The Artist as a Dead Man

by publicationarchive

By Hubert VigillaStaff Writer

When I first heard about Dead Alan James I didn’t know what toexpect. He was a performance artist and he dressed up aborigine-like,but that’s all I knew. My mind conjured up the image of someseven-foot-tall tribal terror wielding a blood-drenched spear with alook on his face a kin to Lou Ferrigno’s in “The Incredible Hulk.”

A middle-aged, lifelong San Diego resident enjoying a clear, coldZima, Dead Alan didn’t resemble the hulking Ferrigno at all, save forthe fact that he was shirtless. With his black and white warpaint onhis face and across his chest, he looked like a zebra clothed inhandcrafted glow-in-the-dark jewelry and fabric leggings heldtogether by hot glue.

“A lot of people just don’t know what to think,” he said, touchingup one of his facial stripes. Whenever possible, Dead Alan goes outeverywhere whether it be to the grocery store or to the beach in fullwarpaint andtribal costume. “People just go, ‘What’s this? Satan’s little brotheror something?’ I’m supposed to be tribal, not satanic. Satan sucks.”

“There’s this idea that all what has been will be again. Y’know,the primitive thing is gonna start again in another phase. I just goteveryone beat.”

“When I’m out performing I usually try not to talk to anybody,” hesaid, listing some of his usual activities in an evening as stalkingsomeone on all fours or at times playing dead in the middle of acrowded bar.

“A couple of times I’ll see some girls I know in a bar and I’ll gocrawling across the floor and jump on them like a dog in heat orsomething.”

Dead Alan cycled through the tools of his trade that were sittingin various places throughout his apartment. They were of his owncreation, personal artifacts that added to the eccentric persona he’dcreated.

He first formally introduced me to a skeleton headdress made ofmasking tape. “I call her my bitch and she goes everywhere I go,” hesaid, setting her high on his head. “I drive with it in the passengerseat so I can drive in the carpool lane. If I get pulled over I’llprobably do five days in county mental health or something.”

He laid down his first masking-tape mama and pointed to asimilar-looking bitch which was also sitting on the couch. “Sometimeswhen I’m in a good mood I’ll travel around with a couple of bitches.”

Leaning against one of the walls was Dead Alan’s Stick ofFornicate, a bamboo-looking pole mounted by a skull with blinkinglights in the eyes and numerous hot glue creatures jabbed into it,which he sells for a dollar a piece. “Where else can you buy originalartwork for a dollar — besides Tijuana?” He added like a breakfastcereal free-toy-inside blurb, “And they glow in the dark.”

I was overwhelmed by the amount of art that was in Dead Alan’splace. On his walls were posters of himself in various forms ofwarpaint, as well as digitally-altered pictures made into neonnightmares with loud shades of yellow and green. On any flat, levelsurface at least waist-high, sculptures and knick-knacks in variousstates of completion competed for attention with the images on thewalls.

“A lot of times when I do travel around I’ll try to sell some ofthese things on the wall. I’m basically trying to make a name formyself.

“Hell, I’m a whore; I’m always trying to sell my bone,” helaughed. “I’m just trying to make a legal living: instead of sellingcrack I’m selling crap!

“Lately I’ve been practicing twirling fire,” he said, showing me apair of small bowls attached to strings. “Last time I was out Icaught the side of my head on fire and I put it out really quick. Ithought I was really cool and started doing it again and the nextthing you know it knocks me while I’m twirling by my legs and Ialmost caught my nuts on fire.”

Being different has had its disadvantages. One of his neighborscalled the cops while he was hanging himself in the tree in front ofhis home, his face drenched in fake blood. “It was a sort of mockhanging. It was a lot of fun.” When the cops arrived Dead Alan hadalready gone inside but forgot to wipe the blood from his face. “Theyask me, ‘What’s going on here?’ I said, ‘What do ya mean?’ Then theysay, ‘Just look at yourself!’ I finally remember the fake blood andstuff and I tell them I’m a performance artist and they look at mewith big question marks over their heads.”

“Why the name Dead Alan?” I had to ask. I assumed it was morbidfascination with death. “Well, an artist is never famous untilthey’re dead,” he replied. “I’m hoping I can fake someone out bysaying I’m Dead Alan James, y’know? It’s like ‘Who’s dead?'”

We decided to go get something to eat mid-afternoon. Before weleft, though, Dead Alan armed himself with a foam-rubber skull on astick, a non-bitch headdress, and stage blood. “Just makes it moredramatic,” he said as the crimson Karo syrup ran down his face andonto his lips. “Anything for effect — anything legal.”

Dead Alan said he knew a 99-cent Chinese restaurant somewhere.Dead Alan was in the passenger seat of my Batmobile and was gettinglooked at by everyone in the lane to the right of us and re-assessedin the rearview mirrors of the cars ahead of us.

While driving down the street in search of the ultimateunder-a-dollar kung pao chicken experience, an IHOP caught our eyesand we decided to get some overpriced cheap food from there, instead.

“People will probably start eating in reverse when I get inthere,” he said with delight, already drawing stares from a family offour packing their mini-van full of wholesome groceries. “There’snothing better than getting refused from a place just for the way youlook.”

We entered and were greeted by a bitchy waitress who quipped, “Ok,we have the armed section and the unarmed section.” Dead Alan gaveher a look like a lion sizing up a water buffalo. A mauling appearedimminent, but we were seated before it could happen and the killerinstinct was instantly quelled by Petula Clark belting out “Downtown”on the AM muzak loop pumped out of the ceiling.

Dead Alan started talking about some of his future plans whilemunching on a sourdough bacon burger with onion rings.

“One of the things I wanna do is go to the Wild Animal Park kindaaverage-looking and (go) to the bathroom and get done up. Then Iwanna go out into the crowd and just sorta run from everybody indifferent directions and just let ’em catch a fleeting glimpse of meso they ask, ‘What the hell was that?’ I’ll just keep doing thatuntil the park finds out what’s going on and hunts me down with atranquilizer gun or something.”

Keeping up with current events, Dead Alan also pitched an idea fora makeshift gallows where people could hang him in the guise of Osamabin Laden. “They pull the lever, the bottom falls out, and I hangfrom a chest harness that makes me look like I’m hanging from myneck. I could take it to the beach and for five bucks you could watchme hang.”

While all this may seem over the top and, yes, insane, Dead Alanfinds the justification for his brand of performance art in the cityitself. “I think San Diego is so conservative and it needs a lot morecolorful, entertaining people or something. I don’t care if I leavethe house and don’t make any money, but if I can’t get a reactionoutta somebody it ain’t worth my time,” he said while an elderlycouple looked on, mouths slightly agape to reveal yellowing denturesand half-chewed Belgian waffles.

“A lot of the fun I have in San Diego is just blowing people’sminds without talking to them or anything.”

Before we left, another waitress came up to our booth and said,”That’s a really cool costume.”

“It isn’t a costume,” Dead Alan replied matter-of-factly. “It’s aliving.”

Dead Alan James will be stalking around San Diego. You’ll know himwhen you see him.