The Bar Project Interviews:
East Village Artists during the 1980’s
During the late 70’s and 80’s intellectuals, musicians, writers, actors, performance artists, dancers, composers, playwrights, painters, photographers gathered together and frequented Bill Rice’s art studio and/or The Bar at Second Avenue and 4th Street. This project is an assembly of my interviews with a few of those remarkable artists. They are mentors who speak about the forces that helped and hurt their artists’ community. I have asked these artists to join me in an effort to recapture some sense of their history by discussing how they were affected by the various powerful personal, social and political influences of their time. They describe how the weaving of personal interests with social and historical influence shaped their careers.
Bill Rice, painter, actor and mentor, was one of the ‘regulars’ at The Bar. At his studio on East Third Street he presented many art exhibitions and performances of the work by artists that were part of this community. Some of the people interviewed here, who exhibited/performed at Bill Rice’s, are now well known in the arts today. But in the 80’s these artists and their friends were outsiders who relied on one another and their community for support as they challenged the status quo and contributed to the reshaping of culture.
The Hippy Revolution had broken ground in the areas of feminism, gay rights and sexual liberation. This was a time of ongoing rebellion against the many forms of discrimination that was prevalent at that time. The communal use of drink and drugs was considered a mind-expanding, liberating practice. Without this community and these gathering places, would these artists have had the individual strength to resist the traditions of that time? Without the passion that arises against repression, would they have radicalized art? Why did this combination of talent and circumstance produce such an outpouring of art and what were the forces that suppressed it? “It was a time when everything seemed possible,” said Richard Morrison, a member of that community. However, that heyday was not to last. The spell was broken by numerous overwhelming forces—health (AIDS, addiction and illness), politics (Reaganomics and the defunding of the arts), finances (the influence of big money on the arts market, high costs and high rents in connection with the East Village real estate boom) and institutional neglect (market indifference to the cultural contributions of those out of alignment with the art fashion of the time.)
The linked pages are interviews with a number of those artists. For those who are no longer here to represent themselves, there are images and excerpts of their work, as well as commentary by other artists about their influence.