John Ahearn

Collaborated Project:

City As Studio | Exhibition

John Ahearn (b. 1951, Binghamton, New York, U.S.) and his twin brother Charlie attended St. Thomas Aquinas Elementary School where they made a mural of the Crusades. While Ahearn was at Cornell University, he imagined that he was an itinerant portrait artist and landscape painter. As a Downtown artist in the 70s, he felt most at home riding the New York City subway. Weegee’s Depression Era New York photographs were his favorite art. Ahearn started life casting faces of Colab friends in preparation for a monster movie. Then he tried face casting in the window at Fashion Moda in the Bronx, which drew crowds. Anyone that wanted to try it could have a painted sculpture, and one to hang on the wall as the South Bronx Hall of Fame. Rigoberto Torres, 17 years old at the time, came by and saw a connection to his Uncle Raul’s Bronx statuary factory. He made a cast on the first visit and formed a serious art partnership that still continues today. Tom Otterness and Ahearn were considering some way to extend the previous Colab Theme Shows to a more all-city perspective, featuring Harlem and the Bronx. They found a building in Times Square early in 1980 and the landlord permitted Colab and their friends to open a show there. More than 100 artists got involved with many wonderful developments. Next, Ahearn and Torres agreed to open a neighborhood sculpture workshop at Walton Avenue. With a HUD Block Grant, the next year they “reopened” the former KBA Youth Center at Dawson Street to begin a series of permanent neighborhood sculpture murals. The first three works, including We Are Family (1982), Banana Kelly Double Dutch (1982) and Life on Dawson Street (1982–83) are still on view in the Bronx. In 1986, Ahearn received an NYC Percent for Art Commission for the newly built Bronx Police Precinct #44. His “classic” design of three free-standing bronze figures was installed in 1991. The NY Post declared, “City pays $100,000 for Racist Art”. Within four days, the bronzes were removed. The three original bronzes have since been installed and warmly received for 25 years at the Socrates Sculpture Park. Ahearn and Torres have completed many public works in Rotterdam, Taipei, Caguas and Puerto Rico. Recently, they were artists in residence at the Inhotim Art Center in Brazil and completed two 40-feet-long wall reliefs including a whole bus with local passengers and an Afro-Catholic procession. Ahearn and his Afro-Rican wife Juanita Lanzo live with their son Carlos in East Harlem, New York.