"I always said I wanted to go to New York because you could walk around without your shirt on," she says. "I'm the one who really drove it home that you couldn't."

"The only thing New York City has criminalized is what I call 'nihilistic nudity': You wake up, don't feel like putting on clothes, and walk out the door."

Van Voast grew up in Galway, a tiny town upstate. In her youth, she says, the feed store was the most exciting place around for miles. Her parents still live in the area, as do most of her siblings: a fraternal twin sister and an older sister and brother.

She doesn't speak to any of them. "I'm beyond the black sheep," she says. "I'm like the sheep on the moon."

"She was definitely a rebel, for sure," says Chris Stearns, an independent filmmaker who knew Van Voast in high school and who in August of this year completed a documentary, Topless Shock Syndrome, about her shirtless antics. Stearns describes Galway as an isolated, conservative enclave that largely escaped the punk movement of the 1980s. "She definitely stood out," he says of Van Voast.

Topless Shock Syndrome traces Van Voast's move from Galway to a $250-a-month apartment on the Lower East Side with a bathroom in the hallway. She feasted on the Lower East Side's art scene and tried, with mixed success, to draw attention to her own painting. To make ends meet, she wound up working at an advertising agency, doing production work for pharmaceutical ads. Later, she worked for a small company in the financial district, writing applications and reports. She continued to pursue art: painting, modeling for fellow artists, making jewelry. (One season, she sold a collection to Barneys.) She "dropped into" photography, she tells Stearns, though not the safe, studio-art kind. "I was interested in the risky sort of high you'd get from trying to get portraits of people who maybe didn't even want you to shoot them," she says in Topless.

In 2008, Van Voast made one of her most striking photo series, focusing on jockeys at racetracks around the region, from Belmont and Aqueduct to the Meadowlands, Saratoga, Delaware Park, and Pimlico. She fell in love with the look of one jockey in particular: Edgar Prado, who reminded her of something out of a Frederick Remington painting. Her Flickr page, where she goes by the handle LensJockey, contains hundreds of images of the jockeys racing and at rest, small and stately in their helmets and bright silks. A series titled "Woodlawn Invitational Cup" features several jockeys racing on horseback among the tombstones and monuments of Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

In the mid-2000s, she began photographing the various crowds she'd fallen in with: Michael Arenella and the Dreamland Orchestra, the 1920s-style big band he leads, and a tight-knit group of underground "punk drag" performers.

When she first went out as Harvey Van Toast in May 2011, Van Voast wore pasties. But by July she was going completely topless. "It was just too expensive, getting pasties," she explains. "The only thing that holds you back is the insecurity of having your nipples exposed, which is retarded."

Somewhere along the line, Van Voast decided to turn her camera on her alter ego's audience, making photos or short videos of passersby reacting to her getup. One video she posted to YouTube in September 2012 is set outside a school in the Bronx. The nine-minute clip shows mothers rolling their eyes, huffing in disgust, and pulling their children away. "I know it's legal," one woman says, exasperated, taking her daughter by the hand. "But why you gotta be around kids?"

As another publicity ploy, Harvey Van Toast began seeking encounters with celebrities. James Franco was her first: She waited outside the Ed Sullivan Theater to surprise him as he slipped out after an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. Other gonzo celebrity encounters include Bill Cosby (looking baffled), Johnny Depp (likewise confused, peering at her over the top of a town car), Robert Downey Jr. (delighted), Mayor Michael Bloomberg (at a parade, his face caught in a rictus of forced jollity and dawning horror).

Van Voast is emphatic that when she started out, she intended for Harvey to be purely a performance. She wasn't trying to make a statement about the politicized nature of bare breasts. "I'm an artist," she says. "I don't see why artists have to be pressured into being activists. I think it's dismissive of the time and effort it takes to be an artist. No one pushes activists to be artists."

But what she was doing began to take on new meaning, particularly after she was arrested for "disorderly conduct" three times between August and October 2011: in Times Square, outside the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station, and in Williamsburg.

In January 2012 she was arrested yet again, this time in St. Patrick's Cathedral. According to the police report, cathedral staff members said they observed Van Voast "walk in the middle aisle while talking very loudly and removing her top, exposing her bare breasts." Employees said they "observed people turning and walk[ing] away from the defendant's direction" and claimed they told Van Voast to leave several times before they resorted to calling law enforcement.

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14 comments
itsmrjakefromstatefa
itsmrjakefromstatefa


Don Rickles and Johnny Carson We remember watching the Tonight Show, (Years Ago) when Johnny Carson and Don Rickles were having another one of their Fantastic Shows Together. Johnny and Don were chatting about a movie that Don Rickles had made named "Wasting Away Again In Kutcharitaville". It was a Super Terrific Show to say the least, both of them started talking about Kutchie Pelaez and his World Famous Restaurant called Kutchie's Key West Kutcharitaville Cafe. About his Famous Goody Goody Cheese Burgers in Paradise and how he had been serving them since the early 1970's. That's when Johnny Carson started telling Don about the famous key lime pies that Kutchie bakes. Don then preceded to tell Johnny that he too was "Addicted To Kutchie's Famous Key Lime Pies". That's when Ed McMahon hit Rickles from behind with a key lime pie, all over his bald head. Johnny, must have been planing it from the beginning, he sure set Rickles-up to take the hit. Oh my gosh, that show was just hilarious, it had all of us rolling in the floor for hours. They just don't make TV like that anymore. Those three were always great together. Don, Johnny and Ed. Any-Who, could anyone here please tell me just when that "Kutcharitaville Movie" came-out? Was it in the 70's or was it in the 80's? We just can't seem to find any information about it. It's like it just Disappeared, like Johnny and Ed did. Thank God, we still have Don Rickles. We remember the days back when we spent many of our days "Wasting Away Again In Kutcharitaville". I am sure that many of you do too.

itsmrjakefromstatefa
itsmrjakefromstatefa

It just doesn’t get any better than seeing the gorgeous “Mrs. Anita
Pelaez” over at her and her Famous Husband “Captain Kutchie’s”place..Some Folks Also Call Him..”The
KutchMan others call him The KutchMon!”…Most Just Call Him “The Most
Interesting Man In The World”….(Anita and Kutchie Pelaez’s Key West, Key Lime Pie
Factory and Grill)…Just Watching The Lovely Couple Baking Together All
Those Yummy Key Lime Pies At Their Key Lime Pie Factory And Grill In
Asheville.
…It’s Always Worth The Trip To Visit Them In They’re Historic Key Lime
Pie Factory and Grill…It Should Be On Everyone’s Bucket List For
Sure..And
The World’s Best Key Lime Pies!..YUM-YUM-YUM….­­.”Talk About World
Class” What An Understatement!…….AA­­HHHHH!….The Magic Of The
Lovely..”Mrs. Anita Pelaez” And Her Delicious Key Lime Pies Baked With
Pure Love…Always……40 Years And They’re Still Going Strong….
….May GOD Continue Blessing “Anita And Kutchie Pelaez” and They’re World
Famous Key Lime Pie Factory And Grill Where The Personalities, Ovens And
Smiles Are Always Warm And Inviting.
....“Kutcharitaville” You’re The Best And We Love You!….
…Now You Know Who Is The Hottest!…And Baby Let Me Tell You, Mrs. Anita Is No Act…She’s The Real Thing Baby!…
….Located Near The Biltmore House And Estate…..
….Who Could Ask For Anything More?…Anita’s Key Lime Pie…(Hell Yes!)
….Just Think, Kutchie’s Goody Goody Cheese Burgers, First Billed As “The
Original Cheese Burgers In Paradise!” Way Back In 1974 By "Kutchie's
Good Friend "Mr Levi Stubbs" Lead Singer Of The Four Tops…."Sorry
“Buffett”…Kutchie’s Version Of “Cheese Burgers In Paradise” Came A Few
Years Before Yours Did, “Dog Ate Your Home-Work?"!!...Yeah, Jimmy, It's
The Same Kutchie Pelaez,-The Famous Deep Sea Underwater And Treasure
Explorer/Megalodon Shark Tooth Hunter.
Who Worked Along With "Mel Fisher", "Captain Tony Tarracino", "Yankee
Jack", "Michael McCloud", "Alabama Jack" , "Vito Bertucci" and Many Others Of Key West Fame.
….That Alone Is Quite A Pretty Big Deal If You Ask Me. ….”Hell”,..It’s A Pretty Big Deal Even If You Don’t Ask Me.
….Research, Continually Confirms The Fact That The Pelaez’s World
Famous Key Lime Pies Truly Increases Married Couple’s Sex Rates By No Less
Than 300% Respectively. It Also Shows That Said Sexual Encounters Are
Much, Much More Enjoyable Than They Ever Were Before The Consumption Of
The Pelaez’s Key Lime Pies.
…..And
On A Sad Note. It Has Been Reported That The Consumption Of The Famous
Key Lime Pies Are Quite Detrimental To The Practices Of Divorce
Attorneys. But, That’s Not Bad. Hell That’s Good News.
…Not A Sad Note, A Happy Note! The Pelaez’s Pies Are A Win-Win-Win For Everyone Involved!
….I Guess You Could Say What Has Been Said Many Times Before,…”AHHH” The
Magic Of The Lovely Anita Pelaez And Her Key Lime Pies….
….I Do Know First Hand That The Pelaez’s Famous Key Lime Pies Have
The Ability To Turn Small Stream Squirters Into Major League Gushers Or
Some Might Call Them “Niagara Falls”. Holly Molly, Let Those Good Times
Flow, Baby!
....It's No Wonder Everyone Believes That Kutchie Pelaez Is The Most Interesting
Man In The World....."Damn He Really Is" For Sure!
.....That "Kutchie", He Looks Marvelous Dahling!...

...."Hemingway", Had Nothing On The "KutchMan"...

Lamdba
Lamdba

Good article. I thought Kuby's analysis as to why Van Voast has gotten so many arrests was particularly interesting.

Lamdba
Lamdba

You have to remember, in 1935, 42 men were arrested en mass (and subsequently fined) for topless bathing in Atlantic City, and up until 1960, a man could be fined for taking off his shirt in Central Park. Over time, the cultural norms shifted.

moonpilotmae
moonpilotmae

@villagevoice pretty sure this is your most tweeted headline ever! We get it - topless blah blah blah breasts.

Jennifer Convery
Jennifer Convery

omg...Such narcissistic bullshit. they're doing nothing for women's rights - just coming off as completely mental zealots & making themselves strangers porny spectacles & perv magnets.

Richie Vela
Richie Vela

That's ok I'll pass...how bout a good fart joke,that seems to be your level of intelligence.

frank124c
frank124c topcommenter

People should be allowed to walk around in public completely nude if they so choose. After all if a person is nude they would not be able to conceal weapons.  

prusin
prusin

If only VV was as interested in allowing gun owners to show our guns as they are in women showing their breasts. Yes, a 'tit'ilating article. If we have a decent mother who cares about her offspring, we all start out suckling the nipple. Breast baring isn't considered an innate right, while armament ownership is, and not only that, but it was considered by our founders so fundamental they chose to put it in the Bill of Rights as the second amendment.

nelly12
nelly12

I'm definitely in favor. I admire your valor.  

yonjuro
yonjuro

I was hoping to see some dirty pictures.

gscot
gscot

It's amazing some people have to fight so hard for such simple things.

ajweberman
ajweberman

Thank Allah for Ron Kuby. Holly was going to use her settlement money from NYPD to go to Saudi Arabia and do her thing over there but Ron and other lawyers got 50% of her settlement. But Ron said he would take my next case for free so that means I have to go out and get busted. Shooot.

jonathan.nyc
jonathan.nyc topcommenter

I'm in favor.  But the trend really hasn't caught on in the last 20 years.


I'm sure your click rate will skyrocket.   

 
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