Against all the odds, L.E.S. artist has succeeded


By Clayton Patterson

Edited by Monica Uszerowicz

For me, one necessary ingredient in making great art is connected to the character of the artist: I admire the person who became an artist against the odds, those who struggled through adversity and hardships to become an artist.

It took experience for me to fully comprehend that the concept of a “tough guy” and a hero is unrelated to size. Heart and character is what it takes, and this is where guts come from. Talent is a given, and Jerry Pagane has the talent and vision.

A lesson artist Jerry Pagane shows us is that size does not determine character. Right now, fully dressed with his shoes on, he may weigh 105 pounds. Born on Christmas Eve 1948, Jerry was small, possibly premature, and had no ears. He was abandoned on a church step on Christmas Day.

After a rough start, running away from foster and group homes, Jerry was adopted by a large family — there were four boys and one girl. Robert Simonds and his wife wanted to take in a disadvantaged child. They got both trouble and Jerry. After a year of straining all their good intentions, he settled down. He finally accepted the situation, he said, and found love.

In high school, he and his brothers’ wrestling team took the state championship — Jerry was in the 88-pound flyweight class. He went on to become an eagle scout and eventually attended Carnegie Mellon University to specialize in art. He graduated with honors and taught art to a number of different groups and in various places, even instructing deaf people on how to make art.

I first met Jerry in 1986. We shared a place in a print show in the Phoenix Gallery on E. Seventh St. He is a highly skilled woodblock artist, and has been in loads of exhibitions, winning numerous awards. In the 1980s, we were in a number of major print shows together, including the Jessie Nebraska Gifford Block Busters large-print exhibition.

Later Jerry moved from prints to paintings. His paintings’ themes have been drawn from his life experiences on the Lower East Side. Since 1979, he has lived in Alphabet City, between Avenues C and D. The theme of his last one-man painting exhibition was firemen fighting fires, saving lives and responding to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The prints told the story of the neighborhood in a distressed state — junkies, cops, fires and a sidebar theme: people eating in restaurants.

He has supported himself by working as a sign painter. One can follow the changes, the trends, the economic ups and downs of the neighborhood by looking at Jerry’s sign portfolio — all of his art has been made with empathy for the situations confronting him, his neighborhood, the world.

Jerry has been in several shows at my gallery, including two one-man exhibitions. Jerry created the large gold-leaf letter “J” in the front section of the gallery. The piece is more than 8 feet tall, made up of silver leaf, copper leaf, several kinds of gold leaf, and paint.

The collection of his paintings currently on view at my gallery is more about pleasure: sunning in the park, reflections in windows and, again, people eating in restaurants.

I admire his character and I appreciate his art. It is a privilege to show Jerry Pagane’s work.

Pagane’s paintings are on view through October at the Clayton Gallery and Outlaw Museum, 161 Essex St. By appointment only, call 212-477-1363.