We see them online all the time: posts that tell you what your stripper name or first child’s name would be based on random bits of information, such as the month of your birthday or the last vegetable you ate. The words get matched to result in ridiculous combinations. For instance, one such post revealed that my stripper name would be Montana Heat.
When artist Dave Van Patten posted his own version of this absurd sort of survey on Facebook, he got more than 60 responses. The survey asks “What Kind of Gross Art Poem Are You?” and asks for the month you were born, first letter of your name and last digit of the day you were born.
From there, those three words form a totally gross combo of words (mine is Stubby Whale Vomit). Having received so many responses, Van Patten decided to put pencil to paper and bring these strange visions to life. And now they're on display in Long Beach.
He describes the process of creating these surreal images as “kind of in the spirit of Kerouac on meth, but without the meth.”
“I didn't really need the synthetic drugs, because for me, delirium is my favorite drug,” Van Patten wrote in an email. “Sleep deprivation, minimal food and binge creativity really loosens up the mind to the point of subtle madness. Everything becomes funny as the rest of the world disconnects from you with the exception of your creative project.”
He lets the process take over, feverishly creating images such as a figure with a wand protruding from his eyelid (Sweaty Eyelid Wand) or an organ with a face, feet and hairy legs (Psychedelic Flesh Organ).
“In the nature of this creative binge, I puked out 40 of the drawings the first day,” Van Patten says.
Despite their surreal and strange nature, the artist eventually developed a slight method to his madness.
“Several of the three-word poems were hard to conceptualize as drawings, but I started to develop a little system,” Van Patten wrote. “Any time the word 'holy' came up, for example 'holy flesh bubble' or 'holy grass limbs,' I drew the superhero sidekick Robin, freaking out, screaming ‘Holy Blob Wand, Batman!’”
Which explains why one of the pieces shows Robin with two sharpened pencils for arms screaming, “Holy Flesh Pencils, Batman!” Boy Wonder looks pretty distraught, but Van Patten admits he gets a chuckle at poor Robin's expense.
“The underlying purpose of these drawings was to make myself laugh, and the thought of Robin weeping or being mutilated just kills me every time,” Van Patten says.
The word combinations get pretty absurd — but that’s what makes each illustration a challenge. Their surreal nature makes them look almost like the product of exquisite corpse, a game that Surrealist artists enjoyed playing. The rules differed from group to group, but the idea was usually to draw a segment of something and fold the paper over before handing it to the next person. That artist could only see the edge of the lines in the work above the fold; then they'd created their own illustration.
The results were macabre, hilarious, nonsensical. But they also served to make artists consider how they might imagine ordinary objects as something new when combined with other visual elements.
Van Patten needed to stretch his imagination to bring the word combinations to life. In some ways, these strange chains of words helped him create things he might not have envisioned otherwise — at least not in the form that they took in his quick drawing.
“For 'wrinkled oatmeal pencil,' my go-to thought was to draw a gross, soggy pencil made out of oatmeal, until the idea came of the wrinkly face of the Quaker Oats guy with a pencil through his head,” Van Pattern says. “That one turned out to be one of my best, even though it started with a lame idea. In essence, the point was to stretch my mind's creative boundaries.”
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Each piece differs wildly from the next, which makes them seem less like premeditated pieces and more like visual vomit (an appropriate metaphor, since some of Van Patten’s pieces prominently feature puke).
The artist explains that the survey worked well as a “launching point,” but after a while the pieces “took on a weirdo, visceral, absurdist life” that went beyond the poems.
Dave Van Patten’s work will be on display through July 15 at 4th Street Vine, 2142 E. Fourth St., Long Beach; 4thstreetvine.com.