All photos by Bryan Derballa
I knew I had hit a new low when I found myself in the middle of Times Square with my dick hard, leering over the thick, sweaty shoulder of an odiferous middle-aged pervert. We were both gawking at a near-nude girl, who was covered in cheap body paint and didn’t look a day over 17, waiting for her to peel off her magenta g-string. I was caught in a gathering of sleazedicks circled around painter Andy Golub as he smeared vibrant colours on the pasty, yet supple buttcheeks of a 24-year-old naturist who goes by the name Felicity Jones. Felicity was the youngest of the four females and a sole male model who were having their naughty bits covered in paint.
The crowd that gathered was a mixture of passing tourists who stopped to gawk at the freaks of New York City, little boys and girls who crawled through legs trying to get their first glimpse of some cooze, and the middle-aged men with cameras who follow Andy all over the city to watch and photograph these performances. (This last group was extremely creepy and I wondered if they knew there were easier ways to see naked women.) Andy started painting Felicity, his first model, around 6 PM. The other models trickled in throughout the day, causing the crowd to swell when each new girl revealed her breasts.
A little after 8 PM, it seemed like Felicity’s moment of truth was near – Andy had run out of skin to paint except for what was being covered by her sheer underwear. The men with cameras panted heavy, hot breaths as the sun began to sink beneath the Midtown skyscrapers and they anticipated the first panty-drop.
Video by Emerson Rosenthal
This scene is nothing new to artist Andy Golub, who was arrested last August for painting a completely naked girl in public. The model, Zoe West, was arrested too. What the NYPD officer who ordered their arrest didn’t know – or chose to ignore – was that it’s not illegal to be in the buff in the state of New York as long as the nudity is part of something artistic. Ron Kuby, Andy’s charismatic lawyer who represents nearly all of the notable artists in New York – like the famed Spencer Tunick – who fall into legal trouble over public nudity, told me, “You can be completely nude in New York, as long as you’re doing it for the purposes of a play, performance, exhibition, or show. And really, when isn’t that the case? Unless you wake up in the morning and decide you don’t feel like putting on clothes.”
Zoe plans to sue the city for a wrongful arrest while Andy and Ron cut a deal. “Basically, what we worked out is that the panties can come off after dark,” Ron explained. “And the city’s position is, ‘Fine, you can be body-painted naked in public, but wait until the sun goes down.’ It’s not lawful to impose that restriction, but I’m more interested in making sure the artist, Andy, can do what he wants to do, than I am in litigating against the city.”
Andy, who’s been doing public body painting for three years and fully nude body painting for about one, looks at it a little differently. “I don’t agree with it, because if I’m not doing anything illegal, why do I need permission to do it?” But he certainly follows the agreement, which is why the sun was sinking and the topless models still hadn't given the crowd the full monty treatment.
Andy isn’t the kind of guy you’d imagine appearing before a judge for public indecency. The 45-year-old could be mistaken for a construction worker – he’s a little thick around the edges with a no-nonsense way about him. He lives in Nyack, a small Rockland County village 15 miles north of Manhattan, with his wife of 15 years (who he says would never ever go nude in public) and his two kids. How he ended up fighting the City of New York for the right to paint naked people in public is still kind of unclear to me. But apparently it all started with mannequins.
“Andy used to paint on all kinds of things, like rocks and suitcases, but it was the mannequins that were the ‘yes’ moment,” said Barry Kostrinsky, Andy’s manager and a former gallerist from Rockland County. “When his lines are on a flat canvas, they’re fine. But when they are on a rounded figure, they make a lot more sense.“
Barry was in the crowd of people surrounding Andy as he daubed and dotted Felicity’s pale skin. He told me that it all reminded him of a 60s-style happening, and he was clearly excited by that. Andy was bringing art to the people. “Some folks stand here for an hour and watch Andy paint. Would you stand in a gallery for an hour?” he asked. And I thought to myself, if the gallery had a naked lady in it, probably. Andy tasked Barry with controlling the crowd, because his followers have a habit of creating a tight hot ring of bodies around the models, sucking all the oxygen out of the air. As the night went on, Barry had to circle around Andy and the models and scream for the crowd to step back every 15 minutes because creeps were inching closer to get their cameras in places that didn’t seem very artistic.
I asked Andy if he was worried about some of the intense guys with cameras. He told me, “I love these guys, but a few are a pain in my ass. I have a lot of people who are freelance photographers interested in taking photos, which is great. Some come to most performances, others come to virtually 100 percent.”
Most of these moonlighting cameramen found out about the performance through Andy’s mailing list. The Young Naturist of America – a New York-based group that says, “Hey, it’s fun being naked. Let’s do it more” – on the other hand, brought in the skin. Felicity, who was raised as a nudist, co-founded the organisation in 2010.
She explained to me that, "This city has a real issue with nude public art, even though technically nudity is allowed. What we are doing with Andy can help change that by removing the shame people have with their bodies. Together, we're tearing down those taboos."
The second model from YNA to show up was Justina. She was 42 years old, but looked 25.
“You never see what real people look like naked, everybody is really young and photoshopped,” Justina told me as Andy circled his paintbrush around her stiff nipples. “More things like what Andy is doing would improve how we interact with each other. It also feels good. There has to be a certain thrill to being nude in public. It’s relaxing and more comfortable than wearing clothes, because you’re just you.”
After getting acquainted with the first two models, I felt like Andy was really on to something. It was incredible to see the look on the faces of parents and their children as they stood back in wonder of how Felicity and Justina’s bodies became more than mere flesh – they were a canvas, and the paint they wore was art.
As it inched closer to nightfall, Beth Nolan, a 46-year-old naked yoga instructor and YNA member, turned up. She was on her first date with a guy she met on the internet – she brought him along lightheartedly as a “bodyguard.” Two friends from Long Island – a black girl named Eva Diaz and a guy named Jairo Florez – who were just passing by and had no ties to YNA, also decided to join in and strip down. As Andy tells it, it’s not uncommon for people to come to him while he’s painting and ask to be a part of the performance. It was good that Eva and Jairo popped up, because one naturist girl, who asked not to be named, couldn’t go through with it.
“I told them that I was down to do it,” she told me. “Then I got here and I realised if I was concerned about video and photos of my body getting out there before, this would multiply that by a million – just by being in Times Square.”
And she was right. There was something about the video recorders, cell phones and cameras that, despite the laudable intentions of the models, made the whole scene unsavory. The voyeuristic compulsions of Andy’s skeezy traveling fan club, and passersby who mimicked the cameramen, made me think of the event as less of a 60s “happening” and more of a throwback to Times Square in the 70s, when the streets were full of porn theaters and dudes who were about to masturbate, had just finished masturbating or were masturbating right then and there.
A little before darkness fell, I bumped into Harlem-based rapper Un (real name Andrew Tate). He had long dreads, a patchy beard and towered over me. He asked me if I was a journalist, because he wanted to make a statement to the world about the whole scene:
“I think this is a free way for a guy to get his rocks off. It’s like Crayola porn. It’s a graffiti strip club without the mutual understanding and respect of a real strip club. I do see an artistic value in this and I think it’s good for things to be open, but there is clearly exploitation here. The problem is that this crowd is not interested in art; they just want to see the flesh, the body. They’re stuck on the tits and ass. They’re waiting to see if she’ll let her pussy out and maybe spread it a little.”
To Andy’s credit, he seemed aware of the crowd’s low-minded interest in his models. He talked to the models constantly, possibly to keep them calm and keep their minds off the cameras and prying eyes. Once in a while, the crowd would get too close, and he'd scream for Barry to come and regulate.
When Felicity finally removed her underwear, Andy had the other models paint each other, while he pulled her off to the side. But even though they tried to be discreet, as soon as she got the purplish thong over her ankles, the crowd pounced on her. A photo frenzy erupted as Andy rushed to put colour over her hairless crotch while the men with cameras high-fived each other like they were at a football game. Those behind Felicity even crouched down or turned their cameras upside down to get shots of her pussy and ass.
Maybe even worse than that was the way the men in the crowd started to interact with the women in the crowd. One of the old guys who follows Andy around religiously started to hassle a pretty teenage girl, saying, “Hey baby, since you’re over here, you must be attracted to me. Why don’t you take your clothes off and get painted? What, you’re not that kind of a lady?” The girl got nervous and called a friend to feel safe before completely fleeing the scene.
The models seemed to be caught up in the moment as well. Whatever positions the old men with the cameras asked for, they did: hands above your head, pout your lips, sit on this… One photographer named Mark Williams had conveniently brought a towel along which he laid underneath Felicity as she posed on a Times Square table so her bare pussy wouldn’t touch the shitty metal. How thoughtful. When her pose was done he clutched that towel like he’d just nabbed the Holy Grail. He tucked it in his pants for safekeeping. I wondered if he brought that rag to every one of Andy’s performances.
I talked to Justina after she dropped her underwear. She didn’t look liberated anymore, just a little uncomfortable. With her arms wrapped across her body, she said, “It’s a little weird to see the wall of cameras, especially when many of them are pointing down there. Why I wouldn’t think that it would be like this, I don’t know.”
After all three of the female models’ vaginas were painted – Eva left her shorts on and Jairo, who had barely been touched by Andy’s paintbrush, probably because he didn’t have tits, left his underwear on, too – things got even more unnerving. Mark, the photographer with the dirty towel, ordered the models out of the Times Square pedestrian promenade and over to Sephora’s iconic black storefront for some more photo ops. It was like the running of the bulls. People were frantic to follow these naked women and I felt like was going to get trampled as the crowd engulfed the sidewalk. Dozens of pedestrians joined the group, which surged towards the models. It felt like Walmart on Black Friday.
Right when I thought people might start fainting, someone – sensing the intensity of the situation – broke up the crowd. I couldn’t tell who because I was starting to loose it myself. Right as the crowd dissipated, workers for the city wrapped the storefront in yellow caution tape so that the models couldn’t come back.
I ran into Justina again as the crowd split and despite the craziness of it all, she was still optimistic about the idea of public nudity. “Some people could be judgmental and say Andy isn't really getting his message across because people just see this as a gimmick,” she said. “But I think if we keep doing it and keep doing it, it could become another genre of art. So, we just have to be the people who get judged or gawked at, and in ten years another generation of artists can just do this as a normal thing.”
I thought that was a beautiful sentiment, so thoughtful it almost wiped the bad taste that had been lingering in my mouth. Just because people were barbarians, including myself, didn’t mean that this wasn’t worth doing. How people receive the art doesn’t dictate its value, right? And then I saw Beth, the 46-year-old lady on an internet date, posing with a guy in a devil’s mask. He stood behind her like he was hitting it doggie-style for one photo and then he posed like he was smacking her ass in another.
Before I left, I tried to say goodbye to Andy. But he was busy painting a beautiful young Asian girl who had just been walking by. She’d already stripped down to her skimpy black underwear and the good old boys with the cameras were gathering again.