Sometimes, the best stories happen when you're driving, you look out the window, and you yell, "What the hell is THAT!?"
So it was the other day when I was driving down San Fernando Road in Glassell Park and I saw an eight-foot fiberglass chicken with the head of the Big Boy Restaurant mascot. Obviously, the first person to call was Amy Inouye, the caretaker of Chicken Boy, a 22-foot tall fiberglass man/chicken that used to stand astride a restaurant in downtown LA.
Chicken Boy now stands on top of Inouye's gallery in Highland Park, Future Studio Gallery, where he's one of the dwindling number of surviving fiberglass giants who sold mufflers, cars, and other goods, put out of work by inflatable gorillas and wavy-armed Beaker clones. Standing next to Chicken Boy's mutant little brother, Amy is enamored.
"We've been calling him Chicken Bob, and he's definitely related. He's kin, on any number of levels. He's fiberglass, he's anthropomorphic, and he's got chicken in him."
"Is it art," I ask, bomb-throwingly? "Oh, absolutely," Amy responds generously. And so is Chicken Boy. Well, of course it's art. The sculpture's real name is "Cock Bob," and it's the work, we soon discover, of Deborah Brown, who got her MFA at UC Irvine and who made Cock Bob in 1996.
I reached Brown at home in Bath, England, where she's lived for 14 years. "He is sort of a morph of consumer culture," Brown tells me, "like happens when so much iconography surrounds us. What happens when these symbols of Americana merge and mutate?" Big Boy is from Bob's Big Boy, or course, and the chicken is reminiscent of one she saw when she was young, possibly in Palm Springs. Cock Bob showed out here, and was at a museum in Massachusetts for five years. He looks great because he just got a new coat of paint.
Listen to the audio to hear much more with Amy Inouye and Deborah Brown.
Brown is a a vegetarian, and "most certainly" does not eat at chain restaurants like the ones she refers to in Cock Bob, "having lived in Southern California for so long, it was just part of the landscape."
But here's the kicker. Brown told me she's never heard of Chicken Boy. And I believe her. I love that a totally spontaneous expression and a wonderfully bizarre and frankly unsettling image can be a relevant commentary on crass commercialism, and at the same time a nod to a beloved icon like Chicken Boy.
Cock Bob is for sale for $30,000 from Jason Vass Gallery in downtown LA, and Brown says they've been getting calls of interest. At 8-feet high, it's manageable for a back yard. Brown says, "maybe in the Hollywood Hills." Which makes me feel sorry for the coyote who comes across it and immediately swears off the booze.
Meantime, back at the ranch, Amy and I couldn't resist a little Photoshop fun. Take one photo of a gallerist:
And add one giant fiberglass mutant chicken, and you've got an image you can't unsee.