Heading West Part 1: Kansas City (it’s hard to be a dandy in a pink $, blue colla’ industry)

16 Aug

The road out west began with a stop in Kansas City, Missouri. We followed roads dutifully past St. Louis toward the next Midwestern metropolis. We were planning to meet Gyphon, an artist friend of Dr. Jones, at his loft downtown. As voyagers hitting a modern-age westward trail we were armed with a tire iron and our Google maps. The atlas, which had been tossed into the back seat after much anxiety on Jareth’s part after glancing at the distance we had yet to cover, was of no use as we approached The Labyrinth. The sun reddened the city and it’s ribbons of concrete shone as we attempted, with hands to our faces, to read oncoming traffic signs.

Traffic thickened, became faster and more aggressive, and thinned again. The entry and exit ramps whirled off of Rt. 70, snaking implausibly above then below ground and twisting around supporting columns that rivaled those of the Parthenon. Without much worry we were able to follow the Google maps somewhat circuitous directions to arrive at what we considered to be a terrifying part of town. It seemed no buildings were still in use. The fact that it was dark as hell didn’t help that every street is a one-way and street signs may or may not be present. Calling Gryphon we were informed that our directions had brought us to the wrong side of town.

Industrial Wasteland, Kansas City

We took off heading back to the highway that spread out like the roots of a tree, feeding from the industry at the heart of a city permanently under construction. After making at least three, possibly four laps of the city we decided that our directional senses, even though also armed with a compass, were no match for The Labyrinth. Tempers rising and eyes beginning to droop after wandering the endless bows and knots made of asphalt, we carefully listened to every word of Gryphon’s third attempt to rescue us.

Back onto the highway, then an exit on the right, quickly to the left now. Back to the right! Under that viaduct (yes, we went under massive archways filled with black expanse–very Gotham City). And just beyond there is the parking lot. Behind a graffiti covered industrial space, a post-econo-apocalyptic wasteland of empty storehouses house generations of Midwestern artists who work in what seemed to us a decaying urban landscape.

After unloading our bicycles and suitcases from the top of the car–Gryphon informed us, and thus insisted, they were safer indoors–we loaded our loose belongings onto the freight elevator. A large building, from a time when Kansas City was an industrial hotspot in the Midwest, now housed a number of artist lofts and Gryphon’s studio.

All fears of staying in what appeared to be a deserted building under a viaduct on the west side of Kansas City immediately subsided as we saw Gryphon. Charming, kind-eyed, and at 6 foot 5, to say the least, we were relieved. Gryphon, the man who rescued us from The Labyrinth was no David Bowie. With a bald head, bushy but freshly clipped beard, and a perfectly centered nose ring, his black boots could have tromped Bowie in a heartbeat. Little did we know his dandy inspired wardrobe, thrifted from the best places in town, rivaled Bowie’s elaborate costumes and get-ups.

Slap and Tickle, Kansas City

The next day Gryphon was having a show at a local gallery-space. Before hitting the road we were offered a sneak peak of the show as it was still being set up for a party that evening. After loading up all of our gear atop the station wagon, we followed Gryphon, carefully and tediously, to the gallery.  There on the wooden sign above an unassuming door was a flying pickle with the gallery’s name–Slap and Tickle. We were greeted by the gallery owner and her furry little animals. There was a main gallery area with the Art-o-mat, an old cigarette vending machine that dispenses art with the purchase of a five dollar token. To try and narrow our focus with all the art surrounding the gallery, Jareth decided to ask a few questions as Rik pointed his camera at anything and everything.

Jareth – First of all, what is the title of your show and what does it have to do with the concepts your are exploring?

Gryphon – The show is called re : vision quest Well, there are something like thirty-nine pieces total and they are all self-portraits taken digitally, but printed on vintage fabrics and collaged with various found images or objects, such as door knobs and doilies–so, I would say that each piece is a re-invention of myself as this dandy character.

Gryphon van der Hole, Cthulu

Jareth – Why the dandy?

Gryphon – After a bout with cancer, I wanted to document the changes in my body (image) and style. Growing up I always thought of myself as a fat kid, when in reality, I was just proportionately larger. Being a bit of a hoarder, over time I came across some nice vintage suits. And would you believe? Fine dandy suits that seemed to have been tailored to fit me were hanging on the bargain coat racks at the local Salvation Army. As my collection of vintage garments increased, my kink slowly became less leather and more dandy.

Jareth – How long have you been working on this show?

Gryphon – I have been documenting the transformation of my body and style for about three and a half years now, and only recently working with incorporating these images and found objects into some of my two-dimensional pieces.

Jareth – Do you mostly work two-dimensionally?

Gryphon – Yes, I traditionally have worked on illustrations, but like to use some of the junk that I have collected to add design elements and texture.

Kinky Sugar Cookies

Rik, after tiring of taking pictures sat down next to Jareth and Gryphon on the couch as they unpack kinky sugar cookies and nail borders to some of the final artworks.

Rik – I really like the three images of you dressed up as different masculinities. Can you touch on these pieces?

Gryphon van der Hole, Masculinity Revisited, 2010

Gryphon – They are a series called Masculinity Revisited. I find that “pink dollar” gays take too much effort trying to look blue collar. Well, I work at a bindery. I work next to and with these blue collar men everyday and I’ll tell you what: a lot of them are bigots or homophobes. Why are we gays trying, and spending so much money on, looking like those that don’t support us or our communities? I wanted to play with the archetypes of masculinity that many gay men fetishize–the construction worker, the cowboy, the mechanic. I wanted to assume the masculinity of these icons so that they are no longer sexually charged in a blindly positive way, but critically. I felt like I should queer them up a bit–put my ‘girly dandy’ into these sexualized masculinities.

Rik – Can you talk about the materials used for the borders?

Gryphon – Sure, the border on the construction worker is obviously a ruler, the one on the mechanic may be a bit less obvious. Last week the serpentine belt went out on my Cadillac. Having it replaced sucked, but I was left with a belt the exact size of my frame. It is kind of funny how things just work their way into my artwork.

Rik – How else?

Gryphon van der Hole, Masculinity Revisited, 2010

Gryphon – Most elements to my pieces are a bit of luck and a bit of intuition. I have been working as an artist for quite sometime now, so, sometimes I just allow for things to happen and that is all part of the art–the process. For instance, some of my favorite image transfers appeared that way out of happenstance. The image is a bit messed up, but looks intentional.

Jareth – Oh, one more question. Five words that best describe you?

Gryphon – Hmm. That’s a tough one. I would have to say…  dandy, artist, blue collar, freak.

After a wonderful time at the Slap and Tickle talking with Gryphon it was time to leave. We still had to find a way out of The Labyrinth and make it to Colorado later that evening. With a wave and wishes for wellness and luck, we rode off to slay the next monster–Kansas.

If you wish to find out more about the Slap and Tickle or it’s showings please contact April, at daydReamsfree@yahoo.com

For more about Gryphon or to see his artwork check out his Flickr

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