Graffiti man as preservationist • Brooklyn Paper

Graffiti man as preservationist

The man behind the sunglasses has emerged with a plan to keep his face on the wall.

Graffiti artist Tony Brush is the person Brooklyn can blame — or thank — for those black-and-white, Warhol-style portraits of a slick-looking man in sunglasses that pop up on the borough’s post-industrial leftovers and then disappear, like phantom Ray-Ban ads (below).

If you don’t know the face, you may know Brush through his graffiti alias, SAJE, which he’s been painting on walls from Bay Ridge to Red Hook since 1981.

After years of being a silent, smirking piece of the South Brooklyn landscape, Brush is now coming out of the paint to fight for the preservation of a vacant lot on the corner of Columbia and Halleck streets where he has been painting massive, curvy, neon renditions of his street signature for the past three years.

He believes the lot should be maintained as a sanctuary for, you guessed it, the city’s oldest art form.

Brush calls the derelict lot — a football-field sized former truck depot that has been flipped by real-estate speculators several times over the last few years — “the graffiti graveyard” because of the amount of vintage street art that has been left to fade on its pocked concrete walls.

While the illicit nature of graffiti dictates that even masterpieces of the genre will eventually disappear, the lot at 640 Columbia St. has been ignored long enough that its blowups have been granted rare stays of execution.

“Even though the city doesn’t want to admit it, the boroughs are the founding fathers of an art form that spread all over the world. This is the art of the city, whether they like it or not, and [this site] holds its ancient history,” said Brush, a 38-year-old Carroll Gardens native who still works in the area, though he now lives in Bay Ridge.

The potential of the site, which overlooks the soon-to-be home of Ikea and was bought by Columbia Realty for $20 million last year, drew Brush in three years ago.

“No one was doing anything there,” he said. “Why not make it beautiful?”

Now he sees bling where others see blight.

“You can make tons of money from people who want to shoot music videos and ads with graffiti as a backdrop,” he said, citing a Long Island City factory called Five Pointz, where people are allowed to paint freely on the edifice. The blindingly bright, spray paint covered building has become a popular spot to film commercials and music videos, he said.

Meanwhile, the “ancient” art on the walls is only getting older. Columbia Realty didn’t return phone calls. It has yet to submit any formal applications to build on the lot.

Brush, who claims to “never” take off his sunglasses, plans to approach the company about holding an art show at the site, a first step towards gaining recognition of the site as a place for art, he said.

It’s a longshot, but maybe they’ll recognize him from the wall.

Former Red Hook legend Ariella Cohen now lives in New Orleans.

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