I got the opportunity to throw some questions out at artist Josh Goldstein about his art, his love of New York City and a major theme in his work, NYC’s local convenience stores- bodegas.
Madam Toussaint: The economy is effecting our corner stores now too. I never thought I’d see the day when even bodegas would be going out of business, not mention the exterior replacements with “impermanent vinyl awnings”. In these times it seems your work is taking on a historical/archival tone. You couldn’t have predicted the economic crisis but how do you feel about the tone of your work possibly changing?
Josh Goldstein: I love bodegas. Especially a classic bodega with all the Dominican candies in the plastic canisters on the front counter, and an endless supply of tropical sodas from the Bronx, and the Yankees game playing on a small TV above the deli counter. But I’ve never really thought of my work in an archival way. It’s true that I’ve focused a lot on bodegas, but mostly it’s their energy that inspires me, not really their particular look from a particular time. It’s that raw energy that I try to use as a starting point to capture the energy and chaos of New York.
MT: So recently you’ve turned your attention to “the iconic signs of Coney Island and Chinese take-out signs”. Seems like a natural progression to me, but how did you know you’ve done all you wanted to do with bodegas? What’s the difference to you as an artist in the feel of bodegas, Coney Island signs and Chinese take-out signs?
JG: Basically I had no choice but to move on when I would come back from a 3 hour bike ride looking for new bodegas in Queens and only have 2 new images to show for my troubles. Like bodegas, Coney Island signs are iconic, bold, simple, and food-related. I like how it’s all generic food: Sodas, Coffee, Ice, Meats, Hot Dogs, Cotton Candy, Knishes. Same with Chinese take-out signs. I guess the difference with Coney is that people actually spend time looking at these signs. I feel like with bodegas and Chinese take-out, the signs are ubiquitous throughout the city but no one ever sees them.
MT:Your work reflects New York City and captures the pace, energy and multiplicity that it’s known for. However, NYC is known as a home to millions of different kinds of people. Your work does not focus on images of the people, rather it focuses on the environment, the things people use to advertise goods or services etc. Did you make a conscious decision not to use people as your primary or even part of your subject matter?
JG: Since I’m 3 years old I never put people in my drawings. I think they say that’s the sure sign of a future serial killer or something. Well I’d like the good people to know that it’s possible to never put people in your art for your whole life and still not turn out to be a serial killer.
MT: You studied architecture at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY and worked as an architect for a while. My guess is that this has a relationship to your more current work. How does a former architect get seduced by bodegas when this city has what is probably the most famous skyline ever and all kinds of other impressive architectural works?
JG: I think I burned out on the skyline by the time I was 16. Between the ages of 12 and 15 I created a scale model of Manhattan out of folded paper. It was over 5 feet long, and had 3000 buildings. I was written up in the local paper with the headline “Crazed Teen’s Obsession Enfolds New York.” Two things never happened again after that headline appeared: I never made another paper building again, and teenage girls never talked to me again.
Check out Part 2 of Josh’s interview here An Interview With Artist And NYC Bodega Enthusiast Josh Goldstein Part 2