Thursday, January 28, 2010

De-Construction of a Gold Paint Film

Tony Shafrazi is known for a number of items the most famous of which being his attack on Picasso’s Guernica in 1974. A lesser known incident was his commission of the artist Zadik Zadikian to cover 1,000 bricks with gold leaf at a museum in Teheran, Iran.

In an odd twist these two incidents, one of symbolic desecration and the other of faux bullion, came together when an artist (or wannabe artist) who claimed a relationship with Zadikian threw a few gallons of gold paint onto the cast iron and glass façade of Shafrazi’s then Noho (Manhattan, North of Houston) gallery. Note 1: Shafrazi has since moved his gallery to new digs in Chelsea. Note 2: Shafrazi is also known for his connection with Andy Warhol, Dennis Hopper and Keith Haring.

Through connection w/ an artist friend who moves in those circles we got the call to come and remove the gold paint from the façade. It was a hurry up job, we had to get in there before either the paint dried fully or the television news crews actually caught on to the affair. The task was not quite as simple or straight forward as most graffiti removal gigs as the “artiste” who seemed to want as much happening as possible for his protest was present for the full duration of the deconstruction of his vandalism... I mean, excuse me, his work of ART.

We can only surmise how much he had practiced the dance-arc of throw of paint prior to the execution in a sort of Jackson Pollack enthusiasm. The canvas in this case being vertical and a somewhat permanent attachment to the street environment within a soon-to-be Historic District.

When I say the artiste was present for the de-construction I mean in the sense that across the quaint cobble street he parked his 1970s era convertible Cadillac that was painted in leopard colors (the hand-applied paint technique on the car was sophomoric and of little intrinsic expression) with all sorts of zoo-like fluffery on the interior and he proceeded each day to dance around in leopard skin tights, his hair cut like a razorback and bleached gold-blond, with a clunky camcorder on his lithe shoulder while he video-taped the process of the work. This was before YouTube and before cell phones with video cameras and I can only rely on the vision of my faltered memory.

The small crew, there are only so many mechanics that can be fit to work across the width of the usual cast iron façade of 20-25 feet, very little aware of their role in an ‘art happening’ -- or even aware of what an art happening is -- went diligently to work with paint stripper, water blast machines (noisy) and decked in full rain gear, boldly-yellow -- pants, coats and hoods. The artiste made his noise on the street, danced around and recorded the deconstruction event. He was lucky he did not get dragged into a back alley and clobbered a few times.

I am reminded of the incident this morning because tenants in the building on the upper floors participated by throwing small flower pots off of their fire escapes. Nobody was hurt in the process, as I remember, but the crew certainly did complain. They did not complain about the crazy man dancing around on the street, whom they mostly found mildly amusing, but they were concerned that they not get hit in the head. I shared their concern for personal safety.

I am reminded of the flower pots as I contemplate a possible future gig where we worry that monkeys may throw bananas at us as we work below them. If monkeys can type out Shakespeare then I am certain that they can mimic post-modern art.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Sidewalk Lady

The sidewalk lady started out as a potential business lead from an associate in our industry. The result was 1. that we got a pretty good story, 2. we now question any references from associates who do not investigate the leads that they pass on (we try to ask more questions before we say yes), and 3. we managed to extricate ourselves from further involvement with the sidewalk lady.

Our associate told us that the sidewalk lady had a problem with the platform of brick at the entry door on her house, her stoop as she called it. We spoke with her briefly on the phone. She asked us to visit her house and look at her problem. Though her house is on Long Island where we are located it is at a location quite a bit out of the way for any of our usual travels. We were not particularly inclined to spend several hours, let alone the cost of gas, to go look at a problem that we had no clue what it would amount to in a paying gig. So after much effort on her part to act the ‘desperate grandmother' in need of assistance, which took several phone calls with her calling us every day, at times several times a day to beg us to visit her house – we convinced her to send us a photograph. We had to promise to return the photograph. We promised.

A few weeks later a Polaroid photo showed up. It was a really bad photo and I could not make out from it very much of anything. It showed brick. For all the fuss we had gone through I imagined this had to be the side view to a large brick structure. The address was at a relatively well-to-do area of the island best as we could tell and we imagined this must be one hell of a nice house. We were trying to visualize what the problem was that we were being presented. She had told us there were white lines. We were clueless. What white lines? We sent the photo back. With it we sent a work proposal for what it would cost for us to visit and investigate the problems. We figured that it would take at least a day between going there, talking with her, doing some probes, knocking around a few bricks or whatever and then to write up a recommendation report and a repair proposal.

Here is an excerpt from our letter: “I have looked over the photo that you have sent to us. The photo is being returned to you enclosed. You are correct that there is not much that can be seen form the photo but it does provide us with a more accurate idea of the problem that you have. Though we are not certain that we can make much of a difference it looks like what we can do is use a pneumatic carving chisel to remove the harder portion of the efflorescence and then to use an acidic cleaner and see if there is an improvement. The appearance may be less than acceptable, but it will be better than it is now, and it will avoid the need to remove and replace the brickwork.”

She did not want to pay for our time to do that investigative work. We understood. No problem. We were perfectly willing to leave it alone. She kept calling us every few days. “Please please please come visit at my house.”

Eventually we got a paying gig in New Jersey and on the way back to Long Island, even though it was at least an hour out of our way in travel time, we made arrangements to visit at her house. Over the course of the previous weeks everything seemed to have gotten worse with her masonry and it had now spread to her concrete sidewalk. She had been talking with all sorts of people about her dire situation including the Portland Cement Association, including a contractor who was writ up in the NY Times for doing shot blast on concrete parking decks.

Shot blast uses a machine that shoots steel bee-bees at the concrete and at the same time sucks them and the pulverized concrete back up again. It is used to remove the top surface of concrete in order to roughen up in preparation for a surface bonded coating... it is a fairly standard process with large parking garages. The equipment is expensive, the crews need to be experienced, and the money is made in getting in, doing large areas quickly, and then moving out. It is paid for by the square foot of area blasted. Quite often it is done in an operating garage with the need to deal with the hassles of vehicles... but not always the need to deal with grandmother types.

It was getting toward evening and we were tired from a day of work. What we really wanted was to get home after a few days away. We also wanted to get her to stop calling us. We found ourselves slightly lost in a suburban neighborhood. Not as upscale as we had imagined, but not terribly shabby either. We finally found the address and our first impression was that the house, with wood siding, looked as if it was last painted in the early 1950s. Our other impression was that there must not be anyone home, even though we had called, and been called, several times to confirm the appointment. We parked. We went up to a door where there was a light on outside, not exactly sure we has the correct information. No, this was it, she answered the door. Through the screen we asked her where the stoop was at that she had the problem with. Mind you, we consciously did not want to be invited inside.

She said, “You are standing on it.”

I looked down at my feet and instead of a magnificent, even a modestly apportioned stoop what I found was about twenty brick laid flat for about nine square feet of area, I mean it was flat 3’ x 3’ in size., smaller than a kitchen table. The brick was trim around the outside of the square with concrete in the middle. It was not the side view of anything that I had been looking at in her precious photograph.

Well, if we were not raised to try to be polite, and if it was not that we wanted to get her to stop calling every few days, we may have been smart enough to turn around and run back to the street, get in the truck and keep driving.

We could not see anything at all wrong with her brick stoop. She insisted that there was. Not only was there something wrong with her stoop but her neighbor during the winter had thrown lime and rock salt onto her sidewalk and therefore she swore that her concrete was rapidly deteriorating.

Other than normal weathering, where the stone aggregate is lightly exposed, we saw nothing to complain about with her sidewalk. Mind you, this was not a 10’ wide sidewalk in 5’ squares like in the city; it was not even 4’ wide. It was a 3’ wide sidewalk, about as small as one can get with a sidewalk other than not having one at all.

She wanted to know if we could shot blast it for her. We expressed hesitation. She went on about how that was what she read about in the NY Times and it must be the only proper way to take care of her sidewalk. She was perturbed that the shot blast guy no longer returned her phone calls.

We told her that she had some very interesting problems.

“I need to show you what my neighbor did,” she said as she pulled us out further along toward the street. “You see that?”


“He did that?”

He did?

“It was not there before.”

There was a slight indentation in the surface of the concrete. I got down on my hands and knees and put my head down close and looked across the surface. It took me a few minutes, with her asking questions the whole time and my trying to be polite, before I realized that it had to a child’s bare footprint from when the concrete was first poured.

She asked me what it was. I told her a footprint. She asked, “How did my neighbor do that?”

We have no clue. We don’t know your neighbor. She asked what could be done for it. I looked at it and told her she may want to consider telling her friends that it is the sign of a mysterious visitor.

That a story may be the best option as to put a patch on it would only make it look worse, and the patch would not last, and the half cup of mortar needed was hardly going to pay for our coffee, let alone a lunch ticket.

We eventually got her backed up to her stoop. We told her we knew a mason in the area who was looking for work (we made him real happy when we passed on the referral).

And as she was standing on her stoop I had this impression that nobody would ever believe this story, so I asked her if I could take her picture on her stoop in front of her door.

She perked up, stood up in a proud pose in her house coat and said, “Are you going to make me famous?”

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Interesting Hinge Detail on Bronze Church Gate

This is a bronze gate that we installed at a church on 5th Ave. in Manhattan. We did not do the refinish work on the gate itself. The gate was removed in the summer by an art foundry and taken to their shop where it was blasted to clean metal (white bronze) and then patinated to the green color.

Our role in the project has been focused on the metal-to-limestone anchor system -- the original manner of attachment some 70 years ago had caused damaged to the limestone and the gate was in danger to fall out of the opening of its own accord. Plus there had been various re-attachment campaigns over the years that helped to exacerbate the original muddles. This time around a modification was worked out for the attachment of the gate to the structure and it was our role to interface with the stone (anchoring), and to make repairs to the damaged stone surround of the opening. We also inherited the task of installing the gate back into the opening.

As with any project we discovered other unanticipated problems with the original design and installation. Compounding the logistics of the project is the coffee shop that went into business after the gates were removed.

But what fascinated me the most is the hinge system.

The leaves of the gate are heavy, roughly I would estimate at 600 lbs each. It took four of us to move them just enough to lift them a few inches and place them in the opening. We were seriously concerned that we might drop them. We were lucky in that we did not.

Each leaf of the gate has four hinges, for a total of eight.

The frame of the gate has a receiver that, though it cannot be seen in any of the photos, has a convex ball bottom that the hinge post, which has a concave ball bottom, fits to. The post threads down from the top into the hinge on the leaf side, and once it is in place a screw is inserted into it to provide a lock... so that the hinge post does not work itself out of the hinge when the leaves are swung. When that is all assembled then a top nut (what looks like a button with a screwdriver slot) is screwed in at the top of the hinge. In the end when all is assembled, and everything equally patinated it will not be glaringly obvious how the post hinges work.

In installing the gate the posts are screwed down to flush with the bottom of the holder on the leaf side, one of the posts lowered to fall into a receiver, and then once the gate is placed each post is screwed down into the receiver. The receiver itself is flanged (like a funnel) on the interior so as the post is screwed down it is guided into the receiver.

Once the posts are all in place the leaves of the gate move sweet as melted butter.

Playing with bronze doors and gates is not something that we do a whole lot of. The last time that we had a gig similar to this was at St. Bartholomew's Church (51st & Park) where the south bronze door was stuck shut and they needed to have it opened for the Xmas season (need for operable egress with an increased number of people inside of the church). Those doors weighed a considerable amount more than this bronze gate.

Wikipedia: "The magnificent bronze doors, with bas-reliefs in panels depicting episodes from the Old and New Testaments, had been carried out by some of New York's established sculptors: Andrew O'Connor, working freely under the general direction of Daniel Chester French, executed the main door; the south door was executed by Herbert Adams, the north door by Philip Martiny."

Monday, January 4, 2010

Saturday, January 2, 2010

vid: The Long Call

first published in Gator Springs Gazette 2004

A sea fogged then early morning Patti Stretzhure is journeyed out on the plane of her driveway with a very small red-plastic flashlight, mumbling about the anti-Christ and consorts of red-eyed turkey elves and drops the light, dim, darkened, shattered no light, and thus no words to clear the concrete mirage, so one time in the dawn she sees a stork eating meiofauna, another time an empty oak barrel that reminded her, and she quickly ran into the house to load the dishwasher; yet more often Patti blindly runs out waving a toilet brush and shooing amidst incensed chatter at the rude intrusion of their retreat, the guinea fowl which scatter and just as quickly regather, behind banging slam of her screen door righteously, getting even with her neighbor; she pulls from the freezer a hunk of bunker and goes out, surrounded by renewed chatter, and heaves it over the fence onto Jade’s woodpile where the birds, hearing the kerplunk of soon to be defrosted fish, sense it is feeding time and relocate to this position where the flesh is slowly building up into a primordial stench in the fecund yard zone between them; then she repairs inside her home to the sterile silence of her neat interior, still idly waving the toilet bowl brush as an appendage of distress; sits down in the living room and turns on the TV, then flicks from a rerun of Days of Our Lives, where Rex lets the Salem serial killer escape, as Lucas spends a tender night with Sami, and Roman falls in danger when he calls Kate to a 40s film featuring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope promoting War Bonds, then back to the Food Channel where two men dressed as Canadian car mechanics in red n' black checked hunter coats display salmon pate and canard, wild hare and crab, oyster pie, and rock lobster embellished with libations from dark caverns and drippy grottoes that make you giggle and swoon and say things in bad French to chic men with pouty lips that she will regret past her obsessive fidgets; gets up, turns the TV off; gets down in the kitchen; drinks a cup of lukewarm peppermint-hibiscus tea while staring out the slider into the rear yard; views gray and white birds flocking and pecking their way beyond a dull red fence of woody vines with black berries; views the dawn sun streaking in slats through blinds across her tile countertop; eats three cinnamon rolls in quarters of a precise filarial trim; drinks another tepid cup of tea; idly scratches the backside of her hand; drinks more tea sieving it in saury sips between the clear-cut gaps of her front teeth; breaks a nail extension; sets the toilet bowl brush down on a short pile of The Athenian Mercury newspaper; rinses her porcelain cup in the enamel sink; waters her profuse Swedish ivy; peels and eats half a banana, sneezes; goes into the bedroom for a magazine and selects a tattered Vogue off the nightstand; gets her hair caught in the silver chain holding St. Jude’s medallion while bending over to adjust her loose slipper; then in the bathroom, she lights a lavender scented candle, the cult of candle, reads three pages of a short story, about a romance between a young woman that drives a maroon Jaguar and a gas station attendant on foosball scholarship to the Tri-County Community College, that she cannot understand; then measures the black-fungal masked lines between the bathroom tiles around the tub enclosure with a clear yellow plastic ruler, fidgets with an acrylic nail, nicks her shin on the sink cabinet reaching for disposable cotton balls, drops the tip of her water pick down the drain, does not find instant glue in the cabinet, frets over her looks, swallows four St. John’s Wort capsules, cakes on layers of safflower rouge, feels the outline of her face with scrappy hands, removes all of the make-up, notices a small blemish on her unspoiled neck and dabs it with Australian Melaleuca alternifolia oil, gives up, and in search of psychic solace, she slinks back into the living room sits down lifts the phone and calls the Frederick Exley Celebrity Psychic Network.