The Kadohadacho Indian nation once lived along the banks of the Caddo River and through the bottomlands between the Little Missouri and Red Rivers in Southwest Arkansas. Prominent among these tribes and the fiercest were the Tula, who practiced cranial deformation, tattooed their faces, and fought with large spears. Explorer Hernando de DeSoto’s secretary, Rodrigo Ranjel, rightly described them as “the best fighting people that the Christians met with.”
Artist buZ blurr is a denizen of Kadohadacho territory, where he made a career of riding over the railroad earth between Little Rock and Texarkana as a brakeman on the Missouri Pacific Railroad. It is no secret that artists interact with what surrounds them – with the fabric of everyday life. In April of 1972, buZ blurr was taken by the notion that the walls of the boxcars he ‘dragged, kicked, and shoved’ everyday with the MOPAC locomotive would become, in essence, his artist’s canvas. In the tradition of tagging rail cars during the heyday of hobo culture, the artist created his moniker in the form of the iconic “Colossus of Roads” – a heroic, minimal line rendering of a trainman’s profile wearing a 10-gallon hat while riding in the wind, trailing smoke from a pipe stuck in the corner of his mouth. The first dispatch of the emblematic “Colossus of Roads” was November 11, 1972.
Dates are important to buZ blurr. Not only does he date each crayon drawing, he also adds a caption created anew for each dispatch of the “Colossus of Roads” that he sketches free-hand on the walls of transient railcars as they are set adrift into the great North American rail network. “The old moniker culture has been supplanted,” buZ said, “by the bubble letter graphics of the spray painting hordes that have so alienated rail-fans of traditional images of railroad aesthetics. I must admit my dispatch of icons into the network has been my main sledge/major opus as a networker in the rail system of N. America.” buZ’s forthcoming exhibition, “Wait Of World – The Progression Of Age,” opens Friday, April 12 at CALS’ Bookstore at Library Square, opening Friday, April 12. There, he’ll sell some of his “book-works,” like “hoo hoo Hobos/Fortuitous Logos.” “That,” buZ said, “will surely explode the myths about my [tagging] practice – cryptic language appended to a wandering icon for those not willing to apply their own interpretation of its meaning, as it is only a device to add variation to a redundant drawing.”
buZ’s iconic crayon drawings, as soon as they’re created, take on a peripatetic life of their own – rolling, bleaching and decaying across the industrial landscape of North America. And, as buZ reports, there is a degree of risk to this artistic intrusion upon railroad property. “On Friday,” buZ said in a conversation last month, “I went down to Hope and went out to the old L&A yard, and was tagging some flour cars for Myers Bakery, when two cop cars showed up. Fortunately, they didn’t catch me red handed, and when confronted asked me if I worked on the [railroad]. I lied and said I did. … They then asked if I had seen a kid ‘fooling’ on the cars. I said I hadn’t, and they walked on down the track. I assume some citizen had seen me and figured I was some foolish kid and called the law. I got in my truck and split. Kept my eye on the rearview mirror until I got well out of town.” Among other timed, dated works in buZ’s ouvre is “Rust Never Rests,” a protracted decomposition process event involving a 1962 Chevrolet pickup and, simultaneously, a 1950 Ford abandoned on a Clark County family farm, just off Arkansas Highway 53. Not only is the progressive oxidation of these discarded vehicles documented in photograph, rendering and stencil-cut imaging, but brass keys are tossed inside the carcass of the old sedan through windows years devoid of glass. Today, the rusted hulk is brimming with brass keys greened by the decades.
buZ’s work extends to the print form. There’s “Paperside Park”– or “Traces in a Brake,” as buZ terms it – “a site-specific environmental artwork for the rapid decomposition of paper back to the stuff of all the world,” situated in a thicket off the side of a rail yard in Gurdon. There’s buZ’s longtime presence in the Artist Stamp and Correspondence Art movement, a sort of precursor to the internet in which visual artists and poets exchange work with like-minded creators across the world. buZ was at the forefront of the movement by the end of the 1960s, designing, printing and perforating one-of-a-kind editions of postage style stamps, often combined within collages and manifestos propelled by Dadaist undercurrents. There’s buZ’s “Caustic Jelly Post,” a rubric for editions of hand-cut stencil portraits fashioned from the peel-off negative layer of Polaroid type instant film.
Although buZ blurr attended Henderson State University in Arkadelphia during the early 60s studying drawing, painting, printmaking, and ceramics, he claims to be a printer’s devil by virtue of an atavistic thread dating back to the 19th century. “My father and his father were railroad men,,” buZ said, “while my maternal grandmother’s father was a newspaperman who published weekly in three different cities in northeast Arkansas at Gainesville, Rector, and Paragould. He learned the printers trade by apprenticing with Mark Twain and his brother, Orion Clemens’s Hannibal, Miss. newspaper prior to the Civil War.”
buZ blurr is like a chenesi – a spiritual interlocutor supported and cared for by the Kadohadacho tribe – who, like the artist, must be in touch with the pulse of everyday life, but must also be the medium for that which transcends it. One can be a craftsman or an artisan, and can learn technique in rendering with the hands, but the true artist communes with the ineffable, with that which cannot easily be put into words or pictures. He aspires to and defines an aesthetic and, no matter how much the artist struggles with the notion of time – its effects, its ravages, its milestones, its warnings, its rewards; no matter how much the artist paints pictures over the passage of time, and hurls slogans at its sardonic arc, the abstraction of Time is the ultimate transcendence and haunts us for eternity. Unless divided by hours on the clock face or by days, months, and years on a solar calendar, our notion of Time is predicated on covert, hidden abstraction.
“Wait of World” denotes, in the words of buZ blurr, “our ultimate fate of when will we shuffle off the mortal coil.” In this purview, like the chenesi, buZ blurr speaks to the eternal, and he speaks for all of us in the territory of the Kadohadacho. The “Wait of World” exhibition consists mostly of stenciled self portraits from his annual documentation of a fleeting parade of birthdays from ages 36 to 74, plus other framed works of various mail art and hobo gatherings.
“Wait of World” runs from April 12-May 2 at CALS Bookstore at Library Square, with an opening reception Friday, April 12, 5-8 p.m.