Motel “People”

Motel “People”

Sooner or later, almost anything can get personal….

I’ve come to realize that it’s an integral feature of our nature as created beings that can make our relationships to “things” feel like personal relationships. We have the capacity to relate to our world and the things in it, on a one-on-one basis. Virtually anything, depending on our individual sensibilities can be alive with the possibility to mean something more. After years of focusing on motels it’s only natural that one might eventually get around to literally personalizing the interest.

The Phoenix valley portion of my motel collection has taken on new life as “motel people.” This group of motels spans the Phoenix area from Tolleson to Apache Junction. It required 129 motel signs and roughly eleven months to create, muscle-by-muscle, an anatomically resonant figure. Anatomy and figure study were part of my training as an artist. This skill set/mindset got to work on a collection of motels that had taken years to accumulate.

Each sign was used only once to replace a surface muscle with as little distortion to either form as possible. I had just enough motels to accomplish this, with the exception of one from Gila Bend. With an unlimited number of motel signs to choose from, it would have been relatively easy to do this while avoiding bad color clusters in the form; the difficulty resulting from the restricted possibilities inherent in a small array of choices is what an artist calls a “sweet problem” to solve. The ‘boring’ or ‘plain’ motels were as necessary as the flashier items to make it work.

Muscle Atlas

Here is a an early compositional pencil study of this effort. Below are later versions, 4” acrylic on canvas studies of these motel figures. Part of the fun in choosing the placement of motels into the form (if I had the opportunity) came from the names – using the Cottage Court as a gluteal muscle for example.

Figure Map

After completing the grunt work of putting these figures together I had absolutely no clue what to do with them…. none…… which is pretty much what exploring things as an artist can be like – navigating on instinct and hard work. Hoping to learn something about the world and yourself while you’re at it. The “people” didn’t get really interesting until they started to develop personalities. After working with them for some time by including them in paintings did they eventually emerge and develop into distinct individuals.

Two studies

Currently there are four “people”: Florian, Angela, Barbara and DelRio.


Above, Florian and Angela are dancing on the doorstep of this burned out Tucson motel. It’s a mystery why the second thing they wanted to do was dance. The sheer joy of just being “alive” maybe? It was just weird; people look silly as hell doing this. It really is kind of embarrassing. Like writing fiction: once you open the door to letting characters ‘exist’ as individuals, you have to accept the vagaries of their personalities… When they appear in an artwork they’re doing things that they want to do, in places where they want to be. They may be doing something that I’m not personally interested in: part of the creative challenge for me is letting that happen freely. The motels used to generate these figures have deteriorated and are disappearing much faster than I expected.

DelRio Motel

Soon these figures will be “ghosts” when all their “parts” have been destroyed…


This detail shows Florian and Angela dancing their way through a filthy alley behind a motel in downtown Phoenix. It’s a mystery.

DelRio and Angela

Del Rio is dancing with Angela in this detail from another painting. Del Rio somehow lost part of his leg in the 1970’s, but he’s still a real “ladies man” despite all that. He jams a stick in a pipe to get around on. (Why he does this, when I would be perfectly happy to paint him a nice state-of-the-art artificial limb is just nuts.) I really don’t understand his attitude at all….Angela is one of those force-of-nature types who is extremely adventurous and very physical.


Florian is dancing with Barbara in front of a Tucson deadster motel this detail from another painting. Barbara (shown above) doesn’t have any arms. How she lost these is a mystery to me. She really loves “wearing” helium balloons. Angela and Del Rio keep her supplied with fresh ones to keep her feeling “pretty.” Barbara’s real quiet and kind of scary.
I think she has “powers.”

DelRio and Angela

Florian is very protective of Barbara – a real gentleman. He’s a very different kind of quiet than she is; he lives in that blunt, competent, professional, zen kind of male quiet. The type of quiet that carries a presence which doesn’t need any verbal expression to be appreciated. He is getting kinda tired of accommodating the ladies and really wants to ski in a canal. Soon. (Behind a muscle car maybe, one can’t put a speedboat into the canal system in Phoenix.) Del Rio and Angela want to go horseback riding, and Barbara will no doubt let me know whatever she feels like telling me when she’s ready to “talk”. I can tell she likes the little buggy I’m designing for her and Del Rio to ride in.

Shadow Puppets


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