June 1, 2012: Once Upon a Paul Wilson

I first discovered Paul Wilson in the same way that most of us who know him probably did: in absentia, in an art gallery.

I remember being floored by Paul’s short film, Roach Clips, which I saw one weekend night in the late 1980s at the Alwun House, one of Phoenix’s oldest avant garde galleries. I watched the movie with my pal Robert X. Planet, and we laughed until vodka shot from our noses. We both noticed the cute young waiter in the restaurant scene at the end of the movie; he served a giant cockroach to poor, unsuspecting Karen Kolbe, daughter of Arizona Republic columnist John Kolbe.

A few years later, Paul telephoned to introduce himself. He had been reading my newspaper column and wondered if I would like to come see his new exhibition, Pretty Things and Dirty Things, at a local gallery. “Judging from your writing, you and I have similar taste,” he told me. “I think you’ll like my work.”

He was right. I fell in love with Paul’s smarmy paintings of scenes from Valley of the Dolls and his photo montages spoofing hygiene products from the 1950s. Several weeks later, I heard Kirstie Alley complaining about Paul on The Tonight Show (“There’s this weird guy in Phoenix doing paintings of my husband, Parker Stevenson…”) and convinced Paul to let me write about him for The Advocate. We became fast friends, I and this  peculiar, fascinating man who lived his art completely. His interest in the movie The Poseidon Adventure was so fully realized that it literally took over his entire house, which for several years before had been a wall-to-wall tribute to the 1950s, another of his deep personal passions.

After we’d been hanging out for about a year, I finally got up the nerve to ask Paul about the cute guy in Roach Clips. “Oh, that’s my friend Todd Grossman,” Paul said. “You’d totally dig him, but he’s lived in San Francisco for years.”

Paul was right, again. I did “totally dig” Todd Grossman. And when he eventually moved back toPhoenix, I made sure I was over at Paul’s house whenever Todd dropped by. Not long afterward, Todd and I started dating and I started calling him by his Hebrew name: Tevye.

Last night I was putting the finishing touches on Paul’s new exhibit, My Life with Lee Harvey Oswald, which opens tonight at Willo North Gallery, when Paul dropped in. As I straightened framed art and tweaked installations, Paul and I chatted.

“Did you ever think, after all these years that we’ve been friends, that one day I’d be curating an exhibit of your new work, and that I would have married one of your childhood friends?”

Paul looked up from arranging a tiny paper streamer around the neck of a Shelley Winters action figure and smiled. “Of course, Angel,” he said. “I had it all planned just this way.”

Thing I Hate Today: The phrase “Good to go”

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7 Responses

  1. paul is a blessing to all of us lucky enough to know him. i simply can not imagine how f*cki*g boring life would be. this post totally made me tear up. x!

  2. I bet he not only had it all planned out for you and Todd but most likely somewhere is a closet at his house is a diorama of how it would all turn out.

  3. thanks for this piece Robrt.

  4. I remember meeting Bob in the flesh kinda-sorta when I had a Christmas party in my immaculate 1950’s home 100 years ago, and he was skirting around sheepishly in a brown leather bomber jacket; too I recall hie requesting some visual material for said Advocate article, leaving some photos “with the doorman” at what I considered his posh, “Family Affair”-style apartment building (The Embassy, down on – somewhere & something).

    And then of course there was Taffy (Todd, Tevye, and so on). Bob was watching some of my then-recent video spoofs, when he spotted Todd, and the now infamous “WHO IS THAT MAN?”/”That’s not a MAN, that’s TODD” moment occurred, and from then on, well, yes, just like I planned it.

    Right down to the 12″ Robrt Pela which I told him would be slipped into the Poseidon Ballroom diorama for the July opening, right beside the Taffy Grossman doll.

  5. Great show and article, loved every detail. The parody paintings were my favorite, but the detail of the Poseidon dining room was mind boggling. Loved the comic covers, too, they reminded me of what I used to read, (before Lee was famous).

    • (I think Lee beat up Richey Rich, but that is a secret…)

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