Have you ever noticed the beautiful, intricate design carved into the sidewalk at the northwest corner of Broadway at Prince Street in front of the Prada store, one of the most heavily trafficked corners in New York City? I’ve lived in SoHo for 46 years, and I never did until Sascha Mombartz, my friend and creator of the mobile app Float, told me.
This chiseled piece is the creation of Ken Hiratsuka, an artist who left his home country to escape the rigid art system of postwar Japan. In 1984, back when SoHo was still a gritty and desolate area with blown-out streetlights. Hirotsuka, inspired by the graffiti he saw around the city, discovered this corner and said to himself, “This corner needs some life!” He decided to chisel a design into the granite, resulting the first work in a series of what became his signature style of stonework.
Afraid to be caught by the police and deported to Japan, Hiratsuka made the piece bit by bit under cover of night, always bringing a lookout. One night, however, the police surprised them by coming up Prince Street against traffic (not that there was any!), and his lookout, also a photographer, snapped this photo of the officer driving by to look at Ken and what he was doing, which was technically vandalism of public property. The officer, however, surveyed the situation and then kept driving, leaving the petrified Hiratsuka frozen in his (literal and figurative) tracks.
After that night, Hiratsuka was hesitant to return to the scene of the “crime,” but his artistic urge got the better of him and three months later he went back to finish the carving that is still there today for all to enjoy. When asked why he risked getting caught to create this piece, Hiratsuka said that he wanted the busy people of New York who were running by to stop for a minute, to forget their worries and be delighted, to be inspired.
So the next time you’re crossing the intersection of Broadway at Prince Street, wading through the throngs of pedestrians, make sure you stop, look down, and take a moment to be inspired!