featured gallery for July 2018

More Than a Jar of Pennies: In Loving Memory of Geoffrey Hendricks and Brian Buczak

The Freemasons is one of the oldest and largest fraternal organizations in the world, uniting men from various backgrounds to a common shared belief in the brotherhood of mankind. The traditions of Freemasonry are founded upon the building of King Solomon’s Temple, and its fraternal ceremonies use the working tools of the stonemasons to symbolize moral lessons and truths. Feeling connected to people who share similar goals and feelings allows one a place for support and growth. The allure of a secret society, like the Freemasons, often has a hold on those without a tribe. The tribes we can connect to now give us ways of engaging in a hostile world, while also allowing us a place to be loved, creative, and safe.

In 1976, Geoffrey Hendricks bought a Federal Town House (c.a. 1813), with the help of his brother, Jon Hendricks, who found two buildings side-by-side in what the real estate agents used to call WeSoHo, now coined Hudson Square. The area was zoned commercial and there were not many residences there at the time. It was originally a Seaman’s boarding house, and later Johnson Iron Works. As artists, the Hendricks brothers were constantly battling rent increases after fixing up lofts, recognizing that the landlords got greedy after seeing their capital improvements.

In 1977, Geoff met Brian Buczak at a Libra Party in Phil Niblock’s loft in SoHo. Geoff was so charmed the two rarely left each other’s side from then on. In the latter years, when Brian was stricken with AIDS, Geoff was there. Slowly, Geoff, along with Brian, converted the building into a private studio, residence, and headquarters of Money For Food Press, a small artists’ press they co-founded. With the help of friends, they slowly restored the building, complete, down to the cast iron nails used to hammer into the floorboards. The artist Yoshi Wada created a plumbing installation that served both as an artistic installation and functional plumbing that runs through the building. In 1984, the text “WATER SPILLED FROM SOURCE TO USE,” provided by the artists’ friend Lawrence Wiener was lettered across the lintel. The history of their shared life permeates the walls. I can recall Geoff talking about living in a plastic tent with Brian in the cold winter days when they were still renovating the space with no heat, huddling between each other’s bodies to keep warm.

In 2004, I started living with Geoff and his partner Sur Rodney (Sur) when I needed a place to live and work after being let go from my job teaching and managing an art school/studio that was struggling to keep its doors open. I found myself living in the room that Brian Buczak painted. Geoff told me Brian painted the room based on a painting in a book, but I have yet to find that book again. (Addendum: I found the book: Young America: A Folk-Art History, by Jean Lipman, Elizabeth V. Warren, and Robert Bishop © 1986 The Museum of American Folk Art) Brian altered the painting by including stenciled locust leaves as he adapted it to the room, based off of the locust tree Geoff brought back from Vermont to plant in front of the house. The tree has grown very large and you can notice its character and presence, dwarfed in comparison to the other trees on the block. Years later, while the house was being assessed, the appraiser mentioned that the brick wall where my bed was placed had a signature from the original mason that built the building. According to him, it was a symbol of power, and the fact that the bed was level with it made it even more special. I believe Brian saw those bricks and understood the importance of that symbol and placed the bed in line with this masonic signature. Brian was very keen on using symbols and gestures in his work, and always had a deep fascination with the Freemasons. In some of the works included in this web gallery, you can see the relationships of symbols, hand gestures and objects because they held a secret language that could only be deciphered with careful consideration of histories, cultures, and traditions. He was interested in these secret societies, and how languages and codes were used to be able to speak to specific people who could read them. It’s a relationship between the public and private that still holds weight today in light of social media, and the use and misuse of private and public information.

In 2006, Geoff was invited by Printed Matter to recreate an early installation and exhibit of Money For Food Press books. Geoff gave me archived photographs of the installation, and I recreated the “Anarchy / Surrender” window display Brian created. Various presentations of it are included in this web gallery. Strangely enough, when art meets life, while I was de-installing the window, I got to meet the artist duo Lovett/Codagnone who had the proceeding exhibition and book launch of their 10 years of collaborative works. That spark of introduction blossomed into my first relationship in NYC. I think both Geoff and Brian would have called it kinsmet. In some way, recreating “Anarchy / Surrender” was like psychically bringing back the dualities inherent in those juxtapositions, and years later a test print from John of one of his works “Fear / Want” comes full circle. These relationships have multiple meanings. Sometimes art is made from life, and sometimes life is made from art, and it’s often hard to discern the lines that separate them.

Still, trying to unpack the symbols in Brian’s paintings is like stepping into another time, deciphering or making relationships in the clues around you. Whenever I asked Geoff about death, he would always tell me death was a part of life, and we must let go in order to make room for new life to grow. That idea is still with me as he was there during Brian's passing. Sur, Bracken Hendricks (Geoff’s son), and I were there for Geoff's passing.

An outgrowth of passion and inspiration can often provide more fuel for the ways in which we live. That’s what it’s like to live on Greenwich Street, to sleep and dream inside a painting of Brian Buczak’s. It’s a feeling of being grateful and honored to be supported with a loving community of like-minded artists, allowing me to pursue my own creative passions and ideas. I remember in my early days living with Geoff, while I was doing laundry, I discovered a bottle filled with pennies. I decided because the jar was so full, that I would take all the pennies out and transport them into a larger container. Geoff came downstairs when I opened the cap and was about to spill out the pennies and asked me what I was doing, and I began to tell him. He then told me that it was a Ray Johnson artwork and needed to be kept exactly as it was otherwise its meaning would be erased. I was speechless and mortified. Each penny had a specific meaning undiscernible to me. But for Ray, Brian, and Geoff, it held special meaning, regardless of its mundane material value. It helped me realize that underneath everything, there are hidden relationships between people, places, and things (also the title of a book by Money For Food Press and a painting by Brian Buczak); that every object and space breathes like any living thing; that life, art, and the things we accumulate, use, disregard, or live with take on multiple meanings and have untold value. That’s what it’s like to live on Greenwich Street, with Geoff and Sur, unable to discern the difference between art or utilitarian object, that the ways in which we live are an artistic pursuit, and a careful consideration that what we do and say have special meaning.

Additional Images:

Early map of NYC right before Seaman’s boarding house was built

Early photo of Johnson Iron Works after Geoff moved in

Yoshi Wada, All Water Went Down To Drain Since 1975, 2003 (photos taken in 2018)

Lawrence Weiner, 1984, Cat. No. 510, installed on the façade of the residence (Postcard; Photo: A Z W Bentley)

Early Masonic Calligraphy Broadside (part of Brian's collection in his painted room)

Young America: A Folk-Art History, by Jean Lipman, Elizabeth V. Warren, and Robert Bishop © 1986 The Museum of American Folk Art

Ray Johnson, Heinz bottle of pennies, date unknown