I was thinking of Steven Parrino the other day.
I met Steven at Parsons, in the Fine Arts Department, where he was a few years ahead of me. He inspired a cartoon character for my animation class, where I did a short film, The Amazing Adventures of Bugman. When I told him about the character he wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or insulted, but as with all things Parrino, accepted it in a blasé fashion and asked to see the results.
He helped me get my first (paying) job (I worked for my dad’s newspaper as a layout artist, typesetter, etc. when I was in high school), at Canal Jean Co., when it was still in SoHo in New York.
One day Parrino, my friend Mary and I went out for our lunch break from Canal to the nearby Greek diner and ordered our usual cheeseburgers and fries. Parrino was telling a story, and as he was talking, a large cockroach walked sideways on the wall beside him. Mary and I were struck dumb with horror, but he nonchalantly picked up the ketchup bottle, squashed the roach, and finished the story, without missing a beat. Mary and I were beyond impressed.
Once at a party Parrino and I danced to Elvis Costello’s Mystery Dance. He was a wild man on the dance floor, but never took off his leather jacket, even though the party was crowded and it was hot. Sometimes I wondered if he slept in that jacket.
I had a dream once with Parrino in it. He was constructing an elaborate sculptural piece that would shoot a knife blade across a room to cut someone’s throat (I had just been reading Kafka and was probably under the influence.) In the dream the knife went in slow motion and I saw it heading towards him, but then the perspective shifted and I was looking down at blood flowing very slowly-down a black leather jacket-but it was now my neck, my chest. I woke up, gasping. The next day at Parsons I looked for Parrino everywhere, but he wasn’t around. I was a little perturbed at first, but as the day wore on, I grew more and more uneasy. Finally after classes were over he showed up, wearing a white wind breaker. It was the only time I ever saw him in white.
This vivid dream experience inspired me to create a set of blood-red paintings in an installation. Parrino, at my request, supplied the music. Of course he did it on his terms. I was very much into the Clash and had even contacted someone at Clash, Inc. (the band had an office in New York and was at the height of their popularity) to ask permission to use their music as background for my installation. Their representative said yes and even came to the show at Parsons on the day it was open. I was beyond thrilled. Of course what she heard when she arrived didn’t sound much like the Clash-Steven had sampled the tape of songs I gave him and distorted them until they became a wall of noise. He was way into Glenn Branca at the time, I think.
I’m not sure when I last saw Parrino, but I recall a visit to his Greenpoint Brooklyn studio. He showed us his latest slash and twist paintings. Later we went out to a local diner and he had french fries, but ordered them with mayo, as he was still jazzed having just come back from Amsterdam. No roach defense action this time.
I was really upset last year to hear that he had died in a motorcycle accident. And that was more than a year after the fact. I hadn’t seen or heard about him in years, as I no longer lived in New York, but he was someone from my life, my past. He was a true individual and a painter. And an inspiration. And a friend.