Neon Sets This Artist’s Imagination Aglow

My friend Patrick Nash, who has kept his talent for creating fine art like the proverbial lamp under the bushel for two decades, surfaced on the New York art scene in the last few weeks with a show at SL Gallery.

Tonight he gave a Q&A about his work and career, painting a picture of the East Village as it used to be, full of abandoned and semi-abandoned buildings and people who saw in the devastated  landscape an invitation to create. Eventually, however, Patrick left his squalid digs in the East Village and invested his talents in something more remunerative than pure art, starting Patrick Nash Design, which has done all kinds of amazing installations for big and small businesses and well-known artists. It was only when Bill Schwinghammer invited Patrick to install a show in his gallery that Patrick’s love of art for art’s sake (and neon for neon’s sake) was rekindled. Or maybe the love was always there but the bandwidth wasn’t. 

In any event, as he related during the Q&A, his 20 years of creating signs and installations for others combined with his always active imagination, led him to create one amazing piece after another, like the work in the photo above, a delicate argon-infused circle around a block of cement suspended like a thought bubble over our heads. To learn more, check out this interview with Patrick on whitehotmagazine.com.

Smoking in a No Smoking Zone

Not that long ago, the idea of outdoor “no smoking” zones seemed silly. But when many cities (including New York) banned indoor smoking, smokers began clustering at building entrances, generating tobacco clouds and butt piles. In other words, the indoor bans only moved the problem of second-hand smoke outside. The solution outside many buildings has been to post no smoking signs, like the one above. And while it seems to have forced many smokers to find another perch, or least get a little more exercise before enjoying a puff, the signs clearly don’t always work.

You Either Think This Poster is Gross or Brilliant

The first thing they tell you when buying a pass to enter the Laugardalslaug swimming pool in Reykjavik is that you must take a shower “without your bathing suit” before entering the pool. And if the verbal message isn’t enough, the sign about greets you before entering the locker room.
Personally, I loved the explicit emphasis on cleanliness. I’m not a clean freak (in my opinion) but I find it strange that in America (and many other places, like Scotland, where we’d just visited before Iceland) people consider a quick rinse while wearing their bathing suit adequate preparation before entering a pool. C’mon people! We all know how dirty humans can get–especially in the areas highlighted in the above poster. I think the above sign should be mandatory at poolsides everywhere.

Apparently this is what illness looks like in Spanish vs. English

I found these signs at Lenox Hill Hospital a bit of a mystery. Why is the iconography in the Spanish translation different? Do Spanish-speakers wear old-fashioned ice bag on their heads when they have a fever? Are they more likely to have bags under their eyes? Does their vomit not come from the middle of their mouths but from below? And do they experience a different kind of misery when they get rashes (a squiggly-line kind of misery rather than a frown?) Their airplanes, which apparently tend to be white rather than English-speakers’ black planes, seems to travel in straighter lines too.

The sign offered its warning in many other languages. You can see from the image on the left that most people travel in black planes and don’t wear old-fashioned ice bags on their heads except for Creole speakers.

While working on a video in Red Hook, Brooklyn, today we walked by this iconic sign. One might think at first glance that the “R” stands for Red Hook, but the floating period suggests otherwise. The actual story, according to the blog Lost City is this: “This used to belong to paper goods manufacturer named E.J. Trum. When John Turano & Sons Furniture took over the address in 1978, they tried to tear down the Trum letters. All but the stubborn “R,” and a period, were removed. There they remain.”

People Still Use Payphones to Communicate (Sort of)

Payphones are still part of the street flora in New York City although I never see anyone using them–at least not to make phone calls. They get more use these days as public bulletin boards, attracting flyers, graffiti, and stickers (and stickers with graffiti), like the one below.

The notion of “payphone” will one day pass into history, and with it the memory of a way of life when people weren’t connected to the world and everyone they knew via a touch screen in their pockets. 
These days I hate to carry change, and try to avoid it by always using a credit card, but in the 1980s and 1990s, pay phones made carrying coins a necessity. Once when I needed to make a call and didn’t have the 20 cents, I asked a passing couple if they could give me change for a dollar. Seeing that I needed to make a call, they handed me a quarter and said, “Keep it.” I was amazed and tried to press the dollar on them, but they refused it with a laugh. 
Twenty cents may seem insignificant but the act of giving wasn’t. I thanked them profusely, but I’ve realized since that it wasn’t just a quarter they gave me. They also gave me a conviction that people have the capacity to be kind and generous, and you might never know in advance when or how someone will come to your aid. The fact that I remember that brief interaction from 25 years ago speaks to the lasting impression it made.

‘We Invented Social Security & We’re Proud’

More often than not Social Security and other safety-net programs get a bad rap. Politicians and reporters call them “entitlements”–which sounds derogatory to me–and popular wisdom says they’ll need to be curtailed or they’ll eventually break the federal budget. But there’s no hint of doom and gloom on Bascom Hill, where this sign proudly proclaims University of Wisconsin Professor Edwin Witte‘s role in the development of Social Security. And this bold declaration is within sight of the Capitol Building, where Scott Walker, enemy of labor unions and public education, is trying to leverage his governorship into a presidential candidacy. Fortunately, Social Security has lasted longer than the careers of many nay-saying politicians and hopefully will continue to help government secure “the well-being of its citizens” for many years to come.