Kysa Johnson is known for her art. Lately, she’s also known for suing the Empire State Building for losing her art.
Since her days at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland, the 39-year-old Connecticut native has specialized in gorgeously intricate drawings of sub-atomic particles in a state of decay (whoa). Unsure whether to continue living in Scotland, she was persuaded to live in Bushwick largely because she was commissioned by the Empire State Building to do a series of paintings on the concourse level, where people wait in line to go up to the top.
Which brings us back to that lawsuit. In 2012, after years of living in Bushwick, working at her studio on the border of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, and relaxing at Brazilian joint Beco (we’ll get to that in a sec), she learned that art collectors visiting the Empire State Building couldn’t find her 8-foot by 4-foot paintings, which were on permanent loan. Long story short: “Turned out the building had changed ownership,” she says. “They say they were destroyed. I have a feeling they might be somewhere in the bowels of the building. I don’t know how you destroy a work of that scale.” They agreed to a settlement in court and didn’t go into full litigation. “I feel good about the result,” she says.
However, that feeling is also tempered by a devastating sadness. These were pivotal works in her creative career that were loaded with personal meaning as well. They helped bring her to New York. And they eventually brought her to Beco, which also happens to be owned by her studio’s owner Daniel Giddings. It’s in this modest, open-aired, boteco where she can pick up or drop off her keys. Where she first bonded with her studio mates. And where she indulges in their juicy bauru steak sandwich and sweet pineapple-mint Caipirinha. Now, Kysa talks Beco, Brooklyn, and being an artist-mom.
If I leave the studio, it’s to go to Beco. If anyone comes to visit me, we end up here.
The food is amazing. It’s decadent in the best way. It’s rich but it’s fresh. It feels hearty, like you’re doing your body a favor and an indulgence. My favorite thing here when I was pregnant was the acai berry ice for breakfast with fruit and yogurt and granola. It’s divine.
At art school, we had this big cafe where everyone would hang out, and Beco kind of feels like that. It’s an extension of the studio.
The first time I came here was my first social experience with the studio. I was excited. We all sat a table and had a nice long lunch and talked about our families and compared stories. It felt like the art school community, making friends more than having a meeting.
You’re always trying to find the people that feel like home to you. What I find important is a level of seriousness that’s tempered with a sense of humor about it all and a recognition of how absurd what we do is.
What’s left of the art world in Williamsburg are the vestiges of my past. I feel like my studio building is not going to last. It’s literally surrounded by fancy condos.
I wouldn’t be here at Beco without the [Empire State Building] job. I’d be in East London somewhere or back in Scotland. I can’t think about the paintings not existing because it makes me too sad. Hopefully my actions helped in some small way for everyone to share an appreciation for art.
Justice shouldn’t matter on how much money you have. But I think it does.