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Art / Muhammad Ali likes soul food

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One of my favorite neigh­bor­hood art spots is called Cre­ativ­i­ty Explored, "a non­prof­it visu­al arts cen­ter where artists with devel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties cre­ate, exhib­it, and sell art." Or so it says on its web­site.At first, I felt con­flict­ed about Cre­ativ­i­ty Explored. Much of the art is geni­une­ly impres­sive, and a few of the artists are quite tal­ent­ed and pro­duce tru­ly beau­ti­ful work. But the great­ness is com­pli­cat­ed by the artists' dis­abil­i­ties. So many works seem tru­ly unique, yet you can't shake the feel­ing that you're admir­ing the prod­uct of the very thing that pre­vents the artist from liv­ing a "nor­mal" life.The fact is that I real­ly like a lot of it, espe­cial­ly the handwriting/drawings of John Patrick McKen­zie. John's hand­writ­ing is bold and jaun­ty in a way that, at first, makes it look like a cross between graf­fi­ti and first-grade. But then beyond the ini­tial impres­sion, it becomes clear that the page is often orga­nized very pre­cise­ly. As he tends to col­or in the enclosed areas of each let­ter — the inte­ri­or of an R, D, P, etc — the page takes on a heav­ier graph­ic dimension.Content-wise, each work of John's works is the­mat­ic, though "the­mat­ic" may be too fan­cy a term for it. Each con­tains a set of words or phras­es that is shuf­fled in a vari­ety of ways through­out the work, though some oth­ers just con­tain seem­ing­ly ran­dom indi­vid­ual words writ­ten again and again. Humor (prob­a­bly unin­ten­tion­al) often aris­es from his selec­tion of the names of stars of the 60's and 70's in his work, as well as fel­low Cre­ativ­i­ty Explored artists.Generally, he'll pick a sub­ject — for instance, the 1964 Chevy Impala — and he'll write a series of state­ments about how cer­tain peo­ple feel about the sub­ject. "Bruce Lee likes the 1964 Chevy Impala. Doris Toku­da likes the 1964 Chevy Impala," etc. The work above has a slight­ly dif­fer­ent arrange­ment: "Sylvester Stal­lone likes Chef Boyardee … Muham­mad Ali likes soul food."Sometimes, the sub­ject of the work veers away from the lit­er­al. John has devel­oped a sort of code for refer­ring to all sorts of sub­jects, so you'll see phras­es like "red­neck piz­za sher­iff," "spring chick­en," "cold turkey," "avo­ca­do ice cream," and many oth­ers used in strange con­texts. Some­times they're code, some­times they're just what they are. Some­one once told me that "avo­ca­do ice cream" is code, but recent­ly a teacher at CE the­o­rized that John had recent­ly eat­en at Mitchell's.Like much out­sider art, John's work is exot­ic — the and it's hard to admire and dis­cuss it with­out fetishiz­ing the con­di­tion that con­tributes to it. But you could also say that John's work makes this less of an issue because it is so visu­al­ly appeal­ing, and often so poetic.The SF Week­ly wrote an arti­cle about John in 2002: "Osama bin Laden dis­likes kel­log­gs frost­ed mini wheats"