It’s over, and I’m glad to be rid of it,” says Jim Power, a.k.a. “Mosaic Man.” For the past three years, Power, 58, a survivor of an anarchistic East Village long since repopulated by people who might grumble about their rent but can’t imagine not paying it, has been living with a collection of winos, derelict artists, junkies, and migrant punks in the last of the great artists’ squats. The five-story tenement at 120 St. Marks Place, called “The Cave” by the dozens of people who crashed there at one time or another, is being gutted.
Power, whose mosaics made of shards of pottery are ubiquitous throughout the neighborhood, moved into the inattentively landlorded building at the end of 2003 after being evicted. “The drinking went on 24 hours a day,” he reminisces. “There were extremely violent fights. But at one point it was incredibly artistic there.” One night, a resident’s girlfriend stripped nude, cut herself with broken glass, and lay in the hallway bleeding. “Around the corner, three or four people were just painting away,” he says. “That’s the life we lived.”
There were rats and little insulation from the winter chill. Holes in the roof allowed in rain and snow. At any one time, upwards of a dozen people slept on the floor in between canvases and accumulated junk. The walls are covered in esoteric inscriptions (“Welcome to the Mud Lotus / stemless . . . precious / kick your xmas / habits or solve liquids solid or / modify your memoirs of future calamities / for a more honest report / when we have a good sit.”)
Accidental, a record shop that was a fixture around the corner on Avenue A, moved into 120 for a rent-free storefront. “Nobody ever thought this was permanent,” owner Craig Lopez admits. He and Power were recently bought out by developer Benjamin Shaoul, who’d leased the building and is refurbishing it. Power and his dog, Jessie Jane, moved to a client’s apartment on East 15th Street, where he’s been hired to beautify the kitchen. Shaoul says he may commission Power to make a mosaic in the lobby of the building, which he’s considering calling “The Cave.” “That’s a perfectly good name,” he says.