PEACH TAO & THE BEST EGG CREAM IN NYC

The Ray’s Candy Store menu, full of many delights, including their perfect egg cream.

The Ray’s Candy Store menu, full of many delights, including their perfect egg cream.

I’ve been going to Ray’s Candy Store, located in the East Village of Manhattan, for thick-cut Belgian fries since I was fourteen. My favorite place for an egg cream, Ray’s is on its 45th year and going strong. When I stopped by to congratulate Ray on the anniversary, he responded “40 more!” The interior of this place has always really been something, so it doesn’t surprise me that in the past few months media attention has increased — Ray’s is a great place to be seen. The walls are plastered with sun-tinted magazine advertisements featuring ice cream brands, ketchup companies and cigarettes. Handwritten signs made with scrap paper and sharpie constitute the menu; it’s not a list, but an eye-spy game of various treats pictured by the colorful print-outs collaging the wall. On my most recent visit to pick up some beignets and a lime rickey, I noticed something different, the exterior was looking extra adorable! Smiling Oreos and a portrait of Ray himself adorned the previously run-down storefront (seen in the photo below by Simon Keough, which appears in PAEOI #12), which now catches the eye with it’s new turquoise, yellow, and pink painted outfit. Knowing that Ray’s, like so many other old school New York City spots, is in a constant battle with rent hikes, I wondered who was responsible for the makeover. And thus discovered Peach Tao!

Ray’s Candy Store, pre-Peach Tao mural, photographed by Simon Keough as part of a story in  PAEOI 12  about New Yorkers and their love of walking and eating.

Ray’s Candy Store, pre-Peach Tao mural, photographed by Simon Keough as part of a story in PAEOI 12 about New Yorkers and their love of walking and eating.

In the past decade of living in NYC, printmaker and muralist Peach Tao has left her vast and colorful mark. Originally from Beijing, Peach never pictured herself doing the large-scale work that she does now. Her first foray into community-centered artwork was with an organization called Paint the Town, which spruces up restaurant exteriors. For the past three years, she has been working with Thrive Collective, a group who collaborate with public schools to design murals based on ideas from the students. Artists like Peach then consolidate and tweak the submissions into large-format templates for the school’s exterior, and the murals come to life through a communal effort that involves the students getting to paint their own ideas onto the walls of their schools. The whole process is facilitated by Thrive’s teaching artists, who act as instructors and then finalizers, putting the finishing touches on each mural once the student-painted layer is done. Peach’s work with Thrive is what garnered the attention that led to her being privately commissioned by the 100 Gates Project to re-do Ray’s.

Peach Tao’s mural on the front of Ray’s Candy Store.

Peach Tao’s mural on the front of Ray’s Candy Store.

When I visited Peach in her studio, we drank coconut water and talked about what it’s like working with kids, communities and the outdoors. At the time, she was in the process of digitally designing a mural for a hospital in Brooklyn. Each project comes with unique challenges and rewards, one of Peach’s primary tasks is to represent the many different cultures of whichever neighborhood she’s working in. While one way to offer universal representation is to pepper murals with international flags, Peach prefers more subtle cultural indicators. When I arrived at the studio, she was in the middle of shifting some elements around; should these people be making empanadas or bagels? Dumplings or matzo balls? She pointed out a scene of a some folks playing dominoes and told me that her original design had been of parrots instead of people, but there is a sizeable board involved in overseeing the project who tend to prioritize imagery of humans and flags. Along with the board approvals, the permits required to grant a mural in a public space are, from what I gathered, just wild. Peach’s artistic goals include one day creating murals that reflect her own personal style in the community of her hometown, Beijing. Present in nearly all of Peach’s work is the expression of motion through curling lines and wavy strokes, a style that is often incorporated in traditional Chinese art. As someone employed to bring playful scenes to public spaces, Peach uses her woodcuts play with somewhat curious, darker themes. Check out her lovelorn broccoli man and the evil apple genesis! 

Mr. Broccoli looking for love in a city of tomatoes, by Peach Tao.

Mr. Broccoli looking for love in a city of tomatoes, by Peach Tao.

Images (from top to bottom) by Carlin Brito, Simon Keough and courtesy of Peach Tao, https://peachtao.com/

Carlin Brito