Charlie Ahearn


Scratch Ecstasy, an exhibition of  work in a range of media by visual artist and legendary filmmaker Charlie Ahearn, continues through June 24 at P.P.O.W in Chelsea. A chronicler of the rise of hip-hop and street art culture, Ahearn has documented the movement since the 80’s through photography, film and slide shows.  The following is adapted from an interview conducted by travel and street photographer Karin du Maire with Charlie at the gallery:

Can you tell us something about the title of your current show, Scratch Ecstasy? To what does it refer? 

Yes! The word “scratch” actually has a double meaning. It refers to scratching on a surface, but it also refers to a technique pioneered by Grand Wizzard Theodore of a needle going back and forth on a record — which creates a very jazzy, electronic effect.


And what about the word “Ecstasy” in the title? What is its reference?

It’s a reference to a real place in a real time — the Ecstasy Garage, where I was listening to not only Grand Wizzard Theodore scratch his music, but also to Chief Rocker Busy Bee on the microphone or Grand Master Cass, along with many other artists who were performing there. I spent a lot of time at  the Ecstasy Garage doing a slide show and watching different hip-hop performances, largely to an audience of high school kids. It was a very out-of-the-way place.


What was your mission back then? 

It is similar to the mission of this show — to create a record of what was going on so that people today can pinpoint certain people and places that should get recognition and be remembered.

What about your own paintings that are on exhibit here? Can you tell us something about the process?

It started with me doing the painting on canvas with the forms that would be in it. The colors I chose reflect the bright fluorescent colors that were prominent in inexpensive flyers that the kids would hand out to get others to show up.


And what about the slide show that is going on? 

It is the slide show that I gave at the Ecstasy Garage with Grand Wizzard Theodore as the DJ. As presented here with the music, it is a reflection of what was going on back there at the time. I gave it at the Ecstasy Garage as a kind of way of working on Wild Style — the slides in a particular order to tell a story, and it all ended up in the movie, one way or another.


Thank you for preserving and sharing so much history with us.

Note:  P.P.O.W will be screening Charlie’s 1979 kung fu film, The Deadly Art of Survival, tomorrow, Friday evening, at 7pm. The gallery is located at 535 West 22nd St, 3rd Floor, in Chelsea.


1  Charlie Ahearn at P.P.O.W — as interviewed by Karin Du Maire — with Data Rock, silkscreen on canvas

2  Scratch Ecstasy, silkscreen on canvas

3  The World of Hip Hop, silkscreen on canvas

4  Nathan, silkscreen on canvas

5  Howard the Duck, Lee Quinones, LES mural

Photo credits: 1 & 2 Karin Du Maire; 3, 4 & 5 (still from slide show) Lois Stavsky; interview conducted by Karin Du Maire and edited by Lois Stavsky



On exhibit through this week at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise in the West Village is Born in the Bronx: A Visual Record of the Early Days of Hip-Hop. Among its many highlights are: memorabilia featuring personal narratives and archives of hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa;  hip-hop party flyers and clothing designed by the late Buddy Esquire; original cells from the animated sequences of Charlie Ahearn’s film Wild Style and prints of Joe Conzo’s photographs of the early days of hip hop.

Here is a sampling of what greeted us when we visited this past Tuesday:

On the exterior of Gavin Brown’s Enterprise


U.K.- based Paul Insect‘s portrait of Afrika Bambaataa

"Paul Insect"

And inside the gallery — noted DJ, producer and poet Rich Medina going though the bins of duplicates from Afrika Bambaataa‘s record collection

"Rich Medina"

 Close-up from installation of Buddy Esquire‘s clothing and flyer designs

"Buddy Esquire"

Afrika Bambaataa fashioned from Bambaataa’s records by Paul Insect and Bäst


Selections from Joe Conzo’s’s seminal Born in the Bronx


Joe Conzo and Charlie Ahearn


The pioneering MC and hip-hop historian Grandmaster Caz

"Grandmaster Caz"

And legendary b-boy Crazy Legs

"Crazy Legs"

With Charlie Ahearn


Exhibited by Boo-Hooray and curated by Johan Kugelberg, Born in the Bronx is an extraordinary tribute to hip-hop’s early days and its everlasting influence. And if you can get over there tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon — between 1-3pm — you will be treated to a Born In The Bronx Hot Platter Lunch DJ Session with DJ Jazzy Jay and DJ Rockin Rob. The gallery is located at 620 Greenwich Street at the corner of Leroy Street in the Village.

Photos 1-4, 7, 8 & 10 by Lois Stavsky;  5, 6 & 9 by Dani Reyes Mozeson; photo 1 features mural by Keo X-men