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A huge Puerto Rican flag hangs on the wall of the dark room as DJ Shyboi plays her set. I can barely make out Christina and Felton dancing next to me through the thick fog, each also donning shirts emblazoned with the flag. Techno music booming through the speakers vibrates my chest. I’m sweating, hypnotized by the pounding drums that form a lump in my throat. I don’t even notice that the DJs have switched. I pause for the time it takes to hang my jacket on a nail. Then my body continues to move to the steady, hard beat. Tall light-rods behind the DJ change from green to blue, red to white in a symbolic display for Puerto Rico. It’s the first time I’m raving for a cause.
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Kosmo Vinyl speaks with a richness that immediately draws me in. He’s energetic, in tone and cadence. A personality. As he describes his childhood — bearing witness to mod culture, his family, and the liveliness of the people in his community — a full and vivid image takes form in my mind. His words paint the picture for me and I gain a lucid sense of where he comes from, or where he’s coming from. Kosmo lives a rich life and I believe that the two are not separate, the richness of his experiences and the richness of how he speaks about them.
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Rad Roubeni was born in Iran in 1978, the heat of the revolution. “And, being Jewish and being supporters of the king…” Weeks after Rad was born his parents sought refuge in Israel, then settled in West Germany where several of his uncles were established in life and in business. His father held no delusions about their circumstances, saying to Rad’s mother on the flight out that they would never be able to return. So Rad grew up in Hamburg.
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Laura Sallade’s first commission happened in art school, not long before her graduation. I use the word “happen” because that’s the impression I get in hearing her talk about it — that it appeared from the ether. Laura was working in a materials shop, she helped a woman who looked a little bit lost among the supplies, and the woman ultimately made a visit to Laura’s studio.
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Some people aren’t cut from the same mold as the rest of us. They operate by entirely different notions of what it’s all about, inhabiting a space largely beyond that of contemporary customs and culture. It’s not that they’re odd or quirky. It’s something deeper and more nuanced than that, possessing a spiritual quality. I see them as mystic outsiders — those who were never indoctrinated, or were indoctrinated but fought their way out. Precisely because their minds are not molded by bourgeois propriety mystic outsiders have clarity. If you happen across one it’s a special day. You will be seen for who you are. Over the years I’ve had the good fortune of meeting a handful of such people. One of whom is Coconut Rob.
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Solveig Galbo punctuates her sentences with laughter. Particularly as she’s describing her obsession with flowers or her unusual upbringing in remote forests. Her laugh is full, but casual and light. It shows humor and self awareness — or the humor of knowing and embracing one’s own quirks. More than anything it’s her laugh that proves she’s not weighed down, even though she’s willing to fight for a worthy cause. Lacking a genuine sense of purpose or self one can easily be consumed by the troubles of the world. But Solveig is fine. With a light heart and a positive outlook she’s able to fight the good fight.
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Morocco Omari entered my world at the right time. I had been a little too caught up in big worries over small things, such as work and money and making my way in new pursuits. But talking with him, then listening back and transcribing the recording word for word, helped clear my mind of its concerns. It was like meeting with a counselor, hearing him describe his life and how he goes about living it. There’s a calmness to his voice. Not only the sound but the substance; the essence that is being conveyed. Absorb what he’s saying and it will affect you. Several emotions surfaced while putting this piece together: joy, sadness, humility, admiration, respect, gratitude. I laughed, I nearly cried at times, I was quiet — just listening…
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Other than the fact that it existed, neither of us knew a thing about the art scene in New York. But when my friend proposed that I write about the lives of the city’s artists, using Deviation as an analytical lens, it was time to get connected. He said that we should walk the streets of Manhattan, beginning downtown and working our way north, introducing ourselves at galleries, museums, boutiques, and any other arty and/or crafty establishment we came across. This march began in TriBeCa, extending east and north over the course of many days, steadily nearing Chelsea and what we would discover to be a mind-numbing onslaught. We had no clue about the magnitude of it all.
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The first time she traveled by airplane Shei Phan was 21. It was a one-way ticket from Oklahoma to New York — her ticket out. She had been working three jobs and studying for a degree in art education when her break finally broke. “It was a little scary because I didn’t know anybody [in New York]. No friends, no family, no nothing. I just thought, ‘Well, lets see what happens.’ It was my first city outside of Oklahoma and Texas.” She had also lived in Bakersfield briefly and Vegas for a month, but we’ll get to that.