In the Studio: A Living Rooftop Studio in Bushwick

Today I ventured into a Jamaican-Haitian part of Bushwick—one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York—to experience Patrick McCarthy’s rooftop racing pigeon art studio. I met Patrick when I was a volunteer posted at Tom Sachs’s LEM, Lunar Excursion Module, part of his Space Program: Mars  exhibition at the Park Avenue Armory. It turns out that Patrick largely built this major life-sized, two-story space ship earlier—for Sachs’s 2007 lunar exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles. At the Armory, Pat was a member of the Sachs team that was keeping the equipment going, taking “trips” to Mars and otherwise demonstrating astronaut protocol and processes connected with space travel. Patrick began working in the Sachs studio near Chinatown in 2006—as a high school graduate from Danbury, Connecticut hired to sweep floors.  “I worked with Tom for four years, and we got really close. He’s one hell of a mentor.” 

Now at 25, Patrick McCarthy’s art smarts are off all commercial charts. He has no website, no studio, and no art sales. However, his ways of making art objects that become a part of his daily life, inventing an interactive, animal-friendly studio space, and publishing 50 art ’zines to give away suggests a new model: portrait of the artist as a gift-giver. His magazines, or ’zines, are collectively titled Born to Kill. There are several series: the Cheese Bike, Art Assistant, and Menage-rie:  “The stories tessellate—run into each other; for example, this photo of a white pigeon in a coffee shop in Istanbul comes from a ’zine when I was fixing a broken sculpture in Istanbul…I don’t mind working under cover while someone else gets the credit, but you’re putting yourself in someone else’s creative storm and are not free to think.” The ’zines combine photos, created art, and amazing true adventures, including building a cheese bike—an art motorbike with a boom box, cooler, condiments, cheese, and artful serving supplies, and a gas-powered Coleman grill for making $1 cheese sandwiches. Pat considers the cheese bike “a viable sculpture … that functions as a moneymaker and then I don’t have to part with it.”

His experiences with Werner Herzog open issue z—the coop! Pigeoneering: “The future flights of these training pigeons and the early flights herein are dedicated, with respect, to the director of the Rogue School, Werner Herzog.  This past January countless times did he speak to us on the dizzying urgencys,” (Pat believes “sometimes the right misspelling is the shortcut to poetry”) “of a peregrine falcon mid-flap, catapulting its way through the sky’s cold forest tops…feeding off the doomed dreams of perpetual adventure.”  The story details Pat’s conversations with Herzog, then how Pat built and equipped his pigeon hotel with floral décor—named Babylon Gardens, found the only pigeon store and expert in the area, and stocked his coop with a lively array of birds. The narrator protects them from raccoons and foul weather, witnesses their flights and fights, and, notably, the egg-sitting of Sweet Angie and the birth of her baby. The palm and floral garden he cultivates provide shade, nourishment, and a notion of a private world.

I climb a narrow metal ladder to the rooftop studio with its cultivated garden and handmade coop with eight different kinds of racing pigeons, including a roller which displays, in its performance, “a likeliness to a baseball spinning to earth in a straight line.” The Pigeoneering ’zine includes all sorts of historic flights of syllables about the deep histories and trajectories of homing pigeons. Pat tells me, “The rooftops of New York—to turn this into a palm garden with exotic birds—New York’s the new edge of the world—the way California meant so much to people in the ‘60s. Give me another month and I’ll be hosting Sunday salons up here.”

Patrick McCarthy has some art work exhibited at Maurizio Cattelan’s Family Business Gallery in the Megabodega ’zine show at 520 W. 21st Street in Chelsea, a pop-up space which closes after July 6th. This mystery man, who doesn’t even sign his ’zines, may be reached by pigeon carrier or by mail sent to: 33 Eldert Street, floor 2, Brooklyn NY 11207.

Footnote: At Dartmouth this weekend, I read The Gift, a classic by Lewis Hyde about the need to separate art’s creation from commercial considerations. I wonder how many of today’s artists subscribe to this model.

Next month: Success: Michael DeLucia and more Bushwick Artists

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