— From the pages of FLL Issue #13 (February 2010) • Written by Robyn Meadows / Photography by Kate Greenawalt
The three artists, who met in a Lancaster art school over a decade ago, possess distinct styles; yet when they paint live together, they create works that bear the marks of all three. Their pieces encompass the political, natural, and spiritual worlds in a unique, almost omnipotent way.
It feels that way because of the intensity and depth of their work, and the manner in which they create it – in front of audiences at galleries and festivals. It’s a unique method of performance art, a marriage of traditional and modern movements.
Root 222’s works are rife with context and allusions. They are like a master work of Dali layered with symbols and dreams. They might smack you, or they might transport you to imaginary places full of chimerical creatures. The paintings evoke contemplation. According to the artists, the pieces can also stir up the occasional wisp of condemnation by those who do not understand their dark subject matter.
However it makes you feel, whatever you believe, Root 222’s oil paintings are moving people emotionally and fiscally. They are buying them for hundreds of dollars.
I met Deric, Anthony, and Schon before a recent live painting performance at Progressive Galleries on Queen Street. Being in their company, listening to them talk about their art – what motivates them, what inspires them – was both a cerebral and spiritual experience.
Progressive co-owner Jonas Hair says he began representing these three artists separately and as Root 222 for good reason. They are some of the “strongest artists I’ve met.” They are provocative, and “the individual and collaborative work they do has so much structure and density,” Jonas says.
Perhaps the most pressing question on my mind about Root 222: How do they lay aside ego? Painting gives the impression that it’s a personal, spiritual experience. How do they paint without messing each other up or annoying one another?
“It’s a graceful dance,” Deric says. “We bob and weave in and outside of each other. We don’t step on each other’s toes. It seems very orchestrated, but it’s unplanned.”
They do plan, most of the time, what they paint. At times, they approach the canvas with a blank slate. They use Sharpies to draw their ideas on the canvas.
I wondered how they worked in oil paints on the go like that. My stepdaughter paints in oils, and it seems they have the proclivity to get on someone’s clothes a day later.
The painting either stays put in the gallery, until they can finish it at a later show, or if it’s at a festival, Deric loads it up in his van. He has a way to hold the paintings to protect them from being ruined.
A painting they worked on together the night I met them inside Progressive features a green Andrew Jackson (representing money) presiding over the puppet President Obama. Past presidents, both Republican and Democrat, lay limp on the floor of the puppet theater stage. They can only watch, but one knows that the story hasn’t changed. Money has been the real leader of our nation long before Jackson’s mug landed on the $20 bill.
Schon says artists have the ability to serve as mirrors to society; they can force culture to engage in some much needed self-reflection. He thinks of Root 222 as having this responsibility, but he also sees Root 222 as having the task of performing “cultural exorcism and getting back to the old concept of the artist as a shamanistic figure.”
This political piece is just one type of work that comes from Root 222. The group’s art seems to vary in mood and style. In my untrained opinion, the works seem birthed from surrealism and abstract expressionism. The Hieronymus Bosch influence also seems relevant; he was a Northern Renaissance painter who depicted fantastical hellish creatures.
“Yeah, our style is surrealist, abstract, expressionist, ballsout-facial-freakfest, space trip, culture shock, figurative, opinionated paintings – thoughtful and happy, yet they can be seen as warped and dark. Our style is a melting pot of many, many flavors of the art world and history,” Deric says.
Aside from performance painting, Deric, Anthony, and Schon also collaborate in the privacy of their homes. They’ve been working on a massive project called The Occident Express. Root 222 is finishing the sixth installment; each painting is 4 feet-by-8 feet on masonite (a type of fiber board) and takes the viewer on a surrealistic train ride across the western world. They have photos of it on their Facebook pages. The progress of The Occident Express has elicited a broad range of enthusiastic responses.
Progressive Galleries will hold a show for The Occident Express when it’s finished, Jonas says. He says of these pieces, “They are off the wall.” Root 222’s paintings are breaking rules and boundaries, he says.
To think these three fine artists met in Lancaster as students at the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design. The primordial playground for Root 222 was Prince Street. Schon and Deric were roommates and Anthony eventually moved in to a place above them.
“We got together almost every night, along with a host of other wild and crazy cats,” Anthony says. They got together to party and to paint.
They decided on the moniker Root 222 as a play on Route 222. It was this highway, they say, that brought them together and kept them together through the years. As they became more serious about the collaborative work, they decided not to sign three separate names, but instead signed as Root 222. They designed a logo that consists of a Star of David, three eyes, and the numbers 222.
The three eyes represent the “three visions,” Schon says. The star hearkens back to the pre-Judaic representation of the female and male forms. Thus Root 222 becomes three visions “co-joined by one place/time.”
Two of the three artists do not live in Lancaster anymore. Deric moved back to Berks County. He lives in West Lawn with his wife and daughter. Anthony, who is originally from Elizabethtown, lives in Kleinfeltersville, which is in Lebanon County, with his wife and two daughters. Schon, who comes from the suburban Philadelphia area, stayed in downtown Lancaster. He lives here with his wife and son.[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“Yeah, our style is surrealist, abstract, expressionist, balls-out-facial-freakfest, space trip, culture shock, figurative, opinionated paintings – thoughtful and happy, yet they can be seen as warped and dark. Our style is a melting pot of many, many flavors of the art world and history.”[/pullquote]
In 2008, the trio took their show on the road to Philadelphia for a team painting competition called Canvas Clash. Not only did they win, the fine city of Philadelphia towed their cars. It was a day to remember, Deric and Schon quipped.
They are not the first artists, however, to paint together. There was a movement called Exquisite Corpse spawned from a group of surrealist painters and writers in the early 1900’s. André Breton, a writer, originated this idea. But Root 222 is different. Exquisite Corpse was a game that practiced stream-ofconsciousness drawing.
Root 222 says it began joint painting long before ever hearing of that Freud-influenced writing/painting game. Their performance art spawned out of the incredible friendship they share. And, there is nothing random about Root 222’s paintings.
Performance art is also nothing new, but their artistic symbiosis feels enlightening in this Internet age. Art historians say that each art movement preceding post-modern was a rebellion against the past, and that it seems there is nothing left to protest. Root 222 disagrees. In its own way, Root 222 is speaking out on the wrongs of society and is dissenting against the inundation of conceptual art (Anthony hates conceptual art.).
Schon harbors some strong feelings about much of it, too.
“Contemporary art has done so much to demystify the art process,” he says. “Art has become about the material itself, bare elements of form and color.” The artists have forsaken their personalities from their work. “The art culture has shot itself in the foot over that.”
These incendiaries share much and say they feel blessed to work alongside their contemporaries. They respect and admire each other’s work so much that they have painted portraits of each other, a practice shared by many artists of yore. (For example, Raphael painted his contemporaries, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo in the Pope-commissioned work, The School of Athens.) And yet they stand solidly on their own artistic ground.
Deric uses plenty of paint. It’s “almost chunky.” His work is influenced by surrealism. His personal art speaks to contemporary issues and social injustice. He even looks something like a fine upstanding politico with short hair and glasses, but beneath his painter’s garb, he has dozens of tattoos. He has a magnetic personality. He’s also good with numbers.
Deric is also able to work full-time at his art, working on commission, doing murals and other forms of lowbrow and highbrow art.
A few years ago, he made paintings that became the label for Legacy Brewing Company’s Hedonism Ale. His surrealist hedonistic images raised ire in Lancaster County, and the label was censored. This thrust Deric into the national spotlight as news agencies around the country picked up on the story.
The 29-year-old has experienced a successful run with a series of paintings he calls Drizzle Hair Women. Deric loathes Jackson Pollock’s unintentional splatter paintings. So Deric rebels against that by making the technique intentional. He drizzles and splatters paint to create the hair for his women.
One of these ethereal goddesses is for sale at Progressive. Lightening and Thunderbird features a glorious nude woman who sends forth lightening with the flick of her fingers. The canvas is ominous and erotic. Deric says, in addition to painting as a response to contemporary issues, the flesh of the female form inspires him. This piece is priced at $3,000. If you think you might like it, snap it up fast. Deric’s Drizzle Hair Women sell. Find more of his work at www.hettinger-rebel-lion.com.
Deric has always been poised to paint. He won his first art contest at the age of 3.
“I always would be caught doodling or sketching my other hand, so I knew what I was going to do at a ridiculously young age, like 5-years-old. I sold my first gallery painting at 17-years-old, and I did my first professional mural also at age 17. But my parents have let me muralize [sic] their home since I was 13. The house is still covered.”
Anthony’s personal art reflects his love of nature and of “how light moves.” The 31-year-old is heavily influenced by the Impressionists and Post Impressionists; his brush strokes are visible to capture movement and light. He, like Deric, almost looks as he paints. Anthony has a calm and quiet demeanor, speaks softly, and seems prepared to take a walk in the woods at any moment. He is the heart of Root 222.
As for his realist paintings, “I like capturing the spirit of movement and nature and how light moves through it.”
Many of his paintings are comprised of his daughters and the family’s travels. Their destinations range from Oregon to New Orleans. But his work is not stagnant. You can see the influence of his friends in some of his paintings, as you can see his influence in theirs. He also paints abstractly.
“There is one road I’ll go down, and then I’ll [go the other way]. I am merging two different ways that I paint.”
He will not relinquish realism — capturing nature, and he will not give up when he feels like painting from his imagination.
One of his paintings which captures a couple dancing on a French Quarter street is priced at $1,200 at Progressive. Jonas has had several people come by who are interested in it.
Anthony has been drawing his whole life, at least as far back as he can remember. In middle school, he dreamed of drawing for a major comic book company. He met some like-minded individuals, and they started creating their own comic books. They made five and sold them at comic shops and school. After school, this fizzled out, and they went their separate ways. Anthony used to create using wood, but found his passion for painting after inheriting a duffel bag full of oils. It hasn’t stopped.
There is something alchemistic about Schon, and it’s on purpose. He even looks esoteric with short hair and a long black beard. He has been heavily inspired by the Northern Renaissance painters. He loves the religious symbolism, the stoic representations of ecstasy. In his personal style, Schon paints with a lighter hand than Anthony and Deric.
He has painted several altar pieces. Bosch was one of the masters from that period who has left an imprint on Schon. Bosch painted triptychs, three-paneled art that was pervasive in early Christian art. Go to Google and search Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. It’s a head trip, and it’s hard to fathom it was painted 500 years ago.
It’s that richness that appeals to Schon, who yearns to bring about a return of magic to painting, the idea that an image holds power.
“It’s mostly a figurative idea of recognizing the divinity of flesh,” Schon says. “I am borderline obsessed with symbols.”
Schon painted a diptych (two panels) for sale at Progressive. It’s called Chymical Wedding. The groom is nude from the waist down, but he sports a suit coat; his hands are tree branches; he has a lamb’s head.
The bride has a skeleton face. Her feet are human, and alive, and peek out from beneath her gown, which resembles a haystack. She holds a red form of energy in her left hand.
“It is the most symbolically dense painting that I have ever done — outside of my personal altar piece — I can go on and on…”
He says, “It is both about the marriage of Hermes and Aphrodite (the hermaphrodite, an alchemical staple) and a mystical interpretation of the temptation of Christ by Satan (so yes, that is lamb’s head). There are dozens of alchemical, Christian, and numerological symbols in those paintings.”
The cost for both panels — $4,000.
Oh, Schon’s history with painting mirrors Deric’s and Anthony’s. Like Deric, he won art contests as a small child, and like Anthony, he made comic books and sold them.
Root 222 will have another show (along with the individual pieces by Deric, Anthony, and Schon), at Progressive in the spring. Another show is also in the works for March in Brooklyn, N.Y.
These three friends feel they have a bright future ahead of them. They will continue to paint what moves them, perplexes them, and ticks them off. As for where they will stand in the decades to come — if they will receive the recognition they might deserve — is as unsure as it was for those great painters before them. In Vincent Van Gogh’s lifetime, some say he sold few, if any, paintings. These three fine artists have sold many. Who knows, maybe they will find their way into the canon.
No matter what happens, Deric, Anthony, and Schon will keep painting, as individuals and as friends. They have to. It’s a voice, a possession. And we the public, (and perhaps one day that will include fine art museums) can respond to it. We can let their work provoke a secret place inside of us, a place of destiny, desire, and imagination.