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Breakfast with Basquiat

Prague-based filmmaker and photographer Robert Carrithers chronicled New York City in early eighties, a ceaselessly inspiring period marked by a lack money and overabundance of creativity.

The Fotograf Gallery, located in Carrither’s current home town, will be exhibiting his photographs of the East Village staple Club 57 through April 20. The exhibition will culminate in the shooting of a film about the Prague performance scene in an attempt to transplant the legacy of the long lost era of the Big Apple’s artistic heydey into today’s Czech capital. “As we were putting up these photos, I realized a lot of these people are no longer alive. I wonder what would they say if they were here now in Prague 2012.”

Club 57 originally occupied the basement of a Polish church and, in a rather fitting twist of fate, has since been converted into a psychiatric institute. The club was an underground art haven fostering various artistic media and numerous eccentrics, including Klaus Nomi, Keith Haring, underground filmmakers Scott and Beth B and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Here, Robert Carrithers, witness to three solid years of the club’s reckless abandon, takes us through his colourful images – snapshots of those magical moments when art, music and passion go into overdrive.

“John Sex was an artist who developed into a perfomer and left the art world behind, whereas Keith Haring was a performance artist originally at Club 57 and developed his artwork here. John started with burlesque and performed with his python Delilah. One day it escaped and they had to evacuate the whole building. He was an underground superstar in New York and got big in Japan. Unfortunately, he got AIDS, like a lot of these people who are no longer around.”

“This was taken on the women’s toilet at the CBGB’s. Tish and Snooky had a shop called Manic Panic in New York that was the first punk clothing shop that opened up in 1977. They were in a punk band called Sick Fucks. This is how they used to dress when they used to perform as nuns.”

“She was known as the mushroom queen. She would have a big box of mushrooms which she would throw into the audience. These were not normal mushrooms. She moved to New York with John Sex. I would visit them and ring their bell which said ‘Wild Sex’.”

“I met him doing graffiti. He would sign it ‘Samo’, but there were several of them. I met them and said “Who’s Samo?” and they all said they were ‘Samo’. I would see him on the streets of New York in the morning and take him for breakfast. He continued doing graffiti for a long time but then all of a sudden he disappeared. Several months later I saw him dressed really nice and said: “Hey Samo, how are you doing?”, and he replied “I’m not Samo. I’m Jean-Michel.”

“She loved New York and would DJ and play with her band Malaria! at Club 57.”

“Initially he was cleaning the floor at the Mudd Club and gradually made it to coat check before putting on shows there. He started as a performance artist and would do these little drawings on the wall of Club 57. He then started to do them in New York subways and he would get a lot of recognition because it wasn’t usual graffiti. He did his first show at Club 57 where he painted on the wall one night. The next day they painted over it.”

Electronic Beats: Could you tell us about the film you are working on here in Prague based on Club 57?
Robert Carrithers: It’ about two fun Prague/Czech performance artists, one male and female. They are obsessed with Wendy Wild and John Sex and want to do performances and have a life like they did in the New York ’80s.

You also photographed Prague in the ’90s. Do you see any parallels between the NYC scene of the ‘80s.
Prague in the ’90s was a wild time, but it was a different thing completely from New York in the ’80s. Prague in the ’90s had more to do with a sudden change, extreme hope and optimism and anything is now possible after the Velvet Revolution. New York was about a creative scene happening when there was no money. A lot came out of New York from that period. I am still asking myself what came out of Prague in the ’90s, maybe we will still see.

‘New Acts of Live Art 2012’, the closing party for Robert Carrithers’ Club 57 exhibition, will take place on Friday 20 April at Prague’s Fotograf Gallery. Along from various performances, Carrithers will also be shooting his new film on location. Find out more here.

all photos used with permission of Robert Carrithers

Published April 20, 2012.