Conrad Vogel grew up in Briarcliff Manor, New York, graduated from Sarah Lawrence in 1977, traveled in Italy, and then moved to Soho, where he lived and worked as an artist for more than forty years. In college, Vogel’s degree was in literature and writing, but his interest in the visual arts took him beyond Bronxville to art programs at Yale, the Arts Students League, the New School, and the New York Studio School. In 1978, Vogel moved into a loft at 99 Vandam Street, where he and other tenants fought for years to save the building from developers. Eventually they were granted AIR status, and he remained there for the rest of his life.
In the studio, Vogel concentrated on painting and digital pigment prints, making paintings and drawings that ruminated on the vagaries of the human condition – themes such as abandonment, betrayal, war, love, and frailty. But he leavened his work and his worldview with an absurdist sense of humor, evident in the interaction he depicted between humans and anthropomorphic renditions of nature. Vogel’s idiosyncratic paintings fused a Peter Max pop vibe with an early-1900s British book illustration sensibility, like Arthur Rackham on LSD.
Artist and former gallerist James Cornwell remembers hosting one of Vogel’s solo shows at Nada Gallery in 1985. “Conrad dedicated his life to his art,” Cornwell said. “It was always a pleasure to see him and engage in intellectual discourse about art and the issues of the day. He is missed.”Friends also remember Vogel as a big-hearted guy who was always up for going to openings, and for helping others make art or hang a show. Artist Leemour Pelli saw his artwork as a composite of himself – his thoughts, his words, and his generous heart. “He liked to take care of people and would give the shirt off his back to a stranger,” she said. She remembers how he helped her prepare a series of concrete sculptures for an exhibition, and later worked with her on a printmaking project.
Vogel’s unrelenting verve for art resonated. (See Howie Seligman’s remembrance, below.) At a show that Marguerite Van Cook and James Romberger curated at Danceteria, Conrad sprayed leaping dogs onto the wall behind a bar on the top floor, or Congo Bill as it was known. Marguerite remembers Conrad’s unbridled enthusiasm and wide smile. “He was a happy collaborator who was part of our creative landscape.” Christopher Pusey, a co-director at Dorian Grey Gallery, suggested that Conrad was a part of the fabric of the NYC art community, a good guy who captured the spirit of being an artist at a time when many had become more interested in commercial success. Peggy Cyphers met Vogel at Ground Zero Gallery, where everyone hung out after the openings. At the time, he was showing his spray-painted pop icons in group shows. “Conrad was so Ivy League in his blue and white pinstripe starched shirts and vaguely Sarah Lawrence twang,” she remembers. “His vocabulary, powerful mind, and gift of gab made him a curious amalgamation of high- and low-brow. He was an East Village character.” He was endlessly curious and knowledgeable about not only art, but also literature, history and myriad other subjects. Susan Holcomb, a classmate from Sarah Lawrence, remembers that he had a particular love for the Renaissance, which she saw reflected in his exquisite draftsmanship.
Vogel had shows at David Gibson’s Article Project, and his last solo show was in 2014 at the Dorian Grey Gallery, a space that has specialized in work from the 1970s and 1980s East Village and Soho art scenes. A couple of years before he died, he fell off a ladder in his studio. Friends say he spent several months in a rehabilitation hospital for his injuries, but he never fully recovered and ultimately succumbed to a heart attack in June 2022. His work is in private collections in England, France, Switzerland, Holland, Italy, and Mexico as well as the United States.
“Festina Lente!”(Make haste slowly) was one of the many Italian adages that Conrad loved to quote. His energy and exuberance will be missed. Conrad’s family obituary is at the Clinton Funeral Home website.
Remembrance from Howie Seligman (January 27, 2023)
I first met Conrad Vogel on Halloween, 1974. I can picture the occasion in my mind today, nearly fifty years later, as if it were just yesterday. I had entered Sarah Lawrence College in the fall of 1973, so this was the first semester of my sophomore year. Conrad had transferred in after one year attending The New School. At that time, it was truly a “women’s school,” and the ratio was around four to one. Halloween night was extra special at the school: there was a competitive exotic/erotic costume party held in Bates Dining Hall with all the chairs and tables removed. There was a live band and a deejay to fill in during the breaks. I was a veteran of the Halloween Party from the previous year. This was a very gay evening that was way ahead of its time.
There were only 111 students in our class so, yes, it was clique-y and very Gossip Girl. I was popular and insisted on knowing everyone. Most of the costumes were unique and original, not store-bought but thrown together using the kinds of skills one learns in an exclusive private college studying painting, sculpture, and theater. Conrad was arm-in-arm with a woman I later learned was named Jennifer Morton. They looked alike and their costumes – the Queen and Jack of Hearts – nearly stole the show. They looked almost like vignette players in what today might be a Baz Luhrmann remake of Alice in Wonderland. And they had a walk to match the characters.
What struck me about Conrad was his bone structure, immediately calling to mind Errol Flynn and then perhaps a young Peter O’Toole. Coming from Flatbush, I was still not, even after a year, visually adjusted to what my dear mother referred to as “the goyashacup,” which might be translated from the Yiddish as “WASP” or, more generally, from Connecticut. As it turned out, Conrad hailed from Briarcliff Manor along the Hudson and Ms. Morton from old-money New Mexico. Conrad showed off his Latin, thus reinforcing his nineteenth-century persona and my first impression of him as kind of a swashbuckler. I recall his tall boots as well. Beyond a handshake and a professional cheek kiss from Ms. Morton, there was not much more to the first meeting. The acid I had dropped was starting to kick in, and I was starting to dance. I had no idea that this gentleman would come to be one of my very best friends.
Cut to three years later, September 1977. Space south of 14th street was affordable and our graduating class took advantage of it. I had a nice one-bedroom on East 3rd Street across from the Hells Angels’ NYC headquarters. Jenny and Nic lived at 19 Prince Street off the corner of Elizabeth Street. Lovely Marcella Nelson was right around the corner on Elizabeth, and the rooftops conveniently connected. Conrad and Ms. Morton sublet a painting professor’s loft/studio on Spring Street just a few blocks west. Nicholas Gould, my former roommate, and his girlfriend, another well-to-do Jennifer who hailed from Houston, were there, too. We would all visit and consume cocktails/cocaine while group-viewing Vogue magazine. There was a wonderful buzz in the air in the East Village and Soho, but who knew it would become a kind of milestone in urban American history?
It was only a matter of time before the art professor and Conrad’s landlord – who had run the study-abroad program in Lacoste, France, at which Conrad had done intensive life drawing – returned to New York. Morton, as Conrad called her, dropped a dime to her bankers and got a furnished apartment. Conrad found a cinder block loft in a never-going-to-get-a-certificate-of-occupancy building a few blocks west of West Broadway at 99 Vandam Street in what was then known as “the South Village.” Years later break-ups, marriages, and babies led to most residents giving up or losing rent-stabilized leases. Conrad stayed at this very same location for the rest of his life and through several near-deaths before his actual one.
Most of our visits to Conrad’s loft consisted of smoking joints and drinking beers. He was completely committed to what was then the artist’s lifestyle. He might have indulged a Ballantine Ale before noon, and he always had a fresh pack of Marlboros, later switching, at my suggestion, to Camel straights. He painted all day long and into the night. When we had part-time jobs as waiters at a banquet dining room, he would rush home to paint when others went out to party. Although in the late 1970s I had become the lead singer and bassist in a hardcore punk band – Conrad, Morton, and Jenny were our front-row fans and support group — I also got an MBA in finance in my determination to prove to my father that I could make “a decent living” and avoid the trap of bohemia. By April 1979, I was an assistant account executive at William Esty & Co., the advertising agency. I came over to visit Conrad on a Friday night. On the rooftop deck at sunset, he yelled that he felt personally betrayed. I was an artist, he insisted, just like him; being a businessman was a waste, and I had true talent, he said. At the time, I brushed off his anger, but, over the years, as regular visits to Conrad’s loft continued, it became clear that he was essentially right, even if he may have been rationalizing his own choices.
On any visit, Conrad would pitch and present his most recent work. At first, it was quite conventional: life drawings and life-size sculptures. He sold several fine illustrations to the New York Times for its op-ed page. Just as the NEO-GEO movement was about to take shape in the 1980s, however, he abandoned figurative work and started using wood saws to custom-shape boards on which he painted patterns. I had not yet acquired a taste for this, but the third Talking Heads album featured an all-black cover designed by band member Jerry Harrison that looked very much like Conrad’s it work. When I brought the album over and noted the resemblance, he was delighted. He also took the opportunity to tell me that such perceptions showed that I needed to quit advertising and get my band back together. He had his finger on that pulse, I guess.
I went to every exhibition Conrad had from 1980 until his last show, including the Sarah Lawrence Alumni shows that he curated for our annual reunions. I always offered him support even when nothing sold or the critic he had written to failed to show up at the opening. Conrad reinvented his painting practice many times over. I watched him go from classical style to woodcut pattern paintings to stencil spray paintings on the streets of New York. We would stay awake at night arguing about history and art criticism. Then, when he tired of talk, he would pick up his pencils or brushes and start drawing or painting again.
Conrad’s work as an artist speaks for itself. I have always acquired art from my friends and clients. Seasoned art historians and gallerists would visit my office and often ignore most of my collection while noticing Conrad’s work on the wall and saying, “Wow, who did that one, man?!” Conrad approached his painting practice with a deep devotion to detail. He might experience “artist’s block,” puffing on a cigarette and sipping a beer, but he would never quit. He painted every day, and, when someone visited, he could not resist revealing his work in progress.
As he used to say after he developed a close relationship with my own mother, I was his brother from another mother. At some point, I may be able to dig deeper into his CV and articulate more specific details and insights about his work. What I have tried to do with this remembrance is simply to say how much I loved and admired this man. If it helps you sense and appreciate Conrad’s energy, creativity, and singular focus on art as a way of life, I have done my job.