Arthur told me to stuff it in as deep as I could. I had a good hold around what I supposed was the neck and shoved it in. The tongue waggled back and forth to no avail. I set it down quickly before things could change and lit the fuse. We moved out of range and at a safe distance watched. We were two little death voyeurs, Arthur and I. The frog never stood a chance.

We were forever changed that day. Whenever we got hold of fireworks we found new uses for them. As we grew older our pyro-techniques also grew. Isn’t that the way of it? Most of us who are considered less than normal didn’t simply wake up that way one day. There is a learning curve to all a person is to become. We opened up to each other in ways only we could understand. Until one day he said something that he never grasped as profound.

Arthur was never as deep as I. He was certainly as much a deviant, but all things in his life were simple and surface. I, on the other hand, felt the undertow. I sensed when to lean into the current, how to keep my feet planted. He drifted with the tides; I became one with the tides.

Oh, the thing he said was this, “Man, we got this down to an art form.”

That phrase just made things click into place; suddenly I could see the road before me. I started to do my homework. I checked out art in its many forms, whenever and wherever I could. I got a sense of what worked and what did not from the people I met along the way. The biggest influences came from those artists who worked with clay and stone. The sense of textural depth and the resulting light play really grabbed me. Art on canvas is not meant to be as textural as sculpture. I was looking to bend that idea to my new vision.

What I had in mind would be on canvas, working in organics. The trick with organics is that you have to understand the medium in order to control it. The display of art is really the display of an artist’s ability to master the chosen medium.

The piece I am working on now will be my most powerful bit yet. I control all that has to do with my current project. I have chosen a really nice quality linen canvas to work with. I have primed the canvas with an oil based, blue-white primer that should show off the organic matter quite well. And the primer has sealed the canvas completely; the medium cannot bleed through.

I remember one time when Arthur wanted to know how many firecrackers it would take to get to the end of a garter snake we came up with a formula. Five firecrackers per foot of snake was the working average we had come up with. Once we had developed the formula, it has proven reliable in every subsequent case. By then we had it down to a science. But for a hell-bent deviant adolescent, science has to be fun and exciting. Firecrackers-per-foot-of-snake is boring crap once it is calculated. It’s like, how many licks does it take to get to the tootsie roll center of a tootsie pop? Who cares? Bite the fucking thing.

On the other hand, a few hundred bottle rockets and a tree-bound bees’ nest can lead to an afternoon of fun packed excitement no carnival side show can match.

I think Arthur and I, right from the beginning, were concerned about suffering, though we never admitted it out loud. I could sense the whole ‘do-unto-others’ training seeping in. I mean, it was one thing to blow stuff up. But it had to be quick and sudden. Even when we were doing garter snakes, the head went first. Like a light switch, one second they were alive—then they weren’t. The rest of the snake was just peripheral splatter.

That is what I am working on now, the splatter. Get it on the canvas and seal it up. I use an air powered spray gun to apply a couple of clear coats on top of the captured remains. That seals it all in so the colors stay vivid and real. I might tease something up here or there before I freeze it for posterity with clear lacquer, but most of it gets treated right away.

Arthur actually came up with the splatter technique I am using today. He developed a recipe for an explosive using ammonium nitrate, which is fertilizer. Well, fertilizer has ammonium nitrate in it. It can be tough to detonate, but when it goes—it goes big. We learned that down at the Johnson Farm, and we saw how fast a cow can really run. That was also the night Arthur decided enough was enough. I, on the other hand, wanted to work on the explosive power and placement.

Placement is key to any really good splatter art. And you have to have the right amount of explosive power. Too little and you don’t splatter enough—too much and you blow holes in the canvas. When you get it right, you get good splatter, good chunks, and the canvas is intact. And you have to seal it up right away. That keeps it real and in the moment.

Right this moment, I have the charges in place. I am confident in the amount and placement. I have some canvas in varying sizes, stretched and prepped, and in place to capture the moment. The money shot will be the four foot by six foot canvas in front. The rest of the canvas frames are set up at angles like the mirrors in a dress shop. My expectations are somewhat lower for those pieces, but one never knows. They could wind up capturing, or catching, something good.

Arthur is coming to now. He sees his surroundings first: the canvas, the wires, me dressed in yellow rain gear from head to toe and wearing a full face shield. Then he realizes that he is immobilized—tied up. And he sees he is also naked (for the sake of good clean splatter). His eyes get big and white, and he tries to wriggle free of the plastic ties holding him. I hold up the single button with the wires leading to him, and he freezes as he realizes what it is I am about to do. I can understand what it is that he says as he says it through the duct tape.

He utters a single word and the tape forms like wax lips for the first letter and goes flat for the last letter, “No”.

I waggle my fingers at him with one hand, my bye-bye gesture, and press the button with the other, and it is over in an instant. I move in to seal things up on the canvas, wishing I had thought of earplugs. It takes two gallons of clear lacquer to seal the whole thing up.

Arthur would have been impressed at the showing he had. All the pieces sold. He told me once that his dad told him to do what he loved so there would be no regrets. I think his dad might have been drinking that night. Well, I am doing what I love. And the studio wants me back for another show soon. I told them I would think about it; and I will.

Arthur was unique, and still is, as the only true victim of splatter art.

# # #

Splatter Art by Donald Conrad
originally published August 7, 2009



Donald Conrad is married and lives in Plymouth, Massachusetts. He and his wife have three Shih Tzu because they don’t talk back, so far. Donald gets his story ideas hurled at him daily just by living life. He finds that he must write constantly just to keep up. Most of his writing tends toward normal life gone awry, like a pen that slips and draws a little blood. Not much, just enough to know today will be different.

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visit his Big Pulp author page


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