- Words: Vivian Host
Brooklyn's Coney Island looms large in the American imagination. Charles Feltman invented the first hot dog there in 1867. In 1884, it became the site of the Switchback Railway, America's first real roller coaster. By 1894, this 20-block boardwalk and amusement complex–serving the needs of all the New Yorkers who couldn't afford a summer in the Hamptons or the Catskills–was called "Sodom by the Sea" by the New York Times.
Coney Island revolutionized American ideas of amusement, mixing Victorian notions with modern technology to create a blueprint that exists to this day. And despite fires, urban blight and the changing face of entertainment, Coney Island still stands, with attractions like fried clam bars and the "Shoot the Freak" paintball stand straddling the line between the past and the present (and between good taste and bad taste).
With the current interest in Americana and folk art seeping into the underground art world–check Twist's hobo-inspired scrawls or Chris Johansen's logging camp-like installations–Coney Island has increasingly become an important point of inspiration for visual artists and graphic designers. Stephen Powers (alias ESPO) was particularly taken with the site, and conceived of a project that would allow artists to repaint and redesign Coney's weathered and threadbare signs while preserving the feel of the existing landscape.
ESPO paired up with public art presenters Creative Time and curator Peter Eleey to open The Dreamland Artist Club at Coney Island on June 12, featuring signs, ride backdrops and Cyclone rollercoaster cars reworked by 20 visual wizards including Ryan McGinness, Dearraindrop, Jules De Balincourt, Rita Ackerman, Daze Ellis and Toland Grinnell. Fingers crossed, the new signage should stay up until time and sea spray wears it down. Here's to a hot, sticky summer!
Photos By Jessica Miller.
ESPO's new signs for the El Dorado bumper cars
How to get crunk at Coney: A daiquiri booth with original signage
Project co-curator ESPO outside his home in Manhattan with a sign he painted for the Parachute Jump
The water pistol booth, one of Coney Island's most popular attractions
Jules De Balincourt in his studio with the refurbished panels for the Track Derby game
Artist Ellen Harvey redoing a tarot card booth in the style of an underwater palace
Dearraindrop's mural forms the backdrop for a ride called The Spider
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