East River Eyes: Jeffrey Gamblero
If you ride the East River Ferry you’ve likely seen the 20-foot-tall letters that spell out JEFFREY GAMBLERO on the dock of the India Street stop. They are outlined in black and filled in with a vivid aqua green. It is the color of surgical scrubs, of Winterfresh gum and cartoon characters, and a fitting hue for what has become an unofficial landmark of the Greenpoint waterfront.
Then there’s the pair of eyes painted smack in the middle between Jeffrey and Gamblero. If you’re a casual observer of graffiti you may recognize those eyes – they usually appeared inside a “K” for Korn, the graffiti artist who covered the city so widely in the 1990s that even after switching to canvas based art, following his arrest in 2001, marks of the distinctive evil-eyed “K” and single-toothed grin survive on box trucks and walls over the city.
I took the ferry many times before I thought to investigate – who is Jeffrey? The man himself Jeffrey Vanchiro, widely known as Jeffrey Gamblero or Korn, was what people call a character – he went from graffiti kid to professional poker player to super fan and unofficial mascot of the Nets. A season ticket holder, he was often seen on the Jumbotron as he cheered the team on wearing bright, eye-catching colors – highlighter yellow, turquoise, neon green. He became so popular with the team he accompanied them to London and was featured in their ad campaign. The New York Times ran a profile of him where he said, “I love neon, man. When I put neon on, it feels like I have flames coming off me. Basically you’re forcing people to look at you.”
Jeffrey exuded energy in a tangible way that people felt, whether through his spray painted marks on the streets or as the Nets super fan, dancing and cheering in the stands. He often wore large, colorfully rimmed glasses which outlined his eyes. As an artist he knew that neon colors reflect more than double the light rays of regular colors, allowing our eyes to perceive them more intensely. In both his graffiti and his super fan activities he was essentially saying – look at me. See.
His friends in the Smart Crew painted the wall as a memorial after his untimely death in December of 2014. Several other murals were painted as well. The Nets team appeared on the court in black jerseys with neon letters spelling GAMBLERO across the backs to pay their respects. Remembrances of the life and work of Jeffrey continue to turn up. Recently, a sculpture of his signature “K” appeared in an exhibit at the Queens Museum. Instagram users collect sightings of his throw-ups, art, and memorials with the #kornlives hashtag.
His life was dedicated to giving us all something to see – to surprise, to intrigue, to catch our attention. The giant letters stand as a larger-than-life tribute to this local legend. One you can’t help but see.