Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Richard Eagan's trip back in time

Recently I had the pleasure of gaining the acquaintance of Richard Eagan, a Brooklyn-based artist whose topical work really struck home.

One of the reasons I chose to move to New York City was because of its rich and layered history.

The neighborhoods were a marketing major's wet dream in "branding"-- Little Italy, Chinatown, the Lower East Side, Brighton Beach, and of course, Coney Island.

I remember as a freshman at B.U. how excited I'd get when I'd look across Commonwealth Avenue and see our very own short-lived franchise of weiner prestige, Nathan's Famous.

Now my own knowledge of Coney Island was not very well-versed, but I did have those legendary postcards of pop culture floating in my head-- rickety ferris wheels with cars swinging to and fro; bathing beauties and Vaudevillian sideshows; leopard-leotard burlesque girls with the Betty Page bangs; tatooed muscle men bench-pressing iron with their well-oiled bulging biceps heaving in the salty air.

Fast-forward to 2007. Things are quite different.

Mega-developer Thor Equities' stunning purchase of Astroland Amusement Park has given us an endless drawn-out saga "Was this past season the last hurrah, or will there be one more? Stay tuned."

With all the back and forth, it's as if we're being held hostage by these land-grabbers.

The only survivors-- the Parachute Jump (in some incarnation), and if spared the executioner, the Cyclone.

In the meantime, while the city, local community groups and business owners try to hammer out incorporation of the logistics of all this, Richard Eagan's work is a truly excellent way to reconnect to what once was.

I found it to be a true delight in its sentimental journey back in time.

Eagan has a rich and storied history himself.

A long-time Brooklyn resident himself, in the late 1970s he suddenly found himself having repetitive dreams of Coney Island and his childhood.

For years Eagan had crafted meticulous cabinetry and woodworks in his cabinet shop.

But suddenly things began to take on a new look.

A studio was emerging, as well as an artist.

Eagan delved into creating sculptural-like assemblage pieces which blended elements of the everyday along with the fantastic.

At the same time, along with artist Philomena Marano, in 1981 Eagan formed the Coney Island Hysterical Society-- a collaborative that worked to spotlight the ever-forgotten landscape of yesteryear.

Multiple artist projects were undertaken, including a mural, carousel and an actual haunted house/by-way-of-art-gallery carnival ride, the "Spookhouse. "

Looking at some of Eagan's earlier works, you can almost hear those echoes of "Step right up! Step right up!"

At left is "Fred's House," a piece done in 1982.

In the background is the haunting image of the dearly missed "Thunderbolt", a Coney Island staple for 75 years.

I really found this piece to be quite moving-- the soft-lit crescent moon in the distance.

After all, where else can you go to see the sky so well at night in the 5 boroughs, other than the Coney Island boardwalk?

It leaves me silent-- for I can find no words to express the sadness at never having been able to witness it in its heyday.

After the passing of his wife, Eagan took time away to regroup.

Once again, the boardwalk came calling.

But this time, Eagan also began to express himself with an alter-ego, Kay Sera-- a proper lady, if I ever did meet one, with style and elegance to boot.

She has had an immensely positive influence on Eagan.

Much in the way the chrysallis serves the butterfly, her creation has allowed Eagan to emerge from his cocoon, with wings outspread.

In fact, many of Eagan's pieces involve a starburst-like central creature, exploding from within.

The wooden shards, though they can appear quite dangerous, exist only underneath in a cage-like structure.

In some ways, it is guarded-- a protection mechanism, if you will.

But just who is Eagan protecting: the viewer, or the self?

I also am enthralled by the minute details of the work at right.

In this-- a wooden mock-up of the haunted-house ride previously mentioned-- you can see the tiny wooden planks of a boardwalk.

The saloon doors are perfect in their detail and weather-beaten quality.

The salt-laden air erodes the latex, leaving its mark.

Even the slight spaces between the boards are brilliant in their disalignment.

For Coney Island currently DOES lie in a state of disrepair.

The boardwalk's tens of thousands of wooden planks are deteriorating by the day.

But this fine city is more interested in the amount of funds that it will receive from the monolithic Thor rather than put new wooden planks in for people to enjoy the walk.

Below are images of "Kister's Hotel" and "Open All Year Round."

Again, there is a quiet to these works that I have a hard time describing.

In each, Eagan again reaches out-- windows into another world-- but it is to our detriment that they might not be there for much longer.

For more information on Richard Eagan, go to the link below.


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