For the past 26 years, Jim Power, known by most as The Mosaic Man, has been decorating the light posts of New York’s East Village with intricate tile and mirror mosaics. And the homeless 64-year-old is still at it.
“When I got into this, I was immortal all a sudden,” Power says about how he felt when he first started creating his art, in the late 1980s. The Vietnam veteran set out to make East Village a known arts destination by creating a trail of 80 mosaic-decorated light posts, each with its own theme and design inspired by local history and culture. At the height of his career as a street artist, The Mosaic Man was up to 70 light posts, but in the later part of the 80s and into the 90s, mayor Rudy Giulianni started a clean-up-the-city anti-graffiti campaign and took down 50 of his beautifully-adorned artworks. It was pretty hard to bear, but Jim never gave up on his dream of completing the trail, and managed to rebuild every one of them.
Photo by Gregory Tran
Tormented by a fading eyesight and a problematic hip, The Mosaic Man struggles with the most mundane tasks, but he keeps making his street art, for the people of the Village. After all, he says they’re the ones who stopped authorities form taking down all of his poles during Giulianni’s campaign. But although Jim Power is a local icon for long-time East Village inhabitants, he has little recognition for his work. City Lore, an organization that supports New York’s cultural heritage, honored Power in its 2004 People’s Hall of Fame, and a short documentary on his activity was recently posted online, but other than that… He has never made any real money from his art, has been homeless for decades, and struggled finding funds to restore his works.
Photo by James Robinson
Back in 2007, he was so frustrated he couldn’t get money to rebuild his decaying light posts that he took down his own works. He was bitter the city of New York had spent millions of works of foreign artists like Olafur Eliasson, while ignoring his homegrown works, but admits part of the reason he’s had problems getting funding is his inability to complete a formal application. “I would say it definitely stopped me…I don’t read and write on a writer’s level at all. In fact, I spell words the way I pronounce them, and I don’t pronounce them right.”
Photo by Vivienne Gucwa
The now infamous Mosaic Trail of East Village spans from the Lower East Side running from Broadway down Eighth Street to Avenue A, to Fourth Street and then back to Eighth Street. His works are a tribute to local icons and events that took place in the areas where the light posts are located. The Mosaic Man has also made it his mission to show the history of September 11 by creating message to honor those who have fallen during the tragic event.
The typical mosaic light post decorated by Jim Power is covered with a myriad of ceramic fragments and glass pieces. Every one of his works comprises of over 1,000 small tiles while the eight-foot pole at Eighth Street and Broadway has more than 2,800. Jim’s vision has changed the face of New York City and he knows it:”If I tell you I invented the East Village, a lot of people would disagree, but they can’t prove it,” Power says. “Nobody put their stamp on this neighborhood like I have, and nobody will.”
If you find yourself strolling through the streets on the lower east side, you’ll undoubtedly stumble across one of The Mosaic Man’s works and realize why he is a living legend of New York’s art scene.