How and if Greenpoint has changed is a never-ending source of conversation, but perhaps no one has better captured the neighborhood’s shifting landscape than “that Greenpoint artist,” Steve Wasterval.
Wasterval’s paintings — which often bring together familiar Greenpoint scenes with pithy one-liners about gentrification — are on view in the lobby of 1 Bell Slip between now and January 1, following an opening reception on November 16. The fifteen paintings tell the story of a neighborhood, and by extension, a city, in flux, painted with such freneticism it’s as though Wasterval captured the last possible second before the building or street was razed. The quotes, painted on top of the cityscapes in graffiti-like font to resemble tags, epitomize the kinds of things you might hear Greenpointers saying on Manhattan Avenue. “I biked before there was Citibike. “This street used to be scary.” “Greenpoint: The Williamsburg of Williamsburg.”
Wasterval has earned his title as “that Greenpoint artist” thanks both to his renderings of the neighborhood, but also to the creation of his mini-painting Easter Egg hunts, tucking away smaller versions of his work for lucky hunters to find. Fans of the artist now have a chance to view his work IRL and for free, as long as the 1 Bell Slip lobby is open, which as it turns out, is 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Wasterval’s pieces are available for sale, ranging from $1,200 to $9,000 in price.
Like so many other new arrivals in New York City, Wasterval’s attention was initially held by those “classic, iconic locations” — the Empire State building, the Statue of Liberty, and the Brooklyn Bridge, to name a few. And then, like any New Yorker, over time, Wasterval realized his neighborhood was a lot more interesting than anything happening in Midtown.
“Over the years I naturally gravitated to my immediate surroundings and more personal spots— corner delis, murals, historic buildings, local restaurants and bars,” Wasterval wrote in an email. “I discovered that essence isn’t icons, it’s in the details, so it’s your street, your block, your neighborhood that makes New York what it is, and for me that’s Greenpoint.”
1 Bell Slip first approached Wasterval for a show of his work back in May. Per Brookfield Properties Experience Manager Rena Beinikis, the 1 Bell Slip lobby is designed to be a public art gallery; for her, it’s an opportunity to serve both the buildings’ residents and the general public.
“It is kind of a mix of…giving them [the residents] an activity to do, and then also trying to bring in other people — whether it’s Steve’s friends or strangers on the internet who saw it was happening,” Beinikis told Greenpointers.
When Beinikis learned that curating these shows would be her responsibility, she seized it as an opportunity to showcase the work of Greenpoint residents, including artists like Lucía Rodríguez Pérez and Vanessa Wilkes, and now Steve Wasterval.
“I was very interested in bringing Steve in because I know that he’s almost like a local celebrity kind of…So it was kind of a no-brainer to want to bring him at least at some point,” Beinikis said.
For anyone who has lived in Greenpoint, or read an article about Greenpoint, or seen a meme about, Greenpoint, it’s hard to ignore the juxtaposition of the content of Wasterval’s work with the building in which it’s housed. The chaos and unbridled energy depicted in his pieces brings grit to an otherwise pristine room, with sweeping views of the East River, and if you’re lucky, Maroon 5 playing in the background. It’s grit that some say the neighborhood has lost, increasingly replaced by 1 Bell Slip and buildings like it.
Beinikis was more focused on her excitement of showcasing Wasterval’s work than any message that might be sent by it.
“I just was excited to have somebody that I knew a lot of the neighborhood would recognize the work of,” Beinikis said.
“I personally love his style,” Beinikis said, adding, “For me it was really nice to just know that this is someone who a lot of the neighborhood is probably already familiar with and has seen his work and is familiar with his work.”
In some ways, Wasterval sees the location of 1 Bell Slip not as in contrast to his message or work, but as part of it.
“…Years ago I decided to paint as many pieces of the neighborhood as I could, knowing it would eventually look completely different. When the time came to show that work, a new building felt like the perfect place, somewhere that would highlight the bittersweet experience of change. Talking to building residents at the opening reception, I was surprised to learn how many were longtime Greenpointers, some even born and raised. I think we often imagine new construction is exclusively full of Manhattanites and Ohio transplants, but even when it is, they are here because they love the neighborhood. And since these new buildings are here to stay, and have lobbies filled with art, I think that art should be something we all share in common, a love of Greenpoint, past and present.”
As for what he hopes visitors take away from the show, Wasterval shared, “Enjoy it while you can. It never seems like it, but these are the ‘good old days,’ too.”