Dark Vomit AKA Kelly Hutchison recently showed a magnificently bizarre body of work at Cal State Fullerton’s Grand Central Art Center. The art was so imaginative and outright funny that Juxtapoz curator Greg Escalante and GCAC board member Wendy Sherman tracked down the illusive artist and scored this illuminating interview.
by Greg Escalante and Wendy Sherman
Greg Escalante: Nice to meet the man behind the art! So what’s up with the nickname?
Kelly Hutchison: Dark Vomit transpired partly because everyone misspelled my last name. It was a whimsical idea – when I was 13 years old I almost died of a burst appendix. Was in the hospital for three months. It was a military hospital, my dad was in the air force. After the surgery to remove my appendix, my guts started forming abscesses and I was fed off an IV tube for a couple of months. Had a tube in me that went down my nose and reached my stomach to pump and drain it to stop me from digesting. That kept me in a hospital bed for a month and a half that way. It brutalized my appetite, and still does to this day. I am 6 foot 6 inches tall, weigh 145 lbs. and have been the same weight since age 15. From that experience I came up with the idea to call myself “Dark Vomit.”
“A regurgitation of my most twisted inner thoughts.” It is a way for me to pool my emotions in the context that I paint.
Greg: How did you meet Extremo The Clown?
Kelly: Extremo held a MySpace contest that I entered. He made funny poems and riddles of some of his MySpace friends. The contest was that you had to figure out which person he was talking about. The prize was an original piece of his artwork. Winning the prize, I was completely blown away when receiving the painting in the mail. It was nearly four feet tall! We became sort-of pen pals. Extremo even made a song for me. Then I started curating art shows in San Diego and wanted to show some of Extremo’s artwork. I organized a group art show called “Caulrophobia – The Fear of Clowns” at a frame shop called “The Art of Framing” (http://www.theartofframing.net/) Later on, my wife and I opened a small art gallery in San Diego that we called the “Fish Out Of Water Weirdo Art Gallery.” It lasted for a year and it was an excellent experience to understand what a lot of galleries go through with dealing with artists. Extremo’s artwork was always a favorite in the shop. I also made an earlier CGI animation of an art gallery tour and made Extremo a character in the video – “Fish out of Water.”
Greg: Since we are talking about clowns, and painting clowns, I have to ask -– are you a clown?
Kelly: Oh no. It takes a special person to be a clown and I am not one of them. I look up to Extremo and a lot of other clowns. But personally, I’m a pretty boring person. I like to take walks through the San Diego zoo with my wife and be mellow.
Greg: What is your art background? Have you been making art since childhood?
Kelly: I am self-taught and never went to art school. I joined the Navy after high school. The first couple of years in the Navy I was painting the sides of a ship stationed in Guam. Being so tall… I was the first sent over the side with a rope harness. I could get better coverage than others with my longer reach not having to be moved around so much. I was in charge of the paint locker and it was one of my responsibilities to issue paint to different divisions on the ship. My last two years in the Navy I was a barber. After leaving the Navy, I really embraced the punk rock lifestyle and started working a lot of crap jobs. Worked the graveyard shift at a gas station for a while. To make ends meet in between jobs, I would rummage through garbage dumpsters in the neighborhood. Gradually accumulating a lot of old stuff and junk that I could sell at the swap meet. One day, discovering a lot of stainless steel door panels, I started painting on them, and then started selling them at the swap meet. My art evolved out of that.
Wendy: How did you feel about the Navy after you left? Did you reject Navy lifestyle? Why did you decide to join the Navy in the first place?
Kelly: Exiting the Navy, I had a lot of mixed emotions and never got over being seasick. It was such a relief to not be sick any longer when I got out. The military lifestyle and it’s conformity was a struggle for me to deal with from time to time. The reason I decided to join the Navy after graduating High School in Cheyenne, Wyoming, was the desire to travel the world and figured joining the service would be the way to do it.
Greg: So, you found these weird pieces of metal in people’s trash, painted on it and started to sell it?
Kelly: Oh yeah. Sold the first pieces for $20 and they sold really well. When I raised my prices to $200, they kept selling.
Wendy: What kinds of things were you painting on the metal pieces?
Kelly: It was a lot of cartoon inspired imagery originating from doodling. Isolating the most interesting details I would paint them on the metal.
Greg: Who was buying your art at the swap meet? Was it random people? Or a certain demographic?
Kelly: Definitely across the board, random – young and old. Older people said it reminded them of the 60s beatnik era and younger kids related to the wacky energy. After my success selling art at the swap meet, I wanted to get more serious and become a legitimate artist and the next step was to sell my artwork at coffee shops, I was looking for acceptance.
Greg: So this is how you started showing your art?
Kelly: Living in San Diego, and at the time, the rents went way up and I had to move to the “ghetto” area in order to find cheaper rent. I couldn’t take it and ended up moving to Wyoming for three years. I had just met my wife and we tried to live “The American Dream” in Wyoming. It’s affordable there, but saddled with horrible weather! The climate in San Diego is so heavenly. Was working for Quark Software as a customer service representative and later learned the art of silk-screening. Started working for a mom and pop t-shirt printing shop in Wyoming. Three years later, I returned to San Diego and tried to move up to legitimate art galleries in the San Diego area and had bad luck. They would say, “Your work isn’t what we show here” or “We are all booked up – come back in two years.” Someone actually said to me, “You call that art?”
Greg: When did you get your first break?
Kelly: My biggest break was the recent “ClownTown” show at
Grand Central Art Center with Extremo and Mulder 142. This was my 100th art show. Past shows are listed on my web site: http://www.darkvomit.com/events/index.html
Greg: Had you shown with Extremo before?
Kelly: Oh yeah, numerous times. I did my first clown painting for the “Coulrophobia – Fear of Clowns” show at the Art of Framing gallery in San Diego, CA in September 2006, which featured paintings of scary looking clowns.
Greg: What was the theme of the “ClownTown” show?
Kelly: Extremo contacted me over phone and interrupted my depressed state of mind at the time. I was working on a big event that fell through – couldn’t see eye to eye with the organizer and lost a months worth of time trying to curate a show that never happened. Extremo invited me to be in the “ClownTown” show. This was my first series of clown paintings.
Greg: I compliment you on that awesome body of work. Do you have any favorite pieces from the “ClownTown” show?
Kelly: The “John Wayne Gacy Puppet Theatre.” I have a friend who owns a junk shop and found this perfect theatre cabinet there. It came from Hong Kong and was originally a case that a sausage vendor used on the sidewalk, as a carrying roller, to sell sausages on the street in Hong Kong! I found the puppet at a garage sale and repainted the face. My mother-in-law made the costume and I design the pattern and silk-screened it around the case. Bret Barrett added the mechanics and strobe light to the case.
Wendy: Could you elaborate on how you and Bret collaborate on a piece? And how you partner with other artists?
Kelly: Bret designs the mechanics that make my kinetic pieces work. I tried to do the mechanics myself, but could never figure it out. I met Bret when I was closing our little art gallery, the “Fish Out Of Water.” It came so naturally to him. We both see eye to eye on a lot in the art world. After talking about art for hours on end with each other… It naturally progressed into collaborative works. We have done 14 or 15 other collaborations together.
I also enjoy painting collaborations with David Russell Talbott. Two of my favorite pieces are “Pop Goes the Joker” and “Flop Goes the Joker.” On “Flop Goes the Joker”(blue background) I did the joker and David painted the background. On “Pop Goes the Joker” (beige background) David did the foreground. These paintings are based on the “Batman” episode where the joker is trashing the art in a gallery.
When I work with David, I piece together the paintings. One of us takes the foreground and one takes the background. We talk out the idea first and set up ideas and the painting develops from there. On these two (“Pop” and “Flop”) we painted at the same time and then swapped paintings at the same time so we did not know or could see what the other was working on. On “Pistol Packing” – Bret Barrett took apart a battery operated water pistol that I had found and created the mechanism. I like the stealth water tank that Bret came up with for this piece. It was a big hit at the Grand Central show – lots of water on the floor!
Greg: I hear you are working on a video game?
Kelly: I am currently working on “You call that Art?” an interactive video game. I’m really into CGI animation and motion graphics. The game takes place in an interactive surrealist art show setting. I want to reach out to a different audience with this. It’s a virtual walk through of an art gallery where you can kill enemies and walk through the gallery that is situated in a dungeon, mental hospital and cemetery and view each of the artists’ work. I’m working on this with 14 other San Diego artists and will have their artwork in the new game. The artists include the art of the late Larry “Kosmo” Barnes (LK Barnes), the co-creator of the Simon version Necronomicon spell book. We are going to provide the interactive art shows as a free download. We expect to launch it on October 1st on a new website my wife and I are creating. (http://www.interactiveartshow.com/)
Greg: So tell me about the upcoming show at Copro gallery?
Kelly: This is a show that was put together by (gallery director) Gary Pressman from the art that was in the “ClownTown” show at Grand Central. Gary really liked “The Clowns Last Supper” painting and picked some other paintings that he thought went well with that theme. Gary is a big JW Gacy fan, and plans to show some original Gacy paintings along with my work. I am very excited about the show and it is even rumored that Pogo the Clown himself will be there giving out snow cones, and you will be able to get your picture taken with him. – How freakin’ funny is that! So the theme of the Copro show is going to be the “Killer Clown Revue” in Vomit-vision, featuring JW Gacy artwork and my own.
Greg: Do you have a new direction that you are working on?
Kelly: Still life painting – I pissed in a coke bottle and set it up next to a vinegar bottle with some nice lighting, like traditional paintings with wine bottles. This is my take on being full of “Piss & Vinegar.”
Greg: Where do you currently live?
Kelly: I live in the North Park area of San Diego, California. It’s about a 20 minute walk to the zoo.
Greg: Are there any artists that you admire and want to talk about?
Kelly: I am inspired by the art of John Wayne Gacy and Norman Rockwell.
Greg: That’s a good combination. Anyone else?
Kelly: An older influence is Roy Lichtenstein – pop art and heavy outlines. I am also influenced by Extremo the Clown and think he is doing great work.
Wendy: What about Ron English? I have heard people compare your work to his.
Kelly: I admire Ron English’s work, but I don’t like to look at it, for fear of unintentionally being influenced by it. I love his rebellious attitude –
it inspires me to paint more!
Greg: What books do you like?
Kelly: Right now I’m reading lots of animation tech manuals, but they are not a fun read! I like to look through serial killer encyclopedias. I love to look through them to learn about serial killers I haven’t heard of before.
Greg: Who do you think is the most memorable serial killer?
Kelly: I think one of the most brutal was Albert Fish. He did some horrible stuff.
I think the 19th century Europeans also had their share of a lot of brutal killers. I’m not interested in the killing so much as the abnormal psychology – the way of thinking that drew them to kill. My particular interest in John Wayne Gacy started after the art show “Fear of Clowns” in 2006. I borrowed a Gacy painting from a friend, who had one in his personal art collection, to exhibit for the event. The show was a great success… But I received some serious hate mail from that event.
Even though the show was about the “Fear of Clowns,” much of the correspondence was from people trying to explain to me that “John Wayne Gacy is not an artist.” – There is no question about it that what he did was horrible. However, the controversy made me look deeper into his artwork and I fell in love with it. I look at it as “fine art gone punk rock.”
I have an interest in other serial killers, but not as much as Gacy. When the “Museum of Death” was in San Diego – I remember visiting that place a few times. That sparked a lot of my early interest as well. Another impressive murderer was Ottis Toole. He hitchhiked with his lover, Henry Lee Lucas and created a lot of havoc. Many of the details of his life are unknown… but I know it was rumored that Lucas’s mother was a prostitute that detested him and made his childhood miserable.
He lost an eye very young with a knife his mother gave him to play with. He grew up having sex with animals… Later on he met up with Ottis Toole and they joined forces. When they were caught they claimed they had murdered more than 600 people.
Greg: What music do you like?
Kelly: Industrial. I like hard German industrial music. Bands that you can’t understand the lyrics. I can’t stand most current pop music that is played on the radio – the lyrics are just dumb. I like bands like Einstürzende Neubauten and The Berzerker from Australia… One of my favorites is this swedish band called Ultima Thule. I also like the new Marilyn Manson record, “The High End of Low.” But his interviews scare me.
Greg: How so?
Kelly: He made a comment to an interviewer from ShockHound that was disturbing to me. (A direct link to the article can be found here) He was talking about a girl who wanted to sleep with him, but didn’t have a condom. When the girl asked if he had one, his response was “Do I look like I have a condom? That should be the least of your worries… I’m way worse than what you can catch from me.” I have reservations about some of the stuff he says in interviews, but overall I really like his imagery, and commentary about fascism. I like the World War II flag with dollar signs, and the lyrics “When I see you in the sun… you are as pretty as a swastika.” – The whole theme of a capitalistic nation, where we are killing one another for fame and money.
Greg: What are your favorite movies?
Kelly: I love “Blue Velvet” and the role that Dennis Hopper played in that movie.
Wendy: Do you like all David Lynch films, or just “Blue Velvet”?
Kelly: I like some David Lynch films, not all of them. I like all of John Waters’ movies, those are all very funny. I even like the really old ones that are vulgar and unexpected. I love “Gummo” (Harmony Korine’s 1997 film) – that’s another favorite movie. There are so many unforgettable scenes in that movie. When the little kid is cussing out the other little kid dressed up as a pink rabbit… And he isn’t quite old enough to know how to cuss, to make it flow… He goes off to end it by calling the kid a “bucket of shit.” I can relate to a lot of the scenery in that movie, and growing up, personally.
Greg: Kelly, we want to thank you for taking the time to shed some insight into your imaginative and skilled body of work and we look forward to seeing your latest exhibit at Copro Gallery.