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Artist Paul Wilson is Inspired by His Hatred of Phoenix

Artist Paul Wilson
Artist Paul Wilson
Kathleen Vanesian

Best of Phoenix hit newsstands yesterday. In conjunction with this year's Vintage Phoenix theme, New Times is collaborating with R. Pela Contemporary Art to present "Hot Plate!" It's an exhibition of one-of-a-kind, Phoenix-inspired commemorative plates made by local artists. Leading up to the show's Oct. 4 opening, we're profiling each of the contributing artists and visiting their studios. Today: Paul Wilson.

Visiting artist and stage set designer Paul Wilson is like stepping back into the 1950s and 60s, in all their kitschy, Barbie-and-Ken glory. You'll have to step over 3-foot rubber roaches writhing on their backs on the kitchen floor, then duck to avoid other gigantic ones hanging menacingly from the ceiling before you gain entrée to the heart of Wilson's mid-century modern abode, which seconds as a studio and art supply warehouse crammed to the proverbial rafters.

See also: Hot Plate! Best of Phoenix Commemorative Collaboration Opens Oct. 4 at R. Pela Gallery

Wilson's work space
Wilson's work space
Kathleen Vanesian

Wilson is notorious for his detailed mini-dioramas, bizarre homemade videos and carefully constructed, nostalgic photo collages featuring himself with any number of refugees from both cinema ("The Poseidon Adventure" being one example) and history (Lee Harvey Oswald is a current fave). Wilson's work is a paean to the American obsession with celebrity and pop culture, as well as a celebration of ideas about social norms that never existed in America's recent past. The artist was awarded a Phoenix Art Museum Contemporary Forum grant in 2012; recent Wilson work was displayed at PAM in April of 2013.

What's your earliest memory of Phoenix? Since I was born and raised here, my earliest memory would be living in this house - my parents owned this house. It would also be Shakey's Pizza, Thomas Mall, Mom taking me to Yellow Front to get clothes, which I hated. My very earliest memory is taking a bath in the kitchen sink here and those ceiling fans in Serrano's that would hurt my ears because they had a high pitched whine to them. And I wondered why we had palm trees everywhere.  

Artist Paul Wilson is Inspired by His Hatred of Phoenix
Kathleen Vanesian

What inspired your plate for this show? My hatred of Phoenix. I'm stuck here, like so many people, because a relative was sick, which means they had to move to Arizona because they had asthma or some breathing issue. My mom's side of the family was from Detroit, and they came here because some relative couldn't breathe. They said it was nice back then, with orange groves and cooler weather. I'm amazed by people who get out of here.

The only thing I like about Phoenix is that it was used in the opening of Psycho. Janet Leigh is fleeing Phoenix.

My plate reflects my hatred of Phoenix, in that there's no color on it, except for the lettering, which is going to say, "Phoenix Sucks," in very jaunty lettering. The plate is similar to one of those tourist plates in that it's advertising the state, but doing it in a not good way. It's depicting the bad things: ubiquitous rows of palm trees, images suggesting irrigation, citrus trees that stupidly have white painted on their trunk bases. And the heat, of course. That's obvious. And all of the tire stores that say "Llanteras." And strip malls with all the same signs that have a rectangle that lights up from inside. The highlight will be that damn sign over 7th Avenue that has all that confusing stuff about "this lane only can be used from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m." I can't figure that out. I guess it's so confusing that's why they call it the suicide lane.

There are a lot of things I have to fit on it, so I'm just going to have to make bullets with descriptions.

Phoenix needs more: Real trees, deciduous trees and semi-tropical trees, which will grow here.

Phoenix needs less: Of itself. Just no more Phoenix. Don't build any more. Don't advertise it; don't perpetuate or reinforce it, or in any way acknowledge it as something that needs to exist. Pretty sunsets don't cut it. Maybe we need less pretty sunsets because people think we're cool because we have beautiful sunsets. That doesn't go for all of Arizona. There are nice places in Arizona. Less asphalt, too. Just let it shrink into itself.

What's on your plate this fall? There are so many things. That's when you can roll down your car windows and you can go outside. I'll be able to walk outside...my birthday's in November. Probably what I'll be doing is going on eBay and buying shit for my Lee Harvey Oswald dolls. And theater season starts up, so I'll have money coming in to pay for it, though I don't think there's much to buy that I don't alright have.

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