Chances are you’re familiar with some of the characters, illustrated in black and white, in Lower East Side, New York native Clayton Patterson’s new book Legends of the Lower East Side #1, a coloring book available for purchase now. Characters like: Downtown skateboard legend Harold Hunter, superstar Luther Vandross, character actor Luis Guzman, artist Tom Otterness and A-Ron The Don, to list 5 of the 24 individuals who have put the LES on the map in some shape or form.
Truth be told, we were clueless about Luther being from the LES but Patterson, a Wikipedia in the flesh, activist, filmmaker and photographer, to list four of his many well worn hats, soon schooled us about the crooner and about Chinese artist Ai WeiWei, who also lived in the neighborhood in the 1980s. Weiwei, you may have heard, is now in the cross hairs of the repressive Chinese government because of his stance on democracy.
“Long story short, if you’re looking for archival images of the LES during the ‘80s, look to Patterson and Ai Weiwei because they have an enviable collection.”
Patterson, who has been living in the LES since 1979, is no stranger to Mass Appeal readers who were first introduced to the Outlaw Art Museum founder in MA Issue 12, published Fall 2001. In that issue Patterson copped the cover and laced our pages with a handful of portraits from his “Walk of Fame” series, a collection of portraits of LES locals who have posed in front of his heavily graffitied front door on Essex Street since 1984. Patterson’s door is still in the mix but the 2.5 ft x 3 ft picture display is no longer there.
“The whole problem with the Lower East Side it was always a place you can come to and steal,” Patterson told on afternoon in February while in his LES workspace. “When you try to get out of some place, you don’t write romantically looking back. People who came out of here eventually left and that was it. All the new jacks that came here for years just came out of here to steal. They come down, they get shit and it never goes back to the Lower East Side. [People] like Madonna. She talked about how she lived in this tenement building one time. That’s it! Where do you think Madonna came from? You think she came from a magic crucible like the Lower East Side?”
Illustrated by Troy Harris and Orlando Bonilla–a Salvadoran immigrant who once designed clothing for the Barbie dolls his mother assembled, in a factory in El Salvador before being forced to flee to LA because of that country’s civil war–the book can be yours for under five bucks, and may be found at the New Museum, Oh WOWW Gallery and from Patterson himself.
Published the old fashioned way, via Xerox, Legends is a must have for anyone interested in the heart and soul of NYC.
“We have lots of hitters, Its more than just a coloring book,” Patterson said. “These are great stories! Once we lost all of the great people, we got left with a void. We got to find a way to fill that void [in the LES].”
The void Patterson is referring to the are the folks who either left the neighborhood on their own or those who have perished: Harold Hunter, Dash Snow, etc. Richard Burke, Tom Otterness, Lucien and Jerry Pagane are some the living legends you can color and read about in short bios accompanying the portraits in the book.
“The Lower East Side has multiple levels,” Patterson continued. “It’s nice to have the Weiwei’s and Luther Vandross’ and whatever, but you gotta have those street guys in there too. You gotta have guys like Richard Burke, and the next generation coming up: Donte and Zack. That’s what the coloring book is about. It’s a book about legends, real legends not just goofy stuff like MTV.”
You can buy a copy of Legends of the Lower East Side #1 at the New Museum, Oh Wow (227 Waverly Place / New York / NY / 10014 646.370.5847) and from Patterson himself at 161 Essex Street.