The fifth Baby Tattoville took place this last weekend. This is an event founded and organized by Bob Self, the publisher of Baby Tattoo Books. Each year Bob selects ten of who he considers to be the best artists in the United States to spend an expenses paid weekend (with their spouses) at the Mission Inn in Riverside, California. The Mission Inn takes up an entire long city block and looks as if it was designed by the Byzantine brother of M. C. Escher.
Bob sells 45 tickets (at $2000 to $2500 each) to spend an intimate weekend with ten great artists. All kinds of art is produced during the weekend, including a ten artist painting jam which ultimately gets reproduced as a giclee canvas print for all of the attendees and the artists as well. Artists also bring special items to include in the attendees’ gift bags. Each gift bag ends up with about $4000 worth of art in it. The event’s return rate for attendees is, not surprisingly, at about 80%. Returning attendees also get a hefty discount on future Baby Tattovilles. Spouses are allowed to attend for an extra $250-$300 each (that price doesn’t include the gift bag but gives them access to the meals, lectures and special events).
Meals! There are at least three meal experiences worth telling you about: on Friday night we eat at Tio’s Tacos, a nearby walk from the Mission Inn. Tio’s is on what must be about an acre of land, which its owner has filled with small, medium and gigantic folk art sculptures, including a huge meditation teepee made out of bottles. The food is OK but the surroundings are FANTASTIC! The second meal takes place on the roof of the Riverside Art Museum (also walkable from the Mission Inn). It’s just pizza, but it’s the prelude to an exhibition by the Baby Tattooville artists taking place at the museum. The third meal is the unbelievably spectacular Sunday Brunch at the Mission Inn.
This year was different. Because Bob wanted to celebrate the fifth successful year of Baby Tattoovile, he invited all forty previous artists to return. Thirty of them were able to make it back.
Besides myself, the list included the cream of the Juxtapoz magazine gang: artists like Coop, Tara McPherson, Bob Dob, Tim Biskup, Frank Kozik, Travis Louie, Michael Hussar, Anthony Ausgang, Van Arno, Johnny Ryan, Ron English, Gis Grimly, KRK Ryden, Molly Crabapple, Miss Mindy, Johnny Rodriguez and Gary Baseman, to name a few. James Gurney gave a wonderful Power Point show about his work and the process he goes through to create it. Ragnar drew a great show poster for the museum exhibition (which is up until November 8).
The Circus Punks showed up with about a hundred blank canvas knock-’em-down carnival dolls. The artists were invited to decorate them. The artists rose to the occasion; there were a lot of outstanding Circus Punk dolls. I did two: the zombie doll shown up above and this Frankenstein monster doll:
On Saturday night, all the dolls were lined up on a series of steep steps. The attendees were called in order of their badge number. They were handed a ball. The first doll they knocked over was theirs. Through the Baby Tattoovile grapevine I learned that my two were highly sought after. Bob Self came up to me and said, “My god, Bill — someone’s going to get a thousand dollar Stout piece with that Frankenstein!” My two did indeed go pretty fast.
A blacksmith was set up down in the Mission Inn’s catacombs (yup; this cool place even has catacombs). He worked hard all weekend, demonstrating his craft. I watched as he even made his own Circus Punk doll out of metal!
As far as I could see, there were only two sour notes the entire weekend — and I was (sort of) the cause of one of them.
The jam painting had really progressed to a cohesive whole by the time Johnny Ryan grabbed a brush. For those of you who don’t know his work, Johnny is an unassuming looking young guy who produces what are probably the most outrageous, offensive and hilarious comics being done today.
I came by to check out the progress on what had been developing as an incredibly beautiful jam painting. Whoa! Johnny, true to form, had really made his outrageous mark…a little too outrageous for some. He had added a big, bold Arab mooning the viewer with word balloons coming out of the rendered anus on the Arab’s pimpled ass.
A very upset Bob Self approached me, asking if I would please paint over or “fix” Johnny’s addition. Bob was torn.
“We all know who Johnny Ryan is and what he does. I’m fine with that; I wouldn’t expect Johnny not to be Johnny,” Bob said. “But I’m pretty damn sure the attendees are not going to want to hang a painting with a prominent talking anus dominating the picture! Please help me. Someone? Anyone?”
Jim Gurney offered to paint plaid boxers on the Arab. “I’ll do the horizontal stripes if you do the vertical stripes, Bill.”
I thought that was a bad idea, purely because plaid boxers just didn’t relate to the subject matter at hand in any way. I thought about and recalled several observations I had made while sharing a beach with some Arabs. The ones I encountered loved to wear Speedos.
While another artist was rendering the face of Johnny’s Arab, I added Speedos to cover the gaping anus.
That was when it hit the fan. Several of the other artists were outraged that I would deface another artist’s work — or worse, censor it.
“Hey,” one said to me, “Do you want to work on what I did, too?”
Not long after I finished, I revisited the jam painting and saw that another artist had clumsily smeared a swatch of light blue paint over what I had done.
Honestly, I screwed up. The proper thing would have been to approach Johnny and ask his permission to alter what he had done. I hadn’t and it bothered me all night.
The next morning I sought out Johnny, explained what had happened and apologized. Johnny was very gracious and took it all in good humor. He didn’t seem bothered in the least.
“Look,” he said. “It’s all in the spirit of the jam. Everybody always ends up painting over everybody else’s stuff.”
He was right (but I still feel I should have asked his permission). When I first saw the jam painting there were three huge skulls dominating the picture. By the time I began my additions to the jam, there were only the slightest remnants left of one of the skulls — the other two were gone, painted over. By the time I saw the finished jam painting only the head of Johnny’s Arab remained. The rest of his body was buried under layer upon layer of added imagery.
Johnny, my wife and I had breakfast together (the famous Mission Inn brunch). Johnny Ryan would probably cringe to hear me say this, but I think he’s a classy guy. We talked and laughed about a lot of things, then were joined by my friend Blue Trimarchi, owner of Art Works and Art Works Fine Art Publishing. Blue shoots all of my artwork and produces my giclee prints.
The other unpleasant incident involved an early participant in Baby Tattooville. This guy is an enormously popular artist — so much so that I bought a huge book collection of his work to see if I could discern what made his work so popular.
I couldn’t. There was absolutely nothing I could take away from his stuff. I couldn’t even find one single idea within those hundreds of pages of imagery. I’m still mystified as to why anyone likes what he does.
Well, his success has apparently gone to his head — or maybe he was always an asshole.
I found him berating Bob Self for not giving him a nicer room. He implied that there would be no Baby Tattooville if it weren’t for (artists like) him.
Wow. Untalented AND arrogant!
Bob rightfully stood his ground — but then Bob is a tough, intelligent guy, much smarter than the jerk with whom he was talking.
I couldn’t resist throwing a little gasoline on this fire. I interrupted them.
“Bob,” I said, “I just wanted to thank you for giving me a much nicer room than (asshole artist’s name).”
Bob laughed. The artist glowered. It turns out this guy who makes his damn good living at drawing idea-starved funny and/or whimsical stuff is also cursed with having no sense of humor (which partly explains why I couldn’t find anything in his work to attract me).
The situation became clearer to me moments later when this artist’s little hottie arrived to ask him something.
“That’s it”, I said to my wife. “I’ll bet prior to the event he had been boasting to her how he was the greatest and most important artist here and how, because of his infinite fabulousness, Baby Tattoovile was going to put them up in this incredible rooftop room with a spectacular patio, etc., etc.”
When he just got a really nice nice room like the rest of us, his ego couldn’t handle it, compounded by his losing face in front of his little chickie. Instead of berating Bob, this hack should be thanking his lucky stars that anyone even pays attention to his crap — much less buys it. What a loser.
So, those were the only two minor bumps in what was otherwise an incredible weekend. I don’t know who or what Bob Self has in store for Baby Tattooville 2012 but I can assure you it will be worth far more than the ticket price.