Imaginary City: Tom Sanford’s New York

Tom Sanford has a keen painterly eye for the grotesque excesses of our day, from Walmart stampedes to the perversely sexy idiocy of Sarah Palin. But for his latest exhibition, "Café des Artistes"–opening Saturday night at Kravets/Wehby Gallery in Manhattan–he’s keeping things more personal, and local.

"I wanted to make a show about my home, New York, and where my imagination meets my day to day experience in the city I love," he says. "I named the show after the now defunct café in the lobby of Hotel des Artistes, the ultra-posh apartment building on 67th and Central Park West. I think of these paintings as ones that might hang in a café like that."

The exhibition includes ten portraits, of the likes of Bill T Jones, Tina Fey, and Jonathan Lethem, as well as three "genre paintings, where extraordinary characters are inhabiting rather ordinary situations." And below, Sanford shared the stories behind four of these works with me.

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The Mayor (Michael Bloomberg) 
"I really love Bloomberg, both as a character in the unfolding drama of the city, and as the Mayor. It may not be the politic thing to say right now given recent dissatisfaction with some of his more divisive policies, but I will really miss him. I would like to raise a very small can of Coke to Mayor Mike."

 
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The Deli on Broadway 
"This is a painting of the Fancy Food deli that I used to go to several time a day when I had a studio on Franklin street (2006-2010). I basically survived on the beer and deli sandwiches I bought there. I would often see both Mike D of the Beastie Boys and Steven Powers (aka ESPO) in the deli.  I am a huge fan of both of these guys and was totally geeked to see them up close, but too nervous to say hi. I decided to make Spike Lee the deli guy because I had to find a way to work him into the show. Casting him as the deli guy seemed sort of jarring and inconsistent with type casting; he really should play a pizza guy, like Mookie from Do The Right Thing.

 
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The Chef (Marcus Samuelsson) 
"I think of this painting as a sort of key to the whole show, thematically speaking. I painted the famed chef and restaurateur in profile, hoping to suggest the New Yorker’s well-known logo, Eustace Tilley. In this case I replaced the monocle that Tilley peers through with a piece of Samuelsson’s wonderful ‘fried yard bird’ and a beautiful and enigmatic butterfly perched on top; a magical realist version of the 125th street and Lenox subway platform."

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The Bar on 2nd Ave (Carlo McCormick)
"This painting is a pretty clear recycling of Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. In my version the most excellent art writer and champion of the LES scene, Carlo McCormick, tends bar at Lit Lounge, as he is known to do from time to time. The mysterious man who Carlo is serving is revealed through his reflection in the mirror to be the late artist and graf writer Dash Snow." 

 
Tom Sanford’s Café de Artistes" is on view at Kravets/Wehby Gallery, 521 West 21st Street, from September 7–October 12. The opening reception is Sept.7 from 6-9pm.

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