For those plugged into the underground art and music scenes, Arthur Peña's Vice Palace has become a near-ubiquitous entity in the course of the past year. A "roving DIY music venue," Vice Palace stays under the radar and off the map, finding its home in houses, warehouses, art galleries and wherever else Peña sees fit, including occasional stints at the Texas Theatre. An ever-changing identity is a crucial part of its DNA.
What more appropriate artist could there be, then, to create Vice Palace's concert art than Larry Carey -- an enigma of a man whom even Peña himself has never met. Carey's show flyers are strange, twisted and psychedelic, littered with skulls and bleeding hearts. In the span of only a few months, they've become an integral part of the Vice Palace aesthetic.
"Larry is my right-hand man," Peña says emphatically of Carey. "His flyers are not only amazing, but it's what people are starting to recognize. Some people are waiting just to see what the next show flyer is going to look like."
Who exactly is Carey? The answer is both simple and not. He has a full-time job, he's a husband and a father. He's also a DJ and an artist on the rise with a reputation for being reclusive. Carey is interested in psychology and surrealism and creates his art with an improvisational approach.
"I can't really back up. I never do," Carey says, sitting down at a coffee shop for a rare in-person meeting. "You can be 80 percent through and still screw it up." He is not exactly sure what drives him or makes his art so effortless. Perhaps it's collective consciousness, spirituality or most likely, obsession. But on a good day the art creates itself. "It is almost like watching from behind the pen," he says. "At what point do you run out of ideas? Well, you don't."
Carey has been obsessed with visual arts for as long as he can remember, particularly drawing. For several years Carey's work has been displayed mainly at Kettle Art in Deep Ellum, where he first submitted for an open call. These intricate works of art are often presented in mandala form.
Back when Carey was earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of North Texas, a professor used the term "risk drawing." The professor referred to the technique in a derogatory way but it caught Carey's attention. It was a factor in his decision to use an automatic drawing approach after quickly putting together a long grid structure of small squares to fill with images. With this creative process, there is no pre-drawing and it's all in "one take," paralleling live music improvisation.
Carey is a big fan of R. Crumb, who has a clear influence on his style, but Carey's art doesn't try to tell a story. In the controlled setting of a symmetrical structure he improvises surrealist doodling, aiming for "real dream imagery" like Salvador Dali. He empties mental space by filling one compartment after another.
From a young age Carey has been inspired by music, and it has become an important part of his creative process. So it's not too surprising to hear that he also makes electronic music as DJ earWIG, under which name he has built a large collection of music. He describes his sound the way he describes his drawings: "Collage-oriented, sample-driven, kind of like a found sound-object," and "very little of it has any rhythmic structure at all." Carey has never performed live, but his music has played in public during art shows a couple of times.
A few years back, Carey began meshing his obsessions by creating flyers and album art for his friends in Hawk vs. Dove, a Dallas stoner rock band. Then last fall he got in touch with Peña on Facebook about contributing to Vice Palace, which inhabits much the same space in the music scene as his former Ware:Wolf:Haus did in the art scene. Carey had no idea that such a scene existed before he connected with Peña. "It's real avant-garde," Carey says of the Vice Palace shows. "It's heavy conceptual stuff." His first flyer was for an abortion rights fundraiser for Texas Equal Access. After doing another flyer for a Halloween showcase, Peña brought him on full time. Carey has even designed the new Vice Palace logo. But as interested as Carey is in these shows, he has yet to attend one.
For his part, Peña gets a thrill out of never having met Carey. "I kind of like the idea that he's super mysterious," Peña says. "I guess I could easily drive up to Plano to see him. But at this point, if I do meet him, I wonder how it would go." That air of mystery certainly lends itself to the character of Vice Palace, and does no harm in building an aura around Carey's art. "There's probably something else that drives him and he needs [to do art] or he's going to go fucking crazy. There's something more to it than someone who just likes drawing."
Carey gives a far more straightforward explanation: He lives over 20 miles away in Plano, shares a car with his wife and works a full-time job. "I know I have this weird reputation as this guy who comes swooping in from the suburbs with insane, psychedelic, underground artwork stuff and then disappears," he says with a laugh. "But I have to get up early."
There appears to be some good old-fashioned neuroses at play, as well. Carey admits to thinking that shows do better when he's not around. Years ago, for instance, he was invited to give a presentation to the Plano Art Association. "It didn't go well," he says, dryly. The PAA may have expected a normal lecture or a workshop providing insight into Carey's creative process, but what they got was a free association address. He was not asked back.
Perhaps that's how it should be, in the end. Carey's art is the most recognizable in the Dallas music scene today, and it thrives on that freedom of spirit and touch of the unknown. You don't need to know the man to appreciate his art. Just ask Peña.
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