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  • Writer's pictureKristy Calabro

RAE BK in Coney Island: Inside The End Starts Now

Step right up freaks and art geeks, RAE BK has taken us to the edge of Brooklyn with his current art show in Coney Island USA. It's located in the historic Herman Popper building right next to the Eldorado Bumper Cars on Surf Avenue.

A little odd, frenzied, peculiar, and eclectic are ways to characterize Coney Island, but you could also be describing the art of RAE BK. The twists and turns of his line work feel like taking a ride on the Cyclone. The strange looking faces found in his paintings and stickers, with their mischievous expressions, could fit right into a circus sideshow. He can probably construct hundreds of his “Trophies of the Repurposed” sculptures from pieces of arcade machines, amusement ride parts, and discarded objects washed ashore. The show combines the bizarre with the everyday hustle of Coney Island which was once named, “The playground to the world,” but there’s an interesting dichotomy happening here that the artist himself explains later.

The exhibit follows last Fall’s, “The RAE Show”, described as Pee-wee’s Playhouse meets The Truman Show, directed by David Lynch, a month-long residency at a storefront on Allen Street. It was a recreation of his childhood room where he played the accordion, handball, and tried to learn how to roller skate. He also asked many to join him in this 24/7 fishbowl art experiment where passersby got a chance to peer into his world.

"The RAE Show" was about the diverse characters he knew growing up on Utica Ave. in Brooklyn. His latest venture is about the struggles and victories that occur in Coney Island. These places and streets are all he knows. They're public sounding boards for all things political, economic, and social and have always dictated the direction of RAE’s work.

On the dichotomy happening in Coney Island, RAE says, “The street energy is taken to the next level, good and bad. In some ways, it’s like Times Square in the 70’s but with rides. Some people come here for the day to have a good time, ride the rides and take in the boardwalk and culture but at the same time, some people live here who want nothing more than to leave and never come back. They are stuck here. They are trying to make ends meet. Because Coney Island is located at the edge of Brooklyn, far away from Manhattan it gets less attention paid in terms of resources. You don’t need to go more than a few blocks from the games and rides to see how much need there is. People are struggling big time. So it’s a strange feeling to hear the screams of laughter coming from people riding the roller coaster and then turn to your left and a person is walking along Surf Ave with no shirt or shoes. I mean there are homeless people here that look far worse than what you’ll see in NYC.”

His work reflects real moments that can be playful, but also shines a light on the struggles of the daily hustle. The show features a series of canvases bigger than he usually paints, around 6-8 feet.

RAE said, “The paintings are abstract and overpopulated, vibrant and dark at the same time. This is Coney Island. The game and performance art at the opening reflected the same ideas. Balloon popping was meant to be fun because you can win RAE prizes but it was at the expense of bursting balloons that had words such as dignity, truth, and dreams. I also reprised one of the paper mâché heads from my last show (The RAE Show) switched up the sex and made it more about the objectification of the female body. The whole show is about taking in the good and bad in life and then figuring out what to do with it.”

Also, his found-object sculptures with materials discovered on Coney Island side streets were featured and a favorite of many. The “Trophies of the Repurposed,” are discarded items that RAE breathes new life into; that others don’t seem to need or want anymore. He was the curious type who would always be taking things apart and putting them back together, but not in a scientific way. Early on, he started out trying to make musical instruments from scratch among other things.

“The objects that I find reflect the places I find them most of the time. Whether it be the type of product sold in that area and the packaging I find or what falls off of a car or gets thrown out by a household. For example, cheaper toys in certain areas or unhealthy snack packaging. It’s all there the deeper you look. In the end, it’s all about money isn’t it?” - RAE His favorite materials and textures to work with are metals that shine because it helps give the piece a sense of value. Fabric and plastics help create contrast and balance. There's also planning that goes into the placement of his sculptures. He’s driven in a car for two days straight looking for the right location. Sometimes he creates something for a specific spot, other times he makes the piece first then tries to find it a good home.

People may not realize the planning and possible hazards involved with getting these mysterious pieces on the street, but its an integral part to the process. The fences climbed, the highways run across, the stuff transported on subways," said RAE. "The stories behind the creating of the works are often the real performance art."

“Trophies of the Repurposed” sculptures (from, "The End Starts Now" & from the streets)

Photos by: @kristycnyc (last photo by: @johndomine1)

"The End Starts Now" and every ending brings a new beginning, so what’s next for RAE? "Not sure. Never sure. Have to go into my book of ideas to see what emerges." - RAE. We look forward to more sculptures, performances, and art. Wherever he goes, we'll be waiting to see what wild ride RAE takes us on next!


For more information, please follow: @rae_bk on Instagram

RAE BK on Facebook and his website:

"The End Starts Now", is located at 1220 Surf Avenue, 3rd Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11224.

The hours are weekends through Oct. 13th from 1pm - 4pm.

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