Back in 2002, right after I moved to Brooklyn, I got it in my head that I was going to be the next big thing in art. I didn’t really have the work to back it up at the time, but I arrived in New York with my ego blazing. I ordered some “Tim Doyle’s Really Fine Art” postcards. Bought a display easel. Put on a pin striped suit and headed out to Chelsea with a painting under my arm. My plan was to be my own Chelsea gallery on the sidewalk. I had heard that selling artwork on the sidewalks of New York was perfectly legal and had a backup plan to explain that I was not selling, but simply displaying my artwork. This would certainly be the case anyway.
I set up “shop” outside of a vacant store front at 532 West 24th Street (now home to Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery), right down the street from the Larry Gagosian Gallery and Mary Boone Gallery at the time. I had watched Julian Schnabel’s “Basquiat” too many times and was convinced that if I parked myself there someone would notice me. Some people did. Most did not. I tried to hand out cards to the many art tours which passed by that day. Most were not impressed, but they were not repulsed thanks to the power of the suit. One person that was impressed was a cab driver who was fascinated with my little stunt.
He drove by me in the morning very slowly, circled the block and stopped in front of me. “Hey! What are you doing?”
“I’m showing my painting!”
“That is yours?” he asked.
“Yup! That’s mine!”
“Very nice! I like it!”
“Here! Have a card!” I said happily.
“Thank you! Give me more!”
I gave him some cards and he went on his way. Throughout the day I saw him drive by with a fare, pointing at me and presumably explaining what I was doing.
Across the street from my post there was a giant construction site which is now a luxury apartment building. There was a construction worker who was not so appreciative of my efforts. He came walking over to me and asked what I was doing. I explained that I was showing my painting.
“You can’t do that!” he explained loudly. “You have a permit?”
“Sure I can! You can sell books and art on the street,” I told him.
“No. This isn’t right.” He looked around uncomfortably and went back to the construction site.
An hour later, he ran over and asked “Does the landlord know you’re doing this?”
“I’m on a public sidewalk,” I told him, “The storefront is vacant. I don’t see what the problem is.”
He seemed angry and frustrated and ran back across the street to the construction site. A short time later a tenant walked into the building’s foyer and the construction worker ran across the street and accosted the tenant, yelling at him and gesturing at me. At this point I was sunburned and needed to find a bathroom, so I packed up and walked away, not waiting to see what the tenant would say.
I gave out a lot of postcards that day and for my efforts saw a small spike in traffic on my website. I was not “discovered” by a gallery, nor should I have been at the time, as I only had five or six paintings. But I seemed to make one New York cabbie happy and I think that made it all worthwhile.