At about the same time that Rosanna Arquette’s character was “Desperately Seeking Susan,” deep in SoHo, I was in the same neighborhood desperately seeking a new frontier. It was the mid-1980s, and for nearly nine years I bore witness to the once desolate streets paving way to packs of traipsing tourists elbowing me off my own sidewalks. SoHo was no longer my backyard, but becoming a brand.
I moved to Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, a mostly West Indian neighborhood that had taken root during “white flight” in the 1960s. On the corner of Washington Avenue, my once grand prewar building loomed with others along the Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux-designed thoroughfare, in dogged determination. They were up against the invading crack epidemic and race tensions between Lubavitcher Hasidic Jews (who also had a stake in the area known as Crown Heights), and the struggling black community. The exhilaration of uncertainty laced with creative potential zapped me almost the way it had fifteen years previous, when I first moved from the suburbs of Pennsylvania to a down, but not quite out, New York City.
Across the street I faced the splendor of the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, behind me were doberman pinschers on brownstone rooftops patrolling the drug dens below. I was sandwiched in between, and continued working in my sprawling apartment on my commercial illustration, delivering it to Manhattan clients in person via the IRT.
While SoHo was busy morphing from an art mecca to a shopping mall, there were some genuinely exciting moments, as street art and graffiti blurred with fashion, fame, music, and action. Inevitably, innocence soured into irony that girded the cast iron district, and Art and Commerce clamped together, squeezing out anyone and anything that could no longer survive or no longer wanted to.
But before the tipping point, living in SoHo was fun and thrilling. I was creating fashion art churned up by street energy and the music on my MTV.
All street photography snatched from the internet.
All art Copyright Sharon Watts
More links to SoHo street art:
Your posts are always magical to read, they transport me back to a really special time in my life. A time before sanitized brands and their ilk.
Thank you, June! I try to keep the memories alive for all us ex-pats 🙂
Good article and neat illustrations!
“my sprawling apartment …” Wow, this *was* a long time ago, to have a sprawling apartment there and not be an investment banker! So many creative hotspots have been decimated by gentrification. Where will those next hotspots be?
On a happier note, your artwork, then and now, is excellent. A real life and vibrancy within them.
Well, Patti Smith said “Poughkeepsie” some years ago. That’s just north of me. Glad you enjoyed the art—it was a fertile time!