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Stephen Douglas Hooper


by Charlie Finch
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I just found out from the opera singer Eva Nebeska that the legendary car artist Hoop, born Stephen Douglas Hooper, died of cancer in September at his home in Clifton, N.J. Hoop was 64.

I first met this gentle genius while smoking a joint with Hoop’s mentor, the late party promoter Baird Jones, in the back of one of Hoop’s furry vans outside the Paterson Museum in 1987. Baird was curating a show of East Village artists, like Sophie VDT, Mitch Corber, Skip Snow and Rhonda Zwillinger, at the Paterson, a tough venue, and we needed the herb to relax our nerves.

What followed was years of close association with the gentlemanly Hoop. Among the highlights: In 1995 I got a call from Jeannie Moos of CNN that she a wanted to film Hoop for one of her whimsical television segments. We met outside the Lincoln Tunnel, through which Jeannie and her crew drove parallel to Hoop and me in one of Steve’s funny cars, with the CNN crew’s boom mike and camera sticking out the window of their van.

Only problem was that, as we approached the Jersey Turnpike, Hoop veered off the ramp, the CNN folks veered towards us in hot pursuit and everyone ended up, unscratched, in a ditch! Guess you had to be there.

For Halloween 1990, my partner Melinda Hackett and I, at our space, Realart Inc on East 5th Street, decided to give Hoop a one week holiday installation. The only stipulation from Hoop was that we leave him alone in the gallery for a day. As we opened our gallery the next morning to Hoop’s witty ghouls, imagine our dread when we found two black nooses hanging above our desks in the back room.

I attended and assisted and even curated at a lot of clubs during the Baird Jones years. In 1988, long before Marina Abramovic’s LAMOCA bash featuring human centerpieces, we set up a free feast at the old Paradise Club and asked Hoop to stick his head up through the table of bounty, where a friendly Phil Spector chowed down on turkey and cranberry sauce, while yapping with Hoop’s head.

With his scraggly beard and soft demeanor, Hoop was a hero to detailers and auto artists all over the world. When Baird Jones died in 2008, he left his entire estate, including a valuable celebrity art collection, to Stephen Hooper. Hoop loyally tried to revive the Baird bashes, featuring copious drink tickets, free food and art by the likes of Tony Bennett and Miles Davis on the walls, but the new Meatpacking circuit left that grand tradition in the dust.

Now Hoop is dust, sparkly, fuzzy, quiet, gasoline-infused dust that, somewhere, smiles and asks, "Wasn’t that a time?" Hoop’s passing is a great, great loss to Downtown and the world.

CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).