Friday, February 23, 2007

Meet Mr. Wallace, Coney Island Sign Artist

So, to continue with a bit more information about all the signage in Coney Island, a commenter noted:
There is a semi-homeless man named Wallace who has painted many of the signs in Coney Island. He walks around Coney Island with his portable studio, a shopping cart full of canvases and paint. You will frequently see him sitting at the picnic table outside the grill house, using his big belly as an easel to prop up the canvases as he paints. Whenever he sees me he serenades me with the song "somewhere over the rainbow." This redevelopment raises many issues about "What is Coney Island?" THAT, to me, is Coney Island. Wallace's artwork, and all of the artists who contribute to the colorful landscape in Coney Island should, definitely, be preserved.
The person that left the comment was kind enough to follow up with the photo of Wallace that you see here. In that email, our commenter said: "He is just so brilliantly Coney Island."

The New York Times wrote about a story about him in 2002, which we reproduce here:
George Wallace has spent half his life painting storefront awnings, menu boards, wall murals and amusement park game stalls around Coney Island. On any given day, from Palm Sunday, when Astroland Park opens for business, through Labor Day, he might be found touching up the bright block lettering on the facade of Ruby's Bar and Grill on the boardwalk, applying a coat of linseed oil to the roller coaster cars on the Cyclone or changing the prices on the menus at Nick's Greasy Spoon on Surf Avenue. Visitors to Coney Island may catch a glimpse of Wallace at work around Memorial Day weekend when the crowds first flood the beaches and the amusement park.

Paul Georgoulakos, who has run Gregory & Paul's boardwalk cafe since 1967, has paid Mr. Wallace to paint his food signs for 15 years.

"There are no other sign painters," Mr. Georgoulakos said the other day, surrounded by Mr. Wallace's work: "Jamaican-style beef patties," "Delicious fresh hand-cut French fries," "Charcoal broiled shish-kabob." "Wallace is the only one left. He's not just a painter. He's an artist. And the whole island knows him."

Nick Georgiou has known Mr. Wallace longer than anyone else on Coney Island. He gave him his first job in 1980.

"There's no one like Wallace," said Mr. Georgiou, who owns Nick's Greasy Spoon, a bright fast-food spot for Coney Island regulars. "He's the only one I use to do my menus."

Mr. Wallace, 52, pushes an old grocery cart everywhere he goes, or hauls a large yellow duffel bag full of cans of oil and paint thinner, T-squares, brushes and dropcloths. He is never without his sketchbooks and a composition notebook that he uses to schedule appointments, at least half of which he misses.

Mr. Wallace lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and in the winter, he says, he has access to a basement art studio in nearby Fort Greene. But by his own admission he has been a drifter for more than two decades, sometimes catching a night's sleep in a flophouse or a cheap hotel. Much of his work can be found on Bowery Street, which cuts through Astroland Park and runs parallel to Surf Avenue on one side and the boardwalk on the other.

Heavyset, with only two top front teeth, Mr. Wallace has an unruly mustache and unkempt graying hair. His fingers are gentle, especially when he is sketching, which he often is. In the pocket of the denim vest he sometimes wears, he stuffs 10 or 15 paint brushes, which he says he learned to use as a student at the Royal Academy of Arts and the Slade School of Fine Art in London, where he moved from Jamaica at 14....
If you read GL and you wonder what the big deal is about tearing down Coney Island and replacing it with luxury condos and chain retailing and eateries because it's such a "Shit Hole" now, here's your answer: We're going to lose Wallace and all the people like him that make Coney Island what it is. We're pretty certain there will be no place in the new Coney Island for a sketchy guy with a paint brush who makes signs. Because there won't be any place for those signs in the first instance.

Lolly Pops

Fried Shrimp Chicken

Related Post:
Who Will Preserve Coney's Ads and Art?



Anonymous Anonymous said...

With regard to that last paragraph: couldn't have said it better myself. I am so glad to know I am not the only one viewing the CI redevelopment plans with trepidation. Keep up the awesome work.

10:31 AM  

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