARTs of me, and made them want to be good.
This is my love letter to the ARTists of the abandoned spaces of Staten Island. I see your shadows everywhere.