Finger-Paint Portraits of Patrons From a Times Square Bar in ’80s New York

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During the 1980s, Times Square in New York City was a radically different place. A center for sex and sleazy goings-on, the city was economically depressed, and crime rates hit an all-time high. One basement bar in Times Square became a center for artistic expression during one of New York’s darkest times, Tin Pan Alley.

Named after a section of the city where music publishers set up shop, former Tin Pan Alley bartender Cara Perlman created a series of finger-paint portraits of bar patrons — including now-renowned artists like Kiki Smith and Nan Goldin.

“Making portraits from life with finger paint was a fun way to connect with people,” writes Gallery98 curator Marc H. Miller. “It all made sense during one of New York’s bleakest moments, an era when artists sought diversion in nightlife and having a good time was often the only reward.” Perlman’s artworks of local patrons like Charles, a regular who worked at the nearby Sam Goody Record Store, and Haoui Montaug, a nightlife legend who worked the door at some of New York’s most famous hotspots, paint a picture of a bygone era — before the Disneyfication of Times Square.

Browse Perlman’s portraits, below, and visit Gallery98 for more about the downtown art scene of the 1970s and ’80s.

Cara Perlman, Maggie Smith, finger-paint on finger-paint paper, 198116 x 20 in.

“Maggie Smith was the founder of Tin Pan Alley, which she ran from 1978 – 1988. For more information and photographs of the bar visit Keri Pickett’s webpage Tin Pan Alley Live.”

Cara Perlman, Nan Goldin, finger-paint on finger-paint paper, 198116 x 20 in.

“Nan Goldin is an internationally recognized photographer who has had one person shows at the Whitney Museum, the Stedelijk Museum and the Pompidou. She worked as a bartender at Tin Pan Alley in the early 1980s and also exhibited photographs there.”

Cara Perlman, Ulli Rimkus, finger-paint on finger-paint paper, 198116 x 20 in.

“Ulli Rimkus is an artist who worked as a bartender at Tin Pan Alley. In 1989 she opened her own bar, Max Fish, which is still a popular artist hangout in the Lower East Side.”

Cara Perlman, Kiki Smith, finger-paint on finger-paint paper, 198116 x 20 in.

“Kiki Smith is an internationally recognized artist who has had solo show at the Museum of Modern Art , the Hirshhorn, and numerous other venues. She worked as a cook at Tin Pan Alley in the early 1980s.”

Cara Perlman, Charles, finger-paint on finger-paint paper, 198116 x 20 in.

“Charles worked at Sam Goody Record Store in Times Square.”

Cara Perlman, Juanita, finger-paint on finger-paint paper, 198116 x 20 in.

“Juanita came to Tin Pan Alley to visit her boyfriend who was a Tin Pan Alley regular. She lived in East Harlem.”

Cara Perlman, Charlene, finger-paint on finger-paint paper, 198116 x 20 in.

“Charlene lived close to the bar on 49th Street near 9th Avenue.”

Cara Perlman, Sophie VDT, finger-paint on finger-paint paper, 198116 x 20 in.

“Sophie VDT was active in the “Fashion Lounge” at the Times Square Show.”

Cara Perlman, Bobby G., finger-paint on finger-paint paper, 198116 x 20 in.

“Artist Bobby G was a member of COLAB and a participant in the Times Square Show.”

Cara Perlman, Haoui Montaug, finger-paint on finger-paint paper, 198116 x 20 in.

“Haoui Montaug was a doorman and event organizer at popular clubs like Dancetaria, Studio 54 and the Palladium. On off nights he frequently visited Tin Pan Alley. He died of AIDS in 1991.”

Cara Perlman, Tom Otterness, finger-paint on finger-paint paper, 198116 x 20 in.

“Tom Otterness is an important public sculptor who has done over three dozen major commissions around the world. He was one of the organizers of the Times Square Show and a regular at Tin Pan Alley.”

Cara Perlman, Jeremy, finger-paint on finger-paint paper, 198116 x 20 in.

“Jeremy was an office worker in Times Square who frequently stopped by Tin Pan Alley during his lunch hour.”