The artist as a young man

I got an early start on my art career. I remember my mom teaching me how to color when I was about four. According to her I needed to stay within the lines, but I thought that was bullshit. I liked to keep it loose.

I must have eventually conformed to the rules, because in the first grade I won the Mother Moose coloring contest. Mother Moose was a character on the Larry Beck Show. The Larry Beck Show was on the local public broadcasting station. Larry Beck was Alaska’s poet laureate, like our very own Robert Service, who wore a big fur parka and recited his poems while playing an acoustic guitar. His sidekick was Mother Moose, who I guess backed him up or something. The seventies was a good time to be a kid in Alaska.

The gang seen here in summer attire

The prize for winning the Mother Moose coloring contest was that I got to appear on the Larry Beck Show. I had my own fur parka, which I loved, so of course I wore that to the studio. I was in kind of a weird, dumbstruck mental state because I had never been in a TV studio before. It was mostly dark and then really bright up front. Larry Beck had makeup on that made his face look kind of like a mask, which was startling. The freakiest thing of all was how huge Mother Moose turned out to be in real life.

When it was time for me to be honored for my achievement I had to go up next to Larry Beck under the bright lights. He said something to me, asked a question I guess, and put this microphone in front of me. I didn’t really know what it was. The answer that came out of my mouth was something like, “Murph!” and it boomed throughout the room in a strange voice that wasn’t my own. Overall this was a pretty traumatic experience.

Also in the first grade I got my start as a pornographer. Let me back up a bit. My artistic rival was Ed Crabaugh. He could draw like a badass, and was plenty famous for it. At some point one of us challenged the other one to a motorcycle drawing contest at the listening center.

The listening center was a little table surrounded by little kids wearing little headphones, listening to little prompts and filling out little worksheets. Actually they were standard 8½” x 11” pieces of paper, which Ed and I turned over and drew our motorcycles on.

Now, I didn’t remember this part of the story, but I met up with Ed recently and he refreshed my memory. According to him I beat him soundly, receiving accolades from our classmates around the table. And not content with my victory, I proceeded to say something like, “And check this out…”

In the middle of a new piece of paper I drew a little naked person, like this:

but-manartist’s  approximation

In the four corners I drew four more little naked people, and they were all peeing on the person in the middle in big arcs that ended in concentric circles like pond ripples all over the person in the middle.

Needless to say this cemented my reputation as badass art guy. There was serious commotion at the listening center that day, which of course attracted the attention of our teacher, Mrs. Eby. She slapped me on the leg hard and said a bunch of angry teacher stuff. I had to stay after school and wait for my parents to come and get me. They were very disappointed in me.

It’s true that a great artist must suffer for his art.

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