By Yasmin Bilbeisi
Photos by Steve Prue for Last Rites Studio
Considering it looks like it is in permanent observance of Halloween, it was hard to picture what Last Rites’ Gallery and Tattoo Theatre could possibly pull out of it’s hat on the 31st of October that would make the day distinct. Perhaps, in an effort to terrify it’s potentially un-spookable patrons, the staff would don pleated front khakis, cable knit sweaters, and extra-bulbous white sneakers? Would the ceiling, which is usually festooned with skulls and antiquated meat-hooks suddenly flaunt light fixtures from the Martha Stewart Home Collection? That would certainly petrify the throngs of Last Rites loyalists who were scheduled to turn up for the First-Ever Creep-In Event. After all, Last Rites has quite a reputation to uphold. It’s known internationally as a mecca for the macabre. However, unlike so many places that attempt extreme dark stylization, Last Rites has earned the rare distinction of doing it right. Thus, it is easy to see why visualizing a Halloween event there is somewhat befuddling. It has set a pretty high precedent for itself. It certainly did surpass itself. With a seemingly uninterrupted stream of burlesque acts, the Disgraceland Hook Squad and Freakshow (i.e. a team of people rather partial to being riddled with hooks) and a bevy of other performers, there was never a let-up in the charged atmosphere.
Paul Booth with unidentified body
Disgraceland Hook Squad and Freakshow
Disgraceland Hook Squad and Freakshow
The venue is divided into two distinct spaces- primarily the Tattoo Theater portion of the gallery, which at this event featured six of New York’s most coveted tattoo artists tattooing live, without a waiting list. Operating on a first-come, first-serve basis, the resident tattoo artists braced themselves for the influx of patrons seeking free-hand tattoos. Paul Booth, founder of Last Rites, and, more importantly demi-god of dark arts and tattooing, also eschewed his usual two-year waiting list to perform impromptu work.
Paul Booth and resident Last Rites Tattoo Artists
Adjacent to the buzzing tattoo machines was ArtFusion Experiment canvases. ArtFusion is a collaborative painting project spearheaded by Paul Booth. The Creep-In’s canvas was embellished by prominent tattoo artist Paul Acker, Goethe, Juan Selgado, Jesse Smith, and Tony Romel.
Tony Romel, Editor of Tattoo Society.
Last Rites Tattoo Artists participating in the ArtFusion Project
The more stark gallery space makes up the other half of the Last Rites’ venue. And, despite the tantalizing prospect of witnessing someone dangle from a rather medieval looking torture device by hooks forced into his knees and skin, or, for the tamer habituÈs, the conveyor belt of topless interpretative dances, it seems that the general focus kept gravitating to one sight in particular. The monumental hullabaloo in the first room could not compete with what proved to be the day’s most compelling attraction: the live painting.
Throngs of patrons stood agog, some of them for hours, watching transfixed as six artists, cordoned off by velvet ropes and an almost tangible force-field of undiluted concentration rendered live paintings. All six of these artists had completed works on the walls surrounding them as, only one week earlier, the acclaimed 13th Hour Show had it’s opening in the same space.The 13th Hour is Last Rite’s largest group show, and arguably, their most significant group show of the year. Over 300 hundred people turned out for the opening, which is an especially significant when one considers that New York was being pelted by a deluge of almost Biblical proportions that night (oddly enough, the same thing happened on Halloween, begging the question, did Last Rites have a hand in this??). New work was presented by Paul Booth, Chet Zar, Anthony Pontius, Fred Harper, Mathew Bone, David Stoupakis, Dan Quintana, Genivive Zacconi, Vincent Castiglia, Brendan Danielsson, and many others.
A quick perusal of the Last Rites’ website reveals that many of these pieces sold- another testament to the success of the show. With such a diverse range of paintings on hand for collectorís to choose from, this is not surprising. The haunting subjects of the paintings in this show were almost like an immobilized freak-show, and provided the perfect compliment to the live one unfolding a week later.The visitors to the 13th Hour were buzzing about, clambering to get photographs with themselves and some of the peculiar subjects of the paintings. People were practically falling over each other to gawk at Brendan Danielsson’s fellatio fancying snaggle-toothed bird whore, zoning in on her graphite etched wiry leg hair.
Attracting as much scrutiny was Kris Kuksiís miniature diorama, Tales of Bestiality: The Sodomy of Wilbur. Both of these pieces were as admired for their technical finesse as their ingenious titles (and, perhaps, some pervasive fascination with misbehaving animals?).
Kris Kuksi Tales of Bestiality: The Sodomy of Wilburmixed media assemblage, 9in x 2in
Also attracting a great deal of attention was Requiem, by Vincent Castiglia, which features a crumpled older man, whose contorted face suggests that he is particularly dissatisfied with the tree bisecting him from behind.
CASTIGLIA 1 REQUIEM 33 X 52 IN ARTISTíS BLOOD (IRON OXIDE) AND 3 FLASKS OF HOLY WATER FROM THE RIVER JORDAN
When asked what differentiates this show from others, the gallery director at Last Rites, Andrew Michael Ford said, ìEach year Last Rites puts together our definitive October/Halloween show, inviting some of our favorite dark artists to participate. It usually ends up being the show which best defines why Last Rites Gallery was created.î Having just organized the 13th Hour Show, Ford was doing an impressive job of overseeing the painting section of the Creep-In. It certainly required supervision as, at no interval was it free from a lineup of admirers craning their necks (and sometimes looking like they were a shade away from limbo-ing under the velvet ropes).The painting started out with Fred Harper, David Stoupakis, Esao Andrews, and Vincent Castiglia, setting up at noon. Later on in the day, Genevieve Zacconi, Dan Quintana, and Anthony Pontius also assembled at easels in the sectioned off area. According to Ford, ìWe selected the six participating artists due to our gallery’s relationship with them. We have either offered them shows in the past or will be showing their work in the near future, or both.î
Fred Harper, David Stoupakis, Vincent Castiglia, with Vincent Castigliaís painting Requiem
Harper was the only painter of the day who used a live model. With as much moxie as some of the suspension crew, she unflinchingly posed topless, replete with a clown’s face and other circus-themed accoutrement. Harper went straight at his canvas with brushes, unlike most of the other artists who had prepared sketches based on the references they shot. It took Harper a surprisingly short amount of time to complete a soothing blue toned image of (you guessed it!) a clown-faced woman.
Using a monochromatic palette of deep toned oil paints, Stoupakis was perched studiously on his stool, absorbed in what he was doing. Stoupakis referred to his idiosyncratic repertoire of debauched and damaged children for inspiration, painting a picture of a decapitated child- clutching her own head in lieu of a teddy-bear or some other puerile appurtenance. It was fascinating to see Stoupakis at work, his lean frame hunched over the canvas as he filled in the delicate lace collar of the child in his painting, seemingly oblivious to the chaos surrounding him.
Esao Andrew’s work was more lighthearted. He worked intently for the first half of the Creep-In, vacating his easel to serve Anthony Pontius later. Esauís painting of a male bust was finished with a stylized scrawling of the words ìHappy Halloweenî across the canvas. Pontius was working on such a small canvas, placed on a table or held in his hand, that it was hard to discern what he was doing- other than concentrating very deeply.
Esao Andrews with his painting
Using an actual Last Rites’ box (not gallery merchandise, but the box for a traveling communion set, more commonly used at bed-side of the dying) for his equipment Castiglia was painting with the medium that he has become renowned for using: blood. The backdrop of partygoers splattered with artlessly applied fake blood made Castiglia’s already masterful handiwork even more pronounced. At the 13th Hour Show, many people were transfixed by the realization that he uses his own blood- even dubious as to how he could create such realistic images with such a seemingly limiting medium. Thus, it was a singular chance for those with any questions about his process to actually watch it firsthand.
Castiglia painting with, uhm, blood.
Zaconni’s work, a hand with a rose erupting from its palm, was a first for her. She usually works in opposite order with the warm and cool colors in her palette and had tried reversing it for this piece. The results were amazing- many people were aghast at how life-like the hand she had depicted turned out. It is also notable that she did so in such a short period of time, as she was part of the second shift of painters.
Quintana was using a rather small canvas to start paintings which he would then smudge and paint over. A canvas with a face on it was smudged and gave way to Quintana developing a totally new image. Like the other artists, he seem entranced by his work and rarely took his eyes of off the canvas. (INSERT PICTURE CREEP IN 583-1)
Every so often, one of the carnival acts from next door would wander into the gallery, occasionally (and briefly) hijacking the attention of the crowd. However, even with such bizarre incidents as people from the suspension crew who brandishing industrial strength staple guns and submitting to having dollar bills stapled to them by revelers, the artists never broke their concentration. When Evan Seinfeld from Biohazard arrived, some of the attention from the spectators was diverted his way, but quickly was brought back to the live-painting.
Paul Booth and Evan Seinfeld
As the night drew to a close, there was a ritualistic (staged) sewing shut of a girlís mouth for dissenting. Finally, at 11:59, shots of Kool-Aid were distributed to the crowd. This is one instance where “I don’t drink the Kool-Aid” would probably be bad advice, considering the punishment just doled out to the heretic in the crowd. By midnight, the Kool-Aid was downed, the live paintings were in various stages of completion, as were the tattoos and the ArtFusion canvas. Last Rites pulled off a spectacular Halloween party, but more importantly, some glorious art was made.