“I realized that $70 a week or whatever it was minus taxes meant I could hardly take the subway, let alone eat and hope to rent an apartment, even though I’d found somewhere in the least fashionable part of New York, which at that time was 25th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue. It’s kind of a no man’s land.”Although these days his neighbours on East 57th Street and Madison are the Four Seasons Hotel and Fendi, his life back then couldn’t have been more different.
“My first job was actually on Madison Avenue, I was hired to work in a mailroom distributing mail,” he recalls. “By the time my two weeks were up and I got my first paycheck, I realized that $70 a week or whatever it was minus taxes meant I could hardly take the subway, let alone eat and hope to rent an apartment, even though I’d found somewhere in the least fashionable part of New York, which at that time was 25th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue. It’s kind of a no man’s land.”
The New York he got to know was one of excitement and energy, but also of danger and crime: he left one apartment in East Village because “you would get mugged by druggies once a week and by the time my dog was stolen the whole thing became a little much.”
“Over the following decades he moved around New York, moving into progressively bigger apartments and building a family and a career. He sold his first piece of art in 1968, got married (the first time) in 1977 and finally opened his own gallery around 1982. Since then he has forged his own path and developed a reputation for taking the risk of representing unusual and what he calls “unfashionable” artists.
“I've never been on a path that I want the next hot thing - in fact I really don't,” he says. “I'd rather have a great [Willem] de Kooning drawing for sale and try to sell, than a contemporary artist ... these painters often haven’t taken time to develop and when they do hit a saleable moment they often tend to just repeat [the work] – I’ve seen this often.”
He is currently showing a series of photographs by a photojournalist called Anders Overgaard about Burning Man, an otherworldly annual festival deep in the Nevada desert. It’s not strictly art, per se, but for McCoy, that’s part of the appeal. “I liked the fact that they weren't made as art photographs and they're not self-conscious in that way. They are surrealist, but quite compelling and I think visually exciting.”
“I think finding one's own voice is the job of any artist,” he says. “Being true to themselves, not true to what they think they should be or what it should look like. I know Pollock always followed his inner voice and I think he deeply questioned himself.”
PHOTOGRAPHER MARC HOM | WORDS BY VENETIA RAINEY | FILM BY OLIVER KNAUER | ART DIRECTION NR2154