John Ahearn

Toby and Raymond

Written by Myla Lopez-Lemee, Docent


Originally from Binghamton, New York, John Ahearn attended Cornell University and subsequently moved to New York City in 1974. Ahearn was first a painter and enjoyed painting until he discovered the joy of casting people into sculptures in the early eighties. His first opportunity to cast came from his friend, Tom Otterness. 

After casting Otterness, John Ahearn was invited to cast different subjects by artist/gallerist Stefan Eins at his studio, Fashion Moda, in the South Bronx. Ahearn’s time at Fashion Moda was meant to last for only one year; however he derived so much pleasure from casting and interacting with the neighborhood locals, who would gather to watch him at the studio as he worked, that he ended up staying in the Bronx for roughly a decade.  

During his first year in the Bronx, he met an 18-year old high school student, Rigoberto (aka Robert) Torres, who would play a significant role in Ahearn’s coming of age as an artist.  Robert Torres was first Ahearn’s apprentice and eventually co-creator of his early works like Double Dutch Kelly and We Are Family. Torres was also instrumental in helping Ahearn fit into the South Bronx, a predominantly minority community. Torres introduced Ahearn to his uncle who had a statuary factory in the Bronx that enabled Ahearn to get the materials he needed for his works. Torres also helped Ahearn get an apartment in the Bronx so he can easily get to the studio to work on his projects. 

Of the casting process, Ahearn said, “I like having an immediate physical relationship with the people that I work with, and I like having an activity that involves direct participation in the making of the artwork.” Ahearn also said that interacting with the public during his cast-making process enabled him to combat the loneliness he felt when he first moved to New York City. 

His work, Raymond and Toby, is a part of a group installation that he had created for the intersection of Jeremy Avenue in the Bronx, across a newly-built police precinct.  The other two pieces are Daleesha in Roller Skates and Corey with His Boom Box

There were many controversies around these three sculptures and the community pushed back so strongly against this initiative that Ahearn’s work were never installed on Jeremy Avenue; instead the three sculptures reside in Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens. Community members felt that the images enforced negative stereotypes of Bronx residents and were not aspirational enough. Ahearn argued that he wanted to capture the essence of the subjects as he sees each one of them. At this time, Ahearn had also stopped working with Robert Torres and many questioned whether Torres’s absence led to Ahearn’s controversial depiction of Bronx residents in the three statues. 

Ahearn reunited with Torres for the 2012 Frieze Art Fair in New York City where they recreated some of their older works. The two men also collaborated on other projects in Taiwan and Brazil. 

John Ahearn (b. 1951)
Toby and Raymond, 1986
Oil on fiberglass
46 1/8 x 43 ¼ x 39 ¼ in.
Gift of Edward and Hugh Downe

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