After setting off the alarm while trying to access the rooftop of the renowned Hotel Chelsea, I knew I was in for an interesting evening. I didn’t know whether to check out the spectacular view, or run and never turn back. Luckily, a tall bohemian fellow yelled up from the floor below. It was Sam Bassett. He had been running a bit late to our meeting, as like most artists he needed a caffeine fix. Fair enough.
At first glance, one could easily categorize Sam as an aimless California skater, who may utter phrases like, “gnarly” or “totally dude.” Well, I was totally right about one thing, he was a skater. But, beneath the long blonde hair and skater façade was a real humanitarian, with an old soul. Oh, he did refer to a lot of people as “cats” though.
Sam’s cozy rooftop studio displayed some of his work, but he only pointed out his father’s iron sculptures. It’s obvious how proud Sam is of his father’s work. Though, he admits it wasn’t until adulthood that he could truly relate to his father. Gathering what I’ve ascertained from Sam, the apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree.
Sam had been up on an all night artistic binge (or as he calls them, “Super-Efforts”) in his hometown of Clinton, New Jersey. He’s been creating a bit of a stir with his guerrilla approach to street art via tape. Take what you want from his tape sculptures, but the man truly has a vision. Even if one gets nothing out of what he’s creating, its remarkable how he is able to make precise geometric shapes, sometimes seventy feet wide and five stories high, in the wee hours of the night. In fact, he is risking his life for his work. Sam admits that a fall from some of the heights he reaches would result in instant death. How many artists do you know who will literally commit their life to their work?
We sat down to view video footage of one his latest works on the side of a Lower East Side building (the north west corner of Houston and Bowery), at least four stories high. Our discussions began with his tape sculptures, but veered off into his other work along the way. Here is just a brief sampling of our conversation.
Frank: First of all, how did you get up there?
Sam: I’m hanging on a rope, attached to a device my father invented called the “roof rider.” Which is like this leveraged pole that acts as a counterweight, which a whole crew has to operate. Depending on whether you want to go up or down, there’s a control, which allows you to do so. It’s super sexy, super incredible.
F: So, you’re like Batman and your dad is…
S: (laughs) The cat that helps him out? Yea.
F: How do you keep the shapes so straight? Do you draw them out beforehand?
S: No. I’ve done it so many times. You know, I’ve done it alone, at night, in all types of different places.
F: In general, how did this all start? Did you want to start out small? Or you knew you wanted to do this all over the city?
S: It started in the Hotel Chelsea. I started from the tenth floor, the top of the hotel. There have been all types of management issues. Not too many people understand the true artist’s spirit or how to protect people and make people feel comfortable. So, they would rip it down. The beauty of the tape sculpture is the non permanence and the quickness of being able to make a geometric form of a certain size – even if it’s five feet. This is like seventy feet. I mean these are like steel lines that come out of nothing. You know, you don’t have to forge it. The process is instantaneous.
F: I take it your dad has a big influence behind the tape sculptures?
S: Yes, very much.
F: Not to be insulting, but would you say that in a sense this is a way of marketing yourself as an artist?
S: It may have happened that way. But, that wasn’t my intention. It’s surprising when you do something like this, that there isn’t more of a reaction when you have thousands of portraits and seven feature films. One would think that would be the thing. But you reverse yourself. You kill your ego. Not everyone would agree that the tape sculptures are relevant, or a “next level” thing.
Regarding Sam Bassett’s ‘new’ documentary, “Storme”, its not so much the film’s message that’s objectionable — its the messenger — and what Bassett conveniently omits from his story are the ways in which he’s very carelessly contributed to Storme Delarverie’s incarceration in a Brooklyn nursing home while he pretends to be an activist for her cause.
It was Bassett who accompanied Storme to Court for a competency evaluation in 2009, and insisted upon becoming her legal guardian. This, of course, was prior to Bassett’s own eviction from the Hotel Chelsea. Rather than guardianship, Bassett was granted a degree of oversight and the court placed merely two stipulations on Storme which, once accomplished, would result in her stabilized monthly rent being paid by charitable organizations, and a return to normalcy.
That pair of stipulations were:
1) She was to clean up her living quarters to some degree and,
2) She was to receive a basic medical checkup.
Bassett volunteered — as a matter of record — to assist Storme with these tasks. But whether because he didn’t get the media attention he craves or for some other reason all his own, Bassett essentially abandoned the woman — and the court’s directives along with her. Bassett did precisely nothing to assist Storme in the coming six months while he fought for his own survival as a Hotel Chelsea tenant and moved on to his other “documentary” subjects. Bassett communicated with none of Storme’s neighbors working to assist her on a daily basis, nor those holding Ms. Delarverie’s power of attorney, and he left the court to assume that the relatively simple tasks it appointed to him were being accomplished.
It was only when Storme fell ill from dehydration in March 2010 that the true impact of what Bassett had done — or rather, what he hadn’t bothered to do — became felt. And then Bassett himself was gone from the Hotel Chelsea, his signature affixed to an overdue rent stipulation and Storme shuffled off to a run-down facility whose only qualification for keeping her, according to her former caseworkers at SAGE, was that they had an open bed.
So once more Sam Bassett wants to be a champion for Storme’s rights.
Perhaps more accurately, Bassett is a champion for his half-finished film project, and he’s still searching for an ending. While Storme’s case is one that revolves around legal standing, Bassett shows his colors by soapboxing on behalf of his film instead of using the court-appointed oversight he lobbied for to engage lawyers and force this dispute back into a courtroom where it belongs.
The truth is that if Sam Bassett had spent half the time helping Storme as he did snapping cameras in her face, she most certainly wouldn’t be where she is now. There are many others who share this perspective — folks who don’t have a stake in promoting themselves or their photography books and films. Only Storme’s well being.
sam might be a somewhat talented photographer but his films are crap, you seriously call those films?!!! stick to your photography buddy.
and this tape art is a joke, its not innovative, its not new, its not daring, and its nothing to praise. I would think after living at the chelsea hotel for so long he would have come up with something a lot more inspiring and mature.
Thank you so much for profiling this prolific up and coming artist. I love the choice of title for this piece. Sam truly is a prince and I’m very happy to see him get the recognition his work deserves.
How much do you pay in rent MIA….quess what – even if its in print – I could care less…
That’s why haters don’t make any sense — instead of fully appreciating the ambition of a young inspiring artist, who creates to inspire others…
your jealousy rears its ugly head…seriously your post is tacky
Anyone can pick up a copy of Chelsea Now and read how much he pays in rent.
I love this guy and his work!! We attended a film screening on his rooftop in the summer and needless to say…his films are phenomenal!!!
Keep rockin’ Sam!!
Seems weird that you know how much rent he pays – this sounds like personal hatred to me.
Sam has been working in the art world for quite a long time. His work in film and photography has been revered by art critics and publications world wide.
To reduce his talent to what he pays in rent is crazy.
He actually works…and gets paid then pays his rent – like the rest of America….
He pays 7500 a month in rent. But rips off everyone he works with.
And pulling on heart strings. He has no shame. LOL
“Prince of the Art World”?! PLEASE. Parasite more like it. I’ve seen better work produced by high school students. Tape ‘art’ ?! PLEASE. Again, nothing remotely original there.
Sacrifice his existence?! PLEASE. Trust fund child. Who pays his $7500+ monthly expenses?!
Blah, blah, blah, blah.
Well pointed out Tristan! I thought there was a compelling reason why we decided to feature Mr Bassett as the ‘rising prince of the art world.’ Let’s hope that he continues to inspire us.
Sounds like alot of hate – you should try congratulating a young artist who has sacrificed his existence to place himself at the helm of the art world —
so I guess that Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Arthur C. Clark and Mark Twain were sellouts too —
Go LEARN some history —
Your comment screams hate….
I’ve been following Sam’s films and they all give a nod to history as does the rest of his work….
educate yourself Delite-
and how can one be a artist-wannabe???that means that he wouldn’t be creating…and his work would not be featured in the multiple magazines that employ him —
Anyone who takes time to spread hate…no wonder you don’t “get” Sam’s work….
scam, scam, scam. bohemian bourgeoisie skater loser turned artist-wannabe. the fact that he has a studio at the chelsea hotel screams SELL OUT. tape art genius? please!
You’re welcome Tristan. Yes, I don’t expect Sam to “sell out” anytime soon…
The guy is a genius.
Thank you for this article and background information on Sam Bassett! I’m continually impressed by Sam’s ability to push boundaries and cross mediums. During a time when most artists are playing it “safe”…I’m glad that Sam isn’t afraid to create socially engaging artwork — renegade style!
Really looking forward to following his career…
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