Thursday, April 29, 2010

Billy on The Wall

Billy Leroy is the owner of Billy’s Antiques and Props, on the Bowery since 1986, and still hanging on despite a recent doubling of the rent and a raid from the NYPD. As The Villager wrote, "CBGB may have closed, high-rise luxury co-ops are invading the area, the local American Apparel is attracting yuppies in droves. A Whole Foods mega-supermarket has opened on the other side of the street, but Billy’s is still hanging in there."

Billy also happened to hold the lease on the Houston Wall, where Deitch Projects has displayed murals by Os Gemeos and Shepard Fairey, along with a reproduction of a long-buried work by Keith Haring. Billy wrote in and let me know about his instrumental role in bringing the Haring back to life.


photo: Billy Leroy

He recalls: “In 2005 I was working on a project around the wall, a sorta cafe with Bistro tables, when I discovered through research that the wall had been Keith Haring’s first mural. I thought it would be cool to clear away the rotting bathtubs and wrought iron and recreate the mural.

I brought the whole project to Tony Goldman. Unfortunately the project fell through. A few years passed and Tony teamed up with Jeffery Deitch and the Keith Haring Foundation. Since I was renting the whole property, Tony had to get me to release The Wall from my lease. We made a deal and the new Wall started.

But there was one fly in the ointment. The OMNI mural was still up and OMNI had to be contacted. Fortunately, I knew him and explained that they where going to paint over his mural and do a 50th anniversary to Haring. He was not thrilled but I convinced him. So that’s how the last illegal mural was painted over, and the rest is history."


photo: Billy Leroy

"When the workers started scraping away the years of old paint, giant chips of florescent orange paint fell to the ground. I gathered them into a bucket--they were the original Keith Haring and I have a bucket full."


photo: Billy Leroy

"Am I happy about the new Wall? Yes, because the neighborhood has changed forever and we have to deal with the new people on the Bowery. But I am strong believer in the spirits and ghosts of the old Bowery and they will never leave! Just hang out in my shop at night and things can get pretty creepy."

4 comments:

Curt Hoppe said...

Good interview thanks

Goggla said...

So, does Billy intend to take down the shed that's hiding the Os Gemeos mural?

abraham said...

Cool to see the Villager reference in there, thanks J. This is a good reminder on who (Billy Leroy, not Deitch) really thought up the concept of bringing back the wall as an art space -- I have a feeling it will stay that way for a while. I'm guessing Fairey show will be completely mobbed on May 1.

L.

Ephemera Press said...

Precedence for recreating the Haring Mural actually goes to Ephemera Press whose 2001 pictorial map of the East Village by James Romberger and Marguerite Van Cook not only includes the Haring mural but also Lee's Lion mural and Chico's memorial mural for Bimbo Rivas. Check the map out at: http://www.ephemerapress.com/eastvillage.html