First published: Spring 2009
The artist who calls herself Philly/Kondor8 lives in a tall, narrow, rickety-looking tenement building on New York City’s Lower East Side. It’s the last building standing on the block, the others having been toppled by the gentrification-driven wrecking ball like so many bowling pins. Noise and dust rise from the endless construction work underway in the empty lot next door, and Stanton street is always crowded, making the task of catching the set of keys she throws down to visitors from the fifth floor somewhat perilous. It often requires one to dash out into traffic, arms outstretched, staring into the sun like one of the ecstatic figures trapped in her brilliantly explosive collages who likewise appear to be careening toward certain destruction. But it is worth the risk.
When a friend of mine told me about Philly/Kondor8’s work, I was hesitant to go look, and delayed for a year, a reticence conditioned by too many requests to visit artists making claims to Outsider status.
But this friend made no such promise of brut purity, just a gentle warning that I might regret passing up the opportunity to stand in the middle of an apartment crammed full of decades worth of paintings and collages dating from the neighborhood’s creative heydey, when anarchist artists squatted in dilapidated buildings and gathered nightly for punk concerts and noise performances in the Rivington School sculpture garden, a collaborative environment demolished years ago. Philly/Kondor8 had been part of it all, living for a time in the basement of the collective gallery called ABC No Rio, which had exploded onto the anti-art scene in 1979 with the takeover of a government-owned building.
Although she had been drawing and painting all her life, the marker drawings she made in that basement, on scrolls of paper stored by the gallery, marked the start of her mature work, a hybrid practice that has consistently harnessed both punk irreverence and graffiti transgression to channel demons.
It is a miracle that these early drawings still exist, considering the mayhem of those days. Her move to the rent-controlled apartment where she still lives enabled her to build a more solid oeuvre that evolved into the exquisite, glowing collages presented here.