Portrait XIX

Jason McCoy

New York

 

 

Jason McCoy for Salle Privée

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Two things run in Jason McCoy’s blood: New York City, and art. There’s no questioning that the long-time gallerist is an indivisible part of the city’s cultural landscape. He has been selling art there for half a century, running his eponymous gallery in the historic Fuller Building, a typically New York 1920s skyscraper, for three decades. The fact that Jackson Pollock was his uncle is just icing on the cake.

“New York has always been my home,” says the 70-year-old in his characteristically soft voice. “I was born and raised in Connecticut about a hundred miles from the city, but my parents maintained their friendships and relationships with artists in New York - Jim Brooks and Phil Gustin and Ruben Kadish, and Jack[son Pollock] and Lee [Krasner] of course. We were considered foreigners in Deep River because they were a very Yankee Connecticut town and we didn't really fit in, so New York has always been my home – and absolutely since 1968 when I first came here.”

 

 

“I realized that $70 a week or whatever it was minus taxes meant I could hardly take the subway, let alone eat and hope to rent an apartment, even though I’d found somewhere in the least fashionable part of New York, which at that time was 25th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue. It’s kind of a no man’s land.”

Although these days his neighbours on East 57th Street and Madison are the Four Seasons Hotel and Fendi, his life back then couldn’t have been more different.

“My first job was actually on Madison Avenue, I was hired to work in a mailroom distributing mail,” he recalls. “By the time my two weeks were up and I got my first paycheck, I realized that $70 a week or whatever it was minus taxes meant I could hardly take the subway, let alone eat and hope to rent an apartment, even though I’d found somewhere in the least fashionable part of New York, which at that time was 25th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue. It’s kind of a no man’s land.”

 

“You would get mugged by druggies once a week and by the time my dog was stolen the whole thing became a little much.”

 

 

The New York he got to know was one of excitement and energy, but also of danger and crime: he left one apartment in East Village because “you would get mugged by druggies once a week and by the time my dog was stolen the whole thing became a little much.”

Over the following decades he moved around New York, moving into progressively bigger apartments and building a family and a career. He sold his first piece of art in 1968, got married (the first time) in 1977 and finally opened his own gallery around 1982. Since then he has forged his own path and developed a reputation for taking the risk of representing unusual and what he calls “unfashionable” artists.

 

 

Jason McCoy for Salle Privée

 

“I've never been on a path that I want the next hot thing - in fact I really don't”

“I've never been on a path that I want the next hot thing - in fact I really don't,” he says. “I'd rather have a great [Willem] de Kooning drawing for sale and try to sell, than a contemporary artist ... these painters often haven’t taken time to develop and when they do hit a saleable moment they often tend to just repeat [the work] – I’ve seen this often.”

He is currently showing a series of photographs by a photojournalist called Anders Overgaard about Burning Man, an otherworldly annual festival deep in the Nevada desert. It’s not strictly art, per se, but for McCoy, that’s part of the appeal. “I liked the fact that they weren't made as art photographs and they're not self-conscious in that way. They are surrealist, but quite compelling and I think visually exciting.”

 

“I liked the fact that they weren't made as art photographs and they're not self-conscious in that way. They are surrealist, but quite compelling and I think visually exciting.”

 

 

 

“I think finding one's own voice is the job of any artist,” he says. “Being true to themselves, not true to what they think they should be or what it should look like. I know Pollock always followed his inner voice and I think he deeply questioned himself."

It’s this search for artistic honesty and an ability to look past trends that has continued to mark him out from many of his peers. From little-known figures such as Swiss figurative painter Gregoire Muller to overlooked women such as French-American sculptor Louise Bourgeois and German artist Christiane Löhr, McCoy is drawn to people who are genuine.

“I think finding one's own voice is the job of any artist,” he says. “Being true to themselves, not true to what they think they should be or what it should look like. I know Pollock always followed his inner voice and I think he deeply questioned himself.”

“The interesting artists are curious, but more importantly I think they sort of have to do something, they have to be, do, create to feel fulfilled as human beings and I think that's why I'm fascinated, drawn, compelled. I think the gallery is a reflection of that to some degree,” he says, before adding with a laugh, “Anyway it's a nice place to work.”

 

 

PHOTOGRAPHER MARC HOM • FILM OLIVER KNAUER • ART DIRECTION NR2154 • WORDS BY VENETIA RAINEY • AMBASSADOR JASON MCCOY

 

 


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