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|Subject: Curtis Cuffie, Artist of Life on the Streets|
dead at 47
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Date Posted: September 21, 2002 10:44:08 EDT
Curtis Cuffie, a sculptor of elaborate and witty assemblages of objects found in the street who developed his technique during years of homelessness, was found dead on Sept. 13 in his Manhattan apartment. He was 47.
The cause appeared to be a heart attack, said Carol Thompson, his companion.
From the mid-1980's until around 1996, when he got off the streets, Mr. Cuffie was a fixture on the Bowery and around Cooper Square in the East Village. He built impromptu sculptures and installations from wires, fabrics, car parts, discarded furniture and other materials he scavenged, and displayed them on fences, outdoor walls and sidewalks.
His motley jumbles included upside-down mops draped in rags that looked like urban scarecrows, and columns, made of mufflers, lamps and boots, that had an odd grace and a mysterious sense of humor.
His sculptures were often destroyed or removed by garbage trucks within days of construction, but he continued to work obsessively, creating a continuously changing exhibition on the streets.
By the early 1990's, his work had begun to attract the attention of artists, critics and gallery owners in and around the East Village. He was included in group shows at galleries like American Primitive and Exit Art and in temporary shows organized by young, cutting-edge art dealers like Kenny Schachter. His work often sat beside that of mainstream, academically trained artists.
Mr. Cuffie was featured and reviewed in publications like The Village Voice and Artforum, and he befriended well-known artists like David Hammons.
"When curators would come from Europe," Mr. Hammons said, "I would always take them to see Curtis's work or introduce them to Curtis, just to frighten them."
As much a performer as an artist, Mr. Cuffie carried on loudly and outrageously while he worked, producing poetic stream-of-consciousness speech filled with slang and mystical pronouncements for anyone who would listen. In an interview he once said that he was not homeless, but "holy."
Mr. Cuffie's career continued to flourish once he left the streets. His work was shown in more galleries and at the American Visionary Art Museum, a center for so-called outsider art in Baltimore, and he received grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation.
In May the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council made Mr. Cuffie an artist in residence, giving him a stipend and a studio. An exhibition of work by artists in the council's program is to open on Oct. 30, and a council official said that there were plans to include Mr. Cuffie's completed pieces.
Curtis Cuffie was born in Hartsville, S.C., and moved to Brooklyn at 15 to live with two of his brothers. After his mother died in 1983, he became depressed and drifted into homelessness. After leaving the streets, he lived with Ms. Thompson, a former curator at the Museum for African Art in SoHo, who, like many of Mr. Cuffie's admirers, discovered him and his art while walking to work. He held a succession of jobs and was working for the buildings and grounds department at Cooper Union at the time of his death.
Besides Ms. Thompson, his survivors include four brothers, Alvin, of Hartsville; Eddie, of Charlotte, N.C.; Ernest, of Chilhowie, Va.; and Thomas, of Brooklyn; a sister, Aline Williams, of Harrisburg, Pa.; and three children.
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