Sighting: Jim Power, the Mosaic Man

For me, this was probably the coolest, East Villageyist thing that could have possibly happened to me.  I was walking down 1st avenue today with my boyfriend in the blistering heat (weather.gov claims it was around 84 degrees, but that’s clearly crap) and he pointed at an elderly gentleman, whispering to me, “Look!”  IT WAS THE MOSAIC MAN.  The man who adorns our neighborhood with found glass, ceramics, and mirrors.  The man who created the iconic Tompkins Square Park mosaic at the green oasis’s West side.

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The man who I paid $109 of my hard-earned money to make my dad a mosaic belt buckle.

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There he was!  I am only slightly ashamed to admit, I was seriously freaking out.  I mean if you see a movie star, that’s one thing.  They’re shockingly good looking in person and/or might be talented if you’re lucky.  But this guy is an artist and a major part of East Village history.  He single-handedly changed the look of our neighborhood.  A number of stores in the East Village will use mosaic decor because the East Village is known for its mosaics–because of Jim Power!  He’s a treasure.  I took one shot of him from kinda far away out of instinct.

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You can see him working there on the street signal post at St Marks.  But I felt like a creeper taking a picture of him without asking, and like I would hate myself forever if I didn’t approach him.  So I walked up to him and just said, “Hi!”  Give me a break, I don’t know what to say… anyway, he said, “Well, hello!” in a very friendly tone.  I said I just wanted to thank him for his work, which I think is beautiful and wonderful.  He thanked me very kindly.  And then I asked if he would mind if I took a few pictures of him, which he consented to with seemingly no reservations, much to my delight.  In the spirit of not ruining his “zen” or “being in the zone” or what have you while he was doing his work, I only took three additional pictures and then let him be.  But here he is closer up, doing his work.  And one deep in thought (though Matt thinks he looking like he’s picking his nose–how DARE you, he’s an ARTIST!  He’s deep in thought, damn it!).  As you can see, he’s working on some kind of portrait with the word “GANGSTER” spelled out to the left side, which is a bit more organized and stylized than his typical work.  It is pretty impressive and I’ll come back here in the next few days to see how it progresses.

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Jim Power, deep in thought.  Friend to cute dogs.  Not picking his nose.  Refusing to let the nasty heatwaves of present times deter him from his artist endeavors.  Hero to this East Villager.

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Tompkins Square Mosaic

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This is one of my favorite Mosaic Man pieces, affixed to a traffic light post on the East side of Avenue A and 9th, I believe.  It marks our infamous Tompkins Square Park.  But 30 years ago a den for heroin users and an encampment area for the homeless, it is now a site for a weekly farmer’s market and clothing drive.  My how things have become sanitized!  As with many changes in our urban landscape I think this disinfection adds to the sense of security to those of us living here while chipping away at the foundation of the area’s personality.

Jim Power, the Mosaic Man

Anyone who lives in the East Village (or who has visited) has probably noticed the mosaics all over the signposts, traffic-light posts, and sidewalks in the area.  Upon closer inspection, the mosaics are comprised of many different items, including broken teacups, old decorative bathroom tiles, and mirrors.  Sometimes there are messages hidden within, as in the image directly below this paragraph (M.I.A. in yellow tiles).  These projects were done over the course of several decades by a man named Jim Power, known by most as the Mosaic Man.  He was homeless for most of the time he did his artwork that brightens our area, twinkling on sunny days and bringing cheer to days that aren’t.

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I first visited the East Village with regularity to see my boyfriend (before we lived together), and it took me many weeks before I actually saw the mosaics.  It’s funny just how detached we can be from our own lives.  We live in our heads, worrying about our bills and planning the death of some tourist who rammed into us on the street because they were looking up at the skyscrapers, and we miss the most incredible sights and sounds around us.  When people say you should live in the moment and be present, they mean you should notice things like the mosaics in the East Village.  It’s much more pleasant than the usual homicidal thoughts nurtured by New Yorkers as they walk through the city.

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But back to the Mosaic Man.  He has a website (http://mosaicmannyc.com/) and an Etsy store (http://www.etsy.com/shop/MosaicManNYC) where you can get mosaic belt buckles.  I got one for my father, he loves that thing.  There used to be a section on his website that spoke about his homelessness but for some reason, it is gone.  I wonder if he was embarrassed or is no longer homeless.  In any case, he was without shelter for a great many years yet he still decorated our little corner of the world.  Our dickhole of a mayor destroyed some of it, but much still remains.  I will take pictures of his work for this blog, not necessarily showing an entire work but rather bits and pieces.  I want to show the mosaics as I see them, and I hope they inspire someone as much as they inspire me.  Frankly, if I were homeless, I doubt decorating the city would be high on my priorities list… Jim Power is quite a man.

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These images were taken at Astor Place on the corner that is northeast of the Alamo (the Astor Place Cube).

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