Two degrees of Merle Haggard

Two degrees of Merle Haggard

haggard3 Okay this is pretty cool. Melanie’s brother Tim is a college student studying art in Austin. He’s really good at what he does and has received several commissions already. Melanie just got an email from him that he was commissioned to paint a mural for Merle Haggard for his new video of the song “America First.” (You can see the video at that link.)

I’ve put his photos up on my .Mac web page. He painted the mural of the USA, while another guy painted the words around it. They were given one night to come up with the concept and then paint it. They said, here are the lyrics, pick a room, see you in the morning.

Tim also painted a portrait of Haggard that will be taken on tour with him and then be put in his studio afterward.

The video was filmed in an abandoned section of a Texas state hospital that was built in 1857. They said they are going to keep it there permanently as part of the historical site. Very cool.

(N.B. I don’t necessarily agree with the sentiment expressed in the lyrics of the song itself, but this is still cool.)

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  • Speaking abandoned state hospitals, check out the galleries of this site that features abbandoned institutional and industrial architecture. I stumbled across this site last week. It’s pretty cool.

    Several long closed state hospitals in Massachusetts are featured. One of particular personal interest is the former Danvers State Hospital (a.k.a. Danvers Lunatic Asylum ca. 1874) that was closed in 1992. There is a nice aerial view on the news pageplus a separate gallery. Massachusetts has actively sought to de-institutionalize the mentally ill since the early 1970’s (another topic).

    Sadly, despite the efforts of local preservationists to save the historic property from destruction by developers. Apparently, the facility was recently sold and most of the campus including 2/3 of the historic Kirkbride Building will be leveled. The property will become a residential development.

  • Update:
    I wrote my brother asking for the backstory, which I was sure would be an interesting tale. Seems I was right. Here’s what he said:

    The other guy in the picture is my friend Nate. He is the one that did the lyrics around my centerpiece and also worked me into the First Night gig. [First Night is a New Year’s art Festival, patterned after the one in Boston, in it’s second year in Austin. Tim helped out his friend, producing three comissioned works for Target, a local grocery chain, and another company I can’t recall at the moment.]

    You could not be more right; there really is a great back-story. Nate does many art jobs and has for many years now. More and more we are doing collaborations and I work with him in my spare time at his studio. He works a normal job and strives to pursue his art on the side.

    Nate had stayed up all night finishing a painting of a Chinese dragon and after finishing, still had to go to work (ah the life of artists). On his way out the door he received ” the phone call”.

    They said that he had been referred to them and they were interested in hiring him for a job. When Nate told them he was on his way to work and asked for thier contact information, they told him they needed someone within the hour or they would find something else for the project.

    Obviously, this was something they themselves had not fully planed, but more of a last minute stretch or shot in the dark. Nate then called me and asked if I would be interested in meeting them and seeing what they wanted done. I agreed and booked it to the State Hospital (State Hospital !?! okay, sure) 

    When I drove up into the property, it did not take long to see the building I was searching for. Three and one half stories high (not including the basement), and gorgeous architecture. The plaque on the front stated that it had been built in 1857.

    Seven people were already climbing the steps as I arrived. I parked and quickly caught up with them. After brief introductions and hand shake or two I followed them up a stairwell to the top floor. The inside of the building looked completely different.

    The first thing I saw was a long hallway with many doorways and no doors. The walls were are all solid concrete and the floor was layered in years of dust and scattered shale. A gust of wind a howl quickly pointed out the missing and broken windows. As we walked down the hallway I was taking in all the surroundings and remained quiet, while the group was talking excitedly amongst themselves. At this point I was walking obliviously past the handprints climbing the ceiling, about twelve feet up, and the smallest handwriting that filled the majority of the cracks running along the walls.

    We explored the rooms one by one like kids walking through a haunted house, very exciting and yet spooky. They were talking of lighting, great shots, textures (Oh the textures!), and the feeling of creativeness and brainstorming filled the empty and forgotten place. It was not until one of the women said we should get the artist’s opinion, that I had the chance to ask what this project was for. When she said Merle Haggard I cracked a smile and when she said video I laughed both out of excitement and disbelief.


  • [the story continued]

    I was then given the lyrics and my mission to find the room, which I thought would best suit a large-scale painting. I was now meandering throughout the corridors and rooms finding more around every corner. Reading the lyrics as I walked, I began to see why this place had been chosen and yet baffled as to how they found it. Between Merle’s words and my surroundings it did not take long to envision what I wanted to paint.Once we regrouped they wanted to know what I was thinking and how I felt I could contribute to the project. I told them my idea. I think among the furrowed brows I caught at least one smile. This was when I was informed of the 7 A.M. deadline. I told them “ it is doable, and I am up to the challenge. I saw more smiles that time.

    I raced home, left a message for Nate, grabbed my sketchbook, picked up supplies, and headed out. The place is usually locked up and I had to be given special permission to spend the night up there. When the security guard let me inside he told me that rumors have been murmured about the place for a long time and most people who work there have never even seen the inside.

    I spent the next couple of hours covering myself in dust, sketching with pencil in my sketchbook, and charcoal on the wall. There is a very sturdy iron staircase that rises from the ground directly to the room I had chosen. This was great. I could park near the bottom and haul my supplies up and down without having to venture through the creepy maze every time.

    Nate showed up to help about midnight after catching a small nap. You have to understand this place is eerie in the daytime. Now after midnight and the only light on up there were from the two floodlights that I had run from very long extension cords. I had already finished the sketch and painted the base coat. Armed only with flashlights, I decided to give Nate the midnight tour. That was a real adventure in itself. If there were such things as ghosts, I imagine they would inhabit a place such as that. 

    The rest was a blur of paint and Nate finished his part fairly quickly.  He picked up food from Whatabuger! I am so thankful for 24hr. food places. By the time I finished and started packing up, the sun was rising and by the time I made my first haul down to the car, the first bus had pulled up.

    I quickly put the rest of the supplies up with the help of Nate, making several trips up and down. Before our last decent we could hear the clamor of people working their way through the building. Buses littered the parking lots. Morning was here and so were they. My legs were soo sore from the ladder, no sleep, and the stairwell; but I pushed on for one more climb up before resting.

    A happy crowd that was already filling the room greeted us, and within 15 to 20 min. the place was strewn with wires, cables, cameras, about a hundred or more people, and the empty dilapidated hallways were now lined with equipment and long tables being decorated with food. I took full advantage of the breakfast feast after being offered.

    We hung out for the filming, and that is when they asked if we wanted to be in the background. I did his portrait off his album cover while they made him retake scenes over and over. I also had him autograph the album cover!!