Artist Hulbert Waldroup Starts a Gallery in Bergen-Lafayette’s Communipaw Cove

When the upscale restaurant M.A.E. opened its doors this spring, much was said about the Bergen-Lafayette area’s thriving art community. But while there may be plenty of creative types situated in this part of town, there’s not a single gallery or performance space in sight. During the Jersey City Artists Studio Tour, most locals had viewings in their own homes or studio spaces, but that was about it.

That’s until former Foundry Lofts resident and painter, Hulbert Waldroup, along with real estate agent Basilio Rivera, had an artistic revelation: “Let’s put this open space to good use and showcase a rotating art scene,” Waldroup says. The space in question is the ground floor of Communipaw Cove, a Jack Pires development just across from the Foundry building. Communipaw Cove has been filled to capacity in terms of residential units filled, but the ground floor with its large retail-friendly windows remained barren and unused for over two years.

Inspired by the thriving Brooklyn art scene Waldroup felt that the opening of M.A.E. signaled an artistic call to arms. “We need more events going on here – where you can walk down the street at night and wander into a happening scene,” Waldroup says.

Though the gallery space is unofficial and may eventually become a retail space, Waldroup and Rivera came up with their own answer to what was lacking in the area.

“You can go to M.A.E. for discounted drinks then meander over to the gallery and check out the art or performance scene,” Basilio explains. “We’re calling it ‘Thirsty Thursdays’ for now.” The scene could include spoken word, poetry, wine & cheese and a rotating show of local artists.

“We’re bringing some culture to the neighborhood,” Waldroup says. “I’m a serious, productive artist and showcasing local artists makes this property more attractive to both the residents and the community.” Indeed, Waldroup intends to use his influence to expose urban kids to art that goes beyond the average graffiti they see around town. “They just don’t get enough art exposure in school,” he adds. “I’d like to help kids appreciate great art and perhaps do some painting demonstrations, so they get the feel for creating.”

Waldroup has a reputation for attracting controversy and trouble regarding his art. On a smaller scale, some Jersey City residents were not pleased with the “sexual nature” and language of some of his large-scale paintings, which he would often display in the windows of his apartment. More than a decade ago, Waldroup received an enormous amount of criticism for his mural of Amadou Diallo, who was slain mistakenly by New York City police officers, for depicting the officers in Ku Klux Klan robes. Though most residents felt that this was a fair rendering of cops who killed an African immigrant for merely wielding a wallet, many in the Harlem neighborhood said it was too extreme.

Waldroup, a self-taught painter, cites muralist Diego Rivera amongst his top influences, along with heavy-hitters like Caravaggio and Picasso. Though some of his work, through usage of dialogue balloons, might appear to reference the pop artist Roy Lichtenstein – Waldroup shrugs off that comparison. It’s unlikely that Mr. Lichtenstein would ever caption a painting with “Pimpin got harder, cuz hoes got smarter” but that’s precisely what either attracts or repels the public to Waldroup’s work.

“You’re never sure if he’s pushing your buttons to get a reaction or he’s just completely unapologetic about presenting the world through his particular prism,” as one attendee noted.

Though the gallery showcases only Waldroup’s work for now, moving forward he sees this endeavor as a place to network, hang out and maybe make a love connection. With the enthusiastic response from locals, “Thirsty Thursdays” holds promise for a neighborhood in great need of more gathering spots – whether folks come to buy art remains to be seen.

“We don’t focus on the sale,” Waldroup says. “We focus on the fun.” And for him, the fun has just begun.

The gallery is located at the corner of Communipaw and Monitor; check out the scene every Thursday evening.

Photos by Jeremy Morrieson

Jayne Freeman

is the host of the long-time public access show Mamarama as seen locally on Comcast Cable (channel 51) and on YouTube. In addition to her parenting program she is a certified childbirth educator and regularly writes about the parental experience.