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).

American Folk Art Museum to leave 53rd Street Building July 9, 2011

In an announcement released earlier today, the American Folk Art Museum revealed that they will close their 53rd Street building on July 9, 2011. This news follows AFAM’s May decision to sell the Tod Williams Billie Tsien-designed building to the Museum of Modern Art. I hope to visit the 53rd Street museum one last time before the doors close, and I hope many of you will have the opportunity to also.

Moving forward, the museum will operate in their Lincoln Square branch, on Columbus Avenue between 65th and 66th Streets.

Conference on the Conservation of Folk and Outsider Art Scheduled for February 2012

Clementine Hunter / Camitte the Hair-Fixer Is Doing Ceola's Hair / 1930s / Oil on paper / 11 3/4 x 14 3/4 in. / Collection Gordon W. Bailey

“Divine Disorder, Conserving the Chaos: Conference on the Conservation of Folk and Outsider Art” will be held February 15 and 16, 2012, at Northwestern State University, Natchitoches, Louisiana. The conference organizer, the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, is still soliciting presentation proposals that discuss topics relevant to Outsider and Folk art conservation and preservation. The deadline for submissions of abstracts is October 1, 2011; early registration rates are in effect through December 31, 2011.

Renowned artist Clementine Hunter lived near Natchitoches, so conference attendees can use the opportunity to also visit Hunter’s home, Melrose Plantation, where they can see Hunter’s murals!

“The Outside Art of David Butler” at the Louisiana State Museum – Patterson

David Butler's House and Yard / c. 1971-74 / Photo (c) John Geldersma

An exhibition of twenty cut metal sculptures by artist David Butler opened yesterday at the Louisiana State Museum – Patterson. Drawing from private collections, “The Outside Art of David Butler” is the first museum exhibition of the artist’s work in his hometown, and will remain on view through March 2012.

Retrospective of Leroy Person’s Carvings at North Carolina Wesleyan College

Leroy Person (1907-1985) / Hens and Chicks with Rooster / Crayon on wood / Photo courtesy the American Folk Art Museum

Eighty-six carvings by North Carolina artist Leroy Person will be on view at North Carolina Wesleyan College’s Four Sisters Gallery of Self-Taught Visionary Art through December 10, 2011. Ranging from Person’s small scale twig figures to his full size chairs, the works included in this exhibition are from the gallery’s permanent collection of self-taught art. I suspect this is a wonderful opportunity to see the range of Person’s output, and to appreciate how well he worked in different scales.

Leroy Person / Chairs and Table / The Robert Lynch Collection of Outsider Art at the Four Sisters Gallery

(thanks to Craig for alerting me to this exhibition)

A Brief Note on the American Folk Art Museum’s Decision to Sell

AFAM's 53rd Street building

Last week’s sad news that the American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) agreed to sell their 53rd Street building to the Museum of Modern Art is unfortunate, though not entirely unexpected. I will not speculate and comment on their decision or situation, but am providing links to interesting articles that discuss the sale:

I have a soft spot for the museum: my first post-college job was as their assistant editor, and my experiences at AFAM led me to focus on self-taught artists within my graduate studies. I am not the only person who has been inspired by the museum, and I hope that their collection will remain available and visible both at their Lincoln Square space and online.

“Stranger in Paradise: The Works of Reverend Howard Finster” in Jacksonville

Howard Finster / The Super Powers / July 21, 1985 / Tractor enamel on wood / 48 × 48 in. / Courtesy John Denton

“Stranger in Paradise: The Works of Reverend Howard Finster” is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville through August 28, 2011. Celebrating the range of imagery in Finster’s fervently religious art, the exhibition includes works revealing angels, UFOs, and historical and popular figures interspersed with bible passages and declarations of faith.

Finster created art in service to his faith and as a way to spread his religious message. While he became a well known figure in popular culture (designing album cover art for both REM and the Talking Heads), Finster’s art nevertheless revolved around spirituality.

Organized by the Krannert Art Museum, “Stranger in Paradise” considers the layout of Finster’s Paradise Gardens, where the artist both created and displayed his work beginning in the 1970s. Enjoy this installation shot, from the museum’s Facebook page, which hints at the way Finster’s portrait busts were staggered on the ground within his garden.

Installation at MOCA Jacksonville / Photo by Ben Thompson