Say Hello To John Waters! Florida Just Got Weirder....

Monday, September 29, 2014
When I heard John Waters was coming to town I couldn't resist painting a picture of him in anticipation of his visit. After recently hearing the unabridged audio version of his new book Carsick (which he reads brilliantly himself) while driving on long stretches of creepy Floriduh roadways, I was inspired to give my portrait idea a go. Much like my meandering ride listening to John's mondo bizarro adventures on the road, I enjoyed the solo laboratory time exploring the infinite weirdness that is John Waters. Now that it's done I am happy to donate the painting to the The Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (TIGLFF) in the hopes it will help raise funds for their organization and their endeavors.

I tried to capture the kitschy affection that I feel for this brilliant man by symbolizing it with a single red rose in the mouth of a chihuahua. It's hard not to love John Waters! I was going for a retro feel mixed with some of the sultry colors of summer in the Sunshine State. The pink flamingos in the background are obviously a nod to one of his most infamous films, "Pink Flamingos" but I wanted to "electrify" them a bit with lemon-colored outlines to highlight the charged and exciting feel of his work. I realized later that they also reminded me of the ubiquitous Florida Lottery flamingo logo which I see on discarded scratch offs everywhere. Having John visit us does feel a bit like a Jackpot win.

I like how it has a bit of a monster movie "crazy eye" look with some dramatic shading on his head to highlight the cinematic glow of his face. All the music in his movies that I've heard have that late 50's/early 60s vibe so I felt going with a color palette from that era would help capture the colorful essence of Mr. Waters. Also, being a pet portrait artist, I couldn't help but notice that he reminds me so much of a chihuahua--both in look and bearing. He's both finicky and fierce, delicate and daring--so I decided to represent that as his spirit animal, as it were. 

When considering how I wanted to portray John Waters I first considered going dark and dirty with an homage to the man's penchant for filth. Maybe some  busty transvestites or tawdry tramps to give a taste of his magnificent ouevre. However, having listened to him read his most recent work (and it was filled to the gills with raunchy delights) I was struck more by how sweet he is. I think that's why I've always had an affinity for Waters's work. I, myself, am a mixture of salty and sweet. And by that I mean I am a filthy Irish bastard with a heart of gold. Haha ;-)

I've always found that particular dichotomy fascinating--these great monsters who dig deep into the bowels of depravity are often the most sensitive and eloquent creatures when speaking candidly. I would include Iggy Pop, Hunter S. Thompson and Marilyn Manson among this pantheon of surprisingly astute hellions. Incredibly savvy and intelligent, these pioneers of perniciousness are amazingly thoughtful when you hear them speak.

Ultimately this painting is a love letter to the mad genius that is John Waters. I think he's one of the most bold visionaries this country has produced in a century. I'm glad his star is shining more brightly these days and he is being recognized for his profound impact as a cultural catalyst. I also think that without his pencil-thin pervstache that John bears an uncanny resemblance to Don Knotts (I figured this out before I painted his mustache in). I hope he doesn't mind me saying so...but seriously...I'm surprised no one has mentioned it before.

On a side note, I thought I'd share my favorite personal John Waters moment. Being a die hard fan of both Johnny Depp and Iggy Pop as a teenager I thought I'd lose my shit when I found out they were both together in Crybaby. (They both appear together in one of my other favorite movies "Dead Man" by Jim Jarmusch as well). I loved the film and, being the curious cat I am, embarked on a pilgrimage to the Deland Library to special order more of this amazing director's work. This was before the Internet was running full throttle and I didn't have a computer so I had to hunt him down the old fashioned way.

I say "pilgrimage" in that learning about John Waters was a mission that I pursued with religious zeal. At the time I was a 21 year old punk kid living in a double-wide manufactured home with my stepdad in a middle-of-nowhere town called Altoona.  It felt like I was living in a prehistoric swamp. My stepdad's 6 acres were in the Ocala wilderness and loaded with spiders, scorpions, and every other wetland creepy crawly. I hung a heavy punching bag from a big oak that always looked like a dead body when you first drove up the sandy road to the house.

It was almost an hour drive for me to the Deland library but I was a regular there. I was always special ordering books and movies to sate my curiosity. To their credit the staff never batted an eye when I would request random titles while on nerd safari. It took a few weeks to get Pink Flamingos but when it came in I rushed home through the Spanish moss to watch it after work.   

I had no idea what to expect having only read a little about John's work at the library. The description of the movie was tantalizingly risque so I couldn't wait to dive in. Just as I was popping the tape into the VCR my stepdad came to sit next to me on the couch. He asked what I was watching and I told him something to the effect of "not sure--just checking out one of the early films of a director I like. Pretty artsy and weird". So he settled in too. 

By this time my stepdad and mother had already split up for years so our brief stint as woods-dwelling hermit roommates was already strange and awkward. We had a Felix and Oscar dynamic from the get go and pretty much stayed out of each other's way. He and I couldn't be more different. He spends his days working on vintage cars and tinkering with engines. I was always huddled in my room with hundreds of books. His interest in all things art-related was, and still is, less than zero. He had grown accustomed to my eccentricities over the years (and I his) but nothing could prepare us for the storm of awkwardness that descended upon us when I clicked "play" on Pink Flamingos. 

I don't know if it was the chicken fucking scene, the grossly obese egg-eating Edie, or the massive kielbasa tied to Raymond's greasy wang but at a certain point I couldn't handle the strangeness of watching this savage spectacle with my stepdad. The rising tide of uncomfortable heebie-jeebies was suffocating us both. It was like accidentally watching porno with your grandma--you definitely didn't want to be there for the money shot.  We both just sat there stoically staring at the screen quietly grimacing and squinting. Neither of us knew how deep into the rabbit hole the movie was going to go and I decided to head this train wreck off at the pass.

We only made it partially though the movie together. I turned it off and meekly attempted an explanation of the artistic and cultural significance of transgressive art before trailing off into a quiet, red-faced mumble. My stepdad looked nonplussed but I knew he had never seen anything like Pink Flamingos and was not exactly horrified but...disturbed. He just silently got up, grabbed a beer and went outside to wrench on his 73 Cutlass. Neither of us spoke of it again.

I watched the film in it's entirety later in the week by myself and was grateful that I had turned it off before the cop cannibalizing and whistling butthole scenes. In retrospect I think that John Waters would have been delighted at the whole hilarious scenario. Two decades after it's creation, Pink Flamingos still had the power to shock two generations of straight squares watching it in a trailer in the Ocala jungle.

And I always thought things couldn't get any weirder in Florida.....

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