There he is, shirtless and smoking in Vanity Fair. Giggling next to George Wayne in the front row at John Bartlett’s fashion show. Dressed up in an Yves St. Laurent button-down in Bazaar’s party-circuit pages. Posing with Duncan Sheik and Diane Von Furstenberg at Ahn Duong’s scripted power lunch in The New York Times Magazine. Just how does art-world bad boy Damian Loeb – perhaps the most photographed guy-about-town – have time to actually paint? Well, sometimes he doesn’t. “See that?” he asks on a recent afternoon, pointing to a blank canvas on the wall of his TriBeCa studio. “It was supposed to be done for the last show. But I’m slow.” After only a year in the limelight, Loeb, a 29-year-old high-school dropout from Connecticut, has mastered the art of maximizing his exposure.
“I haven’t had my coffee yet,” he yawns, answering his door in nothing but low-slung army pants and Nikes. With the addition of a navy V-neck sweater he heads out for breakfast, a Triple Red Eye (three shots of espresso topped with coffee) from the Lotus Club café around the corner, where he has a house account and where the barrista starts pouring his order as soon as he sets foot in the door. Back on the couch, Loeb starts chain-smoking Dunhills and outlining the day’s agenda. Getting something done for his gallerist, Mary Boone, tops the list. “I always thought being an artist was a lazy job,” he sighs. “I was wrong.” And the pressure is on, as he’s already planned trips to London and to L.A. for the Grammys. “Moby’s nominated,” he says of his best friend. “You shouldn’t write this down – it’s all name-dropping – but I recently had the pleasure of meeting David LaChapelle, and I’m going to stay with him in L.A.” While some litigious photographers he declines to name are displeased by Loeb’s methods (he composes his paintings’ surreal scenes by making collages of published photographs), LaChapelle has offered to let him raid his archives.
Now Loeb needs to sift through the day’s mail – a flurry of Website-launch-party invitations and Interview, which he flips open to a Q and A he’s done with Moby. His blond-mohawked assistant, Adam Stennett, asks if Loeb has seen himself in the Times Magazine. He has. Loeb gets along with Stennett, a fellow artist, but he insists he doesn’t enjoy the company of his colleagues. “It’s not a great pleasure, no,” he sighs. “Artists talk in ‘art speak.’ The ones from risd and Yale start naming artists I haven’t heard of. It makes me feel stupid.” Still, there’s a valentine from Ahn Duong on his coffee table, and a painting by good friend Cecily Brown is the only art on his wall. (“There are some things people shouldn’t write about,” Loeb says, glowering, of a recent “Page Six” item about the attempted suicide of Brown’s ex-boyfriend in which Loeb was quoted.) The cordless phone rings. It’s a German countess on the line from Sweden. “If we’re lucky, we’ll stay at Elton John’s house,” he tells her. After he hangs up, he explains that “Moby dated her sister, I dated her. We’re going to see them both in London.”
Loeb attempts to set up the overhead projector he uses to outline his compositions, but soon he has a better idea. “Want to see something creepy?” he asks, heading for the spiral staircase to the basement. Behind a hidden door he’s discovered an old fallout shelter. “Moby and I like to come down here,” he says, leading the way to the vibrating furnace.
Late in the afternoon Loeb cranks up Iggy Pop on the stereo and lays a transparency on the projector. “It’s all ritualized,” he explains. As a photographer looks for an angle, Loeb pulls his shirt off again. “I’m overheated,” he explains, before finally busying himself with his brushes. “You can talk to me while I work,” he says. “It’s very important to keep the momentum going.” He stares intently at the blank canvas. “I wanted this all my life.”