14. ETIENNE LI
To the Memory of Michael Stewart, 1985, 14’ x 8’
“I settled in New York a year later to start my PhD and was very impressed by the work of graffiti artists on the subways. Temptation was strong to try to join these courageous artists. Although I never got the nerve to go into the yards, where it happening, I started making stencils on the streets and began to sign ‘El Chino’.
“I was living uptown in Manhattan Valley in a Dominican neighborhood and helping building tenants fight our slumlord in court. I also spent a lot of time on the Lower East Side, getting to know local figures, musicians, dancers, junkies, activists, experimental filmmakers, and emerging gallery owners. With Paul Chelstad, I announced concerts via street graffiti at happening places like the Pyramid Club where Michael Stewart had been before leaving for the subway. I did not know Michael Stewart, but for our loose community of street artists, his death was shocking. We all had our problems with the police. It was not a very funny game of hide and seek, but we never thought it would threaten our lives.”
To the Memory of MichaelStewartreads like a comic strip. It opens at the Pyramid Club where Michael is “bartending and meeting a lady who kisses him goodbye. Then, all love drunk, he gives way to his inspiration on the subway platform. What happens next is that the transit police fall down on him, and he eventually ends up at the morgue where Mayor Koch can be seen in the background.”
Etienne returned to France and teaches mathematics full time to engineering students in Marrakesh and Paris. He is also the producer of shows and films by his wife, the Spanish choreographer Blanca Li who began in New York—her performances were announced by his street graffiti— and became a star in France. blancali.com