Curated by The Art Guys
Jim Pirtle was born in Houston, TX in 1960. In High School he was selected "Most Nonconformist." He went to Baylor University in Waco, TX and received a BA in history but more importantly was a member of the NoZe Brotherhood. The group was an underground mask wearing secret society of satirists that through writing, campus interventions and performance art exposed the hypocrisy of conservative Baptists. After college he moved to Austin, TX and got a job as an orderly at the Austin State Hospital. This was a crash course education in the extremes of human behavior. After two years in the locked up insaneness of collecting urine, breaking up fights and mopping up spontaneous miscarriages he jumped to the other extreme, moving back to Houston and becoming a Kindergarten teacher for 10 years ? innocence and hope.
During the mid 80's he was becoming an obsessive painter and found the local art community. He moved into an artist warehouse and got his formal art training from Nestor Topchy and Mark Flood. A thrift store addict, he wore only polyester for seven years which eventually became his canvas. He also developed his trademark performance art persona, Stu Mulligan, a man that ate mayonnaise and chug-a-lugged hot sauce and mimicked the behaviors of the mentally ill while singing lounge music. He co-founded a theater and performance space with Nestor Topchy which began the concept of notsuoH ? an 1893 building of 15,000 square feet that became a monumental social sculpture on Main Street of downtown Houston ? it attracts the extremes and in-between of a community to interact and be whatever it is to be human.
The Art Guys, the two of them, both live, work, and reside in Houston, TX simultaneously at the same time together where they both share a studio in association with each other and work together collaboratively on creative artistic aesthetic ideas and projects as a pair of artists in tandem. They both have been creative collaborators for 25 years together.
Sometimes they use language and text in their work. For example, the first sentence of this biography is an example of some of their best work. In fact, every second of time for the entire year of 2008 is their new, critically acclaimed, highly conceptual year-long celebration entitled 2008 - The Art Guys Silver Jubilee. So you, gentle reader, are now a part of that celebration. But if you are reading this in 2009, or sometime thereafter, fear not. The Art Guys will still include you in The Art Guys Silver Jubilee celebration because that is the nature of conceptual art. Think about it.
More information can be found on their website, www.TheArtGuys.com.
Rats in cages or why I don't hurt myself with my art anymore
When I was nine years old for some reason I hated school. Pretending to be sick was not very effective as an excuse so I subconsciously came up with the idea of REALLY being sick. Every morning during the Pledge I would run to the trash can and, "with liberty and justice for all" vomit into it for a free ticket to the nurse and often on to my Grandmother's for fun and popsicles. In time I lost so much weight that I was hospitalized. After many tests were negative the doctor said, "Let's change his room in school." It seemed to work. I gained weight and left off the morning vomit.
In one psychological experiment examining fight or flight responses to electric shock, it was found that one rat in a cage would escape when possible. Two rats in one cage with no escape would fight each other. One rat in cage with no way out and no one to fight would turn his fight instincts onto himself, weaken and die. When I worked in the Austin State Hospital in Austin, TX, I saw a lot of rats in a no escape cage who were so drugged they couldn't fight. I found one patient who drew all day as a way of fighting his demons instead of himself. I became his friend and advocate. I did a lot of reading about mental illness and began to wonder if the individual's response might be a perfectly sane response to a society gone mad.
When I left there I decided to make art, my escape into the safe cage. I found my fight and flight in learning to paint. In hindsight, I see that my performance art was about that nine year old boy who couldn't escape and couldn't fight. My performance ego was used to shocking his body by gorging on mayonnaise or picante sauce and then vomiting it out while singing Close to You. Certainly there were metaphors about living in the most egregiously consumptive society in the history of man and there were statements about masks, disgust and intimacy. But mostly it was about trying to help that nine year old boy to not hurt himself and speak up and become an emotionally mature adult.
The poor kid was never the same after returning to the Gulag Elementary. He knew he was back in the cage and his school pictures show the loss of joy and innocence all over his face. From then on I became a nonconformist, knowing that it was my flight vehicle from the cage. Out of this realization, sensitivity and intelligence, comes my art ? existing where there are no cages. I feel so blessed to believe myself to be free. If trapped alone, I'll run. If trapped with anyone else, I'll fight.
by The Art Guys
When faced with the curatorial constraints put forth by CUE Art Foundation for this exhibition, we were initially at a loss. Then we thought of Jim Pirtle. Now our loss is your gain.
Jim Pirtle has worn many hats in his life and because of this, he has presented audiences with an odd and unique view of the world. He has worked in very traditional art forms - as a painter of portraits, for example - and he has expanded our understanding of those genres. But some of his most compelling works are those that don't readily fit into any category. For example, he has crafted a strange, hilarious and terrifying style of entertainment/performance that borders on insanity with an array of alter ego characters that trump any found in today's popular culture. As a filmmaker, he has created a full-length parody of Forrest Gump with a budget of spare change and in a style enviably slack and free. But notsuoH, Jim's functional, experimental, social/sculptural urban environment, is his supreme art/life work.
notsuoH (Houston spelled backwards) is a vintage 1893 three-story former pawnshop on Main Street in downtown Houston. notsuoH is part bar, part chess club, part art gallery, part open-mike sanctuary that serves as a political platform, rehearsal hall, and performance stage for all types of musicians, artists, intellectuals, scholars, aesthetic wannabe's and gawkers. On any given night one might find homeless panhandlers mixing with models, artists, philosophers, photographers, school teachers, Everett Taasevigen, NASA engineers, Germans, concert pianists, slackers, poets, art car artists, chess masters, poets and more poets, opera singers, dishwashers, even more poets, writers, police, architects, hair stylists, punk Japanese musicians, firemen, politicians, Sasquatch, urban developers, hip-hoppers, web designers, fashion designers, candy stripers, goldfish salesmen, paper plates, lamps and vinyl records. Jim Pirtle's notsuoH is a creative community vortex nexus fueled by alcohol, cigarettes, idealism and a paradoxical, all-embracing, pro/anti-everythingism.
From the goats roaming the yard and roof of his previous house, to the chess champions and philosophers often found in his current environment, Jim Pirtle has assembled a network of friends and associates through generosity and encouragement that are second to none. They serve as both collaborators and audience, and fuel the curious atmosphere that has been Jim's creative lifestyle for the past few decades.
This exhibition is a small sliver of Jim's physical philosophies, transported to New York via bus, complete with some of the dust, cigarette burns, and personalities collected in its wake. We are honored to know Jim and we are delighted to contribute our curatorial eye, all four of them, for this exhibition.
YOUNG ART CRITICS: Margo Handwerker on Jim Pirtle