Volume 74, Number 48 | April 06 - 12 , 2005

Art

“Lower East Side Portraits”
169 Bar
169 East Broadway
Apr. 16, 212-473-8866

Capturing the local folk

‘Rock n Roll painter’ focusing on Lower East Siders

By Aileen Torres

Michael Grossman Rimbaud, né Michael Grossman, son of the illustrious illustrator Robert Grossman (whose political satires have appeared in the New York Observer, the New York Times and the New Yorker) considers himself an ex-expatriate.

The 40-year-old musician/painter, who doubles as a teacher of computer graphics by day, was born in Little Italy, on Crosby St. He has been a regular visitor to Brazil over the years—he was formerly married to a Brazilian woman—and lived in Paris for three years, drawn to the city, he mused, by romantic notions of place.

Lest his surname fool his audience, Rimbaud declared, “I love New York City—even after living in Paris.”

The artist legally changed his last name after deciding during his college years in Wisconsin that he wanted a French name. He asked a friend to make some suggestions and ended up deciding on Rimbaud. While the name might evoke the spirit of the bohemian surrealist poet Arthur Rimbaud, “I wasn’t looking for a poet’s name,” he said. “I was looking for an artist’s name with a rock ‘n’ roll sound. I felt it was provocative. I went to Paris, and they really liked my name. They thought it was funny,” because Mike is an American name pronounced “Meek-ay” in French.

Rimbaud’s penchant for music and art was formed at an early age, through the influence of his father, who lives in Soho and with whom Rimbaud still speaks regularly about art, and his mother, a banjo-playing former beatnik. Rimbaud took up the guitar when he was 6 and studied with Eric Darling, a member of a later incarnation of the folk group the Weavers. He wrote his first song at the age of 7 or 8, got an electric guitar at 13 and had his first band when he was a teenager. His father may be a jazz aficionado and his mother a lover of folk music, but Rimbaud has always had a passion for rock ‘n’ roll. “Growing up hearing the Beatles and the Rolling Stones inspired me,” he said.

The first three records Rimbaud made were released by record companies in Paris. He then returned to New York 10 years ago, and proceeded to record another album, which he released himself under his label, Subway Sun Records. Rimbaud makes music as a solo singer-songwriter, a member of the band the Subway Sun and in collaboration with other independent artists, including Marc Billon, an electronic music composer in Paris with whom he has been collaborating since 2000.

He has just finished work on his latest album, “Lower East Side Portrait” and is searching for a record company to release it. The songs on the record are more musically upbeat than his previous albums, particularly his last one, “Beast of Broadway,” an acoustic record he self-released in 2002, right before he got divorced.

“It’s been a couple of years since that [last album], and maybe there’s a kind of it’s-good-to-be-alive, post-9/11, post-divorce, whatever [vibe to the new album]. I don’t know.” But, he asserted, “There was no question this was gonna be a rock album. I like rock music that makes you feel excited, that picks you up.”

The new record coincides with the work Rimbaud is currently doing on his series of paintings, similarly entitled “Lower East Side Portraits.” He’s completed 20 portraits in the series thus far and will continue to paint more subjects in the neighborhood until he finds a place to exhibit his work. Some of the locals he’s rendered in the series include a poet who’s been living in the Lower East Side for more than 30 years, a salsa expert, a saxophonist/architect, an actress and a bartender/bass player.

His artistic style is, at turns, Realist—as is evident through his current portraits and some paintings he did while spending time in Brazil—and Surrealist—such as his “Modern Jurassic (Dinosaur Harem)” series, featuring dinosaurs depicted with sensually human features in various settings. His color palette ranges from moody blues to neon to tropical/aquatic.

Rimbaud cites the Ashcan School, a group of American artists who painted prosaic subjects in New York City during the turn of the last century, as a major influence. He has high praise for his father as well: “A great artist in my eyes,” said Rimbaud, who is now a father himself. He has a 6-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter. He plans to work on a children’s book in the near future.

After traveling the world and living a bohemian lifestyle for most of his adult life, what keeps Rimbaud tied to New York? “Most of my family’s here, so it’s really home,” he said. “But apart from that, I think it’s inspiring.

“I love the New York way, and I love New York City. I’m happy that I live here. There’s so many interesting people you can meet.”

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