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Self-taught artist Steven Hirsch depicts ‘existence on the edge’

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Steven Hirsch is best known as a hard-boiled court photographer for the New York Post. But over the past several years, he’s also been enjoying exploring his more artistic visual side as a self-taught painter.

More recently, he’s also been enjoying his new studio space — which he is renting on a month-to-month basis — in the former Boys’ Club of New York building on Avenue A.

The Joyce Theater moved into the vacant Boys’ Club building in December, with an option to buy, if it can raise $21 million toward the first phase of a renovation of the place. But it wasn’t until April that Hirsch — on one of his daily runs to Tompkins Square Bagels — spotted two male dancers hanging out on the sidewalk in front, piquing his interest about what was happening inside.

“They just looked like dancers,” he said. “They were thin and moving around, dancing around. There were two older women watching and talking to them.”

Steven Hirsch with his paintings of New York Post front pages in 2020. (Courtesy Steven Hirsch)

After inquiring, he got a tour of the former clubhouse and quickly decided to rent space. Hirsch is presently loving the sun-splashed, former corner-office space overlooking Tompkins Square Park that he snagged. He even moved his house plants there because the south-facing light is so great.

A 40-year East Village resident, Hirsch only recently became a self-taught painter.

“I painted at the height of the pandemic,” he said. “I painted every day. I painted over 500 paintings since I started, over the past five years.”

He first showed his artwork at the Outsider Art Fair a few years ago.

On the evening of Thurs., May 25, at his space in the former Boys’ Club, Hirsch held his first-ever art opening exclusively of his own work. His gallery’s name, the Deer Gallery, is a translation from the German of his last name. Its logo includes a deer atop a lightning bolt, the latter an homage to his electrician father.

Hirsch had to rent two rooms — one is his working studio — because of the space’s layout: To access the corner room, he had to rent an adjoining one.

As for why he began painting in the first place, Hirsch traced its evolution back to one day in 2010 when he was sitting by the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn with a friend.

“It started bubbling,” he recalled of the infamous waterway.

Those noxious bubbles set things percolating in Hirsch’s head. Intrigued, a few years later, he shot a series of artistic photos of the rainbow-hued oil and chemical slicks on the much-maligned canal’s surface.

A painting from Steven Hirsch’s current exhibit. (Painting by Steven Hirsch)

That was followed by another project, “Splat,” which saw him take photos of things that resembled paintings, such as actual paint drippings on walls. He spent a couple of years scouring the city for material, diving into dumpsters outside Williamsburg artists’ studios, for example.

“It got tiring,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Why don’t I just do the paintings myself?’ I said, ‘F— the photography — why don’t I just paint?'”

A press release for his current show, “Crispy Critters,” vividly describes Hirsch’s “edgy” artwork: “In frenzied images that illustrate dreamlike escapades, coupled with memories of waking hours witnessing the violence and antisocial behavior of our times, Steven Hirsch renders his biography and life’s experiences in high color and surreal compositions. Strippers with balloons, assassinations, boxers in the ring, drivers behind the wheel, girls with guns, and other expressions of nightmares and fantasies, perversions and obsessions are just some of his subjects. Drawing on his personal experiences and struggles, his work invites viewers to contemplate existence on the edge.”

Part of the space in the Deer Gallery. (Photo by Steven Hirsch)

He didn’t study technique or follow any artistic role models.

“I painted some of my photographs,” he noted of how he started out. “Then I started painting more freehand, of the things in my head.”

Hirsch said his interest in offbeat characters stems from his youth, when he grew up across the street from a mental hospital. He often found himself chatting with the patients as they walked down the sidewalk outside.

“I developed an affinity for wacky, crazy people that I’ve maintained all my life,” he said.

As for the twists and turns his life has taken that have led him to painting, he reflected, “It’s sort of the story of my life. I just sort of fall into things. … It’s evolution — not revolution.”

Steven Hirsch’s “Crispy Critters: Paintings and Drawings” runs at the Deer Gallery, in the former Boys’ Club of New York building, at 287 E. 10th St., at Avenue A, from May 25 to July 1. Hours are Thurs. to Fri. 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Sat. noon to 5 p.m. and by appointment. For more information, contact, call 646-450-7750 or visit

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