Mikey Wild: Artist, Musician, South Philly Legend

Mikey Wild / Teenage Jesus / 2008 / Pageant Soloveev Gallery / Photo by Samantha Mitchell

By Samantha Mitchell

Michael Deluca, known as  Mikey Wild, died May 25th, 2011.  A life-long resident of South Philadelphia commonly known as the Mayor of South Street, Wild was a charismatic personality who will be remembered for his unique presence in the neighborhood as well as for his art and music.  His distinctive voice and unique lyrics were showcased by a number of Philadelphia punk bands (including but not exclusive to the Mess, the Magic Lanterns, The Hard-Ons and Scareho) with songs like “I Hate New York” and “I Was Punk B4 You Were Punk.”  In the 1970s he opened for Lou Reed and GG Allin, and was an active performer for more than 30 years.

Wild also created hundreds of vivid works on paper.  His art communicates a fascination with icons of music, horror films, and religion, and he created eerie portraits of John Lennon, B-movie monsters, Jesus, and most frequently, Vincent Price  (Wild’s preoccupation with Price is apparent in the short film Paying the Price, in which Wild portrays both the actor and his evil twin brother).

Wild created works on paper with markers, acrylic paint, and watercolor, depicting a unique reality of characters brought together by his own perceptive logic and wry sense of humor.  In one drawing a teenage Jesus is confronted by his mother when he is caught smoking a cigarette; another depicts “Christopher Lee as Dracula beating a turkey.”  Wild’s style is graphic and visceral; the drawings sharp and immediate, the paintings hazy and surreal, incorporating iconic characters into a shared unreality.  His unique perspective combines an isolation from and immersion in popular culture, which is dually comic and disturbing.

With a history of mental illness, Wild spent some of his youth in institutions, treated with a combination of shock therapy and medication.  His artwork is reminiscent of other talented and unique musicians with painful histories of encounters with mental rehabilitation facilities, like Roky Erickson (front man of the 13th Floor Elevators) and Daniel Johnston.  All three conveyed their realities in conglomerated visual works that blurred the line between the real and the imaginary, expressing fascination with both the horrific and the comical with a lack of self-consciousness.

Mikey Wild Installation at Pageant Soloveev Gallery / Photo by Samantha Mitchell

Mikey Wild’s work is currently hung at  Pageant Soloveev Gallery (607 Bainbridge Street, Philadelphia), where owner Daniel Dalseth held an auction of  paintings and drawings last month, as well as the South Philadelphia bars 12 Steps Down (831 Christian Street) and Connie’s Ric-Rac (1132 S. 9th Street).

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