Artist in Focus: Randy “Biscuit” Turner

Beat Heart Beat: A Look at the Art of Randy “Biscuit” Turner

(for more Biscuit art go to:  http://randybiscuitartwordpress.com

No one knows where you come from or knows your name, so you decide to step into the limelight and shine like a berserk disco ball. Suddenly, like Benjamin Franklin’s press on fire, the world becomes inundated with your blitzkrieg media rampage of flyers and poster art. I do these missives to make your beanie propeller spin in no wind, laugh energy being used like a solar panel to power the absurd! I wish to see your eyes twirl like kaleidoscopic pinwheels like those wagon wheels on TV that spin backwards. You catch more flies with a cat turd than you do with a rose. The main motives in making posters is to give correct concert info and mainly to make you cock your head like an inquisitive animal and wonder what is this new delicious dog biscuit? In a dream, I once had dinner with Salvador Dali, Peter Max, Captain Beefheart, Maxfield Parrish, and Alexander Calder. They each touched me on the heart and said strange words. There and then, I knew what to do! Buy new paintbrushes and order pie for everyone! I don’t know why I was chosen to wield a pen and scissors as a sword. I thank the stars and mystics for my place among the planets. Forever show the golden way and never let your pen be controlled by darkness. There is no light in the cave to see rainbows.
-Randy “Biscuit” Turner

I like to believe that Biscuit took cues from art-damaged, rambuctious bands like the Bags and the Weirdos, or earlier sources like the New York Dolls and Warhol’s factory, or from Artaud and H.R. Pufnstuf, but I’m not his biographer, so I’ll let you do some guesswork too. To be sure, Biscuit churned out fliers for his bands the Big Boys and Cargo Cult like he was throwing candy in the wind, all readily made to get caught on fly paper, and his work ethic was borderline obsessive-compulsive. On any given night, he could be found straddling Xerox machines down the street, or working on collages on his habitually clean kitchen counter with oddball bits of toys, sparkle, glue, and scissors until dusk would blink over his blue bottle tree in the side yard and Vespa leaning lazily out back. His flier work, which represents just a portion of his collection, melded raw, cartoonish, child-like naiveté (just check out the poodle sex Big Boys poster) with an acute eye for 1970’s Parliament/Funkadelic records (loud splashes of color, organic amateurish lines, loose text), pandemonium skate trends (turning nothing into something), and slash and burn punk rock bravado that turned disposable ruckus into freeze frame expressionism and insight, not to mention a basic buoyant surrealism. Until the moment he died, he was introducing his newfangled “Battleship Texas” skateboard to Thrasher (the Big Boys were the first punk band to have an official skateboard created for them, by local Dallas maker Zorlac) and dreaming of being featured in Juxtapoz. Plus, he was creating cut and paste posters for bands he never even met. Unlike the morbid decay and apocalypse of Pushead, the dark humor and nihilism of Raymond Pettibon, or the iconic hardcore, leather’n’chain skullduggery of Shawn Kerri, Turner’s fliers evoke bombastic, feverish, squirmy, and irreverent Do-It-Yourself qualities, even if it’s bumpy or imperfect. That was his vision of punk, for he did not revel in the gory underbelly or the ever-present compressed narratives of alienation.

I have always found Biscuit’s fliers to be like an event unfolding in front of a viewer’s eyes, very kinetic, as if they are a referendum on having fun. Like traditional handmade “instant art,” it embodies the notion of being quirky, urgent, and primitive on one hand, and zealously detailed and committed to aesthetic on the other. Biscuit reminded Artcore fanzine that, “Flyer art and posters are now a big musical business. I enjoy seeing wonderful offset press production runs, but I think I enjoy homemade, Do-It-Yourself at a copy center better. So much of the new posters all look the same to me. Boring. I’m not saying mine’s any better, I just wish I saw more of what I enjoy!” I agree with Biscuit’s notion that the crudeness, the human touch, the unconscious nod to art history (from Dada to comics), the lurid underground ethos, and the copy machine wit and rebellion still retain potency in a time when flier art has become increasingly mechanized, homogenized, neutered, and diluted. The Internet bulletin boards and small Adobe Illustrator manufactured handbills just can’t compete with markers and pens anymore than they can with brushstrokes and torn and melded paper collages.

In his last interview, he described his early childhood experience with art to the Austin Chronicle: “I remember my third-grade art teacher looked me right in the eye and told me I had promise as an artist. I guess even at that time I saw things a little different than everyone else. Then in sixth grade I had a wonderful art teacher who took me under her wing and encouraged the heck out of me. So, believe it or not, while growing up in a little, 4,000-person town I had some incredible encouragement by artistic adults who were trapped in that ugly little nightmare of a school system, but were very, very good at what they did.” Exene Cervenka from the infamous L.A. band X was a longtime friend who often stopped by his house on tour and would join Randy in scavenger hunts at the disheveled, humidity-caked, last-call thrift store near Austin’s airport, where Randy would toss piles of dirty, banged-up dolls and eye-achingly colored muumuus into his plastic cart. She referred to Biscuit’s house as the best gallery in Austin. Yet, due to plain, old-fashioned modesty, Biscuit always made sure that people understood that he didn’t make art in a cultural vacuum, since he revered poster artists like locals Guy Juke, Kerry Awn, Steve Marsh, and Gilbert Shelton. I recall the two of us, for the sake of preservation, painstakingly taking time to copy other artists’ gig fliers stacked in his side room boxes.

Biscuit lived in a house literally stuffed with assemblage pieces: eye-gobbling, wonky-colored, silly, chaotic, and poetic plastic-tassel art that really defines the true kinesthetic idea of being a computer shunning, mostly self-taught outsider art soldier. With an ironic jab, he always joked about the art education of one of the other Big Boys. At the time I met him, he had only sold four pieces, and if I remember correctly, he ended up getting most of those pieces back. After his death, a gallery auction of the same work, in addition to many others once decorating the walls of his house, netted over $10,000 in sales, which promptly went to his mother, who he deeply loved without question. He also had a dizzying collection of black panther TV lights, Japanese toy robots, miniature metal airplanes, boxes of posters ranging from the 1970s concert hall Armadillo World Headquarters to Emos, and other intense pop culture ephemera (including, surprisingly, an original Big Boys reel-to-reel studio master) that he hoarded from flea markets and discount stores over the years. It was a kitsch version of heaven. We miss and love him dearly.

Photo below of the Big Boys live in Houston 1980 is from the Ben DeSoto archives, which are part of the Center for Punk Arts collection.

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