Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Signs of the Times

The assignment that Stanley gave me first was painting a bird to look like a fish. It wasn't until the next week that I was able to put my library research to use. I had been looking up bird fish and fish birds and didn't come up with much. When I arrived for work, Stanley met me in the croquet room. He had with him a wooden mobile that was in the shape of a goose. The mobile was about three feet long and the wingspan was about five feet wide. It was meant to be hung from a tree or eave of a house and, when the wind blew, the giant wooden bird would appear to fly. It was now my job to paint the goose to look like a fish. Now that I knew what was going on, I was able to put my noggin and library books to use. My first thought was to start with a clean slate and paint the thing orange like a goldfish. I used acrylic paint so it dried fairly quickly. I then started adding accents to give it depth, texture, and shading. I conferred with my books often to keep the image of a flying fish in my mind. The goose was slowly transforming into a weird fishy-bird. By the end of the day, I had used orange, royal blue, yellow, grey, black, silver, and navy to paint this one project. I thought the bird/fish had so many layers of paint on it that it would never fly again. I told Stanley that his fish was done and he came out immediately to see it. It lay on a tarp in the middle of the floor, not moving, not swimming, not flying. Stanley walked around it a few times inspecting it closely. Finally, he stood still and closed his eyes. A sly grin slowly crept onto his face. He opened his eyes and said, "It's perfect. It will fly gracefully in my back yard." The next time I came to the office, the flying fish was gone. Later, when I went with Stanley to his house, I saw it floating in the breeze by a huge oak tree in his back yard. It brought a smile to my face to see my work appreciated . The two pictures below give you a pretty close representation of what I was working with and how the bird/fish turned out. Cameras were occasionally allowed while I worked with Stanley, but I rarely took any pictures since we both felt that sometimes art is a glorious fleeting event. Also, lack of evidence was, at times, a concern.
The next time I went to work with Stanley, he told me I needed to meet him downstairs by his truck. We were going on a field trip. We climbed into his Ford Expedition with the SM3 license plates and hit the road. We talked about museums and galleries and art and cows. He asked me how I would paint a cow if I had the opportunity. My first response was, "If the cow was a Holstein, (black and white) I would paint the white areas pastel colors. Each cow in the herd would be a different soft shade of color." I thought for a moment and added, "If they were Angus (all black) I would paint them to look like walking skeletons." This one got a laugh out of him. We were now on Amarillo Boulevard and he told me to start looking at the signs that lined the side of the road. As we drove slowly, I began to notice that there was some kind of sign about every three to five feet. Road signs, advert signs, paper signs, store signs, bench signs and construction signs were spaced along the route for at least a solid quarter mile. I told him I thought it was sad to see so much visual junk lining the street. He said that he had the same thought, but he did something about it. We pulled over at the end of the long stretch of signs and stopped. He said, "This is where my art is going right now," and he pointed to one last sign. Blending in perfectly with all the other signs was a big diamond shaped traffic-yellow sign. It was professionally done and looked as legal as any sign directing traffic or warning for cross-walks. The sign simply stated "PLEASE IGNORE ALL PREVIOUS SIGNS." I sat agog in his truck. I had never seen something so simple and yet so brilliant. A small bit of art in the middle of all this chaos. Some people may drive by it everyday and never notice it. Some that do see it, may not understand it. But those fortunate souls that got a kick out of it were the people Stanley was after. As I sat there in awe, I said, "Stanley, that's fucking brilliant." He said, "I know. We're re-installing a different one that got torn down on Route 66 headed out of town. It says 'ROAD DOES NOT END' and you're going to help me put it up." I told him that I was in and that he could count on me. It would be mildly illegal, but I was all for it. Much of my next couple of years would be the thrill of erecting a sign in broad daylight hoping to get in and out as quickly as possible. To Stanley it was a game of cat and mouse. To me it was the thrill of a lifetime.

See some of the other things I'm up to at www.JonathanElmore.weebly.com

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Do You Know The Big Red Fan?

Having lunch with Stanley was exciting and nerve racking at the same time. I wanted to appear intelligent and sophisticated even though I was just a heavy metal kid from Oklahoma. Along with Stanley, I was having lunch with Stanley's attorney and one of his friends. The menu that I had looked at with Melba the previous day was from the upscale restaurant that was on the top floor of the bank building I was now in. They had a delivery service within the building, so this was where everyone in the office ate most of the time. I had selected the fried shrimp. When I was in my early twenties, I was a bit of a food prude. I was not adventurous and I didn't want to be told to try something new. I remember shrimp being the safest thing on the limited menu. Now I'm the opposite of that. 
So there I am eating lunch trying to hold up my end of the conversation with these three men of the world when the conversation turns to art. I told them that I had been studying advertising and art history in school, but I was looking for something more meaningful. They thought it was great that I wasn't impressed with what art school had to teach. Stanley chimed in casually as he ate his asparagus, "Art history? What do you think of the painting The Red Fan by the Japanese painter Ahiro Takamoto? I stopped eating shrimp and my mind started racing through the catalog of pictures that I had seen of paintings with red fans in them. The only one I could come up with was from an Italian painter. I second guessed myself and thought, "Maybe that guy was Japanese instead of Italian." I told Stanley, "I really like that piece. I saw it in one of my art history books." Stanley just mumbled, nodded and continued with his lunch. His lawyer, however, had a smirk on his face as though he was a cat that had just trapped a helpless mouse. I knew then that I had been duped. When I realize that I have been made fun of, I usually clam up, run away and never talk to that person again. This time it was different. Art was too important to run away. This was too important to let a smarmy lawyer dissuade me from my right to make a mark on the art world.  I later found my art history book and discovered that I originally knew what I was talking about. The painter was Italian and "red fan" was in the title of the piece. I just wanted to impress them by knowing what they knew. Once again, I had learned a life lesson at the hands of SM3, which is "Don't bullshit!" Since that day, whenever I think I may know what I'm talking about, but I really don't, I just stay quiet and get as much out of the conversation as I can. There are plenty of know-it-all people in the world. Me trying to be another one might upset the balance of life, and nobody wants that. There is some credence to the adage, "Better to be silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt." - King Solomon. 
I made it through lunch with a bit of an ego bruise, but Stanley didn't seem to care one way or the other. As I was leaving, he stopped me and said he enjoyed my company and he wanted me to put my imagination to work. He said, "On Wednesday, I need you to paint a bird to look like a fish." At this point, I knew the weird had begun and I couldn't have been happier. I headed to the library to look up bird fish or fish birds. Imagination...ON.

See some of the other things I'm up to at www.JonathanElmore.weebly.com

 Giovanni Costa - An Odalisque with a Red Fan

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

How good is your imagination?

I punched in for work at Best Buy around 9:00 a.m. the morning after I met the world famous Stanley Marsh. At the time, I didn’t know he was world famous. He was simply a crazy guy that somehow had the disposable income to do great art on a grand scale. All morning I was trying to figure out how I could get from the west side of Amarillo to downtown, eat lunch with Stanley, and be back to work inside of a half hour. Impossible. I was going to need an alternative story or, as we like to call it in the business, a big lie. I went to work managing the software department and my mind went to work on a viable fabrication. As I was relocating the jazz CD’s, it came to me. I would start by mentioning to my boss that I wasn’t feeling very well. I would then go back to work and casually repeat the complaint every half hour. By 11:30, I was “in agony” and I needed to go home or I would barf all over the video games. The prospect of that clean up job made my boss give the quick ‘OK’ to send me home. I was free and clear to make my art appointment. Looking back on the situation, I realize it was deceitful and wrong. I also realize I would do it again the exact same way. C’mon, it was Best Buy.
I tried not to step too lively on the way out to my car, but I was excited. I crawled into my non-air conditioned, white Ford EXP and headed downtown to Stanley’s office. Around the bank building, there was regular people’s parking and executive’s parking. Since there were no signs that said I couldn’t park in the executive’s lot, only that this was the executive's lot, I parked next to BMWs and Volvos as I did the previous day. There was a guard in a booth that patrolled the lot, but he couldn’t care less that I parked there. After I got to know him, he told me he loved seeing my crappy little car among the rich guy’s cars. Me too! Once again I got a little nervous as I walked through the lobby to the elevators. I clamored onto an available car and pushed old #12 and up I went.
After a few floor stops, I finally reached my destination. I tried to casually glide up to the front desk like I had done this a million times, but I probably looked more like an eight year old at a natural history museum; happy, lost, in awe and little scared. The same red headed receptionist was at the helm again. (Just for the record, I knew her name, but time has played with my brain and I forgot it. My apologies to her.) I told her I was here again and she promptly called Melba, Stanley’s personal secretary. Again I was told that Stanley would be out to see me in a few minutes. I could either wait on the croquet court again or in the library. Since I saw the croquet room yesterday, I opted for the library. She pointed toward the back of the office and said, “He shouldn’t be long.” I thanked her and slowly made my way to the books. Along the way, I passed two women sitting at their desks typing. It was still a little early for computers to be as wide spread as they are now, so they clacked away on top-of-the-line typewriters. I never did learn what their jobs were.
The library was an impressive little semi-circular room with books from floor to ceiling. It had maybe a thousand books of all shapes, sizes and topics. What struck me most was what lay on the table in the middle of the room. It was two copies of Madonna’s limited edition book SEX. It had only been released for a week at the most. I badly wanted to look at it since it was so controversial at the time. I had to weigh my options. Do I thumb through the book really quickly and risk getting caught looking at naughtiness by Melba, or do I play it cool now and risk not getting to work here and never seeing it. My voyeurism would have to wait because Stanley popped his head in and told me to come to his office.
We sat down on one of his sofas and he asked how I was doing. We made some small talk and I pointed out that it was cool that he had two copies of the new Madonna book. He said that the bookstore had two copies, so he bought them both. With a sly grin on his face he said, “I thought I should get both of them so small children wouldn’t have access to such filthy material. You can look at it later if you want!”, which I did as soon as I could. Stanley grabbed a legal pad, leaned back and propped his feet up on the ottoman/table. He started with a clearing of his throat, and then he said, “I have a couple of questions I need to ask you before I agree to hire you.” In my mind, I thought, “Hire? I don’t need another job. I want to do artwork,” but I just said, “Fire away.” He repositioned his glasses and read from his notepad. “Would you be willing to break the law for art?” was his first question. I replied, “Yes, I would. I already have.” Stanley smiled wide and found the second question. “Would you get naked for art?” I felt my stomach clinch up. I was, and still am, very modest. The thought of what that question might commit me to doing was unnerving. Finally, I swallowed my pride and said, “Sure.” (Just for the record, I never had to get naked for art. He just wanted to see my reaction.) The third and final question was one I wasn’t expecting. Stanley looked up from his notepad and looked me square in the eyes. He said, “How good is your imagination?” I was dumbfounded. After years of learning from books and teachers about method and technique and structure, no one ever said, “What you need for good art is a good imagination.” In that instant, I knew I was going to learn more from this man than any art teacher I’d ever had. I thought for a minute because I truly wondered if I had a good imagination or not. Finally, I muttled the answer, “My imagination is better than a lot of other people, but it could always be better.” I could see Stanley smile under that wiry white mustache. He said, “You’re hired. I’m going to pay you five dollars an hour. When can you work?” I wasn’t expecting to get paid for this, but I sure didn’t turn it down. I told him that I had a full time job and Wednesdays and Sundays were my days off, so I could work all day with him on those days. He accepted that and we shook hands. He stood up and straightened his shirt saying, “If you had come to me just asking for a job, I wouldn’t have given you one. But you said you wanted to do art. That’s important because art is important. Now, let’s have some lunch!”

See some of the other things I'm up to at www.JonathanElmore.weebly.com

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Beginning At The Beginning

Amarillo, Texas, 1993. I had given up on attending West Texas A&M because the lessons I was being taught were what I like to call "Job Art", art that ensured that you would make a few bucks doing some form of work. It was basically what you would find in Holiday Inn lobbies, car salesman offices or worse, an advertising agency. I actually honor the people that do that kind of work because I definitely can't. I need the freedom to be weird and not have clients tell me I'm talentless and possibly mildly retarded. I was looking for art that couldn't be confined by four walls. I was looking for something strange. Then, one day I found it.

I had heard from a friend about the Cadillac Ranch, but hadn't gone out to seek it. When I did finally get to see it, I was amazed. I instantly recognized this earth art piece as an iconic venture into the weird side of the art world. I had to be a part of it and I needed it now. I asked my friend if he knew how to reach the guy that did the art piece. He said, "You're looking for Stanley Marsh, but I don't know where he is." I went on a week long search to try and find the reclusive SM3. I finally ran into someone that knew where he lived. I grabbed the address and left immediately. When I pulled up to the address, it was an electric gate with no intercom and no way in. I couldn't even see the house from the gate so I couldn't yell to anyone. I wasn't about to let this feeble metal gate keep me from completing my mission. I let the car idle and got out. Eventually, I found a way in that involved driving the wrong way on a one way street, but I was on the property  now. No turning back. I began seeing odd things like lawn art, road signs, free range pigs and peacocks, and finally a half buried VW Beetle positioned in the same angle as the Cadillacs I had seen a few weeks before. There was his house, a single level wood and stone ranch house that seemed to stretch on forever. I stopped the car and got out looking like I had stepped into a fantasy land. A tall thin man in a pale cowboy hat emerged from one end of the house. I would later know this man simply as Foster. He didn't talk much, but he was a great man who could make a tasty pot of menudo. Foster asked, "What can I do for you?" I asked him if he was Stanley Marsh. He got a big grin on his face and began laughing. I was confused. He said that he wasn't Stanley. He told me, "You can find Stanley in the bank building downtown on Polk Street. He's on the 12th floor," and he turned to go back into the house. I called after him, "Which office on the 12th floor?" He turned back and laughed again saying, "He's on the whole 12th floor."
My nerves subsided, I got back in my car and drove straight to that bank building on Polk Street. I parked my little Ford EXP in the executive's lot with cars where the stereo cost more than my whole car. My nerves came back a little bit as I stepped into the elevator and pushed the 12 button. When I reached the 12th floor, I saw a reception desk with an attractive red headed woman typing. I looked around like I was completely lost, which wasn't too far from the truth. I was staring at a sculpture of a crushed car by the late John Chamberlain. The receptionist obviously hadn't seen me sneak in because she said, "Oh! Can I help you?" I turned and asked her if it was possible to see Stanley Marsh. She told me it was close to the time he usually takes a nap, but she would call Melba, his personal assistant. Through a series of back and forth between Melba, the red head and me, I let them know I wanted to do artwork with Stanley. There was a long pause. The receptionist said "Okay" into the phone and hung up. She said, "Stanley will be out in a minute to speak with you. You can wait in the croquet court if you like." She wheeled her chair back to the typewriter and continued her work. I stepped into a large carpeted room off the main entryway. It had shelving with boxes filled with who knows what, a white pig that had the taxidermy treatment, and a full sized indoor croquet court. I loved it! I hoped that Stanley would want me to do art with him. I wanted it so badly. I wandered back into the foyer and stood for a few minutes. From the far recesses of the open office space, an older heavier set man was lumbering toward me. He was dressed in brown pants and a light brown button up shirt. He had thinning hair, the best Mark Twain-esque mustache, and glasses. He smiled and reached out to shake my hand and said, "Hi. I'm Stanley Marsh. So you want to do art, huh?" I said, "Yes, sir. I absolutely do." He grinned a grin that only the most devious of minds could muster. He squinted his eyes and whispered, "That's excellent, but I have to interview you first. Can you come back tomorrow for lunch?" I said I would be there not knowing how I would get off work at Best Buy to make it for lunch. Stanley turned to go back to his office yelling, "tell Melba what you want for lunch," then he disappeared behind his office door. THIS was going to be an adventure.

See some of the other things I'm up to at www.JonathanElmore.weebly.com

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Reason This Is Here

Upon the suggestion of Lance and Liz, I have started a blog about some of the things that I have done in the name of art. When I was younger, I worked with a man named Stanley Marsh 3 in Amarillo, Texas. We did many projects week after week that would be considered very fun and sometimes mildly illegal...or, once in a while, really illegal. This will be a blog about those stories along with pictures if I have them. There weren't many pictures because of the fleeting nature of the art. We wanted most of the art to be an event, a brief flash of creativity, not something that sat in a museum to be pawed on for centuries. I'm pretty sure most of the things we did have had the statute of limitations run out, so I don't mind talking about them. If that's not the case, then none of this ever happened and I don't know what you're talking about. As for Stanley, he vehemently denies everything. Stanley is one of the greatest guys in the world. I hope you get to know him a little through these stories.

See some of the other things I'm up to at www.JonathanElmore.weebly.com