Find Trotsky!” After Stalin barked a similar order, the party ended for his rival Leon Trotsky, who was tracked down and dispatched with a pickax, in Mexico in 1940.
A happier fate awaited another Trotsky last summer after ’60s rock revolutionary Bob Dylan sent agents scurrying to locate the creator of a mural he’d spotted on a building in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen district. Signed “Trotsky,” the painting, a colorful acrylic-on-brick of a dancing couple, adorns the side of the Kowk Wah Chinese Restaurant at Ninth Avenue and 53rd Street. When Dylan wanted to photograph it for the cover of his 35th Columbia Records album, Oh Mercy, Columbia minions went in search of the artist not with axes but with a contract for more than $5,000.
Weeks later, Trotsky was located with the help of a local community group. “There I was in early July, returning from landlord-tenant court, completely exhausted, and the phone rings,” says Trotsky, 36, who owed back rent on his ramshackle $369-a-month studio near his mural. “I answered with a whine.” And utter disbelief when told of Dylan’s intent. “I said, ‘You’re full of it,’ ” he recalls.
Though named for his father, a sanitation worker, Trotsky—who won’t reveal his last name—really owes his unusual moniker to his grandfather, a veteran political southpaw. His own father, Trotsky says, “was social, but not socialist.”
Flirted with now by agents and galleries—”I’m hot right now and I love it,” he says—Trotsky enjoyed an audience with his benefactor at a Dylan concert in July. “He told me my painting blew him away,” says the artist. “He was also concerned that I liked the title of the album to go with my artwork. That was very nice.”
But Trotsky has also received an even higher compliment. His mural, painted in 1986, has survived without a speck of graffiti. “That’s very flattering,” he says. “That’s the risk you run when you paint on the street. You can really tell what people do and don’t like.”