Paint-By-Numbers Art

December 2010By Comments

Photograph by Peter Yang

NAME: Trey Speegle | AGE: 50 | HOMETOWN: Houston | QUALIFICATIONS: Collector of vintage paint-by-number paintings, which serve as inspiration for his own work / Created a backdrop for Stella McCartney’s Paris runway show/ Collaborated with Jonathan Adler on original paper works / Has a solo show, “Trey Speegle: It’s Not About You,” opening in Manhattan in February at the Benrimon Contemporary

• Growing up in south Houston, I wasn’t satisfied with my surroundings, in more ways than one. There’s this Jasper Johns credo: Take something, do something to it, do something else to it. I’ve always subscribed to that unconsciously, and that’s how I ended up first making art.

• I inherited my collection from my friend Michael O’Donoghue, who was the original head writer on Saturday Night Live. After he died, his widow, Cheryl Hardwick, gave me the collection. He had about two hundred; now I have around three thousand.

• I’ve become a sort of reluctant expert on paint-by-numbers. I’m endlessly fascinated with the variety of subjects and compositions.

• There are just so many different kinds. Some are impressionistic, with pink trees and purple skies. Others are based on movies and television shows like The Flying Nun, Star Trek, and The Monkees. Later came Star Wars, Happy Days, and The Bionic Woman.

• I respond to the quirkiest palettes, and some, when cropped, are just the most beautiful abstractions. To make my own paintings, I draw new line work, print it on canvas, mix a fresh palette, and block out words and phrases. I used to send out affirmation cards as New Year’s wishes, like “Yes” or “It’s Now or Now.” Once I started living with hundreds of these paintings, they merged with my words. I guess that’s what living in this age is about, really—curating and recontextualizing your world to suit yourself.

• What interests me is taking something considered “lowly” and elevating it.

• About a year ago, I collaborated with Anthropologie to create a home collection using my artwork: soap sets, puzzles, plates, pilows, rugs, bedding, wallpaper. Paint-by-numbers started out decades ago as a product; now it is heading back in that direction. I just put it through my own filter.

• Art with a capital A has very little to do with the average person’s life. I like having my work seen outside of traditional art venues, using retail commerce as a type of “message-delivery system.” People seem to connect with the work.

• If you can’t afford a $10,000 painting, you can buy a $60 pillow.

• I just bought 275 paintings from one source on eBay. I really shouldn’t mention it, though! Every time I talk about collecting them, the prices go up.

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