BY KELLY KENDALL
Don Geyra has worked as an artist on Broadway shows from Amadeus to Young Frankenstein, and movies such as Sex and the City and The Devil Wears Prada. He’s spun records at the legendary New York City club, CBGB, where his inimitable mix of songs such as “The Girl from Ipanema” crashed into The Clash and attracted other DJs in droves. He was like family to the legendary punk band the Ramones and hung with rock icons including The B-52s and Talking Heads.
But last spring he brought his artistic talents to Bloomington, where he’s continuing his career as a decorative and scenic painter and fine artist. “This is my rebirth,” says Geyra, 60.
His childhood and college years were spent in bucolic upstate New York where he graduated from Colgate University. Through family connections, he learned about Indiana University and earned his master’s in fine arts here. “It was one of three strong programs in realist painting at the time,” he says.
Then he moved to New York City.
“I was looking for a loft to live in in the Bowery,” says Geyra. “I heard Lou Reed’s music coming out of one loft, and it was Joey Ramone’s loft. They became like brothers to me.”
Geyra worked as night manager and DJ at CBGB from 1978-81 when the fabled club was the epicenter of cool. “Everyone went there, and for the most part, the rock ’n’ roll people were great,” he says. “I was like this grounding force to them because I was always there—at the club and in my loft, painting.”
Within a year, Geyra had a one-man art show on Madison Avenue, selling 31 paintings, about half of which had been done in Bloomington. He went on to spend “thirty-two years in the trenches” as a scenic artist. “There’s no other profession like it,” he says. “For the most part, people are in great physical shape and educated…you’ll hear welders arguing about Rossini.”
But by the time he reached retirement age, he was ready to leave New York. “I couldn’t stand living there anymore,” he says. “Everything had changed.” His wife, Theresa, has family in Bloomington, and the couple have grandchildren in Indianapolis.
Geyra immediately found satisfying work painting backdrops for the IU Jacobs School of Music’s opera program, and is launching a one-man show at The Venue, Fine Art & Gifts gallery.
“I took all the energy and love that I had for things and brought it back to Bloomington,” he says. “People respond to art here. If you really push yourself and do good art, people will notice and respond to it.
“When I came to Bloomington, I went, ‘My God. I feel like I’m home.’”