Life & Culture

Shooting Punk Icon, Alan Vega

As two exhibitions of Alan Vega’s artwork open, Another Man contributor Ari Marcopoulos recalls photographing the musician in his Manhattan loft

  • TextTed Stansfield

The world wasn’t ready for Alan Vega. The Suicide singer’s performances would clear rooms, or else leave him covered in spit. One time the police had to be called to tear-gas an angry mob who were unable to cope with the sound of his music. Another time, he had a wooden chair thrown at him.

Vega was a true punk and while he’s mostly known for his music and his confrontational live performances, his creative output wasn’t limited to sound. In fact, he was a keen artist – a proficient draughtsman, painter and sculptor, fashioning works out of lights and found objects.

It’s this side of his work that, one year after his death, is being celebrated in two exhibitions in New York: Keep IT Alive at Invisible Exports at 89 Eldridge Street and Dream Baby Dream at Jeffrey Deitch at 18 Wooster Street. These shows bring together a selection of Vega’s drawings, large-scale paintings and sculptures, along with video projections of his performances.

As these exhibitions open, we talk to Dutch photographer and Another Man contributor Ari Marcopoulos, who shot Vega back in 1981; one of the images from that shoot is being used to promote the Keep IT Alive exhibition. Here, Marcopoulos recalls photographing the musician in his Manhattan loft, what they spoke about and what the resultant images mean to him, 36 years on.

“I loved Alan Vega. I’d seen him play and was totally fascinated by him – first and foremost by his music, but also his look and his power on stage. He would hit himself in the face with the microphone. He was pretty intense.

A small Dutch magazine (I’m from the Netherlands) asked if I wanted to do something and I suggested doing an interview with him. I got in touch and he told me to come to his loft on Fulton Street in Downtown Manhattan one evening. So I went over...

He was a natural performer, but also relaxed enough to let me take some shots. He veered between being very performative and being very chill. I don’t really take many pictures when I do portraits, but in this case I took loads. He was totally open and friendly. And intense too!

He told me about touring in England and getting spat on. Apparently he’d be covered in spit at the end of every gig. He told me about clearing rooms within 30 seconds and how proud he was of that... people left straight away. And he told me about taking an Elvis record and scratching it so that the record player would bop back and forth on one groove and [how] he’d sing or scream over it.

[I’m glad] I had the presence of mind to photograph him. There aren’t many pictures of him with his sculptures in, but I have some. [His sculptures] are very interesting. He never looked at it as a commercial venture so they’re quite honest. They’re mostly very spontaneous things created with light, coloured lights and found materials. I’m happy that his stuff is now out there.”

Keep IT Alive is at Invisible Exports at 89 Eldridge Street until July 29, 2017, and Dream Baby Dream is at Jeffrey Deitch at 18 Wooster Street until September 30, 2017.