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Jason Driscoll was a Bay City coffeehouse kid, an artist and a drama club devotee — and he couldn't wait to bolt.
"In high school, I realized I saw the world a little differently than most people," he says. "I'm sure I had labels like 'weird,' 'geeky' and 'strange' attached to me."
After bouncing around various Michigan colleges, Driscoll, 26, ditched academia eight credits short of graduation to settle in a couple of Detroit's formless suburbs (Novi and Walled Lake) and pursue a painting career — with a new name.
"Let's face it, Jason Driscoll just isn't that memorable of a name," he laughs. "Everything out where I live is beige and mundane; big-box stores, chain restaurants, McMansions and strip malls are everywhere. The lack of individuality from one beige block to the next really made me focus on creating things that were colorful and different." Thus, Kill Taupe, his pseudonym, was a reaction against the suburban wastelands in which Driscoll has lived.
His reaction against all things taupe is evident: His work entertains in colors that rock your skull like a left hook from Rainbow Brite.
Japanese pop art and old-school cartoons inform his bright, bold aesthetic. He's funny and ironic too — dig his constant use of injury (bandages, stitches, etc.) that he sticks on otherwise jovial characters — and dysfunctional bunnies, vintage robots and cartoon cupcakes are recurring motifs. Taupe's fave of all is "Angry Broccoli," a vulgar vegetable incarnate.
He works mainly with acrylic paint on sanded wood and cardboard, as well as vinyl Munny toys. Kill Taupe stickers, magnets and skate decks are available for sale, and a new line of T-shirts — his dream project — are coming.
"One of my main goals has always been to make my art available in several different mediums," Taupe says, who, similarly to, say, Warhol, is commissioned for commercial work while continuing to build Kill Taupe as a reputable artist "brand" in lowbrow art boroughs.
Taupe's rep's beginning to ripple beyond the Mitten: In Pittsburg, his Imaginary Friends Club solo show opens May 1, at their pop are haven, Zombo Gallery. "I've pretty much been holed-up in the studio working on 40 pieces for the last two months to get ready for this one. It's crazy, I have to fill 600 square feet!"
Taupe's no stranger to out-of-state gallery shows, but he thinks he's under the radar here — at least that's what he says. But with an early summer show looming at River's Edge Gallery in Wyandotte, and a name swirling around in the underground, it's hard to believe he's that out of the loop — even if he does live in the burbs. ("I feel like things are going well, but I also feel one step removed from Detroit's art scene. ...")
Taupe's a smart and funny, if not modest, cat whose personality's pretty vibrant, like his paintings; yet he's passive, avoids the tough questions, like what he dislikes in the local art communities. As much as he says he's disconnected from what's shaking in the city, he has an affinity for Detroit's artistic community.
"If you meet someone who's creative in Detroit," Taupe notes, "they already know three other people you've met before. It leads to a pretty fantastic art scene."
In his work, which includes a set of faceless "Detroit Hookers" magnets, there's never a dull — or serious — moment. He says it's the pulse of the Motor City, "a place full of hulking ruins, creative pockets and an amazing energy," that is the action and energy of his art.
The flat-out goofy pop quality in Taupe's work is a quiet intuition that rises from his cartoon- and comic book-induced nostalgia. As such, his work can be enjoyed by either side of the X generation — backpack hip-hop heads cop Taupe's work, as do pink-headed pseudo-punks in the burbs and bearded flannel-fashioned hipsters.
"Cartoons like the Gummi Bears, Scooby-Doo and The Smurfs made big impacts on me as a kid," Taupe says, explaining his personal nostalgia. "Now it's reruns of Mission Hill, The Venture Brothers and The Simpsons. But I also like working with pop-culture references, like cheeseburgers, Slurpees and Hot Pockets." Behold, the universality of slurpees. ...
Taupe's style meshes too swimmingly with recent trends in humor-driven pop-culture absurdity — Aqua Teen Hunger Force comes to mind — for Taupe not to become part of the cultural milieu of his obsession. In the meantime, the artist is "still a part-time wage whore," he says, smiling with a sigh. "But I make enough for rent and supplies, which is pretty much all I need to sustain my lifestyle."
Later this summer, Kill Taupe will be back on the road for a colossal group show, Meth & Hot Dogs: A Collection of Unscrupulous Characters, in St. Louis, Missouri. Artists from the United States, the UK, Canada and Australia join together in a show whose focus is on characters who are "shady, junkies, lowbrow and bums." We can dig that.