Alexander Gardega, the eccentric Locust Valley artist who caused a national stir this year after erecting a statue of a urinating dog on Wall Street, has died. He was 48.
Gardega died Thursday after being struck by a train in Manhattan.
“Art for him was torture. He struggled for work as an artist for years; never knowing when you’re going to eat, it weighs on your psyche,” said his younger brother, Marcus Gardega, 45, of Centerport. “It was his passion, he lived for it. He had some dark paintings, but he painted what he saw. Dark stuff didn’t’ sell and that’s part of it. Not having stability was definitely scary to him.”
In his younger years, Gardega worked from his Huntington home and opened a glass-carving studio in Deer Park.
“I just finished a piece based on an Old Empire style,” he told Newsday in 1994. “It’s a five-feet-by-three-feet angel and griffin-type creature of half-inch thick glass. And it’s framed with neon lights built into it.”
For a while, Gardega, a graduate of Cold Spring Harbor High School, studied Greek and Renaissance sculpture, and some of his early work was shown in the Steinhardt Gallery in Huntington, Newsday reported.
And the Smithtown Township Arts Council once asked him to carve a piece for a show on the history of women’s hair, according to Newsday.
Huntington interior designer Jo Ann Deegan said she hired Gardega for one of his first commercial jobs about 20 years ago.
“He was doing some minor jobs in the city and I was doing a large job designing this beautiful house,” said Deegan, 74, of her two-year project in Lloyd Neck. “In the field of design, there are certain elements that just can’t be taught. He just had it. I saw in him a person that could go to the limits, creatively.”
She said Gardega canvassed the residence, making a mural out of a gorgeous collection of caged birds inside the home.
“He went into the house and just started painting,” Deegan said. “It was very successful.”
But it was in May when Gardega drew national headlines for erecting a small statue of a dog urinating next to the “Fearless Girl” statue on Wall Street. The dog statue was removed a few hours later.
The girl, placed in front of the famous charging bull, was part of a campaign by State Street Global Advisors to draw attention to the dearth of women on corporate boards.
Instead of empowering women, Gardega believed the statue defaced the bull and its creator, changing its meaning and intent, Marcus Gardega said.
Gardega’s painting influences include Salvador Dali and Leonardo da Vinci, his family said.
In addition to his brother, survivors include his mother, Edwina Gardega, 76, of Northport, and two sisters, Jennifer Dulieu, 50, of Manhattan, and Racheal Gardega, 47, of Huntington. Funeral arrangements are pending.