Retro Redux

What do cockroaches and '50s kitsch have in common? They just keep coming back. At first glance, Paul Wilson's hand-cut prints appear to be family photos from the era of Hula-Hoops and sock hops. Doting housewife Dottie Kimble serves a pitcher of fresh lemonade to a gaggle of teenage boys. Dad poses with his bowling team. The catch? Wilson portrays Dad, Dad's buddies, the gangly teenagers, and, yup, you guessed it -- Dottie and her daughters, too.

It's All About Me, opening Friday, September 16, at Alwun House, is a retrospective exhibit spanning nearly two decades of the Valley artist's infatuation with nostalgia. Wilson painstakingly assembles his photographs to create unbroken slices of 1950s Americana. No Photoshop. No digital enhancement. In fact, Wilson doesn't even own a computer.

A call to his answering machine offers some slight insight into the self-termed "Phabulous & Phamous Eclectic Eccentric": "In case you're wondering, I'm cleaning the toilet!" Wilson cries. Callers can imagine Wilson in cuffs, muttering something about his well-chronicled obsession with actor Parker Stevenson.

"He's very . . . special," muses Alwun House director Kim Moody, searching for the perfect word to describe Wilson. "Surprisingly, he's a shy guy. But once the doors are open, try stopping it. [People] are attracted to Paul's bizarre and unique personality." Just mention Wilson's Roach Clips, a collection of film bits featuring plastic bugs, and his fans crawl out of the woodwork.

For Wilson, dressing up in retro clothing and re-enacting family events provides a link to the past. "I was born two days before Kennedy was shot," he explains. "I just missed the '50s [but through my art] I feel as though I lived it." Cross-dressing and cockroaches. For some, it's repugnant; for others, intriguing. For Paul Wilson, it's catharsis. And, as the title indicates, it is all about him.

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Wynter Holden
Contact: Wynter Holden