“He’s the only man I know,” said international playboy and Greek shipping heir–slash–journalist Taki Theodoracopulos of his 28-year-old son, J.T., “who is a painter who refuses any kind of publicity, when completely talentless people, like Basquiat and all the rest of these—”
“No, not Basquiat,” J.T. said. “He painted a lot, he painted a lot.”
“Well, he did it by sucking Andy Warhol’s dick,” said Taki. “I don’t understand why an upper class boy, whose mother is a serene highness—”
“Oh, God, dad,” moaned J.T.
John-Taki Theodoracopulos—J.T. to his friends—is a bike messenger and an as-of-yet-undiscovered artist. He lives alone in a townhouse in Red Hook, Brooklyn. He’s married to but currently separated from Assia Baudi de Selve, the daughter of Count Maurizio Baudi de Selve of Torino, with whom he has two young children. They live with their mom in Manhattan and he tries to see them every day.
It was a Friday night, and I was ensconced with J.T. and dad Taki at Odeon in Tribeca. J.T. is 6 feet tall and lean, his angular face animated by dark, full eyebrows that create deep lines in his forehead when he lifts or furrows them. He was wearing a cotton polo over a long-sleeve undershirt pushed up about the wrists, and faded jeans rolled above the ankle. His dad looked tanned, taut and, at 72, every inch the former captain of the Greek national karate team. He was wearing a gray suit and seersucker tie.
“No, seriously,” Taki continued. “Why must a man be black, gay and with one leg to, to make it? I mean unless you want to be like Van Gogh—but even he got desperate at the end.”
J.T. laughed and shook his head. Dad!
“Can I get you something?” said the waiter.
“For me, nothing—because I’m getting ready for a 27-year-old,” said Taki. “No, seriously, but maybe later.” He explained that he had just returned from his London season where, in the midst of a heated cricket match, he was up to bat when he caught sight of a comely 27-year-old actress in the stands. The wicket-keeper—in an effort to interfere with his swing—told him her name was Georgina and she was “virile in bed.”
It seemed Georgina was now in New York, and Taki hoped to have a date with her later that evening. Taki’s wife, a.k.a., J.T.’s mom, a.k.a. Princess Alexandra Carlota Sophy von Schoenburg-Hartenstein, and daughter Mandolyna were in Europe, leaving Taki a bachelor in the townhouse on East 71st Street, where J.T. was raised.
A young woman at a nearby table was on her BlackBerry.
“I can’t cope with the modern world,” Taki said. “Everybody on the street walks around typing something. It gets so on my nerves. And nobody talks and you wonder why no one is articulate.”
J.T. does own a Blackberry. His recent art show at the Work Gallery in Brooklyn was a collection of photos taken with his Nokia cell phone while atop his messenger bike. He’s spent the last decade studying painting, mainly in Paris and Rome. When he returned to New York in 2007, he began questioning his vocation. So he started bike-messengering. Now his confidence is back: He’s currently playing with video art.
John-Taki used to ride his bike to school. He went to a lot of them. He rode to St. David’s on 89th and Madison with his grandfather, Peter Schoenberg, who would be wearing a suit. When he was 9, teachers discovered he was dyslexic, so his parents sent him to the Eagle Hill School in Greenwich, Conn. He remembers marveling at the graffiti along the highway. But Connecticut lost its allure when he started to notice his sister Mandolyna’s cool friends. He convinced his mom to let him go to Dwight on West 89th Street.
“I’d ride my bike through the park,” he said. “I’d see friends at the bus stops and sometimes get into fights at the bus stops, and then everybody would hear about it.” His parents packed him back to Connecticut, to the Foreman School. He went with a blazer and tie and a determination to be a good student. The school took a “hippy-dippy” approach he liked; he started spending time in “the Pines,” smoking weed and messing around with girls. Weekends, he went tagging around Astor Place. Next stop: the infamous exclusive Le Rosey school in Gstaad.
“This was like 1995, so all these European kids were wearing all-black, big gold Versace belts, and I was like, ‘What the fuck is going on?’” said J.T. At Le Rosey the thing to do was to take your girl out on the lake in a rowboat. Thing is, it’s pretty hard to lose your virginity in a rowboat.
Then on his last day: “I finished my exams, and I felt really kind of cool about it, I did really well, because they would give you extra time and wouldn’t count your spelling,” he said. He had hash to celebrate, so he went behind a boulder. There was a girl hanging out back there. She had a heart scrawled on the thigh of her jeans with J.T.’s name in the middle.
“It was great, and it was very difficult, because you’re used to masturbating,” said J.T. “You’re not used to having a woman, and having to move and I remember being really hot and sweaty and dizzy and burns on my knees and like it was crazy—and the trains were like—it’s in an orchard, and there’s bushes and it’s near the train tracks—and I had fooled around with girls before, but this was crazy, and then we walked out. And we had to go to lunch, you know, it was the last day. I sat down next to Mr. Thompson and I can remember the smell, I remember thinking everybody can just smell sex, everybody can tell what’s just happened. And that was my last day, and I went back to my dorm to change and I took the train down to Geneva to meet my Dad.”