For over 30 years, the art duo of Peter McGough and David McDermott have been living as though it’s the end of the 19th century. From a townhouse in the East Village they created their art by candlelight, lived without modern appliances and traveled through Manhattan on horseback complete with top hats and the finest couture from nearly a century ago.
As painters, photographers, playwrights and filmmakers, the artists came of age during the same East Village art scene that made superstars of Keith Haring (their one-time roommate) and Julian Schnabel (who’s championed their work). Notorious in their own right and exhibited locally through Chelsea’s prestigious Cheim & Read Gallery, McDermott & McGough have been the subjects of countless stories told both in print and oral legend.
Though the artist’s are quick to dismiss the notion of dandyism, with the success of Lord Whimsy’s The Affected Provincial’s Almanack, which is being made into a movie starring Johnny Depp, and the trend of throwback American gentlemen attire and etiquette, hopefully more people will be introduced to the beautiful and artistic world that McDermott & McGough have created.
Cheim & Read Gallery – “Howard Read of Cheim & Read, is the person who got us into photography. He said we should try it because it went along with our look. That’s when we started photographing our lives.”
Fox Talbot – “In 1988 we started our photography and we were just thrown into a show that celebrated the 150th anniversary of photography. They started with Fox and ended with us.”
Keith Haring– “We used to share a loft with Kenny Scharff and Keith and that ended up in a big fight. Keith painted the refrigerator with all his barking dogs, and when David was home alone, he scraped it all off and washed it clean. They were furious and kicked us out.”
Kenny Scharf – “The fun galleries were art shows that happened in the basement of our friend’s East Village building. When Kenny showed there it really kicked the whole thing off.”
Michelangelo – “To me Michelangelo is the greatest artist because you can get the highest of the high people, who work in a museum saying, 'Oh we have Michelangelo, isn’t that great?' Then you could have the janitor, who comes in at the end of the day to the mop the floors stop and say; 'Now that’s a beautiful sculpture.' That’s success because both the high snobbery and the common man approve of it.”
Andy Warhol – “I think Warhol is an incredible artist. He just kept silk-screening and silk-screening and anytime he tried to veer off people just kept asking him for them. They confined him and the art world hated him right before he died. They thought his best work was done in the 60’s and that he was a star who burned out. I knew someone who bought a painting for $40,000 and now it’s worth millions. Now that he’s dead they can’t get enough of him.”
Klaus Nomi – “The first time I met David (McDermott) he was the Master of Ceremonies at this New Wave Vaudeville show at Irving Plaza. I remember he was there with Klaus and he introduced us."
Diego Cortez – “Diego really got us into the art world. We never worked jobs. We always thought of ourselves as artists, not shop keepers or telemarketers. So one day we had no money but all these paintings, so we took them to all these people that we thought were rich. We also laid them all on the sidewalk on Houston and Greene Street and that’s when Diego saw us and became our agent.”
Julian Schnabel – “Julian was our first mentor and we had our first show at his studio. One day he sent us out to find him a studio and we found this huge vacant bank in Williamsburg. This was before all the bearded people with skinny jeans were there. He didn’t want to live in Brooklyn, so we took it, and that’s when we moved to Williamsburg. We could have bought it for pennies, but we thought, who wants to live in Williamsburg - it’s so far from everything. Ironically we ended up in Ireland, which is even further.”
Matthew Barney – “Matthew Barney is an artist I really enjoy. His shows are fantastic and really moving.”
Jeff Koons – "I’ve always loved Jeff Koons’ shows. They’re always just really incredible.”
Glitter & Doom – “Glitter & Doom was a show at The Met that was one of my favorite shows. It was all these amazing paintings from Germany in the 20’s. I went and saw it a few times and I heard that Jeffery Deitch saw it six times.”
Hamish Bowles – “So many people are walking around calling themselves Dandies, but I would hardly consider them to be dandies. Hamish Bowles, of Vogue – now he’s who I’d consider to be a dandy.”
Bloody Beautiful – “Bloody Beautiful is a book by Doran Wittelsbach from Seattle. He’s involved with the Church of Satan, and he’s certainly a dandy.”
Brenda Starr – “When we started doing paintings of women I wanted to find images of very glamorous women so I started searching for Brenda Starr comics.”
Hollywood Babylon – “This is a book by Kenneth Anger. We made a huge painting based on it that now hangs in the Cafeteria of The Bird publishing empire in Munich."
Allen Ginsberg – “We became friends with Allen through the art world and he came to one of our Christmas parties. He gave us a few pictures as part of trade in which we were supposed to photograph him, but we never got around to our part of the deal.”
Freeman’s Alley – “The whole Ralph Lauren aesthetic has trickled down into a restaurant like this. They have the whole boars head and swan thing going on, but the food is really nice.”
Peter Luger Steakhouse – “I’ll eat in a horrible restaurant if it looks great, but Peter’s is a nice place with a good interior and good food.”
Julius Bar – “Julius is one of the oldest bars around. It’s a fantastic little speakeasy from the 20’s. They call it a ‘Wrinkle Room’ because it’s where all the old queens go, but it’s really a great looking place. They have a Walter Winchell poster on the wall that’s just fantastic.”
Odeon– “The Odeon used to be the hub bub of the art world. I remember Diego Cortez invited us to a dinner that was being thrown by Mary Boone and even though I don’t smoke, I was offered a joint by Diego Cortez and I took a hit. It was really strong and when I got upstairs I sat next to whichever artist Boone was representing and he asked me, ‘What are your paintings like?’ I was so out of it I said, “We’ll they’re very very pretty.’ He must of thought I was complete boob because he ignored me for the rest of the night.”
STORES & PLACES OF INTEREST
Three Lives – “Three Lives is a fantastic bookstore in the village that has been there for years. It’s really a great little bookstore.”
Freemans Sporting Club – “Freemans is an old fashioned barbershop and men’s store. I mean we were doing this sort of thing 30 years ago, but they do a good job. I wouldn’t buy their clothes but they have nice horn combs and I’ve bought a hairbrush there.”
Ralph Lauren Flagship Store – “The Ralph Lauren flagship store on 72nd and Madison is an old grand mansion with a pretty nice selection of men's clothes.”
The Chelsea Flea Market – “I’ve been going to the Chelsea Flea Market forever. It’s been my Sunday entertainment for years and I always find interesting stuff there.”
The Frick Collection – “The Frick Collection is a beautiful museum. It’s a home with all this beautiful furniture and art. It’s really a fabulous place to visit.”
Film Forum – “The people who own it are dedicated to showing great films. They’ve done a series on Depression era films and have a series dedicated to single directors. They show restored films and contemporary films that are just phenomenal. It’s a very exciting venue.”
Governors Island – “Governors Island is beautiful. Orchestras sometimes play there and the architecture on the island is incredible.”
Grand Central Station – “This is one of my favorite buildings. There’s tons of restaurants and they restored it beautifully.”
GREAT EAST VILLAGE FILMS
Rome 78 - James Nares
Underground USA - Eric Mitchell
Sunset Boulevard – “Watching this movie is like stepping into the past. I’ve seen it about 20 times and I know it by heart. It’s great but not because of the camp humor or Gloria Swanson’s fantastic performance but because of Billy Wilder, who just really did an excellent job with casting.”
The Loneliness of A Long Distance Runner – “This film was made very well and has some great performances in it. It was released just before the explosion of youth culture and watching this movie you really get the feeling of how that youth movement was just about to come.”
The 28th Instance of June 1914, 10:50 a.m. – “We were the subjects of this documentary, directed by Barbara Politsch. It was us in a time period that no longer exists. It was destroyed."
EAT VILLAGE BOOKS & PAPERS
The East Village Eye – “McDermott was involved with this magazine that was a crash pad for a lot of people who could never quite get in the door. It would praise a lot of the artists who weren’t getting enough attention elsewhere and trash the people who were. It was really the underground."
Art After Midnight – “Art After Midnight was a great book about the East Village scene, places like the Pyramid Club, which was a hub for fun and creativity and Club 57, which was just brilliant. The neighborhood was just its own little world of artists and Eastern Europeans.”