Roaming Chinatown, Jayne Lies unearthed a diversity of underground artists. For our second installment of our oral portrait of Chinatown, Jayne recorded exclusive audio documenting the individual processes of “design guru” Jim Walrod and Mr. Chan, the night crawling nature-artist beautifying Chinatown from the shadows. Hear Jayne’s audio interviews below.
A relatively recent transplant to Chinatown, Jim Walrod is an interior decorator, author and an integral member of Chinatown’s underground creative class. “He’s not one of those annoying gentrifiers,” Jayne says. “He’s an artist. He’s still in the creative hub.” Born in Jersey City, Walrod came to New York City in the 70s to work at Fiorucci, moving from neighborhood to neighborhood, and eventually settling into one of Mark Gonzales’s old apartments on Allen street in 2011. A white walled haven for his enviable collection of modern furniture and contemporary art, Walrod’s apartment is accessible only by walking up a set of stairs at the back of a hardware store. Recently, Chinatown’s oddly configured spaces have become a refuge for artists like Walrod.
Despite its ever-growing community of artists, however, Chinatown isn’t often termed beautiful in and of itself. Mr. Chan, a member of another, more subaltern creative class, does his part to rectify his neighborhood’s oftentimes derelict appearance. Jayne happened upon Mr. Chan late in the summer, diligently carving into a tree with a small pocket knife. Little is known about Mr. Chan, save that he is a former soldier and retiree who lives with his wife on Henry street. “He wasn’t willing to tell me too much” Jayne admitted. “His mentality is that shaving a tree makes it look nicer for Chinatown.” Chan and Walrod both exemplify Chinatown’s silent artists, beautifying unseen and behind closed doors respectively. “They keep Chinatown pure, the way it is,” Jayne elaborated. “Exotic and mysterious.”