October 29, 2015

When my book of portraits, Untouched, was published in 2010, I had a coinciding exhibition of photographs in an ex-church in Chinatown. The month before, the same gallery was havinga show for the previous artist, so my lovely publisher Marta Hallett and I went to see how they handled other openings. We arrived at six and the doors were locked. On the steps sat a young Lower East Side looking tattooed dude who immediately asked me: “Are you featuring Balenciaga?”

What? A punky, funky dude knew about the House of Balenciaga? Turns out his name was Scooter LaForge and we’ve been BFFs ever since. We meet practically every morning in a fabulously cool café on Avenue A, where, for the last four years, I pose for him so he can practice drawing over coffee (he takes half-and-half and a Splenda; mine is regular).

Scooter LaForge is frantic about fame. He is a phenomenon, paying rent on a flat in the East Village and his studio in Chinatown, painting, drawing, sculpting, sewing and creating from ten till six. He’s not happy unless he produces art every day. He is beyond resourceful and beyond facetious. I’m always laughing around him.

An innocent and a pop-rocker, he worships his friend Deborah Harry and gets personal phone calls from Patricia Fields, from whose store he sells personalized t-shirts, trench coats and backpacks. He always uniforms himself in something from Westwood (“Collection only – never the second line!”) and recently collaborated on two Walter Van Beirendonck menswear lines. I watched as he acquired an after-dinner stick-and-poke Elvis tattoo from Girls’ Jemima Kirke. His musical taste is all eighties, yet his studio is full of children’s illustrated books from the forties and fifties. They inspire him, and he is an inspiration to so many; I have never known anyone with so many friends.

Scooter is exhibiting a one-man show at the Munch Gallery on Broome Street. It’s called “Travels with Johnny” – that’s me, because last year we rented an RV and drove right across the U.S. and back, staying over in KOAs off the highways and observing all along the way: cemeteries in Pennsylvania, Walmarts in Ohio, natural bridges in Utah, owls in New Mexico, subterranean Indian caves in Colorado, and endless antique malls all over.

Much of that time, Scooter was drawing, sketching or reading John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. His iPad drawings of me, done in the car en route, are intricate and fantastic. His paintings in the show are unusual observations of our trip, with titles like “Mushrooms in Kansas,” “Bullet Hole in Window,” “Roadside Memorial with Virgin Mary” and “Bear and Roadside Tornado.” The paintings are oil on linen, delicate and painterly.

Scooter LaForge’s star is finally floating. How does a painter become one of the “Chosen Ones”? LaForge’s method is through hard work and action taken one day at a time, through surrounding himself with inspiration and emanating helpfulness, pigment and craft. His knowledge of the history of art is profound, his sense of fashion is clear and his foundation set firmly in place.