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West Broadway (in the SoHo district of downtown Manhattan) is always bustling with pedestrians, especially on weekends. And as such, it is a haven for artists and vendors who sell their goods curbside all year round.
For the most part, a lot of art sold on the street in and around SoHo tend to be generic and rather hackneyed. But once in a while, an artist will come along and break the monotony.
On Saturday, as I was walking down West Broadway, I noticed a kid sitting on a folding chair next to a table of guns splattered with paint at the corner of Prince Street and West Broadway
. At first glance, I thought he was just peddling the same Pollock-esque
paintings that I've seen dozens of times before, so I kept walking.
I don’t know why I turned around and walked back to his spot, but I did. I guess I was curious about this kid’s obsession with guns.
Then I read a framed statement which rested on his table:
“My feelings about guns are that they are scary. When I create one of my pieces, I create a background and then camouflage the gun to make it almost invisible. The gun is still there but it’s hard to see it or you don’t see it for what it really is. Hopefully, my art will get people talking about guns, gun safety and gun violence. I wish guns were only in an art gallery.”
I asked him if he made the paintings. “Yes,” he said.
He then reached out his hand and introduced himself.
“Hi, my name is Charles Gitnick and I make gun art.”
, a native of Los Angeles, is 11 years old and has been painting and making gun collages since he was 9. He intends to raise awareness about gun violence through his work.
“There’s so much violence with guns. I think that they are scary and that they shouldn’t be on our streets(…),” he says.
“I think they should only be in art.”
His approach to his art intuitive, but traces of artists that he admires - the likes of Jackson Pollock
, Jean-Michel Basquiat
and Andy Warhol
are evident. His body of work is surprisingly refined for a kid his age; I can imagine his paintings next to works by contemporary artists like Tom Sachs
, Damien Hirst
or Mr. Brainwash
in a SoHo
Gitnick's Pollock-inspired pieces
, he tells me, were made using a spring loaded air rifle that shot and splattered acrylic paint onto a piece of corrugated plastic with a gun glued to it. He also has a series of duct tape wrapped guns that seem to explore the tensions between subject and object.
Other notable pieces include a couple of vertical drip paintings
and newsprint collages of gun related articles with firearms as center pieces. His language is still developing but it's heading in the right direction. It will be interesting to follow his progress as he gets older and explore other mediums.
Neil Gitnick, Charles' father, tells me that he started taking art classes at a local mall at the age of 5, but stopped going because “(he) didn’t like them telling him what to draw or paint; he wanted to do his own thing... He just wanted them to show him how to improve.”
They didn’t, so he left.
To learn more about modern art, Charles did his own research through books, slides, film biographies, gallery openings and frequent visits to art museums. He immersed himself in art reading books on Leonardo Da Vinci and Michaelangelo, and eventually took interest in artists like Basquiat, Warhol and Pollock. At 9 years old, he started making gun collages and his work slowly evolved to what it is now.
“What I like about art is you can be creative and change it however you want. It’s just your own thing and you can do whatever you want and have fun with it. You can throw paint onto a canvas and it’s still art. That’s what I like about it because you can just be creative and let everything in your mind go out on canvas in your own art form. Some people do people talking like comics. Some people do sculptures. Some people do paintings of what they think about. It all comes from your head or your mind and it’s all creative.”
Over the weekend, he sold 12 pieces and made $1800, a killing for a kid his age, but he says he’s not in it for the money. He truly enjoys the process of making art.
He donates a percentage of his sale to Art-Start
, a New York City non-profit that provides art programs to at-risk children in homeless shelters. His father tells me that he’s currently experimenting with plexiglass and other mediums and hopes to show some new pieces the next time they are back in New York City.
I suspect that this isn’t the last time I’m going to hear about Charles, who is on a forward momentum - a scheduled interview with The Wendy Williams Show
in the works, and a possible solo show in the future.
I asked him if this is what he wants to do for the rest of his life..to be an artist, he responds, “It is, for sure.”
I believe him.
Check out Charles Gitnick’s full portfolio here