So Long, Rev

Driving along 19th Street, right as you pass Baltimore, you’ll see a giant woodblock print of a gorilla staring from the Dolphin Gallery window. Until last week, the gorilla print was the only object in the display. Now, flowers sit on the ledge and the sign on the glass reads “John Puscheck, 1948-2005.”

John Puscheck was diagnosed with cancer back in May. He died on August 12.

Puscheck attended the Kansas City Art Institute in the late ’60s. He was known for perpetually inventing new painting techniques: mixing watercolors with snow and then letting the snow melt; making use of the backs of canvases with backward paintings; spritzing crayon shavings with hot water to make hot-wax watercolors. But his real claim to fame was the “Evil Monkey” trio. Along with Mike Randall and Mike Temple, Puscheck put on painting shows that brought together art, food and music before the local “art opening” phenomenon was a cultural mainstay.

The shows were dedicated to the antithesis of the “see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil” threesome. “The Evil Monkeys were see all evil, speak all evil and hear all evil,” recalls friend and Dolphin Gallery owner John O’Brien. “I asked him which monkey that image in the window was supposed to represent. It was really all of them.” T-shirts bearing the image, hand-printed from the original woodblock, could be spotted around town during the Evil Monkey heyday — 1992-98.

Puscheck has left a greater legacy than most people realize. “I don’t think many people know that the Charlotte Street Award is named after him,” says artist Matt Wycoff, who explains that Puscheck’s homes were gathering places. “He just sort of built this community out of nothing,” Wycoff says. “He brought together a diverse group of people from all walks of life, and he made it look easy because it was an extension of his personality.”

In the house on 54th Street and Charlotte — jokingly known as the Charlotte Street Mission, where Puscheck acquired the nickname Reverend John P — a constant game of dominoes was in session, there were always a few artists and musicians around, and barbecue prepared by the Reverend himself was ever available. David Ford explains, “He couldn’t cook for less than 25 people.” Chuck Haddix lived across the street and often brought over musicians, resulting in impromptu porch shows.

The day after Puscheck died, Haddix dedicated his KCUR 89.3 show, Saturday Night Fish Fry, to the artist. One listener e-mailed a note after the show, summing up the meaning of the monkey-face memorial at the Dolphin quite succinctly. “Life is short,” he wrote. “Art is long.”

Categories: Art, News