Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Coney Island Pavilion

This sketch painting is the result of my morgtage of sideshow performers discussed a few posts ago (Coney Island Interlude.) Schlitzy and Kookoo, perhaps the two most famous performers, stroll or cavort on Coney Island Beach between their shifts.
The Elephant Hotel can still be seen not far from Atlantic City, at Margate. Named Lucie, she is approximately half the size of the hotel that stood on Coney Island, though she is in fact a bit older, a trial run for the larger building.
Though the Cyclone roller-coaster is still standing and working (I had a bit of popping neck bone or gristle that rattled me for about a decade after my last phenomenal ride on it), the pictured coaster is the storied Thunderbolt, razed a decade ago during some dark dealings with the city string-pullers. The parachute tower still stands, a mysterious relic that I think is from an ancient world's fair.
The magazine cover I will paint, for which this is a sketch, will be called Pavilion, speaking of world fairs. I like the word pavilion, just the sound of it. It sounds foreign, in that way, a 100 years ago, when such words had an exotic significance. Pavilions were important; they were architecture that had a point to make, but which didn't have to endure for a long time. They were low budget, yet grand--grander than a regular building with solid foundation and purpose, whose practical reason overrode fancy.
So it was for Coney Island, an island of Pavilions. Very few stand now. But on a certain psychic wavelength, you can see them and hear them; this inspired the painting. Pattern-seeking creature that I am, I am fond of connections. And connections weave densely during the twilight at Coney Island, a web denser than the lattice comprising a rusting roller-coaster.
Coney Island, as architect Rem Koolhaas notes, was the proving ground for Manhattan; the skyscrapers were built there first, being low budget pavilions, to be razed and burnt. This place gave us the idea of the modern city, but few think of the tawdry wasteland as such an important place now.
The island had several different parks, one of which was named Luna Park, eponymous for amusement parks in many languages today. Again, few remember this original park.
Before there was Disneyland and world, there was Coney Island as the park of wonder.
Disney sanitized Coney Island's original, loucher wonder.

The mysterious mascot of Coney Island was the idiotic face, later used as the trademark of Mad Magazine, Alfred E. Newman. The genius behind Mad Magazine was Harvey Kurtzman. He employed John Cleese and Terry Gilliam later on (working on a fumetti spread, cartoons made with photos), and this connection would later result in Monty Python.

When we see freakish things on Youtube, watch satire, or questionable goings-on on reality TV, do we not owe something to the original freaks and visionaries of Coney Island?

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