When artist Alan Strack would visit his grandparents in Oneonta in the summers and for holidays, he said he would sleep in an apartment above the Showcase Cinema on Elm Street and listen to the films.
His grandparents were Oneonta Theatre and Showcase Cinema owners Harold and Alice deGraw, and their long association with the movie business has led Strack to a mid-career shift, he said.
"You could hear it through the floor," Strack told The Daily Star in a phone interview Tuesday from Brooklyn, where he lives. "It was always fascinating to me to try to identify what kind of movie it was by how it sounded."
Strack, 42, said he had worked for Nike in Oregon as a graphic designer for more than a decade when he decided he wanted a change for his young family, and for himself. A few years earlier he had rescued something from his grandfather's estate — Alice died in 1996; Harold in 1999, about four years after he sold the Oneonta Theatre — that reminded Strack of his love for movies when he was a child.
"When my grandfather died ... we found a lot of old film when we were cleaning out things," he said. "We were just throwing stuff away, and to me — and I am sort of a hoarder — it doesn't feel right. I said to myself, 'I need to hold onto these. I might be able to do something with them.'"
After 14 years as a senior graphic designer at Nike, Strack said he moved his family to Brooklyn Heights, and decided to combine his love of graphic design, with its original inspiration, movies. Taking frames from old reels, which were mostly found at the Oneonta Theatre and the deGraws' drive-in theater in Easton, Maryland, Strack creates film-themed art that is historic, camp, and for film buffs, classic.
A happenstance meeting led Strack to a big commission at Nitehawk Cinemas, which has two locations in Brooklyn, and he has been showing his work at exhibits for about 18 months. Friday, June 14, he opened a show in Provincetown, Massachusetts, as part of the Provincetown International Film Festival, where the director of the film featured in several of his displays showed up and viewed the work, he said.
"I had a John Waters piece, a piece from the movie 'Cry Baby,' and someone told me he lives there," Strack said. "So I thought it would be fun to meet him. I think I had just shown up, and I walk into the gallery, and there is John Waters looking at the piece. He was super nice. He was super down to Earth. ... I wasn't sure how it was going to go. It couldn't have gone any better."
Strack said it was films that initially piqued his interest in graphic design.
"It was the movie posters that got me into design," he said. "They were super fascinating to me, in their design and in their art, and how they communicated what the movie was about. Back then, you didn't really see movie trailers unless you were already at a movie. So the movie poster was the main advertising for the movie. Sometimes I would find that the movie posters were more interesting than the films."
Strack said he still remembers his summers and holidays in Oneonta favorably.
"Most of my vacations were spent trying to figure out how many movies I could see," he said.
The Oneonta Historical Society is hosting a show about the theater, "The Oneonta Theatre: Reflecting Popular Culture Since 1897." Strack said he will attend the show with one of his cousins before the it closes Saturday, Aug. 3. He said it will be his first trip to Oneonta in more than a decade.
"I feel I definitely have to go to pay my respects," he said. "I wouldn't be where I am without my grandparents, and especially my grandfather."
Go to www.light-reel.com/ to see more of Strack's art.