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I Feel Gritty 

An art exhibit to benefit a film about graffiti -- hell, it might as well be a circus

Wednesday, Mar 19 2003
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See the flickering projected images! Hear the 78 rpm records! Marvel at the work of 35 artists! Step right up! "This is one show I don't think I could take on the road. It would be a circus -- it already is," says Bill Daniel, co-curator of "Pretty Gritty," an art exhibit and sale that he hopes will allow him to finish his 20-year project, a documentary about railroad graffiti titled Who Is Bozo Texino? Considering the scope of the event, maybe he should have just gone ahead and called it a circus.

Daniel's interest in "monikers," a type of folkloric hobo graffiti, started when he had a studio in Dallas near a Santa Fe Railroad line. At the time, he was making a vaguely autobiographical installation called Texas Skatepunk Scrapbook. Like a lot of kids who grew up in the punk rock subculture, his interest in his own freaky community translated into a deep interest in other groups of outsiders and in their forms of expression, such as monikers. "They're like tags," he explains, "fast and glyphic. They used to be done in chalk, but now the medium is oil-based paint sticks. They're people's nicknames, their alter egos, and usually there's a self-portrait or some kind of personal logo, like a martini glass or a bass boat. Probably the most well-known and most poetic is the moniker 'Colossus of Roads,' who signs a different caption each day. Colossus has worked for the railroad for 40 years, and done his current tag for 30 years." Because such art is illegal, artists are cagey about their identities and whereabouts. Research suggests, however, that Colossus will be present, in person, at "Pretty Gritty."

Daniel will screen parts of his film at this event, in the form of The Girl on the Train in the Moon, an installation comprised of two projections: one of a campfire that displays footage from freight-car trips, the other of the moon, with images of tramps and boxcar artists. Then there's everything else: painting, photography, film, music both live and DJed, plus a silent auction. When asked who some of his recent inspirations are, Daniel is unequivocal: "ALL MY FRIENDS who are putting art in the show and playing and working, like co-curator Karen Kirchhoff. They are my riches, and that's what this show is." Those friends include the Exploratorium's Liz Keim, who'll be projecting vintage 16mm films; Thad Povey, whose Bottle Rocket installation has reportedly wowed 'em from Sundance to Burning Man; and Galaxia recording artists Tommy Guerrero, Peggy Honeywell, and the Len Brown Society. In short, it's a complete circus.

Ringmaster Daniel may be friendly, but he's no clown. "Yeah," he says, "I'll answer some questions, but not who is Bozo Texino! That question and answer is really the heart of the show."

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Hiya Swanhuyser

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