Off to See the Wizardry

Depending on whom you talk to, Richard Wizardry is either a madcap genius or just another crackpot artist with a lot of leftover scrap metal and too much time on his hands. Either way, Wizardry wants to make up for all the bland art he's encountering in local galleries, and his first project toward that end is a sculpture called Trailer Trash Man, a 12-foot-tall musical instrument made from old stoves and transformers. Trailer Trash Man plays tunes and roasts marshmallows with flame-throwing nipples and is getting a lot of attention from art lovers, passers-by, and the neighborhood fire department. According to Wizardry, whose motto is "Good art should be humorous, make you think and offend small-minded puritanical assholes!", Trailer Trash Man is the first step in a revolutionary new art movement.

New Times: You got your start as an artist after hanging out at downtown Phoenix art spaces in the late '80s.

Richard Wizardry: Those places are what really got me interested in making art. I'd been building model rockets since I was a little kid, and space things -- Star Wars, Star Trek, things like that -- got me started being creative. Rockets and science fiction, that's where some of my ideas come from, you know?

NT: Are you still affiliated with the downtown galleries?

Wizardry: No, because that whole era is gone. In the late '80s and early '90s, there was an edginess to the art and the people, and now it's really safer and not as interesting. There were works of art down there that were truly scary. I mean, art about the Holocaust that had been made from Styrofoam and old torches and was really kind of frightening. Back then, it was more gothic. It was about getting people from Scottsdale out of their comfort zone to look at something different. I don't know what happened to the people who used to do art downtown, but back then it was a lot more organic, and today the art is a lot more computer-driven. It's safer now. I think good art should be humorous and offend small-minded assholes.

NT: Like Trailer Trash Man.

Wizardry: Yes, and like Mapplethorpe's stuff, and [Andres Serrano's] "Piss Christ." You want to hit every emotion in a person who's seeing your art. When you do that, you've done something. People are afraid of change and things they don't understand. Art should be about creating things that are beyond people's imagination. That's what I've done with Trailer Trash Man. It's interactive art. I'm an artist who practices the art of destruction reconstituted.

NT: What?

Wizardry: It's just a different way of saying I recycle stuff from things that are getting destroyed. I put it all together again into something new.

NT: Like Trailer Trash Man. Tell me about him.

Wizardry: My mom owns an old trailer park, and everybody's always bulldozing their trailers. I thought, "There's got to be a use for all this stuff," and so I welded it all together into something else.

NT: A 12-foot-tall metallic man.

Wizardry: Well, that just happens to be how tall he came out. I try to cut as little as I can when I do a sculpture. His head is a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer keg. The body's a water pressure tank from a well house, the arms and legs are electrical junction boxes, and all the electronic controls come from a semiconductor company. I basically turned an oven inside out, and I've taken parts from weed burners and propane torches and house heaters and put them all together into a sculpture of a man.

NT: A sculpture of a man that plays music and shoots fire.

Wizardry: Right. Any signal from a CD or a musical instrument activates the flames, which are modulated by the music signal. It's called a flame organ, or a pyrophone, and it originated in the 18th century. I'm using fire to make sound with, to push air with instead of speakers and air pumps.

NT: I read where each of his hands is a table and his body is a grill.

Wizardry: There's fire in his belly, which you can use to smoke food or as a grill. He's art, and he's functional. Why should art -- or home appliances -- be boring?

NT: He has balls of steel!

Wizardry: They're crushing balls from a ball mill. The dick is a piece of gas pipe from Scottsdale Road. I pulled up to where the workers were pulling it out of the ground, and I said, "I need a dick. That steel there looks good, can I have some for my man sculpture?" And the SRP guy said, "As long as you give him good head, you can have it."

NT: His dick must be really big.

Wizardry: Plus it's a speaker! It's a subwoofer, and his nipples are the midrange and the head is basically a huge speaker. I have a computer program that will tell me how to give him a 12-octave range. When I'm finished, he'll be a true pyrophone.

NT: He actually has flames shooting out of him. It sounds kind of dangerous.

Wizardry: It's not. Not any more than a patio heater. I know what the fire codes are for building devices like this, so I can display it legally in my [Scottsdale] front yard. Before I ever fired him up, I took pictures to the fire department and explained everything to them. As long as I don't tie into the city gas service, the city can't ask me for any permits.

NT: What does Rural/Metro say about Trailer Trash Man?

Wizardry: They call him a home appliance. On Halloween, I fired it up and roasted hot dogs and marshmallows off the flaming dick, and I got all sorts of great comments. Thanksgiving, I fired it up and the neighbors called the police on me. They want me arrested because they think it's obscene.

NT: Everyone's a critic.

Wizardry: To me, it's just abstract art. You can go to Italy, and would anyone ask you to cover up Michelangelo's David? You have naked statues all over Europe. If Trailer Trash Man were a figure of a woman, people would find it acceptable. You do a man and, well, society is so prudish. My neighbors were objecting to the genitalia. And the flames that shot out of them were scaring them.

NT: Were the cops scared of his flame-throwing wiener?

Wizardry: The police came over and I had to give them a demonstration. I showed them everything he can do, and they said I'm pushing the limits. They lose their sense of humor at the police academy, I think. Toward the end they had a hard time keeping a straight face, though. They didn't tell me I have to take it down, so I think I'm okay.

NT: Can I rent Trailer Trash Man for parties?

Wizardry: Well, I'm actually planning the Trailer Trash Man Diner and Dinner Show. Here's how it will work: I've got all these bread pans, and I'm going to weld them into the shape of a man and a woman. Now, everyone comes to the party and brings a pound of their favorite bread dough. Then we bake bread.

NT: That does sound fun.

Wizardry: It's interactive art! While the bread is cooling, you can cook the rest of the meal. Now, isn't that a different way of catering that no one's ever done before?

NT: I'm certain of it! So, your art can make me dinner and give me a show. In my collection, I have only paintings that hang on the wall and look pretty.

Wizardry: Eventually, I want to do a full show with fire dancers and drummers, and we can call it the Trailer Trash Cult Show. Fire's the most primordial instinct of man, and that's the thing with Trailer Trash Man: He appeals to every human sense: sight, sound, smell, feeling, emotions. They're all there in this sculpture.

NT: Do you do custom work? If I want a 12-foot-tall metallic fire-breathing woman on my front lawn, can I get one?

Wizardry: Uh-huh. I have enough material to make maybe six to 15 different creatures. I've figured out a way to recycle every part of these junction boxes into art.

NT: Does the city have any trouble with this?

Wizardry: It's art. It's my First Amendment right of expression. No one from the city has come to my house or said anything to me yet. I'm allowed to build a fire-breathing sculpture that's up to 30 feet tall and the fire department can't say a thing to me.

NT: But your neighbors continue to.

Wizardry: Even without the genitalia, people do double takes when they walk down the street. A lot of people think I'm a genius. One guy from the fire department said, "What are you, some kind of Dali?" So if I can get responses like that, and other people think it's obscene, then I must be doing a pretty damn good job.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela