Astoria Characters: The Man Who’s Mastered the Art of Retirement

To say that this has been a time of great change for Alan Rand is a vast understatement.

Alan, who is 70, lost his longtime job in commercial interior design and moved from Brooklyn Heights, where he had lived in a rent-stabilized apartment for 40 years, to Astoria a year and a half ago.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Alan’s new to Astoria.

It has been liberating.

Even exciting.

Because for the first time in his life, Alan, who has white hair and the enthusiasm of a teenager who has just been on his first date, cannot only make art but also can make art his life.

You may have seen him walking around Astoria carrying his Fujifilm digital camera, poking in and out of places.

He takes shots of buildings then draws them in colored pencil.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Alan has made 20 drawings of Astoria.

So far, he’s completed 20 of the 11-inch by 14-inch works.

He brings out his portfolio and spreads the pictures on a table.

Look, here’s the Hell Gate Bridge.

And Bartunek Hardware.

And Rudy’s Hobby & Art.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Alan had a career in commercial interior design.

In a sense, Alan is making up for lost time.

A native of Queens, he was raised in Flushing, where he lived with his parents, his sister and his sketch pad.

“I started drawing everything I saw – people, objects — when I was 5,” he says. “I did it everywhere I went.”

He took as many art classes in high school as he could.

He wanted to be an artist, but he also was practical.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
A detail of one of Alan’s band paintings.

“I knew I couldn’t make a living doing it,” he says.

So he enrolled at Pratt Institute and majored in architecture, an art form that he figured would provide him with some satisfaction and a steady paycheck, instead.

“I took a lot of electives in art, photography, printmaking and rendering,” Alan says, adding that he “got a bug for photography.”

He knew that whatever he ended up doing for a living, he was going to continue to create.

And create he did.

He made paintings, mixed-media art and drawings.

He took photos of musicians at concerts and in a photo studio he set up in his apartment.

In fact, he made so much art that he rented studio space so he could work on his pieces every night after work.

“I started doing pencil portraits of friends who were actors, musicians and artists,” he says. “I made the portraits from photos I took of them and realized that the photos, too, were art.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
A detail of one of Alan’s mixed-media works.

He produces a photo he took of Ellen Foley, the backup singer on Meat Loaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” from the 1977 Bat Out of Hell album.

Later, Alan added music to his portfolio, creating two-track then multi-track recordings and videos, eventually becoming a producer for bands.

Alan’s three-bedroom apartment is spacious – it has a music studio, an art studio and a photography studio – but it’s not large enough to hold all of his works, many of which are in a storage space a couple of blocks away.

“All these years, I’ve done the art just for myself,” he says. “I had a couple of shows in bars, but that was it. Now, I can concentrate on selling some of it.”

The move to Astoria wasn’t something Alan expected to do.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
One of Alan’s pencil portraits.

When his building was sold, he took a buyout and started looking around.

A friend who was a real estate agent in Astoria turned him on to the neighborhood, where the rents aren’t as high as those in Brooklyn Heights.

“I realized that I knew more people in Astoria than Brooklyn Heights,” he says, “because through the years, many of my friends had moved away. And I love Astoria. It’s convenient to Manhattan, and the food is incredible.”

Freed from the office, Alan spends all of his time on his creative projects, which include commissions.

The mornings are devoted to art, and the afternoons spin out with long, exploratory walks to sites like Socrates Park, which is two miles from his apartment, and Astoria Park, which is a one-mile hike.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
You’ll see Alan, camera in hand, strolling around the neighborhood.

“I like the Bohemian Beer Garden and The Shillelagh Tavern,” he says. “I don’t go to them to have a drink; I go specifically for the music.”

This new life that Alan has – it’s technically a retirement.

But don’t you dare call it that.

Call it a reawakening, a rebirth.

He flips through pencil sketches of musicians and turns on his computer to look at a photo of a girl band he took. 

“I can’t do nothing,” he says, more than happy with that thought.

Copyright 2023 by Nancy A. Ruhling