Buffalo is just now beginning to reel from the loss of artist and artisan Jonathan Casey. Jonathan has left a hole that will never be filled, because in all honesty there will never be another person like Jonathan.
When I first got to know Jonathan as a creative tour de force, I remember thinking, “Thank God Buffalo finally has its act together, because in years past we never would have managed to keep someone like this happy and satisfied. We need to keep this guy in Buffalo. How do we keep him busy?”
It turns out that Jonathan constantly kept himself busy. He was always up to something. And everyone wanted to be a part of “The Jonathan Show”.
I fondly recall the energetic anticipation every time Jonathan buzzed me on the phone. Whenever I saw his name show up on caller ID, I knew I was in for a treat. My favorite phone call was when Jonathan said something along the lines of, “Hello Newell, would you like to come see my wooly mammoth?” The funny thing is, for whatever reason this inquiry didn’t even phase me. It was almost like I expected the phone call and the question. “Sure,” I answered. “Where is it?” Moments later, I was standing in front of a life-size wooly mammoth, deep in the heart of the West Side, on a street that I was completely unfamiliar with. But it all seemed so natural, because I was standing next to Jonathan, who was beaming with pride.
It was right after the wooly mammoth adventure that my phone began to light up. Suddenly, Jonathan was working on projects all over Buffalo. Here was a guy who first ventured onto Chandler Street when no one else knew it was there. He planted a flag in the form of series of whacked out murals on the side of his studio building, and began to fabricate an assortment of concrete works – mostly industrial furniture, which was captivating to say the least. Then it was dinosaur bones for a children’s park, and a bone-shaped bench for a dog park… the works just kept coming and coming (see here). Jonathan was happy. And when Jonathan was happy, Buffalo was happy.
I was so excited to see Jonathan getting recognized for his creativity, his zeal, and his fashioned works. Not only did he get a commission for his sculpture titled Connectivity at Niagara Square, he also landed the contract to work on the new African-American Veterans Memorial at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park. Jonathan and his design and fabrication business, Solid 716, were the talk of the town and the toast of the town.
It wasn’t until I heard that Jonathan had passed, that I learned that he was one of the focal painted figures in artist Logan Hicks’ Walking Back in Time mural, which I wrote about last July. Looking at the image of Jonathan, perched on the street curb, seemingly in his own world, deep in thought, with the street light shining down upon him, and City Hall in the background… man, it’s like this painting was some sort of premonition. I don’t mean that in a foreboding way, I mean it in a soul-stirring way. While everyone else in the mural appears happy, and engaged with one another, here is this self-reflective figure that seems a little out of place – once again, not in a bad way. To me, Jonathan was the rogue Buffalonian who was always on the lookout for whatever was to come his way. And whatever came his way, he embraced it wholeheartedly. For Jonathan, it was all or nothing.
It’s hard to imagine a Buffalo without Jonathan… especially at this time, when we need him most. His outlandish personality, inherent talent, limitless vision, and adventurous spirit helped to build this city in ways that only Jonathan could muster. But in the end, it was his love for his friends and family (one in the same) that made him such a treasure. Those who knew Jonathan will always remember him as the shining star that he became.
I know that it sounds cliché, but if there was ever someone who lived up to the quote by Lao Tzu…
“The flame that burns Twice as bright burns half as long.”
… it would have to be Jonathan.