Mosaic Man has meltdown, demands room, respect
By Lorcan Otway
In sections on the East Village in guidebooks on New York City, there are photographs of mosaic lampposts, a mosaic bus bench made from a broken planter and mosaic restaurant walls. These are all the work of Jim Power a.k.a. the Mosaic Man.
Power was born in Ireland, in Waterford. His family immigrated to Long Island and as a young man he served in Vietnam.
They didnt know I was half-blind. I dont think I ever shot anyone, I just couldnt see anyone out there, he said.
After Vietnam, Power came home...more or less. He lived on the margins, never far from the war that took his youth and took much of the rest of his life. For 20 years now, he has festooned the East Village with joyous art.
Very tiptop of the morning! he yells to folks on their way to the never-ending grind of making a living in New York as he pastes broken glass and pottery to the gray metal lampposts.
He once had an apartment, then a squat, then a tent as it became harder and harder to scrape by on New Yorks former Lower East Side. Power was one of the artists who made the neighborhood the East Village, helping give it its distinctive personality.
Now hes angry. His art has benefited the city in a way that cannot be measured. The property values reflect the artistic feel of the neighborhood, of which his mosaics are a very prominent part. But now he doesnt even have a tent in which to sleep. So, he has grown angry at the being he loves more than anything on earth, his dog, Jesse Jane. He feels the neighborhood cares more for Jesse than for him. He placed a for sale sign on her, as close to an act of suicide as he, in his still-sane mind can do. He will not part with her, however; it is simply a scream for recognition. It is unlikely that Power can sell Jesse Jane, anyway, since she is completely in love with him and will not stay with anyone else, even for short periods.
Furthermore, Power has decided to remove his art from the streets with a hammer. He started doing so last week at Astor Pl. Some looked on in curiosity or confusion as Power railed at the lack of appreciation shown to him by the city, and threatened to run for mayor in the next election. A passerby, Sweet Lew, a saxophone player, begged Power to leave his work in place as chips of mosaic flew from the lamppost under his attack. Power screamed that he was going to Philadelphia where artists are respected.
Two Fire Department E.M.S. ambulances and two police cars arrived. Many in the crowd were worried that he might be taken into custody. However, the police and E.M.T.s calmed him down.
Noting that the inclusion of his work in tourist guides helps bring people to New York and to the East Village, he says he doesnt expect charity, but rather that the city owes him a roof over his head, without his having to give up his dog a condition of most shelters.
I should get a paid job for two years of work repairing my 80 lampposts, he declared.
Homelessness is only one of Powers challenges today. Over the years, he has suffered more and more from a bad hip. He is now in constant pain, and badly needs a hip replacement.
There are a small number of friends trying to find some housing for Power, though, right now, there really is not much available. The day after he attacked his Astor Pl. mosaics, Power was speaking to a police sergeant and a young woman, who could have been mistaken for a social worker at first glance. She turned out to be an earnest art journalist, working on a graduate project.
There are veteran programs, she said to Power, clutching her notebook.
Power rolled his eyes, smiling and shook his head.
I dont want a handout. I want to be paid for my work, he replied. The sergeant took down some of Powers particulars. He said he would call around, looking for someplace that might take both Power and Jesse Jane. There is still no final word, however.
In Powers opinion, even if he gets an apartment, without being given the respect artists working on public works deserve, he feels it wont equal the amount others have benefited from his work.
Last year, Power did a workshop for students at P.S. 40 on E. 20th St., doing mosaics with them and giving them a tour of his lampposts. He wants to be able to keep doing this without having to live on the street for another winter.
John Penley, a local East Village activist who has a Web site, mayormikeforpresident.com, devoted to discussion of a possible Mike Bloomberg presidential campaign, has made a personal plea on the Web site asking the mayor to find Power housing.
Asked if the mayor will respond to the Web site plea, Matthew Kelly, a Bloomberg spokesperson, on Sept. 5 replied, We have Homeless Services looking into it and Ill let you know as soon as I know something. Kelly did not respond to a follow-up query.