After New York City's Coney Island Mermaid Parade was canceled in June 2020 because of the pandemic, illustrator Carol Fabricatore, like so many participants and fans, felt a sense of loss. "In order to feel the happiness and delight of the parade, I decided to channel all the swirling bright colors and large personalities into a body of work," she says of her series of 15 gouache portraits (all 15" x 22").
Now, Mermaid Day (which routinely happens on or around the third Saturday every June) has been postponed for the second year, becoming yet another of the city's unique cultural public projects impacted by the virus. So, Fabricatore's portraits are today even more welcome.
"It was important to me to portray a diverse series of women and female-presenting people in the parade," she says. "I wanted to show their different emotions projecting power, strength, vulnerability and joy. Coney Island's culture has always been very welcoming—anyone can register to participate."
Founded in 1983 by Coney Island USA (the not for profit arts organization at 1208 Surf Avenue) the parade organizers had three goals: "bring mythology to life for local residents who live on streets named Mermaid and Neptune; create self-esteem in a district that is often disregarded as 'entertainment'; and let artistic New Yorkers find self-expression in public," says the org's official "about page."
Fabricatore further states, "There is an intensity to the day and a fun competitive spirit with the parade and the spectators. It is, after all, a contest for who is the best mermaid, across every category. There is a range of people who enter to compete, but mostly those who sign up just want to do it for fun. Others are there to challenge themselves, to answer a dare, or to do it with friends as a shared experience they will remember forever."
Fabricatore has been one of fifty judges for the past three years. One of the perks is being able to go to the staging area before the parade begins and visit the merpeople. "That is one of my favorite parts of the day, and the anticipation is electric. It is an intimate window into how the participants put the finishing elements together to transform into another persona or creature." The festive chaos begins at 1 p.m. The reviewing stands at Surf Avenue and 19th Street, where entrants are "assailed by candy, trinkets or food, and with many small bottles of alcohol similar to what you would find in a hotel room's mini-bar."
Above (left to right): Beetle Juice, Maiden Mermaid, Pink Mermaid
The parade is a fount of adrenaline —"all before costumes lose pieces and begin to erode, ending up on the road as a trail of magic, sparkling breadcrumbs," Fabricatore says. "I love the people who go all out with their costumes and really get into their character with attitude and swagger. They are in the moment, posturing, posing, prancing and showing off their uniqueness." She captured that attitude, swagger, color and love here.
"I think you have to be an extrovert to march in this parade, or you have to use it as an excuse to let out your alter ego," adds Fabricatore. "I could never see myself doing it, but can live it through my portraits." Perhaps next year, Carol?
Above (left to right): Pink Mermaid (redux), Urchan Mermaid, Medusa Mermaid