Looking at the artist who goes by the name Doug Thompson x, a 6-foot-4-inch, tattooed, bearded bartender, one probably wouldn't imagine he lived in a gingerbread-style pink house with white trim. But this extraordinary house in San Diego's Emerald Hills neighborhood is where he has lived for the past 10 years.
It's also where he's created some remarkable, mysterious and overtly dark-humored work, like “Zero Gravity Moment,” a piece he painted over the top of another painting he found in a thrift store. The underlying picture is a portrait of Pope Paul VI, but Thompson x has made some transgressive alterations. The character now wears horns and has a bulls-eye on his head, a black eye, a cigarette between his lips and a tooth that's falling out of his mouth. On his head is a glass globular helmet that looks like it belongs to a cartoon spaceman. Surprisingly, the additions Thompson x has made to the portrait blend seamlessly. The lighting on the character's original clothes matches the lighting on the supplementary noose around his neck and the star-shaped sheriff's badge on his breast.
Irony and wit (with a dark underbelly) are prevalent in Thompson x's work and also characterize his home, which can be seen as his largest, and ongoing, masterpiece. A working artist for more than 15 years, trained at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia, and The School of the Art Institute Chicago, he's recently found himself spending less time creating for the collapsing art market and more time making work for himself, inside his home, and using the space itself as a sort of canvas. The rosy exterior of the house becomes even stranger when you enter to find it covered with metal, stone, brick, dark- stained woodwork—and even human remains.
Inside “the parlor” are two real human skeletons, a genuine casket (that now only holds a DVD collection), a vaulted ceiling, a small army of stuffed animals (the kind you find in a taxidermist's office), a collection of animal skulls and a large number of embalmed, creepy creatures floating in jars of formaldehyde. Solid, dark, strange and carnivalesque things are part of the house's “charm.”
“I grew up with antiques,” Thompson x says, looking around his house. “My mom always collected antiques. I've kind of always had that aesthetic, for the older things. It seems like new things are made out of plastic and have a short life span and break. Wood, metal, glass and stone—those are real building materials.”
Indeed, these materials are the building blocks of Thompson x's interior design. A slate entryway leads past the parlor into the living-room area. A complicated and curving metal shelf wraps itself around this room a foot from the ceiling and holds an exceedingly large collection of cocktail shakers (if you want to see him actually use a shaker, he can be found behind the bar at The Riviera Supper Club). Light streams through tiny bullet holes in a rusty metal chandelier constructed from cans and metal he found and used as target practice in the desert. And no bartender's living room would be complete without a bar. Part found object, part re-creation, the metal-and-glass bar is the centerpiece of the living room. The bar, the chandelier, the slate flooring and many of the fascinating details of the artist's home were put together by his friend, Shannon Motteler.
Other interesting features of the home include a “bed of nails” hanging just above the real bed in the bedroom and an old porcelain boat toilet converted into a bathroom sink. In the backyard lives an almost life-size metal dinosaur (sculpture) constructed by his friend, artist Bill Pierce. Growing into the house through an open window is a single vine.
“I like to live and let live,” Thompson x says, pointing to the vine, which has grown nearly 10 feet into the house down the wall and across the floor.
In the kitchen are some macro-lens, close-up photographs of bugs he's found around his home (which can be seen on his website, www.theartsnob.com). A beautiful close-up of a black widow exposes her red hourglass. A few of these images are scattered around the house with other paintings in Thompson x's eccentric collection by artists like Ray Cesar, Mark Ryden, Ralph Steadman, XNO and Mark Mothersbaugh (of Devo).
One of Thompson x's projects is his kitchen countertop—drawing on it with Sharpies.
“It's a collaboration,” he explains, “People come over and they doodle, then I fill in the gaps and draw around it.”
Coming out of a hole in the wall, as if it had punched the hole out itself, sits a distorted doll.
“That's a home for her right now,” he laughs as he looks at the lonely doll. “Everything evolves around here, everything gets shuffled around and moved until it finds its home.”
The house is a living, ever-changing work in process. A future project may be to “cork” a room. Thompson x has collected thousands of wine corks and envisions covering a complete room someday.
“Some of my neighbors joke about calling me Mr. San Diego Home and Garden because I'm constantly working on the house.”
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