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NY artist & furniture dealer Robert Loughlin dies

Robert Loughlin, who painted a square-jawed man he dubbed "the brute" around New York City and sold vintage furniture to art world stars, died Tuesday. He was 62.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Robert Loughlin, who painted a square-jawed man he dubbed "the brute" around New York City and sold vintage furniture to art world stars, died Tuesday. He was 62.

Loughlin was fatally struck by a car near his home in North Bergen, N.J., as he crossed a major thoroughfare on foot, said Gary Carlson, his partner of 31 years.

Loughlin was famous among designers as a "picker," someone who visits flea markets and thrift stores looking for vintage furniture to re-sell. His buyers have included art world stars such as Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. He also was a prolific painter with roots in the gritty 1980s street art scene. He painted his signature image, the stern face of man, on walls and objects around the city starting in the 1980s.

Loughlin moved to New York in the early 1980s after reading about furniture dealer Alan Moss in New York magazine, Carlson said. Once he arrived, Loughlin became a fixture in the East Village, where he sold mid-century furniture from a truck and later a gallery.

Manhattan gallerist Paul Johnson, a longtime friend, said Loughlin was "adored by the most famous designers in the city."

"He was the ultimate" at picking out vintage gems, Johnson said. "He had the best taste."

In 1994, Loughlin made the kind of find collectors dream about— a Salvador Dali painting, sitting in a Manhattan thrift shop with a $40 price tag. The painting later went up for sale at Sotheby's.

Loughlin's own paintings had gotten increased attention of late. Johnson had collected 500 of them and hosted a show in his home last year.

"He was getting opportunities now. People love his paintings," Johnson said. "But he never wanted a gallery; he never wanted the commercial side of it. He just wanted to paint."

Loughlin was born on May 9, 1949, on a naval base in Alameda, Calif., according to a biography on his website. He left school after the sixth grade to care for his siblings. In the 1960s, he lived in a geodesic dome and participated in the Berkeley riots before moving to San Francisco.

In 1980, he moved to Miami Beach and to New York shortly thereafter. He opened his shop, called the Executive Gallery, in the East Village. He sold so many chairs to Warhol for The Factory that Warhol dubbed him "the chairman." He also sold 1950s glassware to photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

"Mapplethorpe loved him," Carlson recalled. "He'd grab him and take him into his darkroom all the time and leave me standing out there."

But Loughlin's painting was interrupted by bouts of heavy drinking, Carlson said. He couldn't create art when he was drinking, but the intense withdrawal wore him out.

"He had that monkey," Carlson said.

The couple lived together in a vintage trailer in North Bergen. Carlson said he was the inspiration for "the brute."

The night before his death, they had visited Soho, where Loughlin posed for photos next to work by his favorite artist, Man Ray, in a dealer's home. They also visited Moss, who Loughlin had always emulated and who Carlson called "the Mount Everest of design."

Moss said he wanted one of Loughlin's paintings. So Loughlin found a white glazed vase from Moss' collection and brought it home to sketch "the brute" onto it in felt-tip pen.

Loughlin will be cremated and the vase will become his urn, Carlson said.


AP writer Samantha Henry contributed to this report from Newark, N.J. Karen Zraick can be reached at