This week is mainly visual, what you might faddishly call “eye candy,” in that it’s colorful and fun. But it’s more than that. It’s political, it’s salvaged, it’s desert-based, and it’s witty. I’ve known Royce, the artist, for more than 35 years. We met when he was art director at the Tucson Weekly, and I was a lowly pasteup artist. The glory days of the Weekly were just beginning—would you believe it used to average 100 or so pages, with the Best of Tucson issue maybe 120 pages or more?
Computers were worming their way into everything at the time, and the job of art director changed at the Weekly as in most publishing offices. Luckily for us, Royce recognized that this new stuff wasn’t for him, and set himself up as artist in a home studio, collecting pop-culture artifacts, glittering baubles, vintage printed matter, toy parts, desert decay, and beat-up wood or metal pieces for support.
Here’s what he says about the origins of his (and others’) junk-based art:
“Decades ago, a creative group of music makers out of Southern California by the name of The Bone Daddies coined a phrase: Damn hippies was right. Time has proven just how right. The ecology movement, along with a myriad of other socially connected causes, was born from that time in this place we call home—our planet. Hippies began to patch their pants instead of buying new ones, and in the process inspired a new art form. For the first time in my remembrance we, as a larger society, began to behave differently, generating a lot less waste. We came to consider the possibility that the objects making up our material, consumptive world might just have one or two lives of service yet to offer. With this possibility, in the beginnings of this movement, we can all find a place now—even a basis for the future. So what if it’s hard to admit those damn hippies mighta been right.”
(Actually, that last quote is from Dr. Q. Read on.)
For many years, Royce, as Dr. Knowledge, imparted wisdom in a two- or three-line message within a small box—his “column”—on the back cover of the Weekly. I always read Dr. K first. But lately he’s been regretting taking on the mantle of know-it-all back then. As he puts it,
“It was rather presumptive of me to feel I held the keys to the universe. Over time, we discover that the more we come to know, the more we realize how much we don’t. So I’m hitting the reset button with increased humility. I don’t need to be the source; I prefer to be the seeker. Therefore, I’m dropping the ‘Dr. Knowledge’ and becoming the Qurious. Spelling it with a ‘Q’ instead of a ‘C’ just shows just how much I still need to learn.” (When I ask him if he thinks he’ll be confused with Q-Anon, he says, “A reader will quickly discover that Dr. Q is a whole different animal.” One that will last longer and speak more credibly, we hope.)
In the past few years, Dr. Q has been improving on the text of Hallmark cards, creating a series of Howlmark cards instead. The idea for the cards originated before Trump’s presidency, though he admits those four years did provide more material than he could follow through on. The inspiration came from a friend who is, he says, possibly the largest ever consumer of Hallmark cards—though he’s been given many more over the years by others and has observed that they all say the same thing. With the opening of each of those Hallmark cards, he says,
“. . . I moved deeper into a pool of inspiration to do something—hell, anything! These insipid offerings in print screamed at me, ‘No, wait!’ They absolutely howled to be set free to roam a contemporary landscape.”
A key feature of his cards is their low-tech creation, so they carry the inscription, “Howlmark cards are handcrafted with little or no computer assistance, thus ensuring delivery even after the lights go out.”
Thrift Store Synchronicity
Royce currently has four pieces in a show at Tohono Chul entitled “Save me a Space.” According to Royce, “’Save Me a Space,’ started with an oil painting from a thrift store. Years later, I came across a toy die-cast station wagon in another thrift store, miles away in Bisbee. The tops of the saguaros are paintbrushes.”
I love the implied narrative of coming and going—perhaps something happened in between to change a two-dimensional life to a three-dimensional one.
The Chicken-Tub Masks: Delish!
I’m pretty wild about Royce’s latest creative venture—a series of, in his words, “solidly legit art masks made with plastic tubs from roasted chicken.” (Knowing about our recently added “pets” here at the homestead—blog backstory—he has emailed me a personal note, “Kay, you probably ought not let your roommates know what these plastic tubs are all about.”) And then in a note that’s probably personal but may apply to readers of this blog as well: “Me, you, we just wanna have fun while we save the planet.” Thanks, Dr. Q—we need a sense of humor to get through, and I do love yours.
Dr. Q sends this picture this Royce’s art photos, saying: “I just picked up my 18 Simple Truth, cage free organic eggs from hens raised with no added hormones “ever,” fed on only organic earth-friendly vegetarian feed, in a clam shell made from 100% recycled PET. Yup, it’s got all that (supposedly). But it’s all still delivered in a handsome, non-recyclable petrochemical carrying case. Jeez, do I ever feel good about myself!”
I say, lots of pollutants can be used to make art, but the artists I know wish they didn’t have to.
Decked-out crosses have long been popular items. Royce has been numbering them since the beginning, and figures he’s close to making his 1,000th cross. “Crosses mean really different things to different people,” he says. To each finished piece he attaches a tag with his contact information, and sometimes someone will send him a story about what the cross has meant to them or what has happened to it. Royce treasures these. The meaning of his work deepens.
The thrown-away materials are reborn—still making a real difference in human lives.