Aaron Bondaroff: The Clothes Make the Man
One of Aaron Bondaroff’s (aka A-ron, aka the Downtown Don) many slogans is “Never Not Working,” by which he refers to his life, his publishing company, his parties, his art, his hustle, and all the things in between.
For his recent art show, My Life in T-Shirts, the artist recalled autobiographical stories on his choice medium, white T-shirts hand-screenprinted. These hung on the perimeter of the gallery like so many skater kids and hustlers who didn’t make it as far. Working in the space between art object and consumer product and between the real and absurd (they’re not so different after all!), Bondaroff weaves the stories that make up the myths of Downtown New York.
Oh the genius of marketing! Now those stories are reproduced in a book (And Press). Here are seven minutes in heaven with A-ron, from that book:
1. Growing up in Brooklyn with a Puerto Rican mother and Jewish father, both of them New Wave health nuts, Bondaroff’s family was atypical in more ways than one. When he was young, A-ron’s father schemed to make extra money; the whole family sold “blue-green algae” with chlorophyll that was supposed to give you energy. “Kids who knew nothing about the health food game—we had them sold… We came up with a better hustle than the pyramid money scam; we had the super blue green algae!”
2. A-ron and his family had trouble with pets. They froze their hamsters and dyed Pepper the dog purple. But A-ron’s biggest problem was with the two Siamese cats; every time he brought a girl up to his room, the cats would sit and stare at the action: “Cats are very sexual like that,” He says in the book.
3. A-ron was always causing trouble at the camp he and his sisters attended each summer. One of his punishments for being (admittedly) a pain was clearing rocks off a field all day. Years later, counselors joked that the camp’s new arena should be named Aaron Bondaroff Field—because he cleared the way for it!
4. In the ninth grade, his friend’s brother began to DJ at clubs in the city. A-ron was under age, so he would carry the records to get in, nap until people arrived, and then dance for the rest of the night. “[We’d] do this every Thursday. Every fucking Thursday. I would hit the club, get home like 5 AM, and then wake up at 8 AM and go to school. I was living a secret life.”
5. After a long night in Manhattan, A-ron and his friends would take cabs back to Brooklyn (and usually cheat the driver by running out on the tab). When the cabbie refuse to take five people, they would stuff a kid into the trunk, until one friend, Salamander, was forgotten. “He ended up at JFK… The driver opened the trunk and Salamander popped out like the Crypt Keeper. He jumped out of the trunk and ran.”
6. Though he says he’s always been called A-ron, he added “the Don” to his graffiti tag, and it stuck. Later, friends started calling him the Dirty Rotten Don. “It’s funny when you have a name you start to become that name. Like Dirty Rotten Don. The name started to take over the person. I was getting dirtier and more rotten, but at the same time I was learning how to be a Don.”
7. A-ron claims he was always good with word play, so when he started his own brand, it follows that the name would be clever. aNYthing was all about living and breathing the streets of New York. “One day runs into the next—and as demented as it might sound to an average person, it’s still this freedom that we dream about and live, sometimes, in the city, a paradise island of opportunities.”