Prologue for a Travelogue — Anthony Campuzano’s encounter on Philadelphia’s mean streets, Part 1

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Post by Anthony Campuzano

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Anthony Campuzano’s Warpath.  Campuzano refers to his work, based on news articles, as “Abstract Journalism”

It was midway through March of this year when I talked to Libby and Roberta about writing a travelogue about my family vacation to visit my sister in Portland, OR, and stops through the Pacific Northwest.  I was very excited about the trip and planned to write about the architecture and art I encountered in addition to the details surrounding our first all family vacation since a trip to Florida in the early nineties.  Libby and Roberta  seemed excited also about the story so I set out west and took a ton of photos, bought a pocket-sized notebook and played the part of Jimmy Breslin tagging along with my family.  You are probably wondering then why  you haven’t seen my travelogue yet.  Well the truth is that two days back from my trip I encountered the type of story that often unfortunately peppers the news pages in this city.  It was the type of thing that rattled me during an already-stressful period which in short order led to confusion and my shelving the story.

That first week of April I had to finish a few things for the Art Chicago fair and I had an opening at White Columns in NYC so I figured I would just get to work in the studio and end my travelogue with the opening and the handful of shows I intended to see that weekend.

Originally I wanted to conclude my travelogue by flying into Newark from Portland and then taking the train to New York to attend the Armory Fair.  Libby and Roberta said that they already had a good amount of people covering the fair and by the time I did get into Newark all I really wanted to do was go home and sleep.

I tend to work on my art in long bouts, go to the studio and crash there for 2-3 days at a time.  It is often when I have things almost done that I see the way it could be better, clearer, stranger or stronger.  That is how I work.  My studio is up by K&A and I live outside West Philly so  if it  gets too late to commute home on the El  I just spend the night and pick up the next day.  I went to the studio the Monday after we got in from Portland and worked through the night.  The next morning I went to Happy Donut for a sausage egg and cheese, a red plum juice and the Philadelphia Inquirer.   After I was done eating I went back to the studio, put on 610 WIP and took a nap.   I woke up at noon, and was trying to just get a few more things finished before I dropped off the work.  The Fleisher/Ollman Gallery closed at 5:30 pm so I had to get out  of the studio by 3 something.  I packed my stuff up which included a tote bag and a large black portfolio with around 5-6 drawings on illustration board ranging in size from 30×20 inches to 40×30 inches.

The walk to the El is probably only 4 blocks or so but Allegheny often resembles a wind tunnel and the sun is always so searing.   I got about a block and a half away from my studio when I passed a group of 9-10, 8-to-12-year-old Latino and African-American students.  They were loudly goading the smallest in their group to cross the wide street and jump two 7-year-old white students.  This kid started to cross the street fists clenched.  I turned back as I was walking past and said, “Yo man, cool out – you don’t need to do that.”   It was effortless, it was my classroom voice, not loud or condescending just firm.  These kids were the same age and demographic of the students I had spent two years working with at an after school program down by 5th and Tasker.   I had broke up many fights before, and on one occasion had the misfortune of placing my head in front of a solid fist destined from one 10 year old to another 7 year old. [The assailant profusely apologized and it was pretty easy  to show him he needs to understand how dangerous and powerful his fists are, because he really walloped me but if he had connected with the 7 year old I have no doubt he would have broken bones.]

Yet Allegheny isn’t a classroom and I had just crossed paths with these kids for the first time.  Also they weren’t at an after school program, they were wandering the streets looking for somebody to beat up.   While we often had to deal with violence in our after school program the fact that the kids had made a choice to attend the program harbored a sense of value and pride.   Those are some of the hardest things to deal with – one to get the kids to come to the program (if by chance one exists, but more on that later) and then to change the value systems from the code of the corner to the harmony of a classroom.

I had just used my classroom voice to a bunch of strangers on a windswept street in the beginning of the spring.  I swiftly became a much more interesting and valuable target to this group — literally 24 hours or so before I had read about the subway attack on Sean Conroy that resulted in his death.  I quickly realized that this could quite possibly escalate in moments.  The group started shouting “Who the fuck are you!” etc, etc.  I began walking quickly backwards, both of my arms were full with my possessions including my set of drawings that I had spent the last few months on — drawings that were due to be shown at Art Chicago in a matter of weeks.  I went back and forth between fear for my life and my livelihood.   A school bus drove by and a female African American driver leaned out the window and shouted, “Leave him alone!  He is a grown man! Leave him alone!”  At this point the smallest boy strode defiantly again into the street fists clenched and spat at the bus driver, “Fuck you, Bitch!”

I had walked about a block by this point when I was first hit. It was just a graze and I kept moving.  I started asking them if they read the papers.  They told me “Fuck newspapers.”  I told them that a group of 16 year olds are facing murder charges right now for the same bullshit they were trying to pull on me.  This is when the tallest kid strode up to my face and chillingly said, “We’re not going to murder you, we’re just gonna fuck you up!”

He then hit me very hard in the left temple.  I was dazed but I started moving quickly as I  began vigorously cursing them out.  Thoughts crossed my mind where I figured I could probably break the biggest kid’s arm.  A Hispanic woman my age looked at me worriedly she kept about ten paces ahead but repeatedly looked back.   I now was about two and a half blocks from the El.  I passed a stoop where two 20-something African American men muttered to me, “You dropped something.”

Part 2 of this story is here.

–Anthony Campuzano is a Philadelphia artist represented by Fleisher-Ollman Gallery. You can see his work at Franklin Parrascsh Gallery June 19 through Aug 20 in the show Everything Else.

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anthony campuzano, prologue for a travelogue

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