I met Jim Riley at the 7-Eleven on University at Sacramento.
I am reminded of my childhood hymn “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” and its assurance that we can meet saints of God “in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea.” Or the Grateful Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias“: “Once in a while you get shown the great light/ in the strangest of places if you look at it right”
Jim was ahead of me in line, wearing an outrageous, bulky sweater. I stepped outside my expected behavior and asked where he got the sweater. He told me he knitted it, and had knitted about 80 sweaters in all. I invited myself to see his sweaters.
It looked like I had a winner, or at least a very good chance of one.
John Storey and I visited Riley’s house to see and photograph his sweaters.. Yes indeed – we had a winner. I will be surprised if I find anything or anybody quirkier this year – that’s how quirky Jim Riley and his sweaters are.
Riley makes art in many different media – knit sweaters, paintings, sculpture, painted saws, painted plates, and more.
When you approach Riley’s house you see this.
Boots as planters! Up on the porch you see more clearly.
Doc Martens boots as planters. Brilliant. He first saw this done in Portland, Oregon. He knows a good idea when he sees one, no?
Next stop: paintings by Riley of this brilliance:
This is a triptych, a work of art that is divided into three sections, or three carved panels that are hinged together and can be folded shut or displayed open.
As you will learn when you read about Riley’s life, he likes to play darts.
He has several dart boards. Open two doorss and there is your dartboard.
Close the doors and – boots as planters.
And, of course, a boots-as-planter sweater.
We will see examples of Riley’s art from all media, but because the knit sweaters are the main event in the main arena, we will start there.
Riley started knitting about 25 years ago. For a digression more or less about knitting in literature, see this.
The woman who owned a now-gone knitting store in southwest Berkeley, was very helpful. He’d show her a drawing and she would help him design the sweater.
Riley starts with a sketch that gets translated into a knitting pattern. The graph paper is rectangular, not square, to reflect the reality of the sweater.
The entire image is knit. The only other application is a black outline around some figures that he crochets into the sweater.
Riley will start a new sweater just hours after finishing one. There is an imperative to knit, to produce.
Here are many but not all of the sweaters.
Of course – the Rubens painting “Prometheus Bound” comes to mind.
Kratos (God of Strength), Bia (God of Violence), and the smith-god Hephaestus chained the Titan Prometheus to a mountain in the Caucasus. Prometheus was punished \for stealing fire and for thwarting Zeus’s plan to obliterate the human race.
That, my Quirky Berkeley friends, is a lot of sweater photos, no? There are more, which I have placed in different posts.
Riley’s rude sweaters, mostly involving dog poop, may be found here.
His sweaters celebrating the Chelsea Football Club are here, although Chelsea iconography is part of many of the sweaters shown above in this post.
I am not done with Jim Riley. In a next post about him I will recount his journey to Berkeley and sweater-knitting and I will show you his paintings and sculpture and collections.
I showed tho draft post and photos to my friend. As is often the case, he had to show me something that he was working on before he would engage in my stuff.
He handed me a postcard.
He has found the Travel Lodge sign in a basement in Richmond and says that he is close to working out a deal to buy the sign.
He had been tripping on Sleepy the Bear, the Travel Lodge Mascot. He read a great blog on Sleepy. I checked out the blog and boy oh boy it is the real deal. The focus is Lorain County, Ohio. The county seat is Elyria. Lorain County is near Cleveland.
I did my best to discourage his attempt to acquire the sign. Simply put – where does he think he can possibly display this sign? I suggested he review Berkeley’s rules on signs.
He wasn’t done. He handed me these
I could see that these were Tijuana Bibles (aka eight-pagers, Tillie-and-Mac books, Jiggs-and-Maggie books, jo-jo books, bluesies, blue-bibles, gray-backs, and two-by-fours) were palm-sized pornographic comic books that parodied popular newspaper comic strips of the day. They were produced in the United States from the 1920s to the early 1960s. Their popularity peaked during the Great Depression. My friend’s collection of them is smaller than the collection owned by Madeline Kripke in New York, but it is impressive.. What, though, is his point?
“Do you not seethe similarity? Professor O. G. Whattaschnozzle and Crumb’s Mr. Natural?” Professor O. G. Wotasnozzle is a character created by E. C. Segar in his comic strip (as “The Five Fifteen”) in 1920 A few years later, the strip was renamed after protagonist John Sappo. The strip was made into the “topper”, or complementary strip, to Segar’s better known “Thimble Theatre” (later “Popeye” in its Sunday edition. Sappo characters sometimes have supporting roles in “Popeye.”
Yes I do see the resemblance. If he remembers, I identified this theory of Mr. Natural’s origin in my post on Crumb. Nice to see that nothing gets by him for long.
That taken care of, what does he think of the post?