By Terry Trucco
Sometimes a door isn’t just a door.
Last week the double doors leading to The Bar Downstairs at the Andaz 5th Avenue were a work in progress (witness the protective plastic, brush-wielding artist, passersby taking pictures).
And this week? The doors are a mural — a witty, cartoon-inflected study of contemporary New York that toasts (and roasts) its subject in black, white and gold. (Passersby are still taking pictures.)
Brooklyn artist Daniel St. George engineered the transformation. But he wasn’t the first to do so. In fact, St. George ushered in year two of tbd Art, the hotel’s rotating series that taps artists to splash their idea of New York — Today onto the hotel’s Fifth Avenue doors.
It’s a sweet deal. In addition to a chunk of prime real estate across the street from the New York Public Library – and a mere dozen blocks south of The Museum of Modern Art — each artist becomes an Artist in Residence, scoring a suite at the hotel during the time it takes to complete the work (alas for the artists, it’s mere days not weeks).
The glory is fleeting. After three months a new artist arrives to metamorphose the doors (and paint over the previous statement). As the program’s fifth artist, St. George’s cheeky monochromatics wiped out a wildly colorful mural by John Hung Ha, who celebrated New York’s multiculturalism by incorporating a flag from the country of each passerby into the scales of his Koi fish mural.
All this is great for Fifth Avenue’s daily throngs craving more visual stimulation than a static pair of wood doors as they breeze by the hotel.
What’s it like to be an Artist in Residence? We lobbed a few questions at Daniel St. George during a break from his labors.
You’ve been a professional artist since an instructor at the Ringling School of Art and Design said you should ditch school. Did you ever think you’d be designing work for a hotel?
The Andaz asks that the project be about New York, so it was like a commission for something New York based. The people here are really into the arts. When you walk into this hotel you see so many sculptures and paintings. I think the people who stay here like that it’s arty but also very elegant.
You grew up all over the world as an air-force child, but you’ve lived in New York on and off for over 14 years. What was your New York-based idea for the mural?
The piece is talking about post-90s New York and a little bit about the commidification of New York. It’s New York switching from the old to the new, like the old Times Square to the new Times Square and the irony of having M & Ms World on the corner. I believe the old New York is not gone – it’s just shifted. The city is in a constant state of shift. . . . You see all these subtleties and nuances. And that’s what the painting is about.
Your work is layered and complex, often with smart-nerdy overtones. And you usually incorporate text into it, but not this time.
There were time and paint restrictions. We’re using oil-based enamel. And it’s a mural. I’m not trying to change the nature of what it is. I picked the color scheme – black, white and gold — because it’s very graphic. I felt I needed to embrace the idea of it being a mural.
The gold actually relates to the children’s nursery rhyme, one is silver and the other is gold. It’s the notion that these things are precious – the memories are precious. The gold also brings the aspect of commodity into play. And when you’re walking across the street and the sun hits the doors the gold just glints.
What was the idea behind the cartoon aspects of the painting?
In the human psychology behind cartoon characters human beings view themselves as an outline. These creations of outlines let you fill them in and are very simple. But then I infused them with geometrical icosahedrons, mathematical elements that are very simple but densely complicated, like human beings. So we have these outlined figures that should be simple, but they’re very complicated and very layered and very deep.
Will the person on the street get all that? Most people see murals on the fly.
It’s great to have had the opportunity to be here and go on these journeys of exploration. Hopefully other people can find something interesting.
Was it easy to paint on doors?
The day we were putting on the gold paint it didn’t want to stick to the door. It took four hours to get the paint on. We had to use some brush tricks and some rollers. Art is like dealing with a child. I want to do this in three days, but how troublesome is this child going to be? Is it not going to want to do its homework? So I gave the project five days. If you cut it to the wire you’re going to be stressed, and that reflects in the work.
Does it bother you that in three months all this will be gone?
There’s kind of a beauty in that, in the erosion of it.
You’ve got a dazzling collection of tattoos. Are they your own designs?
No, I work with a tattoo artist. It’s kind of good to separate yourself from that aspect of it. If you have a house and only have your own artwork in it, it would be very dreary after a while.