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October 9, 2000

Yard Art

By Eric Rangus

The image of a sandy-haired, ponytailed party-goer lurching across a dance floor, drink in hand, is hardly an odd one.

Even in a roughly 2-foot-by-5-foot painting, like the one displayed outside of Alan Thomas' house in South DeKalb. Shards of a shattered mirror are pasted on the creation and serve as a disco ball, giving it some depth.

Then there's the prominently displayed words overlaying this mural that give it another kind of depth.


Jesus is everywhere, even nightclubs, did you get his number?

All Thomas' paintings carry with them a saying, something he has made up. Just to make people think. The combination of the words with the painting usually have that effect. Like: Salvation lies in shapely thighs

The shapely thighs belong to Marilyn Monroe, one of two people pictured in this pieces. The other is Jesus-that's most likely the salvation part.

"I've always wanted to display art in my yard," said Thomas, an administrative assistant in behavioral science. He has no formal artistic training, but that hasn't prevented him from creating a suitably thought-provoking collection all located in his frontyard.

"I want everybody to be able to enjoy it," he said. "I didn't want to shut it up inside the house where nobody else could enjoy it."


Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)

That is not the title of any painting, but it does serve as a suitable segue into Thomas' other artistic efforts.

While painting is a major part of Thomas' work, he actually began as a sculptor two-and-a-half years ago. His first two efforts, "Cybernetica 1" and "Cybernetica 2," sit on the front steps of his house.

They're planters.Made of mannequin heads. "1" is decorated with computer keys and "2" with computer chips. On the back of "1'"s head, the keys spell "Eurythmics" in honor of the '80s synth-pop duo. The inside of his house is plastered with Eurythmics posters, as well; and he bears more than a passing resemblance to Dave Stewart, the duo's male half.

Some time ago, a friend of Thomas' broke a chair. He paid his penance with a bagful of mannequin heads. Two of them became planters, and many more are in Thomas' basement or on his porch in various stages of artistic rendering.

Mannequins play an important part in Thomas' sculpting. One of his works, "Death," consists of a mannequin lying in a prone position-without a head or torso.

"It's missing its vital organs," Thomas said.

Just next to "Death" is a pedestal with a solitary arm resting on it. "This is a reflection on Greek sculpture," Thomas said. So many classical, ancient sculptures, he continued, consist of a head and torso and are missing their arms. This is his way of helping out.

A couple more arms stick out of a seed spreader next the other two sculptures. This piece is called "Invisible Hands."

"It's a symbol of a worker being consumed by his tools," Thomas explained.

Not all of Thomas' sculpture is so sharply political. Nor does everything use mannequins. And much of it possesses a keen sense of black humor.

"This is Mr. Liquor Bottle Man," Thomas said, pointing to a oddly humanoid collection of bottles held together by copper wire and relaxing on a chaise lounge that has definitely seen better days.

Sure enough, every bottle once held beer, a wine cooler or some other kind of alcoholic beverage. The bottles, the contents of which Thomas said were all consumed on the premises, look exactly like a passed-out person when viewed with some imagination.

Mr. Liquor Bottle Man's head was an inverted empty brown bottle of Canadian Mist whiskey. If Mr. LBM had consumed all of it, his prone position would be understandable.


Enthusiastically trample the enemies of the proletariat.

Looking like a circa-1960s poster in East Berlin, a blond, muscular worker plants a red-starred flag onto the earth.

Thomas graduated from Emory with a double major in economics and French. While his opinions may perhaps run perpendicular to the mainstream, he could certainly argue his points better than the average radio-talk-show caller.

"It's so hard to define subversive nowadays, because so many people want to be defined as 'subversive,' yet they're really not," Thomas said. "I'm trying to make people think is how I would define it. [My art] is supposed to be about original thought and reworking some old ideas into new ones-changing a little bit of perception."


The sun displays its teeth.

Up where the wall meets the ceiling, a Mercury hubcap smiles down on the quirky collection of paintings and vibrantly artistic knickknacks that surround it.

"I met Alan a little while ago," said Olivia Thomason, owner of The Primitive Eye folk art gallery, one of two galleries where Thomas has placed work. The other is Hamsa, two doors down from Thomason's house in the Scottdale east of downtown Decatur.

The image painted on the hubcap is a grinning, toothy sun, bathed in bright red and yellow tones. It's Thomas' only work currently on display.

He had another one, but it has some sort of a Republican thing on it, so I took it down," Thomason said, laughing.

For $60, that grinning sun is anybody's for the taking.


We shall fight to the end. We shall fight on the beaches and in the streets. We shall never surrender.

Those words belong to Winston Churchill, the only other person besides the artist himself quoted in Thomas' works. Churchill's defiant World War II words accompany a painting of a woman in a kitchen with a knife in the foregound.

"I liked the quote, but I had a little trouble coming up with an image," Thomas said. "So I used the lady and the husband who hate each other." The husband is placed subtly in the background

Churchill's words could also describe Thomas himself, who was served with a citation by DeKalb County. It classified the artworks as trash, which therefore, had to be removed. Thomas then received a court summons.

He responded by hiring a lawyer.

"I expected that at some point they'd have to give up." Thomas said. "I mean, how much further could they drag it out?"

The county agreed that Thomas could continue displaying his work.


The hearts of the people are made glad by the great leader.

This is the only work in which Thomas himself is a subject. On it, his face is admired by many other, smaller smiling ones. It's a cult of personality, the point is really more humorous than arrogant.

Several of his co-workers have seen Thomas' yard and expressed appreciation. Thomas' neighbors are generally supportive as well.

"I think most people who see it like it," Thomas said. "I've had positive reactions from most people."


Back to Emory Report Oct. 9, 2000