Talking with Austin Furtak-Cole, Painter-Doorman at the Wythe Hotel

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Originally from Vermont, Austin Furtak-Cole grew up in a family of artists and workered at the Vermont Studio Center before moving to Brooklyn. His work recently appeared in an online group show at Curating Contemporary and one of his paintings hangs at Stonybrook University on Long Island, where he did an MFA in visual art. He works as a doorman at the Wythe Hotel and maintains a studio in Bushwick.
How do you find the reality of living here versus the image you have in your head of it?
Well, the first time I lived in New York I only lasted six months and part of that was because it was right in the middle of the recession, so all of my friends were moving out. I had a studio, but I was so stressed out about money, I felt like I couldn’t make it work. My mind was just always on that. I only lasted six months and so this time coming in, I knew I needed to get an apartment first, then I needed to get a job and then I needed to get a studio. I think that reality was a little more clear and not romanticized for me anymore, so I somehow got through it a lot easier. It was still stressful and difficult, but I kind of knew what I needed to do and now it’s a matter of maintaining that. My job at the Wythe Hotel allows me to pay my rent at my house and my studio. I’m pretty good at being frugal and it’s just a matter of making sure that I go to the studio every week when I have time.

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Are you hoping that eventually you’ll get to the point where you can do your painting full time?
Yeah, that would be ideal. I struggle to know how to do that, but I’m trying. I think that’s part of the reason I moved to New York, really. I loved being in Vermont and I miss that a little bit, but I felt like I needed to establish myself in a bigger way.
It seems like that’s one of the nice things about the hotel, there are so many potential connections.
Yeah, totally. I mean, it’s crazy. There was one morning when I was working at the hotel, just doing my job, and this woman leaves from the restaurant, comes back in and says “Can I use the bathroom?” And I escorted her to the bathroom, which I kind of felt I went a little more out of my way than usual, but I didn’t think anything of it. She comes back and goes, “Are you the owner? Are you the manager?” And I said, “Oh no, I’m just the doorman.” She said, “Oh you’re awfully nice and friendly.” I said, “I try to be nice to everybody. Are you staying with us?” She says, “Oh no, I live in New York, I own a big gallery,” and I go, “What gallery?” and she goes, “Mary Boone.” And I’m like “You’re Mary Boone?” And she goes, “Yeah, I’m going to have a studio visit with Cost down the street at his studio.” And I’m just like, “Oh it’s very nice to meet you.”

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It’s always really funny when that stuff happens.
Yeah, and I feel like that stuff doesn’t happen in Vermont. It’s a beautiful place and I love it there, but I needed some of this injected into my life, you know.
Do you find it really inspiring just to be around that?
Yeah, I think the biggest thing that has helped my work progress has been that exposure to people and things and shows. I feel like the city almost gives you permission to do whatever you want, like it’s my choice, all these people are doing their things, I can do what I want. Which seems like a really important thing to understand when you’re trying to make new things and put them out in the world.
Check out Austin’s work on his website and follow him on Instagram @austinfurtakcole.

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