SoHo Artist Arrested for Selling Pillows
MANHATTAN CRIMINAL COURT — A SoHo artist is in a pillow fight with the city.
Jemal McClary, who works under the name SEE ONE, has been embroiled in a seven-month legal battle since being arrested July 13 on misdemeanor charges of illegal vending and disorderly conduct. He was trying to sell $45 hand-painted pillows on a SoHo corner.
"All I did was paint," McClary, 31, of Brooklyn, said outside Manhattan Criminal Court Wednesday morning after taking a conditional discharge plea in exchange for the chance to avoid a criminal record.
"If I had put the same piece on stretcher bars, it would have been legal. You take the same painting and put it on a pillow form and you end up here."
The law allows artists to sell their creations on the street, but sellers of crafts need a permit.
His legal saga began around noon on July 13, when he was standing behind a table at Prince and Wooster streets trying to sell several paintings — as well as three pillows, which he was putting on display for the first time.
Two men who "looked like football players" approached the table and asked him if everything was for sale. McClary confirmed that it was, and the men who identified themselves as officers in the Manhattan South Peddler Task Force asked him if he had a vendors license, he said.
McClary said he had a tax identification number, which artists need to be able to sell their wares on the street, and said that he considered the pillows art, too.
"They said, 'This is not art,'" and ordered him to pack up his table, he said.
The Manhattan South Peddler Task Force — which was also behind the arrest of a Buddhist nun who tried to give away prayer beads in exchange for donations to rebuild her burned-down temple — follows Department of Consumer Affairs rules that require sellers of crafts and consumer goods to have permits to sell on the street.
People who sell paintings, photographs, prints and sculptures do not need vendor permits, according to DCA rules.
McClary said he feels like his artistic expression was stifled by the arrest, adding that he will no longer attempt to sell 3-D art on the street for fear of being re-arrested.
"I'll just keep it on flat stuff and not be as creative anymore," he said.
He faced community service if convicted, but under the conditional discharge he won't have a record as long as he is not arrested in the next six months, his lawyer said.
McClary said he thinks the city should expand its definition of art to include installations, murals and other pieces not on paper or canvas.
"By the city's view of art, not many people are artists," he said, "It makes me disappointed. New York is supposed to be the creative capital of the world."