When I first moved to New York City, I took a job at Pearl Paint, the famous art supply store. It was meant to be a temporary job until I established myself and could find something better. A few months later, this guy named John Zirkelbach was hired. We were not working in the same department, nor on the same floor. In fact, I only met him by chance at a group employee orientation event. Something about his sullen attitude I found interesting, and I moved over to him and introduced myself. His answer to my introduction was, “If you're interested in sex, forget about it, but if you want to be friends that’s OK.” That was the beginning of a friendship that lasted years.
John and I became bonded and nearly inseparable. We both had come to New York as artists. He was getting his Masters in Art Education at NYU, hoping to become more employable. I was trying to create an art career. Together we explored what being an artist meant in New York and looking for a way into what seemed the impenetrable and capricious art scene of the city.
We joined groups, went to talks, saw performances, attended art openings, explored museums, exhibited our work and had long talks about art in West Village cafes. We went out to Far Rockaway on expeditions to the WWII ruins, searched out the vanishing remnants of the bizarre in Coney Island. Traipsed from Staten Island to the Bronx, searching out anything interesting and unusual that the City had to offer.
John was always cynical and often disappointed when things did not live up to expectations or the hype we had heard about it. He constantly complained that he had missed the best art scenes of Andy Warhol’s factory or the 1980s East Village art scene. Nearly everything for John was lame, over, boring, or stupid. It never bothered me. I was bemused by his grumpy attitude. I understood his desire to dismiss the often overpraised and sham business of the art world, although did not share his negative thinking. I was living my dream and was sharing this dream with John.
John and I maintained our closeness until romance interrupted our lives. First me with Raymond. Then him with Chris. He told me he had to find a boyfriend because I had found one. Our lives gradually moved in different directions after we partnered. John moved to Beacon, NY to a towered Victorian and I moved to Jersey City to a modest brownstone.
John became John Clark-Colon after he married Chris. Raymond and I married as well. I still kept our friendship close in my heart, even though we were no longer close in location.
John died suddenly on Wednesday, July 20, 2022. I mourn my friend and have been reliving the times when we were hopeful artists in New York looking for our way into the inner sanctum of recognition and fame. I hope John finds the afterlife everything he expects. But I can imagine him grumbling and saying, “is this it?”
To Chris Colon, John’s husband, I send my deepest condolences and much love during this difficult time.
John Zirkelbach's statement from Hocus Pocus:
This work was a site specific work he did directly on the gallery wall at Curious Matter:
I chose the role of a shaman in this work to deconstruct preexisting myths combined with present day reality. The image is a combination of 1950s Vogue fashion models and a news photo of two Iranian teens about to be hung for crimes against Sharia law. The medium is ‘Fire Island Toothpaste,’ a mixture of KY jelly and toothpaste which is ascribed to the legendary drag queen Jackie Curtis.
… the silhouette of John’s installation lingered for years in spite of many coats of paint.
John Zirkelbach (AKA John Clark-Colon), September 4, 1966 - July 20, 2022
Arthur Bruso © 2022