And How Do You Feel About the Demise of Pearl Paint?

Posted on: April 25th, 2014 at 6:06 am by

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Photo: Terri Ciccone

The following is a guest post written by Terri Ciccone.

Pearl Paint has closed its red doors for the final time, ending an 80-year legacy as a unique resource and community for artists.

The discount art supply store spent 80 years in the neighborhood, 50 of which at 308 Canal Street (it opened in 1933 on Church Street where it sold house paint). The rumor of its demise came about in 2010, when the company began closing a number of its locations, yet remained determined to keep the relic store open. So we thought. Now, the six-floor, 11,850 square-foot space that occupies storefronts on both Canal and Lispenard streets is listed for sale via Massey Knakal as “a great opportunity for a developer, investor and/or user.”

Pearl Paint is not just another charming New York City gem so commonly disappearing into the foundations of shiny new condo buildings. It was an important part of art history, and cultivated a community in which everyone from student artists to now-famous painters like Julian Schnabel and Marilyn Minter utilized because of the store’s unique items, discounted prices, and knowledgeable staff. “I’ve shopped at Pearl Paint for years — I grew up around the corner,” said local artist and writer Alanna Martinez. “As an art student beginning in high school I learned as much buying materials there as I did in the classroom…it’s a devastating loss.”

“It’s devastating,” agreed an employee who chose to remain anonymous, when speaking to the Tribeca Trib. “They just broke up a whole family unit here. People I’ve been working with for years. Like the people running this place don’t even understand its history and the artists who shopped here?” And history it has. Legendary New York City artist and musician Patti Smith references the building when speaking to The National Book Foundation on where she searched to conjure up memories of her time with renowned artist Robert Mapplethorpe for her memoir Just Kids. “[I went] wherever I could find him. To Coney Island, Pearl Paint, Tompkins Square Park, and the hallways of the Chelsea Hotel.”

World renowned and award winning artist Shirin Neshat, who was shocked to hear of the store’s closing, told Vulture of her memories there. “I started to go there in the mid-1980s. I remember that every time, while walking up their many stairs, I would run into the coolest artists, many of them turning into celebrity painters.” Basquiat shopped there when he was given his first real opportunity to create a serious body of work. And Martin Wong, an artist and collector who’s graffiti art collection is currently on view at the Museum of the City of New York, was employed by Pearl Paint in 1978, where he met many of the artists whose work now makes up much of his highly regarded collection.

It’s certainly a sad day for the New York art world, but there are still alternatives. For instance, not too far away is BLICK Art Materials at 148 Lafayette Street. Like other establishments that live on in the legacies and memories of the New York City art world, the store will remain in the brushstrokes and canvases of artists continuing to thrive thanks to, at one point or another, Pearl Paint.

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