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Oct 21, 201410:21 AMCulture

Fun and Culture in the Mid-State

The Huckle Buckle Boys

Oct 21, 2014 - 10:21 AM
The Huckle Buckle Boys

Photography by Robyn Woodley

The Huckle Buckle Boys – they don’t beat people up, usually.


While this tidbit of information is comforting to know, it has little to do with their art. It is, however, an inside joke that they demanded to be the first sentence, and the boys love their inside jokes. In fact, Zack Rudy and Garrick Dorsett’s paintings spawn from them, and the two have the same twisted sense of humor.


“They look at things that people might see as sad or depressing and make them funny,” says Hannah Dobek, artist and gallery manager of the Metropolis Collective in Mechanicsburg. “That’s great because if you look around you, that’s kind of the way the world is. They make it so exaggerated that it becomes funny, and it’s just a way of sort of poking fun at humanity.”


“We’re the only people that we know that can make something like the bubonic plague look cute,” Rudy says. “We put twists on things that you don’t expect and that’s what comes through to people.”


The Huckle Buckle Boys’ urban style paintings featuring cartoons, deformities and body functions are often seen at the Metropolis Collective and the 1975 Gallery in Rochester, N.Y. They typically use colorful paints of all kinds but will also stray to the less traditional media of blood or coffee. Any number of entities, words and objects from their imagination can be found in their work.

Rudy says, “We love mottos and old man sayings like, ‘you can put lipstick on a pig but-“


“-It’s still a pig," Dorsett finishes.


“One of the pieces that I kept was a ‘self portrait’ of me,” says Erich Lehman, owner of the 1975 Gallery. “It’s like this ominous looking sheep with human feet from Animal Obscura, and another one is just this arm with a rabbit sock puppet. It says, ‘who loves you?’”


The duo draws all of their monsters’ eye balls the same, and they can be best described as “doped out, I've been up for 14 billion years, and I can't sleep, so I've got insomnia, so I take ambient, but that doesn't really work,” Rudy says.


“He did this giant cutout…of conjoined twins,” says Richard Reilly, owner of the Metropolis Collective. “The two people poking their heads through were conjoined twins, but…disfigured, like birth defects.”


“Not politically correct at all,” Dobek adds.


The Sasquatch type beast that frequents their paintings originated from a fascination Dorsett developed one day when looking at his shadow. “When I sit down the shadow becomes this really weird shape,” he says. “One time I took a marker… in someone’s bathroom, and I traced it.” That shape became the Sasquatch.


“This is one I just started,” Rudy says, picking up one of the paintings in the studio. “It’s a guy wearing a death mask and he’s in a coffin, lying there, dead. His feet, they’re all mangled and then he’s got…a crow, a black cat and a plague mouse.”


“There’s no way you could walk with that,” Dorsett says, referring to the deceased man’s crooked feet.


Their work is a megaphone for anything embarrassing or unorthodox.  They play into the fear of the ugly signs of old age. They give the world’s hideousness and deficiencies a shot at standup comedy. Those weird and awkward moments, which cannot be predicted and cannot be controlled, is what the Huckle Buckle Boys refer to as Black Swan moments.


“As you get older and your body falls apart on you and you’re standing in front of the mirror and you’re like, ‘when did that start happening?’” Rudy says.


“The day you went to school with a shirt that you thought was dry, but you put it on, and that shirt has that little, weird mildew smell,” Dorsett says.


“Like someone flips you off in their car, and you didn't get the last say, and you think about it all day, and you’re like, man, if I could do that again I'd just get out of my car and punch him, or I'd say this to him,” Rudy says.


Black Swan moments are the characters’ thoughts, feelings and histories. The beings they create are more than just interesting oddities on canvas. They represent everyday situations that people can relate to in their own lives.


Dorsett says, “It’s all for the viewer. We want you to come and forget about whatever you have that is really weighing you down. We all have stress. We all have anxiety. We all have problems. But if you could come into a space and maybe giggle for a little bit, that’s better than anything for me. We are these paintings. We’re just as animated as those paintings are. “


“We’ve been doing this for five years,” Rudy says.

“Five or six,” Dorsett says.


Five or six years ago, a Black Swan moment led Dorsett to believe that Rudy was ripping off his style. Dorsett found his work featured at an art show at the Harrisburg Area Community College. Without realizing it, Dorsett was a photography professor at HACC while Rudy was a fine art student on the other side of campus.


“I didn't go [to college] ‘til I was in my 30s,” Rudy says. “I'm 42 now.”


“41,” Dorsett corrects.


Rudy and Dorsett went through their teenage years together, but after graduating high school they lost touch. When Dorsett realized the artist whom he thought was stealing his style was his long lost friend, he knew their common background of punk rock shows, skateboarding and street art caused their works to be similar.


Their reunion began the journey of an unstoppable fiend-creating machine with two minds that can spit out 60 paintings in three weeks. But even two best friends like Dorsett and Rudy can have complete opposite personalities.


“Well, you can see it in their art. The artist is schizophrenic,” Reilly jokes.


Garrick is relaxed and courteous as he leans back on the couch of the Huckle Buckle Boys’ studio. He looks at home in the dark, canvas filled space. Paintings that take up the majority of the room pile on top of each other, lean in rows and stack up against the desks. Rudy sits on the edge of the couch, reactive and enthusiastically ready to relay his adventures.


Being around Rudy and Dorsett is like “being part of an amazing little universe,” Dobek says.


Before they figured out how to work with each other, they sometimes worked against each other. Years ago inside a cramped dirt basement, they were developing a piece at the same time, as they do with most of the Huckle Buckle art.


Featuring Rudy in one corner of the canvas and Dorsett in the other, Rudy dwelled on the details as Dorsett finished his area with loose, unrestricted strokes. Dorsett proceeded to draw all the way across the canvas, right over Rudy’s fixation. Rudy stood back and growled, and the two began propelling profanity at each other.


“It was brotherly though,” Rudy says.


“We’re totally opposites,” Dorsett says.


“Yeah I get all mad and flustered,” Rudy says, suggesting that Dorsett has a calmer demeanor.


After cooling down, they paused to look at the painting. They studied the art that conjured from their combined talents and realized they loved it.


“It goes with a real art knowledge behind it,” Reilly says, “which makes it even funnier to me.”


“Zack and Garrick can both pretty much photo realistically reproduce any image, but they choose to do this cartoonish weird distortion on purpose,” Dobek says. “That’s pretty punk rock.”


As they continued working with each other, they learned to set their egos aside and promised not to get too mad when they alter each other’s creations.


At a recent show titled Femme Fatal in the Metropolis Collective, art viewers displayed a range of reactions. One viewer carefully studied each work hanging in the gallery until she came upon a Huckle Buckle piece. In the painting was a grotesque woman wielding a gun, with “All Men Must Die!” scrawled on her arm. The gallery visitor began laughing hysterically as she took in the humor.


Dorsett would say she spoke their language. The Huckle Buckle Boys are not in everyone’s vocabulary, however. “That’s, uh, different,” said another art viewer as she walked past.


One of the boys’ favorite fans is a woman who camped out overnight to be first in line at a show at the 1975 Gallery. As soon as the doors opened she spat on Huckle Buckle pieces that she wished to purchase as a way to claim them before anyone else could. The boys were flattered.


As wild as their fans can be, their shows have a history of being even more extravagant. Their first show was at the Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center. The entire room was their canvas, and it consisted of approximately 12 large panels. Two hundred and sixty hours of painting later, they covered the room with imaginative creations and brought in about 300 people for the one-night show. Afterwards, their 260 hours of work was painted over.


“That show was in 2009 or 2010,” Dorsett says.


“2008,” Rudy corrects.


Two days before another show at the Metropolis Collective named “Of Carnivals and Kings,” Dorsett and Rudy were up until 4 a.m. problem solving with Reilly and Dobek. They needed to install a large piece called “Peep Show” and eliminate safety hazards for guests.


“So we finally just… literally nailed it into the wall,” Reilly says.


“This gallery wouldn’t be the same without them,” Dobek says.


“We’ll hang them [Huckle Buckle paintings] as long as they’re making art,” Reilly laughed. Or the alternative, “until I am in the hospital from a nervous breakdown,” he says.


Perhaps the most defining show was at the 1975 Gallery called, Our Cryptozoological Expedition into ‘The Elusive.’


“They killed me with that one,” Lehman says. “They assumed the personas of two cryptozoologists who traveled the world.”


As Rudy and Dorsett began improvising a story about receiving a $200 grant from the Smithsonian Institute to travel and study mythical creatures, Lehman demanded a recording to capture the magic. They painted the legendary creatures that they found on their journey such as “Shuggafoot” and the “Toof Fairies.” For 40 minutes, they told stories that correlated with each painting, one after another. The audio and other works can be found at cargocollective.com/thehucklebuckleboys.


“I'm so used to that type of oddball humor and over the top personality that those guys have,” says Lehman, who has been their friend since high school. “When they brought them to Rochester, especially the first time, everyone just fell in love with them and their grandiosity, and their insanity.”


Even though Rudy lives in Mechanicsburg and Dorsett in Philadelphia working on his master’s degree at The University of the Arts, they continue to find time to keep The Huckle Buckle art going.


“I'd be happy to do this for the rest of my life,” Rudy says.

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