Right around that time, Kilduff started getting involved in the strange world of public-access cable television, a remarkable and underappreciated forum for free expression mandated by the FCC in the late ’60s. Anyone who can sit through a free training session can have his own TV show, and some of the finest video art of the last quarter-century has resulted. Locally, cable access has produced underground stars like Francine Dancer, Dr. Susan Block and Zuma Dogg. As depicted in the recent documentary Public Access Hollywood (which will screen at the Century City Film Festival in late October), the cable-access community is sort of a non-hierarchical version of Warhol’s Factory, and one of its late-’90s superstars was one Jim Berry, a.k.a. John Kilduff.
After a couple of years spoofing talk shows and the Home Shopping Network, Kilduff realized that if he combined his first calling as a painter with the ramshackle seat-of-your-pants inventiveness of cable access, he’d produce something new — a mutant strain of instructional art television. And he was right. Boisterous, irreverent and surreal, Let’s Paint TV is nevertheless utterly sincere in its espousal of painting as a path of creative liberation. If anything, it jettisons the inverse snobbery of the Bob Ross tradition, assuming a sophisticated audience informed by the inescapable influence of Modernism and the indeterminate sincerity of post–Saturday Night Live television. It turns out Let’s Paint TV is indeed a clever parody of Bob Ross and company, but — like so much parody, from Don Quixote to the novelty music of Spike Jones — this one turns out to be better art than that at which it pokes fun. Poised between the mainstream and plein-air art worlds, the instructional art television tradition and cable-access madness, Kilduff somehow delivers a painting primer as good as any I’ve seen in art school and better than any other I’ve seen on TV. And you get Saddam Hussein.
LET’S PAINT TV | Adelphia Public Access Channel, September 15 & 22, 8:30 p.m | www.letspainttv.com