Visual Arts

CLEAN, SOBER AND STANGE

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"I created Sallie Lou seven years ago," explains the artist, as he slowly turns the pages of the album, "because I wanted to do something different. I was doing other types of painting--almost photographic realism--and my eyes were getting bad. I had jotted down 50 ideas I had for weird paintings, so I started with seven of them. "They were very strange and most were Biblical: Adam and Eve, Adam and Eve being expelled from Eden, Moses and the Ten Commandments, the Last Supper, Jonah and the Whale. "The only thing is, I decided right away that I didn't want the people in the paintings to be white, because we have no photograph proving that Adam and Eve were white or that Christ was white or that anybody else back then was white. We have no photographic record, so how do we know?

"And I wanted to appeal to a bigger crowd of people than just white people. I wanted to appeal universally, so I made some of the people in the paintings black, some of them were Mexican and Indian, some Asian, but mostly, I made them black.

"My lawyer said that since I had already signed thousands of paintings with my real name, in order to keep those paintings from being devalued, I should use a fictitious name."
Thus was spawned Sallie Lou's bizarre Biblical series, stylistically naive and filled with almost fluorescent color. But these were paintings with a decided twist. Tapping his finger on one of the photographs in the album, Andrew recalls:

"One of the first paintings was 'Moses and the Ten Commandments,' with Moses coming down from the mountain in a red-and-white robe; down below is the Golden Calf, and all the people with wine goblets worshiping the false idol at the foot of the mountain are members of the KKK, dressed in multicolored, pointy-hooded robes. And here's Moses holding the Ten Commandments, only he's a powerful black man with an Afro." In "Walking on Water: Welcome to Forsyth County Where Black Is Beautiful" (This county is big Klan country"), a black Jesus Christ walks on water, to the amazement of black fishermen and disgruntled KKK observers.

After completing a number of Biblical pieces, Andrew, a.k.a. Sallie Lou, became obsessed with African-American history, researching its every aspect, including the civil rights movement. Thus was born the Black History series: "Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad" (I did about 20 of these, and every one is different"); "Is This the House?", depicting Klan members about to cheerfully burn a cross on a neighborhood lawn (This happens in Pennsylvania all the time"); and "Montgomery, Alabama Going to Little Rock, Arkansas With Klan on Top," a very loose version of the Rosa Parks story, including miniature Klan members riding on the top of a bus.

Imagination unchained, Andrew-as-Sallie Lou produced ever more pointed work. Photographs in the album show black children at Halloween dressed for trick-or-treating in Klan robes, Snow Black and the Seven Dwarfs (with the wicked Klan Queen offering her poison apple), black Amish children skipping rope (a phenomenon that has no basis in reality), a Thanksgiving Day feast at which black people sit side by side with hooded Klan figures (How it could be with Klan and blacks together"). The artist paid little attention to historical time frames, cultural taboos or political fashion, letting his mind rove and connect in unexpected ways. A series of ark pieces appeared, including a Victorian Ark and a Paddlewheel Ark.

"Then I went into doing what I call the 'Klan Quilt' paintings," Andrew explains, while seeking out the appropriate picture, "where I had black ladies quilting hooded Klan figures on the quilt they all worked on together." "Wednesday Night Quilting Night at the Klan Meeting House--Only in America," part of this series, depicted Klansmen, peaked hoods hanging on a side wall, sewing watermelon slices onto their quilt.

Sources of inspiration lurked everywhere for Sallie Lou--radio, television, newspapers. Even the 1988 Democratic convention provided grist for Sallie Lou's creative mill. "I remember watching Jesse Jackson during the convention talking about his mother's burning quilt, so I made this painting," the artist recalls. "In it, there's Bentsen with his tennis racket, there's Dukakis and there's Jackson with his mother's quilt, which is a United States shaped like a watermelon and it's burning.

"Then there was one with Jesse, as ambassador to the world, with the Rainbow Coalition, standing on a Sunkist lemon world in an American-flag tutu. "This was just something I heard on television, and right away, I could see it. The way I paint, I can see this whole thing in my head before I paint--then I just start. If I can't see it in my head, I don't paint."
@rule:
@body:Collectors from New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., including rich doctors and even one Catholic archbishop, bought the work from Andrew, who would trek weekly to a flea market near his home in Pennsylvania to hawk Sallie Lou's paintings. They bought, as well, the elaborate story the artist had dreamed up about the paintings' fascinating creator. Some of those buyers included a few Klan members (who probably didn't get the real point of the work), lured by the seductive colors and frolicking figures.

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Kathleen Vanesian