I'm an antiques dealer for this generation and the next. Being part of the history of works of art as they pass through hands and through time is an honor. The works I encounter, open me to learning a new category, or style, or artist, or... everything!
For those of you who have set foot in New York City within the last thirty years or so - you have probably seen 'The Brute'. Square jawed. Strong. Felt tip marker or paint. He's been everywhere. On mid century furniture, books, art, walls - you name, 'The Brute' has been there. He's the creation of famous New York City artist and icon, Robert Loughlin.
Robert's story is a great one. He's been in all the right places at all the right times. He was buying important mid century furniture before it was important. He was creating art and selling it to the movers and shakers of the New York City scene. He was a staple at the flea market. There are stories about Robert, too. Finding works by Salvador Dali in a thrift shop is just one of them. For now, let's talk about the one that I know best.
It was an unusually cold day in early spring. I was already making the rounds at the flea market. Robert was one of the people, if not the person, who I noticed first. You couldn't miss him. Booming voice. Calling everyone 'girlfriend'. Standing at the back of his pick up with some amazing finds that all the other dealers would fight over. It was almost as if he were holding court and teaching school at the same time. This particular day, or night, I had brought with me a chair that I found on the street. With strong, sharp lines it reminded me of these paintings that I had seen everyone buying. I thought that maybe I could have one done on this chair.
Robert was a very friendly guy and he always had a smile for me. When I asked him if he'd paint my chair, he quickly agreed. He almost seemed flattered. He did what any dealer would do and examined the chair. Joking, he made a few references to famous designers, but I said that I didn't care who made the chair - I wanted him to paint it. The chair disappeared into the back of his pick up truck and we both went about our shopping in the wee early hours. Me with my coffee and flashlight, Robert with his felt tip marker and eye for the most minute detail. I felt like a superstar when I would hang out with him.
Time passed and I had stopped thinking about when he would bring the chair to me. I dare not ask an artist, not wanting to rush the creative process. I could tell that he would be spending time on the chair from the way he accepted the commission. Sure, I had seen Robert sketch out his 'Brute' on everything and anything at the flea market so I knew that he could create on the spot. These works were full of spontaneity and life. They exploded off the surface. At first, I wondered how the same image could be interesting, then I noticed that each was very different. Maybe a thought bubble or a cigarette or a title - whatever the difference it was fascinating to see how Robert took each surface and made the art work with it perfectly.
So, the day finally came. Robert walked up to me around 4am or so and said that he had brought my chair. Wow. I tried to be cool, but couldn't hold it in. Rushing over to his pick up he pulled the chair out and I couldn't believe my eyes. He had taken a non-descript chair and turned it into something wonderful. I was super happy with the chair. The other dealers seemed envious and made the immediate assumption that I would try and flip it right then and there. Not me. I placed it under a vendor's table and kept it out of sight until I was ready to head home. I even hailed a taxi for the ride home, rather than my usual mule-like trip home on the subway. Wanted to make sure I gave the chair a proper ride home!
It became my desk chair. The chair I would sit in to send emails, research paintings and look for clients. I felt as though I had elevated my business just with this chair alone. I now had a piece of art from a famous artist, a friend and someone whose work graced high end Manhattan penthouses, the covers of magazines as well as walls and any old surface that spoke to him. With this chair, I had become part of a scene. It was cool.
And the years passed by. Robert continued to be a regular force at the market, selling to dealers and celebrities. I continued to scour the market for finds and sell the frames I found to the Madison Avenue galleries. Robert's art grew in popularity. Shows were created and curated. His art was found throughout New York and throughout the country. I still relished my ownership of the chair I had commissioned all those years ago.
And here we are today. Which brings me to the sad part of the story. Robert Loughlin has passed away. He was a truly nice person who was a friend to many. I will always cherish the chair he made for me and remember fondly the fun times together at the flea market. Thank you, Robert.