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May 2009, Interview with Bobby Grossman

 
  Bobby Grossman, Burroughs and Warhol, black and white photograph copyright Bobby Grossman 

A new show of Mr. Grossman's work opens in New York May 14th, 2009 at Mina Gallery

"Bobby Grossman is a photographer whose body of work is one of the most important documents of the punk rock, new wave/no wave scene of the seventies and eighties. Grossman was an artist who was omnipresent on the scene, and wherever he went."

Noah Becker: After viewing your extensive archive I'm really curious about your photos of Andy Warhol. How did you meet Andy?

Bobby Grossman: I studied at the Rhode Island School of Design. (1972-1976) Prior to graduation I began to acquire contacts in New York City. I would return home to Westchester during breaks and random weekends. I first visited CBGB in 1975 thru an invitation of old friend Chris Franz of Talking Heads. Chris, Tina and David formed the band and early on invited me to see them preform. Aside of visiting CBGB during breaks from school I also began to show my work around NYC. I had a few friends who were friendly with Richard Bernstein an artist known for his Grace Jones album covers as well as his monthly contributions to Interview Magazine creating their monthly covers. So I visited Richard showed him my work and a year or so later I worked under as his assistant. Richard lived off the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel. I also ended up at the Chelsea for a year or so living in a nice apartment in apartment 911. Brown University was across the street from the RISD campus. During that time I became friends with Andre Leon Taley who was a few years older than I. My friend Andre was finishing up his education at Brown and also heading to New York City. Early on Andre worked with Diana Vreeland. He also had got his first job from Andy Warhol. Occasionally I would phone Andre and he would offer advice as well as giving me the names of the best restaurants in New York to visit. Over the Spring before my graduation I made arrangements to visit Andre. I met with Andre and he took me up to the Factory to visit Andy and everyone there. Andy seemed to like my art complimenting me as well as giving me some advice. He suggested I work LARGE. Bigger was better. During that visit I met others at the Factory: Ronnie Cutrone, Vincent Fremont and Fred Hughes. Later on I lived on Union Square so these people were to become good friends that I would see often since I lived down the street from the Factory. That same day Andy also thought it might be a good idea if I show my work to Lou Reed since I has a few portraits of Lou in my portfolio. Andy phoned Lou who was at that time finishing up Coney Island Baby and living at the Grammercy Park Hotel. I cabbed over to the hotel and spent a few hours with Lou. During this visit I also saw Talking Heads at CBGB and Holly Woodlawn at Reno Sweeney as well. I don't often tell this story and I have since forgotten some details, I'm sure. Today Andre is editor of Vogue and I guess I am very grateful he invited me up that day. A visit to New York which would foreshadow a glimmer of my future. Thanks Andre.

Noah Becker: There is a contact sheet of Andy eating what appears to be a bowl of cereal. Then another image of David Byrne eating a bowl of cereal. Is that a coincidence?

Bobby Grossman: I photographed a number of friends eating Kellogg's Corn Flakes. The idea originated at RISD when I took a Mick Rock photo of Lou Reed and put it on a box of German Kellogg's Corn Flakes. Later on when I moved to NYC I did a series of Corn Flake photo sessions. I worked with Richard Hell, Robert Fripp, Jonathan Paley, David Johansen, Debbie Harry, Talking Heads, Stiv Bators, Glenn O' Brien, Andy Warhol and Jackie Curtis. It ends up that some were more successful than others.

 
  Bobby Grossman, David Byrne Cornflakes, Black and White Photo
 

 
  Bobby Grossman, David Cornflakes, Black and White photograph
 


 

 
  Bobby Grossman, Andy Cornflakes, black and white photo
 

 
  Bobby Grossman, Jean-Michel and Glenn, black and white photograph

Noah Becker: In addition to the photograph at Glenn O' Brien's TV Party, your images of Jean-Michel Basquiat appear to be taken during the filming of Downtown 81. Much has already been said in the media about Jean-Michel Basquiat. Can you share with Whitehot Magazine readers something about your interaction with Jean-Michel Basquiat?

Bobby Grossman: Fab Fred Brathwaite invited Jean to Glenn's show and that was his first introduction to our Downtown click. You can see Jean and Glenn's entire TV Party interview in full at the end of the Downtown '81 DVD. By the way Downtown 81 was a low budget film originally titled New York Beat - a black comedy written by Glenn O Brien and was a story loosely based on a day in Jean-Michel's life. A year or so later Glenn was writing a feature article on graffiti for High Times magazine. I was assigned as photographer to work with Fred and Jean and other graffiti artists. It was an extremely cold winter and we traveled on subways and cabs from the South Bronx down to China town searching and waiting for specific subway cars. We walked from playground to basketball or handball site to document each wall or side of building and the art which may have been painted and tagged a few years past. Fred and Lee Quinones and I taxied up to Chris and Debbie's apartment early one cold winter morning and escorted them down to a handball court on Pike and Cherry Streets on the lower east side adjacent to Chinatown. It was very early in the morning and Debbie was cold and not too thrilled to be waiting for the correct morning sunlight and somehow I felt like she thought it was my idea. Thanks a lot Freddy. Another time one day, Jean and I met for lunch and later walked past a few locations and I documented the art he left behind. At one point Jean asked if I would bring him up to the Factory and introduce him to Andy. It appeared to me that it wasn't my place to do so and I declined and said no.
Eventually Glenn took him up there and the rest is history.


Bobby Grossman, Jean-Michel, black and white photo

Noah Becker: What's happening in the photo of Andy grabbing you or hugging you?

Bobby Grossman: This Polaroid was taken at a birthday party a few buildings down from the Factory. We were at Delia Doherty's loft on Union Square and I lived down the block. For some reason that night I left my apartment with my Polaroid SX 70 Camera. Perhaps I felt it would be a fun party thing to take turns with the Polaroid. I remember a alot of dogs were playing around in the apartment and I think a lot of us had taken Quaaludes. So we were in a party mood. I was taking Polaroids of everyone and at some point I handed the camera to my friend Gerard Malanga and he took this great shot of me with Andy. I was sitting on Andy's lap as he was stealing the Polaroids out of my Motor Cycle Jacket pocket. You can tell I am directing Gerard as the Polaroid was taken. I used this photo as my Christmas card a few years ago. I asked my friend Glenn if he would assist me with a clever slogan or whatever... The caption on the card read: "The last time I ever sat on Santa's lap.

Noah Becker: Yes that's a fantastic image. There is another one of Andy sitting next to a palm tree talking on the phone. Where was this photo taken?

Bobby Grossman: This photo was taken of Andy at the Factory. Andy is sitting on Fred's desk, I think. This was taken late in the day, early evening. Maybe Andy was making plans for dinner or his ride home.

 
  Bobby Grossman, Jackie and David, black and white photo

 

 
  Bobby Grossman, Fab Five Freddie and Debbie, black and white photograph

 
 Bobby Grossman, Glenn O' Brien, black and white photograph

 
 black and white photograph

 

  
  black and white photograph

 

 
 Bobby Grossman, Self Portrait black and white photograph
 

Editor-in-Chief: Noah Becker


Noah Becker is founder and editor-in-chief of Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art, a visual artist, jazz musician and writer.
Web: www.noahbeckerart.com       
email: noah@whitehotmagazine.com

 


 

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