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Reflections on a Purchase Education from a Working Artist

By Linus Coraggio

Linus Coraggio, Class of 1984, invented 3-D Graffiti and was one of the founders of the Rivington School. His work has been exhibited at galleries in New York, Europe and Japan. Some of it can still be found around New York City if you know where to look.

Coraggio's bicycle sculpture (photo courtesy of Linus Coraggio).

During my sophomore year at Purchase, I welded four working bicycles in tandem so they could still be ridden, then I added a 16-foot-high tower-like sculpture of junk on top of that and left it in the middle of the mall where students would ride it around and leave it wherever.

After a while, campus cops padlocked it to the Henry Moore Sculpture. So I went and cut the chain and welded it into the rolling sculpture, making it part of the piece. Everything was fine until a whiny kid accused me of stealing one of the bikes in the sculpture and I got a bad rap and a bad rep.

I never liked Purchase as a location or a school. I always felt like a rat in a maze amidst the Kafkaesque brick brutalist architecture but, as a sculpture major, the state-of-the-art facilities kept me enrolled. I don’t regret it.

I graduated in 1984 but because of $2,000 in unpaid parking tickets never received my diploma: In the 39 years since, no one has ever asked to see it. Actually, I never got my diploma from the High School of Music and Art because I failed sex ed. When I called Purchase to ask if this was a problem, they told me that, as far as they were concerned, I had a high school education and to come on by.

Freshman year was a drag, taking the required courses and living in the dorms, three to a room meant for one. It felt like a cell at Rikers Island. But my roommates were cool and I built a loft, so it was manageable. I stole a refrigerator from the science building and stocked it with beer that my dorm mates, who worked at the campus bar, would procure. Later, I started dealing pot, hash and mushrooms that I kept in the fridge as well. I stopped because too many people were coming by.

My first girlfriend at Purchase was a sophomore who insisted we fuck on this Mark Di Suvero sculpture, near the administration building, that had a bed-sized metal swing under a tripod of 20-foot I-beams. Later the swing got removed for “public safety reasons” — quite an insult to Di Suvero, I thought.

My girlfriend had a car, it was a relief to get off campus just to get pizza in Mamaroneck or go do stuff in the city. Food was so terrible on campus we would drive to the Food Emporium near Port Chester and shoplift steaks to barbecue in the woods around campus.

By sophomore year, I realized the art faculty was a tired bunch of smug, tenured, has-beens with nothing relevant to impart. They never even broached logistics of how to enter and navigate the art world after graduating. Instead, they would say depressingly and irresponsibly: “You know only one in 3,000 will still be doing art in 5 years.”

“So just kill myself now?” I thought.

Coraggio holding a hand written draft of this essay in his NYC apartment (photo courtesy of Linus Coraggio).

I decided I just wanted to milk Purchase for the facilities, so I discovered “Independent Studies,” and did whatever art I felt like. At the end of the semester, I would show a sociology professor or art history teacher my studio to demonstrate how my work incorporated whatever aspect of syllabus, or dogma, was required to pass. None of these professors realized I was doing multiple independent studies with their colleagues, so for years I never entered the art building before noon.

I’d saved up for a ’72 VW Bug and moved with a girlfriend to a building in Port Chester that had four statues of Michelangelo’s David mounted outside. So I woke up to David’s ass in my face when I looked out the window. Sophomore year wasn’t too bad.

During my junior year, I noticed this room at the end of the art building that was hardly used. I moved in some furniture, and sheet-rocked a large corner to hang artwork. I started having my own parties and openings there. At one party, I remember some friends brought a very drunk Wesley Snipes by and left him with me.

He told me about this Brazilian martial art called capoeira. I was already into early rap and busting out tough breakdance moves when I started driving into the city for capoeira classes on Canal Street. There I would hang out with friends who were pioneering practitioners of street art. That’s when I decided to invent, “3-D Graffiti;” which is welding scrap metal constructions, writing socio-political slogans on them, and bolting them onto “No Parking” sign posts.

First I put them up around the campus but the Purchase Police tracked me down and told me to remove them or face a $500 fine. So I took them down and put them up around NYC instead.

After I broke up with the girl I was living with in Port Chester, I decided to build a yurt in the woods behind the art building to live in. I also got course credit for it. Someone gave me a huge ship’s sail which I used as the roof. I welded a wood stove which made the inside smokey and drafty, but cozy. When it got too cold, I would shack-up with a girl.

Around this time, I started participating in open call art shows in NYC. I even curated a 200 artist show with some Purchase people at a gallery on Rivington Street.

One day, the Dean’s secretary found me in my studio and said that Walter Robinson from Art in America was on the phone looking for me. I followed her back to the office and proceeded to be interviewed about my street art.

The article came out that summer, and it contributed to my decision to just go for it and be a working, hustling artist. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

Recently, I was invited to a show of 1980s East Village Artists at the Phillips Auction House Gallery. My work appeared alongside those of my dead contemporaries, like Jean Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, David Wojnarowicz.

Without Purchase I wouldn’t have gotten in touch with the punk rock, DIY ethos of the time, or even been able to channel my anti-institutional art school rage into an intelligible form of creative expression.

Thus, I thank Purchase for being so soul crushingly shitty back then and for forcing me to find my own way within its confines.



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