Dirty pictures or a stroke of genius? The penile artist makes his mark.
When Tim Patch paints, he is naked but for a chin-length blond wig, a silver top hat, matching boots and a colorful bow tie around his neck. Surrounding him are the orchestral swells of an aria, as he concentrates on painting a portrait.
Besides being naked, Patch is different from traditional artists in an even more unusual way. Instead of using a paintbrush, Patch dips his penis in jars of paint, puts it to the canvas, and creates works of art. He is English-born and lives in Australia, but is most famous for his portrait of George W. Bush.
Patch, 58, has been getting a rise out of audiences all over Australia, performing around the country for the past two years doing 20-minute portraits for adventurous customers. His success there has led to performances in South Africa, and he is currently negotiating deals to appear and paint in Thailand, Japan, Turkey and the United States, among other countries. Though he has gained popularity as a novelty act, Patch, who has been an artist for several years, is trying to gain recognition for the quality of his work as well.
People “are shocked and think it’s weird,” said the mild-mannered painter whose stage name is a vulgar play on “Picasso.” “But after a while, it seems almost quite normal.”
Last month, Patch submitted a self-portrait for consideration to win the Archibald Prize, Australia's top art award. Though he was not selected as a finalist, he garnered significant media attention for his efforts at trying to be seen as a legitimate artist.
“The media was interested, but not the judges,” said a frustrated Patch, adding that he plans to submit another piece next year.
Though his methods are what have brought him fame, Patch says he wants people to look beyond that. “It is hard to radically change the boundaries of art, as people have to go out on a limb and decide if, to create a good piece of art, the paint has to be applied in a certain recognized way,” he said.
A builder by trade for 20 years, Patch studied furniture design at West England College of Art in Bristol, England, near the town where he was raised. For the past several years, Patch has been living in Australia’s Gold Coast, creating conventional charcoal drawings at beach markets.
He has recently been able to support himself though his penile performances and started an online business selling his work. Customers interested in getting their portraits painted by penis can e-mail Patch a photo, and for $150 or more, Patch will send back a portrait and a two-minute video of him painting it.
“The videos are for proof,” he said. “People just don't believe it’s actually painted like that.”
He receives about 10 requests per week for his services, he said, half of them from customers in the United States.
One of those customers is Craig Russell of Los Angeles, who works in marketing for 20th Century Fox. Russell, 40, a collector of vintage Steve McQueen paraphernalia, commissioned Patch to paint a portrait of the actor after stumbling upon his Web site last December.
“I thought his work was so unique,” said Russell, who said the 18-by-24-inch portrait hangs in his bathroom. “I was really impressed. I love showing my friends the video—they’re either amazed or can’t talk.”
Like Russell, other fans seem to be interested in his work both for aesthetics and for the story that comes with it.
Joseph Georgy, a plastic surgeon in Sydney, has purchased numerous pieces, including a portrait of himself, and said via e-mail that Patch is “very talented.”
Friends describe Patch, a father of four, as a humble and introverted man who comes alive with creativity when he begins performing.
“He is a lovely man, very talented,” said Patch’s friend Eve Garnham, 54, who has three portraits of herself. “He has always been creative, and even though his pieces were very cartoonish originally, you could tell that he was good.”
Garnham was there from the start. In the summer of 2005 she and Patch were at the South Bank Lifestyle market in Brisbane, discussing an Australian contortionist and comedy troupe called Puppetry of the Penis.
“Well, the only such thing I can do with my penis is paint,” sighed Patch.
Garnham responded enthusiastically, “Then why don’t you?”
Six months later, Patch, under the moniker of “The Penile Artist,” made his performance debut at Garnham’s New Year’s Eve party.
“It took a lot of alcohol because I was nervous,” said Patch. “I knew that if I was going to do it, I had to be better than most people who paint with a brush.”
Garnham and her guests found Patch’s performance entertaining, and their reaction convinced Patch to send a DVD of his performance to Australia's Sexpo, a four-day public event with exhibitions on adult entertainment, sexuality and adult lifestyles. Organizers booked Patch almost immediately.
Patch “was one of the major attractions at both Australian and South African Sexpos,” said Emma Wilson, a Sexpo organizer.
To be more provocative, Sexpo organizers asked him to paint portraits of world leaders. It was at a Sexpo in 2006 that he unveiled his portrait of former Australian Prime Minister John Howard. He has also done portraits of Australian opposition leader Kim Beazley, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and of course, President Bush.
Since then, Patch has worked 15 Sexpos and painted more than 1,000 portraits. In addition to learning that there is a market for his brand of performance art, Patch has also learned some hard lessons.
When he first forayed into the penile arts, Patch used acrylic paint and abrasive canvases, but eventually realized that that could leave him in pain and incapacitated. He now mixes his own water-based paint, uses smoother canvases and uses a barrier cream to prevent chafing.
But even with the precautions, the sheer volume of paintings he creates often leaves him swollen and sore.
“I'm quite overrun at the moment,” he said, adding that he needs to take two weeks off each month for recovery.
Though he has a growing following, not everyone is so excited by the painter's penile exploits.
Critics virtually ignore Patch’s art, he said, and many others, from bloggers to some reporters, see Patch as little more than a joke.
Patch’s sister and his 92-year-old father, a former officer in the British Royal Navy, prefer to be spared his unconventional work and, according to Patch, it’s not a topic of conversation for the family.
“My dad and sister aren't terribly proud of me,” he laughed nervously. “They're actually a bit horrified, I suppose.”