People have wondered if I punched a timecard for Walmart. For the first five years of Painting America through Walmarts I was politely asked to leave. This was before smart phones had everyone taking pictures everywhere. I would follow behind models with a clunky EOS and take pictures of them trying on shoes or foraging for candy. I had been making paintings based on ordinary moments- people watching TV or getting dressed- the overlooked rituals of everyday life.
I took this a step further by following a model out into the real world. The first activity was shopping, a great American pastime. Consuming is so part of our culture. The goal was to find beauty in places that people didn’t consider artistic. I passionately dove into ordinary, overlooked environments and landed at Walmart.
Walmart is a quintessentially American place. The big box idea is one of our most successful exports. It is a place where a million people clock in every day and millions more shop every week. Most people walk into Walmart, grab a series of disparate items- a basketball, shampoo, groceries- then head home. As an artist, Walmart fascinated me because of the endless variety in its sameness.
Five years after beginning the series, I said in an NPR interview that I had been invited to leave more Walmarts than most New Yorkers had ever been in. About ten minutes later, Walmart phoned and said they liked what I did and would like to make it easier on me to get into the stores. They gave me a cherry picker to take aerial shots and permission to set up almost anywhere. Three years later my paintings decorated the walls of the CEO’s office.
Walmart bought a few paintings and sponsored my non-profit to spark kids’ creativity: Everyartist Live! I have also done commissions for other stores including HEB, the largest privately owned grocer in America, a place Texans get misty eyed thinking about when they are away from home.