Taylor Swift's new position as New York City's "Global Welcome Ambassador for Tourism" (complete with her own theme song) has been met with much chagrin from New Yorkers, which makes a lot a sense seeing as it's NYC's equivalent to "putting a bird on it." But one boutique in Manhattan's Lower East Side has responded by commissioning legendary graffiti artist Antonio "Chico" Garcia to paint a memorial, of sorts, for Swift and the City.
Chico, an NYC native, is known for his signature memorial murals that dot the City's walls and storefront gates—he has commemorated Pope John Paul II, Selena, Elisa Izquierdo (a six-year-old girl who was beaten to death by her mother and was the inspiration for Elisa's Law), and Princess Diana, among several others. His Taylor Swift mural, on the gate at Orchard Street vintage shop La Petite Mort, references those—"RIP TAYLOR SWIFT"—and will be his last before moves to Florida. He's leaving New York for good.
The piece was commissioned by La Petite Mort owners Kara Mullins and Osvaldo Jimenez, who set up shop last year and consider themselves the "new kids on the block," though Jimenez is a born-and-raised New Yorker. In addition to the Taylor mural, the shop is hosting a retrospective of Chico's work as part of a one-year-anniversary art show, which will open November 20 and run through the end of the year. I emailed with them this week about the mural:
Chico got his start in NYC doing memorials, so for his retrospective we wanted him to recreate what captivated me when I moved to the Lower East Side from Harlem in 1988. Now don't get me wrong—growing up, we thought his work was hilarious. The celebrities he painted never looked like the actual celebrity, some of the figures were deformed, and the perspective would be all wrong. (His animal drawings were always on point, though.) [It was] to the point that you would argue anyone could do them using the opposite of their writing hand.
But he belonged to us—LES, down to the Newport 100s he smoked, and his raspy Puerto Rican swagger he talked and walked with. Countless families from the Lower East Side (and beyond) have said goodbye or paid their respects to their deceased family members with candles, 40-ounce bottles, and personal photos in front of his art. Countless mom and pop business used his illustrations to decorate their store front.
When Chico agreed to paint the mural for La Petite Mort, Mullins and Jimenez set about the arduous task of choosing the perfect person to memorialize. "Once we started looking at names, I got frustrated and in a fit of exhaustion said, 'Fuck that, let's do a memorial for someone alive, like Taylor Swift.'" Jimenez says. "It took Chico a little bit of convincing, but once I explained the narrative and reminded him why he was moving to Florida, we couldn't stop him from painting. The mural took less than 45 minutes."
Chico, New York legend, is leaving the city, having finally been pushed out by the rising cost of living, so the mural is also mourning the loss of its creator. The response to has been diverse and "entertaining to say the least," the owners say. On Sunday, New York Daily News' Linda Stasi challenged La Petite Mort, writing "What? La Petite Mort sells $550 used Versace dresses where $20 girdle stores used to thrive just a decade ago." The owners responded that they do offer cheap clothing and local artwork, but sell the expensive goods to cover rent. They say their neighbors in the Lower East Side "all think [the mural is] hilarious."
Despite their disapproval of Swift's newfound ambassador role, though, Mullins and Jimenez say they have all the love for Swift, and invite her to check out the mural herself. "Honestly, Taylor Swift should hit a real bodega, get a greasy egg and cheese and a coffee that she shakes up while unsuccessfully covering it with a napkin—spilling some of it on her outfit—hop on the train or, even better, a bus, while reading the Page Six, and stop by and take a selfie in front of Chico's last memorial in NYC."
Who knows if she'll take them up on it. But the mural—a better welcome to New York than the rest of us got, by the way—is waiting for her.
Image via La Petite Mort/Instagram