Now Reading: Charlie Ahearn’s Journey in the New York Art Scene


Charlie Ahearn’s Journey in the New York Art Scene

Early Days in Times Square

In the late 1970s, Charlie Ahearn’s life intertwined with the vibrant energy of Times Square, thanks to his wife, Jane Dickson, who worked at the Spectacolor Billboard. Ahearn was drawn to the area’s kung fu movie theaters and spent many dates there with Jane. The couple’s deep connection with Times Square led them to move into a building on 43rd and Eighth Avenue, facing the Show World porn shop. This move was a significant step in their journey, with the rent being a modest $700 a month for an entire floor.

The Times Square Show

In 1980, Ahearn and Dickson played a pivotal role in “The Times Square Show,” a groundbreaking art exhibition held in a former massage parlor on 41st Street and Seventh Avenue. This show was crucial in laying the foundation for future artistic movements and featured notable artists like Nan Goldin, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Ahearn’s twin brother, John.

Meeting Fab 5 Freddy

At “The Times Square Show,” Ahearn met the iconic Fred Brathwaite, known later as Fab 5 Freddy. Brathwaite was then a member of Lee Quiñones’ crew and part of the Fabulous Five graffiti group. This encounter happened while Ahearn was showcasing his film “The Deadly Art of Survival” and led to a pivotal collaboration.

Filming The Deadly Art of Survival

Ahearn filmed “The Deadly Art of Survival” in the neighborhood of graffiti artist Lee Quiñones, using a Bolex 16mm camera. This project led him to meet Quiñones, a local legend in his community but not yet known to the wider world. Ahearn’s engagement with the local culture was profound, marking the beginning of significant artistic ventures.

The Birth of Wild Style

The collaboration between Ahearn, Fab 5 Freddy, and Lee Quiñones at “The Times Square Show” was monumental. Ahearn, with just $50 to his name, funded a graffiti piece by Fab 5 in broad daylight, marking the inception of “Wild Style.” This project led Ahearn and Brathwaite to explore the Bronx’s hip-hop scene, meeting key figures like Busy Bee and Grandmaster Caz and collecting flyers that detailed upcoming events.

Wild Style: A Culturally Significant Film

Ahearn, with no formal film training or financial backing, was driven by confidence in his vision to create “Wild Style,” a film that he intended as a cultural revelation rather than a traditional documentary. The film showcased critical aspects of hip-hop culture, with Ahearn’s favorite scene highlighting the rivalry between the Fantastic Freaks and the Cold Crush Brothers.

Memorable Scenes in Wild Style

“Wild Style” featured memorable moments like the basketball throw-down and the stick-up scene, which vividly captured the essence of hip-hop culture. One notable scene involved Patti Astor and Lee being accosted by smooth-talking assailants, only to be rescued by Fred’s timely intervention, showcasing the community’s respect and camaraderie.

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