When artist Rob Mango moved into the gritty warehouse district known as Washington Market in the late ’70s, he had no clue how the area would change over the next 40 years. He’s watched as his “real frontier” of a neighborhood evolved into the ultra-trendy Tribeca. We caught up with the artist in his Duane Street home/studio to talk about the transformation, which Mango details in his upcoming memoir, 100 Paintings: An Artist’s Life in New York City.
How have you seen the neighborhood change in your years here?
[I moved into the area because] I liked it, and space was cheap. I’ve seen it go from being an industrial loft, working-class neighborhood to being, I’d say, the trendiest neighborhood at least on this side of the Mississippi River. It’s made this incredible change fairly gracefully and I think it’s because the town fathers protected the cultural fabric of the area with the loft law, that gave the artists the choice to stay here by virtue of grandfathering their tenancy.
The city also protected the light and the overhead space in Tribeca by limiting the height of the buildings. The buildings here are easily the most beautiful in the city — many of them are Civil War vintage. I never stop getting a good vibration from them. They always remind you of the many generations that came before you, from the people that labored and struggled and worked, and the history of the city.
How has living in the area impacted your art?
My art is a human story, it’s a cultural story through the drama and experience of other people — I’m always seeing the city through other people’s eyes. And, you know, I’ve met some pretty fancy people in this neighborhood. I don’t wanna drop names, but the most famous stars you can imagine … Bob Dylan, Bob De Niro, Martin Scorsese — many of them have become friends of mine. It’s a very stimulating place to be an artist, and to interact with people. You never know who you’re going to meet on the sidewalk.
How has it been raising a family here?
My kids grew up right here, around artists and patrons of the arts and they also met other children who were sons and daughters of artists just like they were. It ended up being an excellent cultural fabric for them to emerge from.