Several years ago, the first time I heard about a painter named Panhandle Slim, it immediately evoked an image of some artistically inclined drifter riding the rails with an easel and some acrylic paints, who showed up downtown one day with an armload of colorful, primitive portraits and tried to earn some drinking money hawking pictures of pop culture icons and rock stars.
It turns out reality is a little different. Panhandle Slim is actually professional skateboarder-turned-musician-turned-artist Scott Stanton, who's called Savannah home for the last couple years. He doesn't have a long white beard; nor does he paint in a box car.
His paintings, which combine a folk art aesthetic with a certain rock and roll sensibility, feature tributes to everyone from former President Jimmy Carter to Butthole Surfer front man Gibby Haynes, and have become a mainstay on the walls of downtown locales like Hangfire and Moon River.
This week, he and his five year old son Tex will debut a shared exhibition, their second such show together, and the proceeds will benefit the local Ronald McDonald House Charity. We spoke with the elusive Panhandle Slim last week about alter-egos, inspiration and his son's celebrity status.
Where did the whole Panhandle Slim thing begin?
Panhandle Slim: I'm from the Panhandle of Florida. It all began up in Michigan, we lived up there for about 7 years, and I didn't really realize I was from the South until everybody started pointing it out. I had always been painting, but I started with the folk art and had to come up with a name, or thought I should come up with a name. I don't know why. I just started signing them Panhandle Slim.
What drew you to doing the folk-art-pop-culture-portraiture?
Panhandle Slim: Kind of a mix between Howard Finster and Wesley Willis. I really liked art, but I couldn't afford it, so I just thought I'd try it myself. I got ideas from Howard Finster and then it morphed into my own style over the years. I was doing mostly pop culture people, and mostly music, because I would just paint the people I was listening to at the moment, and of course lyrics came out or good quotes that they would say.
What prompted the benefit side of this upcoming show?
Panhandle Slim: We've done a couple shows at Hangfire. Last year we did one. I really wanted to do a show for a women's charity. Last year someone came along and said "what about autism?" So we did that, and it wasn't really local or anything. So this year, we're doing it for the local Ronald McDonald House. It's not the typical art show where it's quiet and stuffy. We make an event of it. Kids are there. With Tex's art, they sold really good last year, and I wanted it to go to a good cause.
How much help do you give Tex with those paintings?
Panhandle Slim: It's all his. He directs me on everything. I make sure it's all his colors and stuff. He does the drawing and then I paint it in and put the shellac coating over it - all the stuff he probably shouldn't be messing with at the moment. He's got quite an imagination. I wish I could come up with that stuff. He makes a lot of little books, almost little zine type things. He draws a story in there, and then once he's finished drawing, he narrates the story for me and I write out real quick. A lot of the paintings come from that.
Are you worried he's going to surpass you, and everyone will like his stuff better and you won't be able to get any more shows in Savannah?
Panhandle Slim: That's what some people have said. The only worry about him surpassing me is that he won't need me to help him anymore.
You could manage him until he's 18 - maybe become the Joe Jackson of the Savannah art scene?
Panhandle Slim: I do have fears about that; that I'm just the business dad who's pushing his son to do something. I try not to push him. It's all what he wants to do, and hopefully, if that's what he wants to keep doing than that's what he'll do. He looks like he's got something in his mind going artistically. People have mentioned that: "It's not gonna be much fun when he starts selling more than you." He has too. We were downtown, several months after the last show, at a store on Broughton getting something for my wife. Tex was talking to the lady, and she said, "what's your name?" And Tex, said "Tex," and she looked starstruck and said "I have one of your paintings." That was pretty funny. He was four then.
What: Opening reception benefitting the RMHC.
When: May 22, 5:30-8:30pm
Where: Hangfire, 37 Whitaker Street