I started to work at a huge retail art store when I was 18 in East Meadow, Long Island in the 90’s. It was, at the time, the best place for me. I have been an artist as long as I can remember always winning art contests and always spending all my time in the art room at any school I went to.
There was no dress code and back then I had fire engine red hair with skull beads woven into it. Pierced, dressed in all black with ripped fishnet stockings with black tights beneath. It was a punk rock goth look that I embraced. This is long before anyone was doing it at all. Skin Two was my bible!
I worked with other artists who looked just as outrageous as I did. They grew to be an extended family for me of sorts. We all commiserated on how bad the store treated us, the customers who were out of control along with the fact we did not get paid worth a damn no matter how hard we worked.
We got together all the time to go club hopping. I always succeeded in getting into 21 and over clubs which was good as they were all over the age of 28. Here I was at 18 just tagging along to have fun seeing bands like KMFDM, Christian Death, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, Diamanda Galas etc. Nyc was my playground. Crashing over people’s apartments, even strangers, was normal to me. Everyone was always cool as well. I used to stay out all night visiting all hours clubs like Save The Robots and go straight to work. My energy level was so high it did not phase me. It was an excellent escape from home where I was miserable. Weekends I would spend in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with an older married couple, partying away. It was a blast!!!!
I would often go to cbgb’s to see hardcore shows on Sundays as well at times.
I worked really hard the first year I was at the art store and I got promoted as a manager at 19. Needless to say the people in my department were all in their 30’s and 40’s they were not thrilled at taking orders from a 19 year old. It was hard at first but I succeeded in winning them over. My duties including hiring and firing employees, inventory, returns, customer service, special orders along with sales. I worked 6 days a week, some of them 12 hour days especially when it was back to school and the colleges had their lists. It was a madhouse then! There were demanding parents looking like lost sheep, F.I.T list in hand, who were terrified just begging for help with it all. One poor woman even cried because she was so frustrated with her son!!! You would think their college age kids would be there but no. I never saw one kid with their parents. That was kind of weird. I used to put them all in a group as I knew the list by heart after 2 days, leading them around so they could grab stuff. My department had portfolios, watercolors, ink, markers, airbrush, pastels, charcoal and books.It was the biggest department in the store….
Believe me you never know how much material are out there until you work in an art store….
The regular customers that came in went from the nicest people in the world to you would rather run and hide than help them. It is retail so this is what you expect. I was a therapist some of the time too as when people got to know you they would let their guard down and tell you their story. This one woman who always came in for pastels used to spend a couple of hours with me as the single ones were locked in a big cabinet due to price and toxicity. It would take a while so she had match the right colors. She was a wonderful woman who did portraits in pastel which was a medium I never have had patience with. She had a dog named Hummer that was always by her side. I fell in love with that dog. He looked like this ~~
There were many good people who came in there yet the bad ones were so bad they stuck with you like glue. There was one man who came in for a return when i was up at the front desk. He was an old Greek man who tried to return huge tubes of oil paint after squeezing half of the paint out of each tube. He claimed they were all the wrong colors. I refused to return them with good cause so he flipped out screaming at the top of his lungs, throwing the tubes at me. It was not easy to rattle me so I gave to right back at him then had the security guard escort him out.
The one thing that did bother me was my artwork suffered the whole three years I worked there. It was so impossible to create when you were exhausted from work along with the fact that all day you are dealing with other artists and supplies. It was kind of like taking your work home with you.This was very disappointing to me.
You see as a mixed media artist, I put emotion into every painting I do. It is quite a challenge at times. I will have an idea that will just pop into my head so I run with it. The canvas engulfs me as I rush to throw the paint down so I do not lose my concept. It ends up with me throwing feathers, leather, broken glass, among other things, onto the canvas. I woke up from a nightmare and created this painting at 4am on a Sunday~~
There are so many talented artists out there who work in detail using pen and ink or watercolors. It is obvious I am not one of them as I lack patience. You know I look back on those years thinking of how happy I was. This was a period of my life that I cherish. It was very hard work and not all of it was easy yet I had so much fun with so many friends I made the 3 years I was there. I would not trade those memories for the world…..
There is nothing like New York and the people in it…..