On my way to Mexico. Photos here.
Archive for October, 2009
It’s that time of year again… Wednesday morning, I hit the road with my copiloto, Gerie “Th’ Perfesser” Bledsoe, race car in tow, on our way to La Carrera Panamerica 2009.
Last year’s race was cut short for us, due to gross mechanical failure, but this year, with a new engine and master builder/mechanic Todd Landon along for the fun, we hope to do much better than last time.
Updates will be made on this here blog, as time and Mexican internet tubes permit.
For more photos from last year’s race, click here.
I’ve been obsessed with this little guy ever since I used to live in a nearby building. Today, I remembered that I was about to drive past on the way back from getting some paint, so I whipped out the Leica and grabbed a few shots at the stoplight.
Hard to believe he’s survived all this time, but his inacessibility (he’s about 12 feet off the sidewalk) might have something to do with it. Notice also that when the building was earthquake retrofitted, they made a nice u-shaped brace to go around his little alcove, instead of just destroying it in the name of expediency.
Oh, and what’s a billiken? Glad you asked.
I know that some of these images are controversial or downright offensive in these more PC times, (just like i’m offended by hipsters wearing Che Guevara t-shirts, but that’s another story) but I ask you to consider the era and intended audience. Roth’s entire output was meant to be obnoxious and offensive to the "squares," as his customer base consisted of surly teens, hot rod hooligans and outlaw bikers, all groups who loved to provoke the ire of the buttondown crowd by using symbols and images that were in bad taste. (see also the “sick humor” fad of the sixties.) Likewise, Roth’s Vietnam output was intended solefy for the poor bastards drafted and shipped overseas to fight in a war that they had no interest in fighting. To the extent that these images feature racist asian imagery, well, yeah, of course they do. I think the guys sweating in the jungle in ‘Nam were less than concerned about offending the sensibilities of the people they were killing and being killed by. If it’s any consolation, I know for a fact that today’s armed forces don’t allow imagery like this to be used anymore.
Here’s a few choice gems:
P.S. All this stuff is © copyright Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, so don’t be a fink!
The power to destroy a thing is the absolute control over it. – Paul-Muad’Dib Atreides
In 1993, my friend Tom Hazelmyer contacted me about providing an image for a line of custom Zippo lighters. The company was called Smoke King, (later re-named Flamerite) and I was to be one of the first five artists in the line. In about 30 minutes, I whipped up an image of a grinning devil smoking a big cigar. I was in such a hurry to get that art to Tom, (this was before I could simply email the art as an attachment) I just stuck the original in a manila folder and sent it off to Minneapolis.
I was just beginning to dip my toe into merchandising at this point, and I quickly saw that the smoking devil I had drawn for Tom was a potent image. I began to print the image on stickers and t-shirts. They sold like those proverbial hotcakes that everybody mentions at times such as this. Eventually, the devil image ended up on just about any item that I could print it on. The Smoking Devil (as we named him) made his way into the world.
He quickly gained a life of his own. Lots of cars, trucks and skateboards, tool boxes, laptops, etc. ended up plastered with a Smoking Devil sticker. I started to meet people with the Smoking Devil tattooed on their body. It was at this point that I started to realize that I had, pretty much by accident, created something powerful. However those lines and forms came together, it had a power all its own. It was becoming something more than a piece of art or merchandise. It had become a symbol of something, a little talisman that people used to signify something about themselves and their lives. Pretty heady stuff for a dumb hillbilly such as myself.
As is often the case when an image reaches this level of recognition, it started to become bigger, something that was beyond my control. Like Frankenstein’s Monster, the creation often thwarted the will of its creator. The Smoking Devil started to pop up in places where I never intended it to be. It was knocked off as merchandise, used without permission to adorn bars and businesses. I began to understand how Nagel must have felt the first time he saw one of those hideous paintings in the window of a nail salon. (That’s probably what killed him.)
I tried to accept this philosophically. I understood how all this worked, how our culture takes popular art and fucks with it, remixes it, makes the mass-produced personal. After all, my favorite artists and musicians do it every day, right? But it still gnawed at me sometimes.
Around 2003, I decided to return to painting. I spent a long time thinking about why I wanted to paint again, and what I could do that would be interesting and challenging to me, what direction would force me to grow and change as an artist. I began to formulate a plan of attack, a direction that incorporated my influences with my developing ideas about what art should do and not do.
I’ve always been a huge fan of Pop Art, and that became a major influence on what I was going to try to do, I began to think about the stuff I loved, the way Pop Art took the low culture we took for granted, recontextualized it, and presented it as art, worthy of attention and affection. The conventional wisdom is that this was purely an exercise in irony, a criticism of the base nature of consumer culture, but I have always read more into it than that. To me, artists like Warhol or Rosenquist were ambivalent about the culture they mined, and saw it as both beautiful and crass, often simultaneously. As someone attempting to straddle both sides of the fence, I could dig that.
So, when I started to paint, I realized what I needed to do is use this method on my own work, on the images that I had created and released into the wild years ago. They had (mostly) thrived in this uncontrolled environment, changing and evolving outside of my control. Now it was time to drag them back into the lab, dissect ‘em and see what wild mutations had affected their DNA.
I spent the next six months painting Parts with Appeal, a 78-foot-long multipanel painting that was my first try at using the theories that I had been messing around with. An obvious tribute to Rosenquist’s F-111, it was my own meditation on the role of innovation in the history of drag racing from 1955 to 1970, as well as an attempt to engage in the kind of large-scale painting I had always wanted to try. Best of all, somebody actually bought it.
So the experiment continued. I started to drag in more and more elements and techniques into the format I had created for myself, figuring it out as I went along. I had another show in 2006, Brand Recognition, that addressed my ambivalence about my own fascination with corporate logos and the art of graphic design in service of commerce.
Since then I’ve continued to paint, documenting it all here on the blog. Painting has become a very satisfying pursuit, the process becoming an often-exhausting ritual that consistently fulfills me like nothing else.
For this most recent painting, I decided to pull together all the elements that I have been working on, and put them to the task of assaulting the thing I have become most known for, the Smoking Devil.
As I said before, he had become something bigger than me, and had developed a life of his own. I wanted to attack the Smoking Devil, break him apart, smash him into atoms, and once again assert my will over the monster I had created.
I started as I always do, developing the composition by collaging elements in Photoshop, combining and changing images until a direction presents itself. Then the image is broken down into elements that can be transferred to the canvas, step by step. I started by painting a straightahead version of the Smoking Devil, much as he appears on all those stickers and lunchboxes.
I almost chickened out at this point. I realized that I could just clean up the linework, present the painting as it was, and it would be sold quickly. However, I did not succumb to temptation (see how that works?) and continued with my plan.
Next, I took the line art, reversed and enlarged it, painting it on top of everything else. That was the second devil. I had already decided by this point that there would be thirteen devils incorporated into the painting by the time I was finished.
Next, I took the painting down from the wall, laid it on the floor, and using a hand-cut stencil, painted nine more devils in an alternating grid. I used cans of metallic gold and orange metalflake paint that I had purchased at Pep Boys.
Again, I was tempted at this point to stop. The gold and orange looked so good against the purple and orange, the metallic gleam contrasting with the shiny acrylic paint.
I continued, painting the black line of the original devil on top of the newer elements, to reassert the authority of the original image.
Then, I used Photoshop to create a halftone image of the original line art, and painted this in magenta on top of everything else, then repainted the black line work again, to clean everything up. This was the twelfth devil. Then, I painted the thirteen and final devil, and I was finished.
So, did I accomplish the task I set out fo myself? I’m not really sure. I’m happy with the painting, but I’ll probably never successfully take back the image for my own. I won the battle, but I think I will eventually lose the war.
Oh, and the thirteenth devil? That’s secret. you’ll have to wait for the show to discover that one for yourself.
Full set of in progress photos here.
I just got the reissued Hatesville LPs, CDs, and picture discs in the mail. The original cover art was B&W, so it was a treat to get to go back and do a proper full-color version for the reissue. Buy it here.
I apologize in advance to those of you bored with the toolblogging, but if I can’t use the internets to obsess over some topic to the point of mania, I would be forced to do something productive with my time.
Another great weekend for the garage sales. Among the bounty, this lovely old tool cabinet. I called it from the car, much to the consternation of Mr. Jalopy. I didn’t realize until later that it was in fact a Snap-On brand cabinet, which caused a bit of friction, as that is strictly Hooptyrides territory. Jalopy and I subsequently came to a gentlemen’s agreement regarding future garage sale tool finds. He gets first dibs on Snap-On, and I get first dibs on Plomb. Everything else is up for grabs! Otherwise, we would be little better than savages!
Having quelled a potential mutiny aboard HMS Hoopty, I returned to the studio with my prize. It looks quite presentable after a little elbow grease and careful application of a wire wheel, having lost much grime and rust, but not a bit of wabisabi. The perfect place for my Plomb tool collection.
I’ve been going Plomb crazy since I got those two ratchets a while ago, and my collection of Plomb tools has grown exponentially. (Ebay is a dangerous place for a man with a flush bank account and poor impulse control.)
Every day it seems that the mailman delivers a box containing a dirty wrench or a clanking collection of old sockets. I’ve been spending like a drunken sailor on shore leave. Fortunately, very few STDs can be transmitted via online auction.
Why have I gone overboard with these old tools? Well, for a perversely curious person with advanced packrat syndrome, such as myself, there is no greater joy than discovering some new thing to collect. Serial numbers and model names to remember, history to uncover, objects to covet, these are truly the things that make life worth living. Allow me to share a little bit of what I have uncovered so far.
Plomb Tools started here in Los Angeles shortly after the turn of the century, making tools under the Plomb brand until 1948, when they lost the brand in a trademark dispute, and changed their name to PROTO (short for PROfessional TOols.) Just like hot rodding, they were born in L.A. and achieved an aesthetic high point just before 1950.
The tools themselves are beautifully designed examples of a certain school of industrial design that flourished between World Wars 1 and 2. Not quite Art Deco or Streamline Moderne, but comfortable within those categories, it perfectly represents a certain era in time.
Just look at that logo. “Streamlined Tools” indeed. These are two NOS boxes of 9/32″ drive 1/4 WF-11 sockets. I should have included something for scale, as these suckers are tiny. You could swallow that whole box like a piece of sushi, one gulp.
All the Plomb tools with a WF serial number were part of the “Wright Field” line of tools that Plomb manufactured for the U.S. Armed Forces. Any tools that might have been used to work on a Jeep, Sherman tank, or P-38 are tools worth having, as far as I’m concerned. You could almost say these are Nazi-killing tools, and who would have a problem with killing Nazis? Not me, brother.
More WF stuff, an incomplete 3/8″ drive socket set. I’m already working on getting the missing sockets, don’t you worry. I could just imagine finding this under the seat of an old hopped-up ’40 Ford quietly rusting in a barn somewhere.
Three 3/8″ drive sockets. The bottom two are the same serial number, 5249, but different styles, and the top is a WF-21. I know Mr. Jalopy will crab that I haven’t properly cleaned these tools yet, but I was caught up in the moment.
Assorted 9/32″ drive sockets, and two HUGE 3/4″ drive sockets, a 1 7/8″ and a 2″ You could serve cocktails in these things.
Of all the stuff I’ve gotten so far, this is my favorite. A 1 1/4″ crowfoot wrench, 3/8″ drive. It’s large, about two inches across, about 3/8″ thick, and satisfyingly heavy and chunky. I’ve been carrying it around in my pocket like a rabbit’s foot ever since I got it in the mail.
Just look at the ratchet hole. A raised lip, gently rounded on the outside, with a countersunk bevelled edge on the inside. The complex shape of the inside of the wrench. These touches add absolutely nothing to the functionality of the tool, and are only there to bring a little beauty to an otherwise utilitarian object.
How can something so simple and seemingly prosaic be so beautiful? If I saw this crowfoot wrench reproduced at a massive scale, inside MOMA resting on a pedestal, it would seem perfectly at home.
Update: Hmmm… one of my readers, Bret Haller, emailed to say that he believes the tool box is in fact a Craftsman, and I tend to think he knows what he’s talking about, since he nailed the year of production, 1975, which was stamped on the inside. I guess Mr. Jalopy isn’t quite the Snap-On expert he claims to be…