Editor's note: Claire Lawton worked at New Times and edited Jackalope Ranch for three years, 'til this summer, when she packed up and moved to Brooklyn. This week's New Times cover story focuses on the creative forces in Phoenix who've stuck around the past decade; Lawton checked in with some Phoenicians who now call New York home.
On a breezy night in October, visual artist Dave Quan, photographer Dayvid LeMmon, and I met up for a drink on the charming, bubble-lit patio of Huckleberry, a cocktail bar in Brooklyn, New York. The three of us are relatively new transplants to the Big City, and while none of us like to say we started a trend, we're part of a growing population of Phoenix creatives who recently packed our bags and moved across the country.
We all take turns calling off long lists of friends and artists who've moved here in the past few years. And since we've landed, we've all kept tabs on each other's creative projects -- and day job shifts, so we have the opportunity to talk (and have a group freak out about the fast-approaching New York winter).
Truth is, an artist moving to New York is nothing new. A number of New York-based publications have recently highlighted the influx of hipsters and creative types from all over the country that are pouring into apartments and commune-style warehouses on the Upper East Side and in Brooklyn, but the New York art scene has always been the stuff of movies and books, and a beacon for visual artists, photographers, designers, and writers alike to cut their teeth (even if they end up going back home when they're exhausted by rent and crazy work hours).
This summer marked a crowded one on flights and highways from Phoenix to the New York. The list includes LeMmon, as well as designers Derek Welte, Joseph Bergdoll, Anton Anger, and Mark Dudlik, and sustainability champion Jonce Walker and his wife Katie, who designs dresses under the name kt jean. They follow in the footsteps of plenty of Phoenix-raised creatives who have lived in New York, including Bob Carey, Billy Kidd, Erik Foss, Bradford Still, Dominique Chatterjee, Heidi Hesse, and Kelsey Dake (to name a few). And, because I jumped on a plane with two bags and a bike after running New Times' art blog Jackalope Ranch for three years, I'm reporting back on what your new New Yorkers are up to -- and why they're here.
Quan, who goes by Luster Kaboom, draws comics, paints murals, and illustrates for publications (including Phoenix New Times). He keeps odd hours in his studio in an old down comforter factory in Brooklyn now called the Chicken Coop that's home to a large and rotating number of artists. He moved to New York a few years ago to be closer to his kids, who live in Chicago, and to challenge himself in a larger visual art community.
"[In New York] there are so many galleries and outlets everywhere," says Quan. "All the magazines are here, and people talk about art a bunch. Plus, art is really taken seriously here - almost to a fault."
When he's not making art, you can find him behind the bar at Lit Lounge, a dive on the Lower East Side of Manhattan that's been home to artists and grungy creative types, who've frequent the bar, danced in the basement lounge, and put art on the walls for almost 11 years. It was the vision of former Phoenix artist Erik Foss, who moved to New York in 1993.
"When I moved to New York, I left my family and my friends -- I started from scratch and sacrificed comfort and any chance of normality," says Foss. "I wound up opening a bar/gallery to help a friend who invited me to bring my vision and community to a new concept in New York City ... Since, we've helped a lot of artists from all over the world and helped create a platform for these artists to ensure their success and futures."
True to his original missions, Foss continues to make his own work, and he hired Quan a year ago to work at Lit Lounge (where you can now see Quan's artistic touches left on the doodle-covered walls).
Most of the Phoenix artists I tracked down for this story agree that moving to New York wasn't an easy decision. Most did it carrying a few suitcases without a job or much cash. But other than missing friends, family, and decent Mexican food, these artists are sticking it out and making names for themselves in the Big Apple.
"I moved here with a suitcase with clothes, my computer and related professional equipment, and an expectation to struggle for awhile," says Derek Welte, a graphic designer and producer now based in Brooklyn. "The biggest challenge has been the hard shift to a more intense and packed world of creative business. It's not a bad thing, you just have to shift your mentality and focus to exist in a more unforgiving world ... for lack of a better term."
When Welte lived in Phoenix, you could find him at almost any hour of the day or night at Lux, a hotspot for creative in downtown Phoenix. Since he moved to New York, Welte says he hasn't found the perfect coffee/bar spot, but he's been plenty busy finishing work as a producer on an indie feature titled Creedmoria and has established a handful of New York based businesses and artists. He also has plans of re-launching HalfmanHalfmachine with a new focus in 2014.
Industrial and graphic designer Anton Anger says he moved to New York to jump into a hyper-competitive environment.
"That's not to say that pursuing a creative career is impossible elsewhere," he says. "But I believe that being in and around the design scene in New York City forces you to produce your best work. No one has time for your bullshit and thousands of other people are trying just as hard as you are to succeed."
Over the summer, the 23-year-old boarded a plane, found a killer apartment in Dumbo, a hyper-creative neighborhood Brooklyn, scored a job at Tzelan designing furniture and housewares, does stick-and-poke tattoos, and has a project or two in the works with fellow Phoenix-turned-New-York designer Joseph Bergdoll. But he says making the move was still a challenge.
"Whenever you leave a place where you have stability and relationships with people and businesses, you have to start from scratch," says Anger. "I'm also trying to get used to how much people get done in a day here. My work ethic has seen dramatic change in the past four months."
An increasingly crazy schedule is something Phoenix-raised photographer Dayvid LeMmon can relate to - since moving to New York, he's worked as a digital technician and camera operator on high end commercial photo productions, he's been shooting for a few local clients (he just photographed fellow Arizona-native Chico MacMurtrie's installation at Pioneer Works in Red Hook, Brooklyn), and is currently working on a series of new large format prints incorporating software generated imagery and manipulated photographs.
"[New York] is a long ways away from Phoenix, physically and culturally," says LeMmon. "I'm a freelancer, and I had to hit the ground running to build up a client base to pay the bills ... My rent is about four times what I paid in Phoenix, but it's all good since I have about ten times the fun."
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At Huckleberry, Quan and LeMmon agree Phoenix will always be home - both have family in Phoenix, Quan owns a house he calls a "never-ending project" on Grand Avenue, and LeMmon says he returns to Phoenix as much as possible with his road bike for unparalleled rides.
"I won't be a stranger to Arizona," says LeMmon. "I plan on visiting as much as I can -- especially in the winter."