"I'll keep creating till I draw my last breath--which, at this point, may be any time!"
So says horrified hatchet man Peter Petrisko Jr., the self-styled "renegade artist" who fears for his life after desecrating a yucca plant many believed contained a sacred vision of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
During an exclusive phone interview shortly before fleeing to Tucson last week, the terrified 21-year-old seemed both puzzled and shaken as he reflected on the aftermath of a horticultural heist gone hellaciously haywire. Referring to one newspaper account in which a devastated yucca worshiper suggested that both he and accomplice Eric Barbour "should be executed" for their devilish deed, the petrified Petrisko naively admits, "I didn't expect such a strong reaction."
Explaining that he'd originally planned to use the yucca stalk as the centerpiece of a religious collage (the branch has since been enshrined in the Immaculate Heart Catholic Church in downtown Phoenix), the perplexed performance artist says, "My hope was to wake up people a little. They're so worried about a plant; they should be worried about more important things--like the homeless."
For all practical purposes the youthful yucca-pruner, who has not been charged with any crime, was homeless himself after the Phoenix Gazette published his address in a news story the day after the incident. "They all but drew a map to my house," complains Petrisko, who immediately vacated his apartment after the Gazette story appeared. "My parents told me I should really watch myself. I've been laying pretty low lately."
But not too low. Judging from the contents of a publicity packet that he hastily assembled for New Times before skipping town, the newly notorious artist's biggest claim to fame is his underground art publication Burning Toddlers. Described on its contents page as a "senseless mess of a mag," the current issue includes fiction ("When Boys Were Men and Girls Had Cooties"), a comic strip called "Runaway Fetus," an ad parody for the American Baby Growers Commission ("Babies . . . Fun to Make. Fun to Eat") and an interview with serial murderer John Wayne Gacy, the "Killer Clown" who buried the bodies of over thirty victims in the crawlspace under his Chicago home.
Striking up a correspondence with the convicted murderer after discovering Gacy's whereabouts in a celebrity address book, Petrisko recently arranged to display several of his pen pal's childlike paintings at a local nightclub earlier this month. Noting that Gacy is generally portrayed in the press as a "media monster, like something out of a Popeye cartoon," Petrisko explains that he organized the art show because he "wanted to show another side of the man. In his letters, he comes across as quite sane." After his brief sojourn in Tucson, Petrisko apparently is feeling a bit more stable himself. Upon returning to the Valley late last week, the vagabond vandal remained brazenly unrepentant. "The day I start drawing lines as to what I can or cannot do or say in my artwork is the day I day I better throw in the towel and resign myself to doing abstract painting to sell in Scottsdale. If this attitude makes me the most hated artist in Phoenix, so be it.