Razor Blades and
Ron Wharton, creator of the two large murals on the walls of Seth's
Chop Shop, likes to portray himself as an economic minimalist.
("I don't want any more than I need.") But there is
a bit of entrepreneur about him.
"Seth wanted some art work done," said Wharton, speaking
of Seth Yates, owner of the hair salon in Ocean Beach. It was
early,7:00 a.m., shortly before Wharton had to leave for his part-time
job at a deli in a Mission Bay fish and tackle shop. "I told
him, I'll do these two large murals if you give me the rest of
your walls for paintings."
In one mural, Elvis drives a hot rod right through a 3-d movie
screen. In the other, a voluptuous woman bends over a hot rod
parked at a gas pump.
Sex, popular culture, and all the vices," as Wharton put
it, are his themes, and he acknowledged many artistic influences,
from Peter Max and Picasso to graffiti and underground comics.
The cubists, for example, are apparent in his King Lipitor,
a portrait of a crowned and cockeyed royal who holds a hand of
cards with skull-and-crossbones motif.
The Warhol-induced 4 Delvis is a repeating pattern of
four horned portraits of Presley that drives the hot rod in the
Woman pays homage to M.C. Escher, the optical illusionist.
Of paintings with waves in them, Wharton said, "They sell
immediately." Even so, he isn't one to go for the easy buck
if it means boredom."I grew up surfing, so I paint them quite
naturally. I did waves for ten years, then got tired of it. Now
I hardly ever paint them, and what comes naturally is naked women
for some reason."
Fame shows one of those nudes, but it doesn't seem exploitive.
Instead, since she's wearing a price tag and barcode tattoo, it
could really be construed as feminist satire. "It really
is," Wharton said. "And if you get right up on it, that
painting has all sorts of little messages and text." On her
arm, there's an expiration date. It says 'Best if used by age
Wharton's medium Acrylic on wood. (Canvas proved vulnerable to
damage by errant elbows and flying bottle caps in the various
"hellholes" in which Wharton has lived.) And they're
"priced to move"_ from $200 for a small one (32 inches
square) to $3000.00 for the largest (48 by 36 inches).
You won't get a pitch from Wharton ,but you might get one from
his alter ego, the Art Pimp- "a separate fictional character
who's a big salesman," in Wharton's words. "He was created
for the website [rwharton.illequipped.com] but he's gotten
a life almost bigger than my own. I didn't really see that coming."
Wharton who turns 40 in october,was born on the eastern shore
of Maryland, in Ocean city, a tourist town "That goes from
6000 people to a million in the summer." His father, now
retired, was an insurance salesman. His mother worked for Frank
Perdue, the largest poultry producer on the east coast- a chicken
pimp, if you will. "Anybody who lives around there (Ocean
City) probably at some point works for that guy,"said Wharton,
who moved to Ocean Beach four years ago to escape the cold.
Wharton's Flytrap |
claimed to have "sold every single painting" he has
ever painted, "except the ones in my possession right now."
The move from one ocean to another has been a setback. I knew
it was going to be a little tough building up to the state that
I was once in on the East Coast." Getting into Seth's chop
shop within the past year he characterized as "a big step"
toward his "master plan."
And now Seth has agreed to let Wharton have an opening there,
just like at a gallery, for a 40-painting show called "Razor
blades and Candy."
"I knew Seth just from getting haircuts," said Wharton.
"But because of the way the place was, and the way it was
set up, and because of the fact that his clients and my clients
are very similar, I knew it would be a good place to establish
a base camp. There's a catch phrase: custom culture. I would put
his clients and mine into that category. They intersect; it's
a hip, Southern California, custom-culture clientele."
On his website Wharton lambastes highbrow, high-priced art, quoting
Carlton Huffypants,of the School fro the Artistically stagnant,
in a blurb: "Every time that guy sells a painting, he's taking
filet mignon out of the mouths of starving art grads. My students
have paid good money to call themselves artists. They don't deserve
"you'd be surprised how many people think he is real,"
said Wharton. "They think somebody could actually be named
'Huffypants.'" --- Jeanne Schinto